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Analysis: Top 15 best modern main battle tanks MBTs in the world

Army Recognition is presenting the 15 most modern main battle tanks currently in production or ready for series production to date (19 April 2020), a list that excludes the light and medium tanks of the 25-35-ton class except one, the Argentinian TAM 2IP, to have a South-American tank in the list. Other light and medium tanks would deserve to appear in this list, as they became or become operational during these last years, the most recent one being the Turkish-Indonesian Kaplan-Harimau Medium Tank. Concerning the issuing date, we have tried to consider the most plausible ones among those mentioned for prototypes and mass production. These may thus well give way to discussion.

Top 15 most modern main battle tanks MBTs in the world analysis 925 001
Analysis Army Recognition: Top 15 most modern MBTs Main Battle Tanks in the world 

The list presented here is composed of the following tanks: Challenger 2 Streefighter, T-90MS, T-14 Armata for Russia, M1A2 SEP V3 for the U.S., the VT4 (MBT-3000) and Type 99 (ZTZ99) for China, the Leclerc XLR for France, the "Leoclerc" EMBT for France and Germany, the Leopard 2A7 for Germany , the Challenger 2 “Black Night” for UK, the Altay for Turkey, the TAM 2IP for Argentina, the K2 Black Panther for South Korea, the Type 10 for Japan, the Merkava IV Barak / Merkava IV M Windbreaker for Israel, and the Karrar for Iran.

Even if many countries have got rid of their main battle tanks to rely only on 6x6 or 8x8 combat vehicles, sometimes even of all kinds of tracked combat vehicles, it appears that in some circumstances, the need for heavy of medium tanks remains blatant. To such an extent that some countries are considering a possible reverse move, no longer excluding to re-equip some units with tracked tanks in the future, even if it might rather be with medium tanks, not main battle tanks.

The following list presents the main battle tanks starting with the most modern one down to the last of the 15 selected.

Challenger 2 Streefighter MBT main battle tank British United Kingdom Army 925 001
Challenger 2 Streetfighter main battle tank of the British Army (Picture source Twitter)

Challenger 2 Streetfighter (UK) - January 2020

Royal Tank Regiment of British army continues to improve combat readiness using the new version of the Challenger 2 main battle tank under the program Streetfighter. The main armament of the Challenger 2 MBT consists of a BAE Systems, RO Defence 120 mm rifled tank gun designated the L30A1. The turret incorporates second-generation Chobham armor, also called Dorchester with a significant increase in protection against both KE and CE attack. It can be also fitted with the Explosive Reactive Armour (ERA) package to the front of the hull.
The STREETFIGHTER MBT has undergone a number of modifications; upgrades that have included patterned camouflage, additional weaponry and equipment that increases visibility. One of the new main features of the Challenger 2 Streetfighter is the integration of a launcher system mounted on the roof of the turret, able to fire a Brimstone anti-tank guided missile. It s also equipped with the Iron Vision system allowing the crew to have 360° view outside, from inside of the tank.

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Challenger 2 “Black Night” (Picture source: Army Recognition)

Challenger 2 “Black Night” (UK) – September 2018

The Challenger 2 Black Night Technology Demonstrator is an upgraded version of the British army Challenger 2 Main battle Tank launched by the Company BAE Systems to bid for the tank’s Life Extension Project (LEP). The Challenger 2 is the standard main battle tank in service with the British army since 1994. The new version of the Challenger 2 features many new improvements mainly mounted inside and outside the turret. The new combat equipment of the Black Night MBT turret is equipped with a Safran Paseo commander’s independent sight, Leonardo thermal imager for the gunner, and Leonardo night sight DNVS 4 to provide hunter-killer thanks to thermal imagers for the gunner, commander, and driver. The Black Night Challenger 2 was unveiled by BAE Systems in September 2018 during the DVD, Defense Vehicle Dynamics, a biennial Defense industry exhibition staged at Millbrook Proving Ground that enables focused engagement between Defence industry, DE&S Delivery Teams, Army HQ staff and other Defense community users of Land Equipment. According to BAE Systems, if the field tests are successful, the Black Night Challenger 2 could enter in service with the British army in 2024 and a total of 224 Challenger 2 MBT could be upgraded as part of Challenger 2’s LEP Life Extension Project of British Ministry of Defense. The goal of the Black Night upgraded Challenger 2 is to offer a modernized main battle tank with new night combat capabilities and equipped with Active Protection System (APS) that is able to ensure the Challenger 2 MBT remains combat-ready for the next 20 years, until 2035.

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EMBT – European/Enhanced Main Battle Tank (Picture source: Army Recognition)

EMBT – European/Enhanced Main Battle Tank (France and Germany) - June 2018

Essentially a technology demonstrator, the EMBT is a short-term response to the operational need of the market for high-intensity battle tanks. Nexter designates the new EMBT as “Enhanced” Main Battle Tank, while its German partner KMW says “European”. The European/Enhanced Main Battle Tank, or EMBT, combines the chassis of a German KMW (Krauss-Maffei Wegmann) Leopard 2A7 tank with a lightweight turret of a French Leclerc operated by only two crew members. The lighter turret leaves about 6 tons of extra weight capacity that customers can use to additional equipment. The tank has been developed by the KNDS Group, a joint venture between KMW and Nexter Defense Systems. while the Leopard-Leclerc hybrid (some people nickname it the “Leoclerc”) is just a demonstration project, it does position KNDS as a contender for the next European tank. France and Germany have teamed up for the Main Ground Combat System, which will replace the Leopard 2 and Leclerc around 2035. But that date might be brought forward because the design of these two MBTs would become obsolete and no longer upgradeable.

Top 15 most modern main battle tanks MBTs in the world T 72K Ukraine 925 001
T-72K Ukraine (Picture source Ukroboronprom)

T-72K (Ukraine) - 2018

The T-72K is an improved version of the Russian-made T-72.  The T-72K is fitted with the 'Knife' reactive armor, also called Nozh or Nizh. Knife modules differ from other ERA modules in that they are specifically designed to eliminate or minimize damage to adjacent modules, thus allowing for a 200% to 300% increased effectiveness against multiple weapon impacts, compared to other ERA module designs. The upgraded T-72K is also equipped with digital secure communication and satellite navigation systems.

T 90M Proryv main battle tank Russia Russian army defense industry 925 002
T-90M Proryv (Picture source Russia MoD)

T-90M Proryv (Russia) - 2017

The T-90M model 2017 also nicknamed Proryv-3 is an upgraded variant of the export version of the T-90MS Main Battle Tank (MBT) developed and designed by the Russian Company Uralvagonzavod. The T-90M Model 2017 is improved in terms of protection, mobility and firepower. The T-90M was tested by the Russian army during the military exercise Zapad-2017 which was held from the 14 to 20 September 2017. The Russian Defense Ministry and the company UralVagonZavod has signed a contract for the delivery of T-90M main battle tanks to the Russian army at the Army-2017 International Military-Technical Forum that was held near Moscow in August 2017. According to a statement released on April 13, 2020, by the Russian army press service, the first T-90M Proryv Main Battle Tanks (MBTs) have been delivered to the 1st Guards Tank Army of Western Military District deployed in five regions of Russia.

Top 15 most modern main battle tanks MBTs in the world Karrar Iran 925 001
Karrar (Picture source: Wikipedia)

Karrar (Iran) – August 2016

The Karrar (Striker) is a main battle tank fully developed and designed by the Iranian defense industry. This tank was unveiled for the first time to the public in August 2016. A video footage from the Iranian television "Telewebion" was published on YouTube, showing the Karrar tank during trials in the desert. In March 2017, the Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehghan inaugurated the production line of the new home-made Karrar at the Bani-Hashem Armor Industrial Complex in Dorud County, Lorestan. According to military experts, the Karrar MBT is based on the chassis of the Soviet-made T-72 but fitted with a new turret. According to retired Major General Vladimir Bogatyrev, the Karrar is a copy of the Russian-made T-90MS, the most advanced modification of the T-90 family but it uses some features of the American M1 Abrams and British Challenger 2. Russian military experts suggested that in terms of certain military capabilities, the Karrar is unlikely to match the Russian T-90.

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Leclerc XLR (Picture source: Army Recognition)

Leclerc XLR (France) – June 2016

The Leclerc Scorpion, or XLR, is a modernized version of the French-made Leclerc main battle tank designed and manufactured by the French company Nexter Systems. The upgraded Leclerc MBT will have more firepower and protection. In March 2015, The French Army Defence Procurement Agency (DGA) notified Nexter Systems a renovation contract for the Leclerc MBT. This order constitutes the third operation launched by the French Ministry of Defense under the Scorpion program intended to modernize the French Army's contact forces. Valued at approximately €330 million, the contract provides for the delivery of 200 "Renovated Leclerc" tanks and 18 "Renovated DCL" armoured recovery vehicles based on Leclerc MBT from 2020. The first production Leclerc MBT was completed by Giat Industries in December 1991 and handed over to the French Army on 14 January 1992. The goal of this program is to maintain the Leclerc MBT in service with the French Armed forces beyond 2040. According military sources, the first two prototypes are planned to be completed in 2018 and the remaining 198 MBTs will be upgraded from 2020 through to 2028.

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TAM 2IP (Picture source: Jorge Baez)

 TAM 2IP (Argentina) – 2015

The Tanque Argentino Mediano (Argentine Medium Tank) is a medium tank in service with the Argentinian Army. Lacking the experience and resources to design a tank, the Argentinian Ministry of Defense contracted German company Thyssen-Henschel. The vehicle was developed by a German and Argentinian team of engineers and was based on the German Marder infantry fighting vehicle. Developed by Israel Military Industries Ltd and Elbit Systems, the TAM 2IP is an upgraded version of the TAM light tank with add-on armor kit, new fire control system and new sights. The ballistic profile of the applique armor was improved and includes extra protection for the turret on all sides, as well as the sides and front of the chassis. A contract was signed in 2015 to supply 74 TAM 2IP light tanks to the Argentinian army.

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 M1A2 SEP V3 Abrams (Picture source: Army Recognition)

 M1A2 SEP V3 and V4, or M1A2C/D (U.S.A.) - October 2015

The M1A2 Abrams SEP V3 (System Enhanced Package) is a modernized version of the M1A2 SEPV V2 main battle tank which has a number of upgrades in the areas of survivability, maintainability, full efficiency and network capability. In October 2015, the M1A2 SP V3 was presented for the first time at AUSA, defense exhibition in Washington D.C. Nine prototypes were available in October 2015 and seven would be tested by the U.S. Army. General Dynamics Land Systems managed to complete the tests by Spring 2016 and then receive a positive answer from the U.S. Army to start the production. The primary mission of the M1A2 System Enhancement Package (SEP) V3 Abrams is to provide mobile, protected firepower for combined-arms maneuver. In response to the U.S. Army requirements for 2014-2024, the Abrams’ lethality must continue to be improved. This will derive from the combination of developmental upgrades and the addition of mature technologies that include the Ammunition DataLink (ADL), improved 120mm ammunition, Improved Forward-Looking Infrared (IFLIR) and the low-profile (LP) Common Remotely Operated Weapon System (CROWS). To recognize the M1A2 SEP V3, at the rear-left, there is a small exhaust for the new generator. In September 2018, it was announced that M1A2 SEPV3 and M1A2 SEPV4 variants are being renamed M1A2C and M1A2D.

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T-14 Armata (Picture source: Army Recognition)

 T-14 Armata (Russia) - May 2015

The T-14 Armata has been designed by the Russian Defense Company Uralvagonzavod. The development of the T-14 Armata was launched in 2013, followed by the delivery of a first prototype in 2015. The first reports indicated that the new Armata could be based on the Russian main battle tank T-95 Object 195 and the project tank "Black Eagle" which was presented to the public at the Omsk defencs exhibition in 1999. The Armata has more firepower than the latest generation of the T-92. The Armata is fitted with an unmanned remote weapon station turret. The appearance of the remotely controlled gun would eventually lead to the development of a fully robotic tank which could be deployed as part of a spearhead in the offensive. The T-14 Armata was unveiled for the first time to the public during the military parade in Moscow for the Victory Day, May 9, 2015. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the first field test of the new MBT T-14 Armata was performed in 2014. Initially, a total of 2,300 T-14s was expected to be supplied by 2020 but this figure has since been invalidated by the facts (the tank was even not dynamically demonstrated at the Army-2018 exhibition). The 1st Tank Regiment of the Taman division has been selected to become the first unit to receive Armata T-14s, which should take place after 2020, when the new tank passes government acceptance tests and becomes operational. In August 2018, deputy-commander-in-chief of the Russian Land Forces, Lieutenant-General Viktor Lizvinsky, announced that the T-14 would undergo trials in various climatic conditions, including the Arctic one.

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Type 99A (ZTZ99A) (Picture source: Wikipedia)

Type 99A (ZTZ99A) (China) – 2014

The ZTZ99A, also known as Type 99A, is manufactured by China Northern Industries Group Corporation. It is the most advanced main battle tank fielded by the Chinese Army (PLA). First entering service with the PLA in late 2001, its predecessor – the ZTZ99 – provided a significant improvement in firepower, mobility, and protection compared to older Chinese-made tanks that were almost copies of Russian ones. As a ‘high-end’ MBT, the ZTZ99 was only built in a small number (less than 200) due to its high unit price of about $1.9 million in 1999. The technology of the ZTZ99 has been used to upgrade the less expensive ZTZ96.
The Type 99A, also called Type 99A2 or ZTZ-99A, is an improved version of the Type 99. The first prototype of the Type 99A was tested in 2007, and it was unveiled for the first time in September 2015 during a military parade in Beijing. It first served during the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) military exercises in 2014. The Type 99A is a third generation of main battle tank.

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Altay (Picture source: Army Recognition)

Altay (Turkey) – November 2012

The Altay is the third generation of main battle tank (MBT) developed for the Turkish army. The first prototypes of Turkey’s main battle tank ALTAY designed and manufactured by Otokar, the biggest privately-owned company of the Turkish Defence Industry was unveiled at Otokar facilities in Sakarya on November 15th, 2012. The Turkish Company Aselsan was assigned to design and manufacture the prototypes of electronic sub-systems like the fire control system and the C3I System. In December 2014, Otokar made an announcement to the stock exchange after various media reports claimed that its Altay could be exported to Oman. In April 2018, it was announced that the Turkish Company BMC, a manufacturer of wheeled armored and tactical vehicles, had won the contract to continue the development and production of the indigenous MBT. In November 2018, BMC officially received the contract to produce the locally-made Altay for the Turkish army. The Presidency of Defense Industries (SSB) inked a contract with BMC to start the mass production of the Altay that would include a total of 250 tanks, but the figure is expected to be gradually raised to 1,000 tanks. Many Turkish defense companies are involved in the manufacturing of the Altay, including Roketsan, Aselsan, Havelsan and the Machinery and Chemical Industry Institute (MKEK). According a picture released in November 2018 by the Turkish Newspaper Gazete Vatan website, the Altay will be produced in three configurations with the same armament. A first batch of 40 units designated T1 will be equipped with APS (Active Protection System) and add-on-armor produced by Roketsan; a second batch of 210 units will be the T2 version, that will include many improvements like a new armor, isolated munitions configuration, laser-guided firing capability, crew training mode and mobile net camouflage; the T3 variant will be fitted with an unmanned turret and automatic loading system.

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VT4 / MBT-3000 (Picture source: Army Recognition)

VT4 / MBT-3000 (China) - June 2012

The VT4, also named MBT-3000 for the export version, is a new generation of main battle tank designed and manufactured by the Chinese company NORINCO. According to NORINCO, the MBT-3000 represents the latest main battle tank technology especially designed to meet the challenge of high-tech warfare. Its overall performance and combat capabilities are among the most advanced ones in the world. The MBT-3000 was unveiled for the first time to the public at the International Defense Exhibition Eurosatory, in June 2012. At the China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition 2014, NORINCO showed for the first time a real model of its VT4. In August, Norinco gave diplomats, military officials and defense contractors from 44 countries a demonstration of its VT4 for export purposes. The MBT-3000 not only costs almost $3 million less than its American rival, but it is equipped with an automatic loader for the main gun, which allows a three-man crew instead of four. In January 2018, the Royal Thai Army conducted tests of the VT4 at the Cavalry Centre of Adisorn military camp, in Saraburi. Thailand has purchased 28 VT4 MBTs and its cabinet has approved the purchase of 10 additional ones. And the number of orders is likely to continue to grow.

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T-90MS (Picture source: Army Recognition)

 T-90MS (Russia) - September 2011

The T-90MS is the next step in the development of the Russian-made main battle tank T-90. The new T-90MS was presented for the first time to the public during the defence exhibition Russian Expo arms in September 2011. This new tank is a complete modernization of the T-90 by touching all the characteristics of the basic variant to increase its operational capabilities in combat and against modern threats of the battlefield. The weight of the T-90MS has increased of 1,500 kg, compared to the basic model of the T-90 to reach 48 tons, but it remains significantly lower compared to the German main battle tank Leopard 2A6 and the American M1A2 Abrams.

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Leopard 2A7 (Picture source: Army Recognition)

Leopard 2A7 (Germany) – June 2010

Krauss-Maffei Wegmann’s Leopard 2 has heralded the next generation of main battle tanks. The Leopard 2A7 was first shown to public during the Eurosatory 2010, featuring the label "Developed by Krauss-Maffei Wegmann KMW - tested and qualified by German MoD". The Leopard 2A7 was tested by the Bundeswehr under the name of UrbOb, for urban operations. The Leopard 2A7 is fitted with additional composite armor kit. It is the latest generation of passive armor, which provides higher level of protection against wide range of threats. It seems that the armor uses new nano-ceramics materials and modern titanium and steel alloys. This main battle tank is armed with a Rheinmetall 120 mm / L55 smoothbore gun. The same gun is used on the Leopard 2A6 but it has better fire accuracy and longer range, comparing with the previous Leopard 2 tanks. The upgrade of 50 Leopard 2As to Leopard 2A7 started in 2012. The Leopard 2A7 incorporates a modular protection kit, increased mobility, improved sustainability, enhanced recce-abilities and an even more precise deployment of its various weapons. An upgrade kit is available for all Leopard 2 versions.

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K2 Black Panther (Picture source: Army Recognition)

 K2 Black Panther (South Korea) – October 2009

The K2 Black Panther is a new generation of main battle tank designed, developed and manufactured by the South Korean company Hyundai Rotem. The K2 was unveiled during the Defense Exhibition ADEX at the Seoul Airport in October 2009. This new tank is replacing the old US-made M48 Patton MBT in service with the South Korea army and currently being phased out. In 2014, the South Korean government and Hyundai Rotem signed a $820 million contract to supply 100 K2 MBTs to the Republic of Korea Army (RoKA). On 29 December 2015, Hyundai Rotem signed a new contract to supply an additional but unspecified number of K2s to the RoKA. Overall, the RoKA has a requirement for over 600 K2 tanks (some sources say 400) complementing its K1 MBT force. The Turkish-made main battle tank Altay uses the technology systems developed for the South Korean K2 MBT by Hyundai Rotem.

Top 15 most modern main battle tanks MBTs in the world Merkava IV Barak 925 001
Merkava IV Barak (Picture source: IDF)

Merkava IV Barak - 2004, and Merkava IV M Windbreaker (Israel) - 2009

The Merkava Mark IV is the most recent variant of the Merkava tank that has been in development since 1999 and production since 2004. The upgrade's development was announced in an October 1999 edition of the Bamachaneh ("At the Camp") military publication. However, the Merkava Mark III remained in production until 2003. The first Merkava IVs were in production in limited numbers by the end of 2004. The Merkava Mk 4 Barak is billed as the first tank to have an advanced AI and sensor system that takes over many routine tasks. It is the first contemporary tank with no loaders hatch in the turret roof, because any aperture in the turret roof increases risk of penetration by ATGMs. The Mark IV has the Israeli-designed "TSAWS” (Tracks, Springs, and Wheels System) caterpillar track system designed to reduce track-shedding under the harsh basalt rock conditions of Lebanon and the Golan Heights. The model has a new fire-control system, the El-Op Knight Mark 4. The computer-controlled fire control system can acquire and lock onto moving targets, even airborne helicopters, while the tank itself is on the move. It includes line-of-sight stabilisation in two axes, a second-generation television sight and automatic thermal target tracker, a laser range finder, an improved thermal night vision system and a dynamic cant angle indicator. An Amcoram LWS-2 laser warning receiver notifies the crew of threats like laser-guided anti-tank missiles, which can fire smoke grenade launchers to obscure the tank from the laser beam. Electromagnetic warning against radar illumination is also installed. The tank carries the Israeli Elbit Systems BMS (Battle Management System), a centralised system that takes data from tracked units and UAVs in theater, displays it on color screens, and distributes it in encrypted form to all other units equipped with BMS in a given theater.

Top 15 most modern main battle tank MBTs in the world 14bis

Merkava IV M Windbreaker (Picture source: Israeli MoD)

The Merkava Mark IV M Windbreaker is a Merkava Mark IV equipped with the Trophy active protection system (APS), designated "Wind Coat". The serial production of Mark IV M tanks started in 2009 and the first whole brigade of Mark IV Ms was declared operational in 2011. The Trophy APS successfully intercepted rocket-propelled grenades and anti-tank missiles, including 9M133 Kornets, fired by Hamas before and during Operation Protective Edge in 2014. Not a single Merkava tank was lost in combat operations in 2008 and 2014, despite the war in 2014 being a costly one for the Israeli Defense Forces. The system also notifies the tanks crew of the location that the projectile came from, allowing them to fire back quickly. It can transmit the coordinates to nearby ground and air units through the Tzayad battlefield management system. All friendly units in the theater are instantly apprised of the enemy’s position making escape and evasion difficult.

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Type 10 (Picture source: Army Recognition)

Type 10 (Japan) – February 2006

The Type 10 (TK-X) is an advanced fourth-generation main battle tank (MBT) manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries for the Japan Ground Self Defence Force (JGSDF). The development of the Type 10 MBT was initiated by the Technical Research and Development Institute (TRDI) in 2002 to replace old Type 74 MBT's that are in service in the JGSDF since 1991. A prototype of the tank was completed in 2006. TRDI completed the development in 2009 and started producing the tanks in 2010. The 13 first production vehicles were delivered in 2010.

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