List of main battle tanks by generation

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Main battle tanks are often classified as belonging to a particular generation, although the actual definition and membership in these generations is not clearly defined. Soviet and Russian military planners organize tanks into a generation of tanks up to 1945, and four generations of main battle tanks,[1] while Canadian strategists organize main battle tanks into three generations.[2] The military of the People's Republic of China also recognizes three generations of its own tanks.

In 1983, Rolf Hilmes saw three tank generations and three "intermediate generations", which consisted mainly of upgraded vehicles.[3] The first generation of main battle tanks were based on or influenced by designs of World War II, most notably the T-34 and the Panther tank.[4] The second generation was equipped with NBC protection (only sometimes), IR night vision devices, a stabilized main gun and at least a mechanical fire control system.[4] The third generation is determined by the usage of thermal imagers, digital fire control systems and special (composite) armour.[4]

First generation[edit]

The first generation consists of the medium tanks designed and produced directly after World War II that were later redefined as main battle tanks.

Name Entered service in Origin Notes
Centurion[3][5] 1945  United Kingdom First "Universal Tank" (MBT) Culmination of the WWII cruiser tanks
T-54[3][5] 1946  Soviet Union Russia's First Generation of MBT
M48 Patton 1953  United States A further development of the M47 Patton tank.
T-55[3][5] 1958  Soviet Union Improved T-54
Type 61[3] 1961  Japan Developed and used by the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force

Second generation[edit]

The second generation had enhanced night-fighting capabilities and in most cases NBC protection. Most western tanks of this generation were armed with the 105 mm Royal Ordnance L7 tank gun or derivatives of it.

Name Entered service in Origin Notes
T-62[3][5] 1961  Soviet Union Based on the T-55, used world's first smoothbore tank cannon, later versions of the T-62 may be considered as second generation.
M60 Patton 1961  United States
Leopard 1[3][5] 1965  West Germany A main battle tank designed and produced in West Germany that first entered service in 1965.
Panzer 61[3] 1965   Switzerland
T-64[3] 1966  Soviet Union World's first composite armored tank, later versions of the T-64 may be considered as third generation.
AMX 30[3][5] 1966  France The AMX 30 served as the principal Main Battle Tank (MBT) for the French Army.
FV 4201 Chieftain[3][5] 1966  United Kingdom Armed with the British 120 mm Royal Ordnance L11A5 gun
Vickers MBT[3] 1967  United Kingdom British private venture design for export, license built as the Vijayanta for India
Stridsvagn 103[3][5] 1968  Sweden Turretless design developed and employed solely by Sweden. Double engine feature; both diesel and gas turbine.
T-72[citation needed] 1973  Soviet Union Hilmes puts the T-72 in the first intermediate generation.[3]
Olifant[citation needed] 1974  South Africa Improvements to the Centurion tank.
Type 74[citation needed] 1975  Japan
Lion of Babylon 1985  Iraq Licensed copy of the T-72
Merkava Mark I[citation needed] 1978  Israel
Ch'onma-ho 1980  Soviet Union /  North Korea Licensed copy of the T-62; later versions include upgrades.
OF-40 1981  Italy
Tanque Argentino Mediano[citation needed] 1983  Argentina "Argentine Medium Tank" developed from Marder IFV by Argentina and Thyssen-Henschel
Type 88 1988  China Variants include the Type 80 and Type 85
Type 96 1997  China

Third generation[edit]

The third generation of main battle tanks is characterized by composite armour and computerized stabilized fire control systems, which allow firing on the move as well as very high first hit probability on targets up to 2000m.

Exported Main Battle Tanks:
Name In service from Origin Notes
T-80[3][6] 1976  Soviet Union World's first turbine engine equipped tank. Though the Swedish Stridsvagn 103 that entered service in 1960s used a turbine engine alongside a diesel.
Leopard 2[3][6] 1979  West Germany
M1 Abrams 1980  United States
FV4030/4 Challenger 1[3][6] 1983  United Kingdom Replaced Chieftain.
M-84 1984  Yugoslavia
EE-T1 Osório 1985  Brazil Prototype, never acquired by the Brazilian Army.
K1 88-Tank 1988  South Korea
Merkava Mark II/III[citation needed] 1989  Israel
Type 90 Kyū-maru[6] 1990  Japan
AMX Leclerc[6] 1993  France
Zulfiqar 1993  Iran Iranian tank derived from T-72 and M60 Patton. Zulfiqar 3 is the most advanced variant
PT-91 Twardy 1995  Poland
C1 Ariete[6] 1995  Italy
K1A1 1996  South Korea
T-90A[6] 1996  Russia
FV4034 Challenger 2[6] 1998  United Kingdom A future life upgrade is the planning phase
T-84 1999  Ukraine Upgraded Ukrainian version of the T-80 tank
Type 96G/A 2006  China Improved variant of Type 96
Type 98/99 2001  China
Al-Khalid 2001  Pakistan
Arjun MBT[3][6] 2004  India

Advanced Third Generation and Next Generation[edit]

Advanced Third Generation[7] and Next Generation[8] are still under development or at early stages of their generation. While the terms 'Advanced Third Generation' and 'Next Gen' have no formal basis, these main battle tanks are using the latest technology and designs to compete with the current advanced warfare environment.[9] "Advanced" been stated in many premieres for these tanks. Advanced Third Generation are normally upgraded variants using the same framework of the Third Generation Tank. While the Next Generation have their advancements built into newly designed frames than being an add-on technology. Next Generation is very argumentative in its concepts of technologies and the purpose it serves in warfare.[citation needed]

Advanced Third Generation (Upgrade Version)

Name In service from Origin Notes
Merkava Mark IV 2004  Israel Adv. 3rd
Type 99A2[10][11] 2009  China "Enhanced Third Generation Main Battle Tank"
T-90SM 2011  Russia Adv. 3rd

Advanced Third Generation & Next Generation (New Frames)

Name In service from Origin Notes
Type 10[12][13] 2012  Japan Next Generation MBT/ 4th generation MBT of JGSDF
K2 Black Panther[12][14] 2014  South Korea Adv. 3rd
T-14 2015  Russia Next Generation/5th Generation of RAF [15] MBT derived from "Armata" modular platform

Under development[edit]

Tanks that are currently under development and not yet in service.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ “The Soviets saw tank generations in this manner: 1920-1945, first generation; 1946-1960, second generation; 1961-1980, third generation; and 1981-present, fourth generation. Since the last really new tank design, the T-80, came out in 1976, they feel that they have not produced a true Fourth Generation Tank Design. In comparison, they count the M1, Challenger, and Leopard 2 as Fourth Generation and the LeClerc as Fifth Generation.” —Sewell 1988, note 1.
  2. ^ “The Canadian Directorate of Land Strategic Concept defines three generations of Main Battle Tanks. The first generation of post World War II Main Battle Tanks includes the U.S. M48/M60, the German Leopard 1 and the British Centurion and Chieftain. The second generation includes most of the 120 mm Main Battle Tanks such as the American M1A1, the German Leopard 2 and the British Challenger. As for the third generation Main Battle Tank, they include the latest ‘digital’ tank such as the French Leclerc and perhaps the American M1A2 and the German Leopard 2A5.” —Lamontagne 2003, pp 7–8.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Hilmes, p. 7
  4. ^ a b c Hilmes, p. 8
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Czołgi (in Polish),, p. 2 [unreliable source?]
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i 2[unreliable source?]
  7. ^ John Keller (4 February 2014). "General Dynamics gets contract to build 12 advanced main battle tanks with digital vetronics - Military & Aerospace Electronics:". Retrieved February 28, 2014. 
  8. ^ Joel Baglole (1 January 2014). "The Abrams Tank - Next Generation". Retrieved February 28, 2014. 
  9. ^ "AWARE" (PDF). USASMDC/ARSTRAT Public Affairs Office. 16 August 2010. Retrieved February 28, 2014. 
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ a b "Competition Tank Asian countries: China Satellite Compass may be supported 99A2". Military of China, force comment. August 31, 2011. Archived from the original on February 23, 2012. 
  13. ^ "The world's top 10 main battle tanks". 28 November 2013. Retrieved February 25, 2014. 
  14. ^ "K2 Black Panther Main Battle Tank, South Korea". Retrieved February 28, 2014. 
  15. ^ Alexei Naryshkin (26 January 2015). ""Platform Armata and other samples of armored vehicles"". Retrieved 8 April 2015. 
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ "Milli Tank Altay In Test Surusleri Basladi". 
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  22. ^
  23. ^,nId,1396628#pst65830919
  • Note to the Pancerni website source - Translation of most important parts of 1st, 2nd, 2.5 and 3rd generation MBTs characteristics: "The first generation MBTs are tanks made immediately after WWII. The second generation MBTs have better sights in comparison to the first generation MBTs. Also second generation MBTs were the first ones to use laser sights and APFSDS rounds. The third generation consists of tanks armed with high caliber and velocity guns like M1A1 Abrams. Third generation tanks also use composite armour as well as armour made out of highly resistant sintered ceramic materials. Third generation tanks also have full stabilization system for the main gun. There tanks between second and third generations, like Soviet T-72 which has powerful gun which would classify it as a third generation MBT but at the same time the stabilization system is much too primitive for it to a third generation MBT. It also lacks engine power to be a third generation MBT and has ammunition with less quality."