Main battle tank

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The German Leopard 2A5 main battle tank

The main battle tank (in the public perception mostly just tanks ) is the main weapon system of the tank troops . Main battle tanks are the most heavily armored and most flexibly armed type of tank and are still the backbone of land forces at the beginning of the 21st century .

Typically, main battle tanks are armored caterpillars with a cannon as the main weapon in a revolving turret . They should represent the best possible compromise between armor , firepower and mobility . Your task is to fight enemy tanks and fortified positions. When fighting in urban areas, they often support the infantry with their firepower and armor protection. In modern tanks, the crew usually consists of three to four men. The driver generally sits or lies in the tub . In the tower are usually the commander , the gunner and - if the tank has no automatic charger for the gun - a loader .

In the Wehrmacht the name Panzerkampfwagen (military abbreviation PzKpfw ) was usually used.

Definition of the OSCE

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) defines the term “main battle tank” in the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE Treaty) of November 1990 in Article II as follows:

"Battle tank means an armored combat vehicle self-propelled and high firepower - primarily from that necessary to combat armored and other targets tank gun with a high muzzle velocity for direct fire - which has a large cross-country mobility and a high degree of self-protection features and the is not primarily designed and equipped for the transport of combat troops. Such armored vehicles serve as the main weapon systems of armored and other armored troops of the land forces . Main battle tanks are armored tracked combat vehicles whose curb weight is at least 16.5 metric tons and which are equipped with a cannon with a minimum caliber of 75 millimeters that can be swiveled through 360 degrees. In addition, all armored wheeled combat vehicles that are put into service and meet all of the other criteria mentioned above are also considered battle tanks. "


Until today the tanks developed in a competition of the three factors armor, armament and mobility; since the Second World War supplemented by the factors manageability and availability. With the development of the first motor-driven vehicles, considerations for armored combat vehicles also arose in various places. However, these were predominantly wheeled vehicles and therefore no direct ancestors of modern battle tanks and none of the designs could prevail until the First World War . Under the conditions of trench warfare, the British developed the first battle tanks on tracks. These were used almost exclusively for infantry support, and the armament was accordingly intended to combat infantry, and at most field fortifications. The armor was designed to provide all-round protection against handguns and the requirements for mobility were more in the area of ​​the need to overcome trenches and shell holes. Speed ​​wasn't important. The German side initially limited itself primarily to the development of infantry anti-tank defense, and its own tanks were practically no longer used in this war. The French tanks were initially not very practical. The light tanks from Renault introduced the concept of the rotating turret, which is still valid today. A differentiation of the tank types and the development of appropriate operational doctrines did not take place until between the world wars. In addition to other wrong turns, multi- turn armor did not prevail.

At the beginning of the Second World War, the Western Allies adhered to a doctrine of deployment for tanks in support of the infantry, which was based on the experiences of the First World War. The Soviet Union initially developed much more modern tactics for using tanks, which also influenced tank construction accordingly, but abandoned them in the course of the Stalinist purges . The German Wehrmacht was hindered in the development of armored vehicles by the restrictions of the Versailles Treaty . When the Second World War broke out, a large part of the tanks consisted of vehicles that were technically inferior, but due to appropriate tactics, some spectacular campaigns, often referred to as blitzkrieg , were made in the first half of the Second World War .

The medium tanks that were mainly used in the further course of the war, such as the Soviet T-34 or the German Panther, were trend-setting designs. The T-34 had excellent mobility and, thanks to the favorable inclination of the vehicle walls, had a very good armor effect with a relatively low weight of around 30 tons. The Panther was designed in a similar way, but with modern fire control, torsion bar suspension, three-man tower, etc., it largely corresponded to the post-war models. The tactics of using heavy tanks such as the Tiger or Tiger II , which were primarily pursued by the German Wehrmacht at the height of the Second World War, were not continued for long after 1945 after bad experiences with their severely restricted mobility. The retirement of the British Conqueror , which had only been in service ten years earlier in the 1960s, confirmed the correctness of the departure from the concept of heavy tanks.

The superiority of medium-weight tanks with strong firepower in the war of movement , which became apparent in the Korean War, led to the further development of these main battle tanks. The British Centurion stood out here, displacing the Conqueror in the British Army by 1966. It is considered the prototype of the modern main battle tank . This English term came up with the success of this type. During this time, the concept of the "modern battle tank" prevailed, which was accompanied by a reduction in the range of battle tank models. In English this was reflected in the expression Main Battle Tank , MBT for short (literally translated: main battle tank ). The term takes into account the fact that the separation between the concepts of light, medium and heavy battle tanks is largely eliminated in favor of a universal all-purpose tank.

In the conflicts in the Middle East, around 1967 on the Egyptian side in the Six Day War against Israel , heavy tanks such as the Soviet IS-3 showed their inadequacies in combat, although these tanks were already technically obsolete at that time. The last heavy Soviet tank, the T-10 , fared similarly . From the late 1960s onwards, it fell behind the more modern and lighter T-64, both technically and in terms of firepower, and was taken out of service around 1973. Thus, the Main Battle Tanks had finally  established themselves as the successor to the medium tanks in both power blocs - NATO and the Warsaw Pact .

The light tanks still had the role of reconnaissance on the battlefield. However, they were later replaced by armored personnel carriers , armored vehicles or wheeled armored vehicles , which were even cheaper. Today these armaments and mobility are superior to earlier light tanks. After the US M551 Sheridan has been retired , the Stingray II is one of the last light battle tanks still in service; its only user state is Thailand.

Over the past 25 years, the weight of battle tanks has increased enormously due to increasingly thick armor and larger cannons. Various current types weigh around 70 tons, which roughly corresponds to the weight class of the original heavy tanks from World War II . For this reason, the modern battle tanks are now more and more often referred to as heavy battle tanks, although their evolutionary origins are from medium tanks. However, due to the appropriately developed drive technology and mechanical reliability, they do not have the deficiencies of the earlier heavy tanks.

With the end of the Cold War and the change of the battlefield from open, low-tank terrain to operations in impassable terrain, the raison d'être is increasingly in question, and the number of units kept ready for action has been significantly reduced. If countries like China, India or South Korea continue to rely on strong armored units, the requirements of the NATO states are changing towards air-transportable, fast task force units with corresponding vehicles. However, due to their high impact force, assertiveness, perseverance and effectiveness, they are still an integral part of every land force in the still valid concept of " Combat of the Combined Arms ". For example, battle tanks are a means of pressure and order in peace missions ( Peace Support Operations ) in the context of the Show of Force , the demonstration of military strength towards the conflicting parties. When fighting in built-up areas and in house-to-house combat , tanks offer protection and firepower for the primarily fighting infantry and accompanying support units through their armor and armament, but they are highly endangered by the short combat distances and anti-tank weapons of the opponent. Most of the casualties of American main battle tanks during the last Gulf War resulted from combat in urban areas.


Mobility and Drive

Up to the end of the Second World War, off-road mobility was fundamentally important, but tank types with extremely reinforced armor were also introduced at the expense of mobility. In part, this was due to conceptual requirements ( infantry tanks ), but often also simply to the fact that correspondingly powerful engines were not available. Up to the present day battle tanks have a high degree of mobility . The ratio of engine power and mass in modern tanks is over 20 hp / t. Automatic gearboxes / steering gears with hydraulic conversion are standard today. The range of a main battle tank in easy terrain is mostly 400 to 500 km today, at the time of the Second World War it was often only 150 km. In some cases, such as with the German Leopard 2 , the achievable speed on roads is in areas that previously only wheeled vehicles could reach (over 70 km / h). The driving performance in the field today reaches the limit of the physical load capacity of the crew in tanks with torsion bar suspension .

The first tanks were powered by gasoline or petroleum engines as in-line, V or radial engines. In the course of the Second World War, the superiority of the diesel engine became apparent ; Until the end of the Second World War, however, gasoline engines still dominated for various reasons. With the advancement of tank construction, the diesel engine is the predominant and most advanced type of drive for armored vehicles in the 21st century. Initially inefficient in terms of its weight, it has changed to a supercharged high-performance diesel. It is often designed as a multi-fuel engine in order to simplify the fuel supply.

Another type of drive is the gas turbine , as found in the US M1 Abrams , the Soviet T-80 and as a hybrid mixed drive (diesel and additional gas turbine) in the Stridsvagn 103 . In contrast to the diesel engine, this type of drive is lighter with the same power. However, this results in a significantly higher fuel consumption, which limits the range of the vehicle and causes logistical problems in fuel supply. The disadvantages of the high fuel consumption of the two types of engine when idling and the fact that the energy required to maintain the systems of a battle tank can only be covered by the batteries for an inadequately short time when the tank is in positions for a long time or during observation, attempts are made with additional power generators to solve. In addition to fuel consumption, the auxiliary motors also reduce the infrared signature and reduce noise levels.

The engine is housed in the rear of many models, which is the classic form of tank construction. The advantages of this construction are a favorable infrared signature of the front, no heat shimmer in front of the optics, shorter cooling and exhaust gas routing, free design of the tub front and low stress on the chain by reducing the dynamic tensile force on the last roller and the last drive wheel. On the other hand, the pipe protrusion is problematic with a longer main weapon during off-road driving.

Few main battle tanks, like the Israeli Merkava , are front-wheel drive. In this design, the engine serves as additional protection for the crew and enables a rear exit hatch like an armored personnel carrier. Disadvantages of this design, however, are a limitation of the weapon alignment area, higher chain load in the entire upper chain strand, possible damage to the rigidly mounted drive wheel when driving fast off-road, the need for a side gear with offset axis (spur gear design), an increased infrared signature on the front and increased expenditure on cooling and exhaust gas routing .

Despite their complexity, some of the engines can be changed in a short time. The engine, manual steering gear and cooling system are often bundled into one block.

safety devices

Originally, tanks were protected by rolled plates or cast elements made of special armor steel. The first tanks in World War I had 6 to 12 mm thick armor. At the beginning of the Second World War, armor of 30 to 40 mm was considered sufficient for the frontal armor of medium battle tanks. At the end of the Second World War, the heavy Tiger II had armor up to 185 mm thick. Since the 1970s, main battle tanks have usually had composite armor made of metal and ceramics, the exact composition of which is secret. Partial come reactive armor for the reinforcement of vulnerabilities used. Some newer models have additional hard metal armor elements such as B. depleted uranium ( M1 HA ) to increase the resistance to impact projectiles. Armor mounted on a modular basis, which facilitates repairs, maintenance and, above all, the subsequent adjustment of the protection standard through material replacement or reinforcement, is becoming increasingly popular. Distance-active protective measures are used to eliminate threats at an early stage. Classic battle tanks are heavily armored, especially at the bow and turret front, while the bottom, roof and stern are relatively weakly armored. However, the operations in Chechnya, Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan have shown that adequate all-round protection is essential. Modern battle tanks have a protection against the explosion of their own ammunition after hits in the ammunition bunker. For this purpose, the ammunition bunker is sealed off from the combat area by armored doors, and the resulting explosion energy is diverted to the outside through predetermined breaking points . In addition, more and more insensitive ammunition is used, which does not explode when hit, but only burns down. Automatic fire suppression systems provide additional protection for the crews. Another important component of modern battle tanks is the protection of the crew against the effects of NBC weapons , for which the crew area is sealed off and pressurized. Compressed fresh air is supplied through integrated filter systems in the tank.


Main weapon

The main weapons of main battle tanks are cannons . Unlike the cannons of artillery tanks, they are usually not highly adjustable in height, as they normally shoot their targets directly - at sight. In the period up to the Second World War, tanks were sometimes equipped with several towers or with cannons. Some special models were also equipped with flamethrowers . While cannons in caliber 37 mm to 88 mm were the norm in World War II , it increased over time to 105 mm and more. Initially designed as barrel cannons, in the 21st century smoothbore cannons with a caliber of 120 mm to 125 mm are mainly used. An exception to this is the Challenger 2 tank from Great Britain , which is still equipped with a drawbar cannon. These tanks were originally supposed to be converted, but this was canceled due to limited funds in the defense budget.

Despite the already large caliber of 120 mm or 125 mm in the tanks of the Eastern Bloc, cannons of even larger calibers were developed. In the United States , the M81 combination weapon in 152 mm caliber was developed and built in the mid-1960s. With the ability to fire a guided missile in addition to conventional tank ammunition, the weapon should be installed in the main battle tank 70 and M60 . With the smooth barrel cannons, however, the technology of the M81 was outdated. With the appearance of new armor in the 1980s, the development was pushed forward again. In the NATO countries, the 140 mm caliber was used - but the ammunition weighed 38 kilograms, which required an automatic loading device. With the end of the East-West threat, the development was stopped in 1993 and improved smooth-barreled cannons with calibers from 105 mm to 120 mm were developed and introduced. The Rheinmetall 120 mm smoothbore gun is an example here .

Secondary weapons

As a second armament, usually referred to as a secondary weapon, battle tanks have one or more weapons. Typically these are machine guns (MG) in calibers 7.62 mm and 12.7 mm. In the world wars, these weapons were mostly mounted in the bow of the hull and with a limited aiming range. In later tanks, these weapons are installed coaxially to the cannon in the turret and are tracked in height and side of the main weapon. Further machine guns are mounted on the tower roof and are mostly used for anti-aircraft defense. For a long time still operated externally by the loader or commanding officer, these are remotely controlled from the inside when the asymmetrical warfare begins on the battlefield. The Merkava main battle tank , which is optimized for combat in built-up areas, also has a 60 mm mortar .

For self-protection, the tanks have a smoke- throwing system with which smoke can be generated by smoke bodies in order to steal the view of an enemy in battle. In addition, structure-reinforced systems are also able to fire fragmentation grenades. An example in the western area would be the French GALIX .

Target acquisition

In the first tanks, targets were still visually detected by the shooter, the distance was estimated. Due to the extreme noise in the tanks of the First World War, fire control and coordination of weapons were hardly possible. With the concept of the turret armor gaining acceptance, the target specification by the commander and the equipment with reinforcing target optics also established itself. The distances were determined with the help of the line formula over the telescopic sight or with the stadiametric measuring scale in the field of view of the telescopic sight. Up to the end of the Second World War, precise target acquisition was only possible with sufficient lighting; subsequently, until the 1970s, a so-called shooting light was required to illuminate targets at night. With the development of tanks in the post-war period, a multitude of aids including computer-aided target selection and gun alignment are available. The commander and gunner have independent optics and night vision devices. The increasing number of computers makes it possible to shoot while moving, regardless of the terrain, at stationary and moving targets at distances of around 3000 m by day, night and with limited visibility.

In the early days, the gunner was still dependent on optical distance measurement , which was usually done using cross- sectional or mixed image measurements. The spatial image distance measurement, which was also used, required the ability to see in space . Main battle tanks such as the Leopard 1 had both systems, while Russian main battle tanks such as the T72 mostly had split or mixed image rangefinders. Most of the tanks still needed a gun stop to hit the target. With the introduction of electronic distance measurement using a laser based on the LIDAR principle and stabilization of the main weapon and lines of sight in all axes, this shortcoming has been reduced considerably. The equipment with analog and later digital fire control computers enabled the crew to hit a target while moving. The fire control computer takes into account air pressure, air temperature, cargo temperature, distance to the target, own speed, target speed as well as the selected ammunition type and then manages the supply and attachment for weapon and turret. Straightening is carried out by means of electrohydraulic or electronic straightening drives.

Types of ammunition

In principle, tank cannons could fire any type of artillery ammunition. However, due to their operational profile, many types of ammunition are rarely carried by tanks. Originally, they were only able to use heavy bullets and HE shells . Shaped charge projectiles and squeeze-head projectiles were also introduced as special ammunition for anti-tank combat ; however, the latter requires a drawbar cannon to be effective.

With the use of bulkhead and composite armor , the squeeze head ammunition became increasingly ineffective. Tank ammunition of the 21st century therefore consists of projectiles for smooth-barreled cannons . For the most part, armor-piercing, wing-stabilized sabot projectiles ( APFSDS ) and wing-stabilized multi-purpose ammunition, mostly designed as shaped charges, are used. Due to the increasing fighting in built-up areas, the armed forces of the world also use HE grenades, but by using programmable detonators much more effectively than in the world wars. The ammunition is able to penetrate a masonry before the explosion or, if desired, detonate in the air at a fixed distance from the target. There are also guided missiles (range up to 8 km) and anti-personnel ammunition that can be fired from smooth-barreled cannons.

Current models

At the moment, main battle tanks are largely state-of-the-art, including the German Leopard 2 , the US M1 Abrams , the Iranian Zulfiqar , the British Challenger 2 , the French Leclerc , the South Korean models K1 and K2 , the Turkish Altay , the Italian Ariete , the Russian T-90 and T-14 , as well as the improved versions of the older Soviet types T-72 T-80 , the Ukrainian T-84 , the Pakistani Al-Khalid , the Israeli Merkava Mk4, the Japanese Type 90 and Type 10 , as well as the Chinese Type 99 .

The main battle tanks that are still most widespread worldwide are the older Soviet / Russian types such as T-54 , T-55 and T-62 or their Chinese copies of the Type 59 , Type 62 and Type 63 . This tank models because of their only steel existing armor no longer competitive despite often been exempt combat performance upgrades to more modern armored vehicles. In developing countries or the so-called Third World , they are still the most important battle tanks in use due to the lack of better vehicles.

The Western side still represented older Leopard 1 from Germany and the French AMX-30 with their 45 t and 36 t relatively light and still comply with the design philosophy of modern tanks, but due to their likewise no longer competitive armor and firepower not the most important tanks in their country and some of them have already been completely decommissioned in their country of origin (Leopard 1 in 2003).

The Argentine TAM as well as the American Stingray are an attempt to create a lighter tank for the role of the main battle tank. These come close to the performance of older versions of modern battle tanks, but can in no way compete with the larger and more powerful models.

See also


Individual evidence

  1. ^ Fritz Hahn: Weapons and Secret Weapons of the German Army 1933-1945, Volume 2, Dörfler Verlag GmbH, 2003, p. 15, ISBN 978-3895551284
  2. TREATY FOR CONVENTIONAL ARMED FORCES IN EUROPE ( Memento of June 10, 2007 in the Internet Archive )

Web links

Commons : Main battle tank  - Collection of images, videos and audio files