NATO main battle tanks comparison
Posted by picard578 on September 21, 2015
This article will compare NATO tanks according to characteristics actually required of battle tanks. These are likely to be different from typical focus on armor and firepower above all else. Consequently, first thing that has to be established is actual usage of tanks; all necessary characteristics stem from that.
“The tank’s purpose is to bring machine-guns to bear on the enemy’s unprotected rear, using speed and surprise.”
– General George S. Patton
“Logistics is the ball and chain of armored warfare.”
– Heinz Guderian
George Patton also wrote that it would have been impossible for him to achieve the successes of the Third army if he had been forced to use German tanks. He was entirely correct, as will be seen from the following.
In 1940 Battle of France, Germans were outnumbered and outgunned in most aspects. In terms of tank forces, they were outnumbered 1,5:1, and most British and French tanks were, on paper, superior to their German counterparts; unlike Allies, Germans heavily relied on horse-drawn transport. But better leadership, tactics, morale and organization meant that Germany achieved easy victory. While Allies dispersed tanks among infantry units, Germans made their tanks centerpieces of armored divisions. Unlike Allied armored divisions, German armored divisions were combined-arms units, consisting of tanks, light armored vehicles, mechanized infantry and artillery, as well as “borrowed” Luftwaffe units. While Allies did have combined-arms units and approach, these were centered around foot infantry. They squandered tanks’ operational mobility advantage by not having mechanized infantry units, and being forced to operate alongside foot infantry and at foot infantry’s movement pace. German command and control were decentralized, with all operational decisions made on low levels, as low as platoon and squad; higher-ups only provided overall objectives, how to achieve them was left to devices of low-level commanders. In contrast, Allies had cumbersome, centralized system that was fit only for World War I Western Front static warfare but fell apart in face of German mobile warfare (and does not speak well of NATOs C&C network, AWACS and other high-tech-driven C&C centralization). This minimized command chain, and consequently quick decision-making, allowed German troops to use their operational speed advantage to get inside the Allied OODA loop. Best example of this is Rommel’s “Ghost Division”. Leading from the front, Rommel minimized his own loop and was thus able to immediately respond and adapt to any change in situation; this was also enabled by communications system which allowed leadership from any point in division. Unlike early-war Allied and Soviet tanks, where only every fifth tank had a radio (typically, radio was exclusive to “command” tanks), every single German tank had a radio, and “command” tanks sacrificed ammunition load for far more extensive radio equipment. This system also made the best use of individual initiative, with important decisions being made by even platoon leaders. Support was at division, as opposed to corps, level. German tanks were also far more mobile than their Allied counterparts. British tanks had 140-230 km range, with 130 km being norm among French tanks. 200 km was the norm among German tanks, one exception being Panzer III. Still, German tanks often had to pause due to outrunning their supply train, and they could cover the distance more quickly than British and French counterparts. Importance of tanks’ mobility and fuel consumption was also later acknowledged by General Patton: “My men can eat their belts, but my tanks gotta have gas.”. Using their mobility, German units were able to bypass and cut off comparably immobile Allied tank forces, destroying crucial soft-skinned targets such as fuel trucks and thus cutting off resupply, as well as eliminating headquarters, communication centres and other crucial components. This completely negated advantages of Allied tanks in armor and firepower, broke Allied OODA loop, and consequently their ability to fight – Rommel’s 7th Armored Division alone advanced 160 kilometers in a single day, capturing 10.000 enemy soldiers and destroying 450 tanks while losing only 42 tanks of their own. Note that this mobility advantage does *not* apply to general Wehrmacht: majority of German army was foot-slogging through the entire war, relying heavily on horse-drawn transport. Main reason why Anglo-French forces failed to counter German advance was that they failed to do their homework. More precisely, they assumed that trench warfare is the future of war due to experience of World War I Western front, while neglecting to study mobile warfare prevalent on WWIs Eastern front, during American Civil War and even earlier during Napoleonic wars. Consequently, they ignored and squandered mobility advantages of tanks, while Germans exploited them by keeping tanks in specialized highly-mobile formations combining tanks, self-propelled artillery and mechanized infantry – truck, not tank, was the main German advantage. Once Patton, with his understanding of mobile warfare along with far greater number of trucks, more fuel and more mobile tanks, showed up, Germans had no real answer for him. Western countries are making the exact same mistake now, relying on Gulf Wars to draw lessons while ignoring all earlier wars.
Some of the largest tank battles happened on the Eastern Front during World War II. Main tanks there were Soviet T-34 and German Panzer III and IV. However, early-model Panzers were so finely fabricated that their gear often froze solid. T-34s could keep rolling even during harshest winter, due to wider tracks and relatively sloppy tolerances. Unlike German tanks, T-34 was also mechanically reliable (except few early models) and easy to maintain. Early-model Panzer IV and all Panzer IIIs used short 7.5 cm and 5.0 cm guns, respectively, which were easily defeated by T-34s armor. Only late-model Panzer IVs got long-barreled 7.5 cm guns capable of defeating T-34s armor, and even later major effort was made to simplify its design (including removal of hydraulic turret drives), though it never achieved T-34 levels of simplicity. Soviets produced three T-34s for each Panzer IV. German answers to T-34 (Panther and Tiger) were utterly inadequate not only due to logistical and mobility issues (high fuel consumption and inability to cross many bridges due to weight issues), but also huge complexity: for each Tiger, two Panthers or four Panzer IVs could have been produced (despite prices indicating 1:1,5:2 relationship, Panzer IV could be produced with far less complex machinery and less skilled workforce).
During Battle of Brody, heavily outnumbered German tank forces, despite fighting with severe technological disadvantage as well, won the battle, destroying up to 800 Soviet tanks while losing no more than 200 tanks of their own. Out of 728 German tanks, only 355 had 50 mm or larger guns; out of 3.429 Soviet tanks, 443 were T-34 and KV-1, which were technologically superior to any German tank. Resons for this success were superior training and organization, as well as unreliability of Soviet tanks – hundreds at least were lost to mechanical failure before the battle even began. As in France, Germans had a major advantage that every tank had a radio, compared to only one tank in five in Soviet armies. At Battle of Prokhorovka, said (incorrectly) to be the largest tank battle in history, Germans had 109 AFVs against 393 Soviet AFVs. Only four German tanks were Tigers; there were no Panthers, and there were 42 Panzer IVs, 20 Marder III and 20 StuG III, which is to say, 86 vehicles capable of standing toe-to-toe with T-34. Out of 393 Soviet AFVs avaliable on the first day, there were 207 T-34, 11 Su-122 and 16 Su-76. In total, Soviets had 234 advanced AFVs against 86 German ones, all of them equal or superior to any German AFV present with sole exception of Tiger I. Despite that, Germans permanently lost 7 AFVs (4 of these being Panzer IV) with further 25 out of action due to damage (out of these, 12 Panzer IV and 1 Tiger I). Soviets permanently lost 134 AFVs with further 125 out of action due to damage. Operation Citadel was lost due to massive Soviet advantage in infantry and overall troop numbers which enabled them to stalemate German attack against Kursk sailent while at the same time launching their own attack to the south, which necessitated redeployment of German forces (and even with that redeployment, Germans were still pushed out of the Ukraine), as well as Soviet flexible in-depth defence which precluded strategic breakthrough.
German tanks produced after Panzer IV – Panther and Tiger – while powerful, were highly unreliable. Even late-model Panthers had drivetrain which lasted 150 kilometers. Their weight also meant excessive fuel consumption and lacking both operational and strategic mobility, as they could not cross most bridges. This was a problem, since main use of tanks in Blitzkrieg doctrine, as well as in Patton’s application of same, was not to seek direct confrontation with enemy forces. Rather, it was to use tanks’ superior mobility in order to bypass enemy defenses and cut off or destroy supply lines, depots, command and control facilities and so on. This, heavy tanks were unable to do. Panthers and Tigers squandered away the very characteristics which made German Panzer divisions so successful, returning German military to near-World War I levels of mobility. Their long-range guns were also not much of an advantage, as typical engagement distance in Europe was no greater than several hundred meters. Tiger II was likely the worst tank of the war, having no mobility – tactical, operational or strategic – worth mentioning. It was less of a tank and more of a barely mobile pill box with a huge gun, being even less mobile than most early-war tanks.
Due to these issues, Germans basically squandered their mobility advantages. On the other side, Allies improved. Allied generals of late war – Patton, Zhukov – were highly competent in mobile warfare (one major exception was “primadonna” Montgomery), and used decentralized command and control. At the same time, best German mobile generals were either murdered (Rommel) or forced into retirement (Guderian, Manstein). Hitler centralized command under himself, thus vastly increasing response times and extending OODA loop; that he was incompetent and insane did not help matters either. In 1944, during Operation Bagration, Soviets cut into German rear and destroyed three armies, pushing the front line 1.000 kilometers to the West, as well as killing or capturing 450.000 German troops. It was far from the only such example, with the Red Army having become highly competent at mobile and combined-arms warfare, fully exploiting mobility advantages of T-34 (Josef Stalin II tanks were there simply to break through the defensive lines and allow T-34s freedom of maneuver behind German lines, similar to intended usage of Tiger I tanks). On the Western Front, Alles achieved 3:2 kill/loss ratio against German tanks, despite latter’s advantages in armor and firepower, and on numerous instances encircled and destroyed German formations, repeating German successes of 1940. Unlike Germans, Allies primarily left tank hunting to specialized tank destroyers, CAS aircraft and infantry; main usage of tanks was summed up in Patton’s quote provided at beginning of the article. Other important usage was direct fire support for the infantry. For this reason, Sherman crews typically opted for a 75 mm gun which had superior HE shell when compared to anti-tank 76 mm gun.
That being said, there were occasions where heavy tanks were highly useful – defensive and breakthrough operations, as well as urban combat. In first months of fighting in Normandy, with terrain and constricted battlefield removing possibility of effective maneuver, Allies sharply felt lack of heavy tank in Tiger I class, which could survive enemy defences and enable breakthrough. German heavy tanks saw heavy usage in urban warfare, where they exacted high toll from Allied units, and were highly useful in defensive operations. Pattern has not changed, as today tanks are also often used to support infantry during urban operations. Similarly, heavy Tiger I tanks saw usage as breakthrough tanks against static defenses in Operation Citadel, but this failed due to lack of infantry and limited number of avaliable tanks, particularly heavy tanks (only 89 Tigers were avaliable at start of the operation, plus 119 Panthers. By the second day, most of these were out of action due to technical failures).
It should be noted here that first usage of (mechanized) Blitzkrieg was in 1920 by Poles. When Russians drove into Poland while Polish army was busy invading Ukraine, Poles comandeered every truck they could get their hands on, and drove into Russian flank, attacking HQ unit and supply convoys. Earlier usage of Blietzkrieg-like tactics go as early as Alexander the Great.
During War of Israeli independence, Egypt fielded British Mark VI and Matilda tanks, initially a single battallion. Israelis had a grand total of four tanks and no more than 500 armored cars. But Egyptian armor, despite initially meeting only weak resistance, failed to support infantry in attacks on Israeli stronghold, running away as soon as Israeli deployed any anti-armor tools (primarily Molotov cocktails and bazookas). At Yad Mordechai, Egyptians fielded two infantry and one armor battallion against an Israeli infantry company defending the village. Israelis repulsed five attacks, in which it became obvious that there was no coordination between Egyptian armor, infantry, artillery and air force – each service acted on its own. Only after five days Egyptians took the settlement, sustaining 300 casualties in the process. Later, at Negba, Egyptian tanks and armored cars went far ahead of infantry, allowing Israelis to stop them with Molotov cocktails. A UN-instituted truce was declared soon afterwards, but Egyptians attacked 36 hours before it was set to end, achieveing complete surprise. But that was all they achieved, as Israelis beat back the attack (and failed in their own attack to the south). On 12 July, Egyptians tried to carry out a double envelopment of Negba. However, infantry and armor attacks were completely unsynchronized, there was no tank-infantry cooperation, and air and artillery support had no effect at all. Egyptians inflicted 21 Israeli casualty while suffering 200 of their own. While at other places Egyptians were able to defeat Israeli frontal charges, they proved completely inept at responding to subterfuge or maneuver warfare (luckily for them, Israelis only rarely employed either). Egyptian artillery after the second truce was effective for the first time, as Egyptians used the truce to target artillery at predetermined key terrain features. But when Israelis breached through defences, Egyptians did not react, a pattern that continued to repeat – Egyptian garrisons typically acted as if troubles of their neighbouring garrisons are irrelevant and never assisted each other when Israelis attacked them. War ended when Britain threatened to intervene in order to prevent Israel from taking Sinai. Overall, Egyptian troops were of good morale and fought bravely. However, Egyptians were only able to conduct set-piece preplanned attacks. They displayed no ability to innovate; there was no initiative among junior officers, and as a result Egyptian troops were unable to adapt to any unforeseen circumstances. Any Egyptian moves were slow and predictable. Thus it does not surprise that Egyptian armor was seriously misemployed. In fact, Egyptian tanks were used as mobile artillery pieces, charging straight at the enemy when attacking, and sitting completely immobile in tank ditches when defending (this same behavior will be displayed by Iraqi military in both Gulf Wars). Combined arms operations were nonexistent, and artillery was only effective in context of WWI-esque static warfare. Egyptian troops and commanders in the field typically lied to higher-ups in order to cover up their own faillings. They were completely incapable of quickly transferring from march to attack. General Mwawi was the only somewhat competent Egyptian commander, and only in attacks he personnally planned and supervised did Egyptians manage to effectively coordinate their armor, infantry and artillery. But even he required several days of preparation to execute a proper attack, and other Egyptian forces proved completely incapable of combined-arms operations no matter the preparation time. He was the only Egyptian commander capable of conducting simple flanking maneuvers; all other commanders did nothing but attack frontally. At all times, even during final Israeli offensives, Egyptians had advantage in number and quality of avaliable weapons, including tanks.
Before the 1956 war, Egypt set about reconstructing their forces. This primarily consisted of appointing officers that had friendship or other close ties to Nasser, or his new Commander in Chief ‘Amr. Unlike previous such cases however, both Nasser and ‘Amr also considered officer’s competence in addition to his loyalty. As a consequence of that, and greater focus on conventional warfare, quality of officer corps improved significantly, especially when Nasser brought in eighty former Wehrmacht officers as help. By 1956, Egypt had 230 tanks, mostly of excellent T-34/85 model. This gave them 430 tanks against Israel’s 200, and T-34 was superior to any Israeli tank (mostly scrapped M-4 Shermans). Israel thus decided to launch a preemtive strike before Egyptians fully assimilated their weapons. Due to threat of British invasion, German plan of defense could not be executed, as Egyptian troops defending the border were few and having no armored reserve. But on few occasions, such as attack on Umm Quatef, Israelis proved inept, failling to coordinate attacks, having no combined arms cooperation, moving slowly and simply repeating frontal attack after frontal attack. But Egyptians were similarly inept in their attacks on some Israeli units in ther rear, relying solely on firepower as opposed to numbers and maneuver. Once British and French air raids started, Egypt moved major military forces to defend from the follow-up amphibious invasion. This cleared the route for Israelis, who launched attack on Sinai. Egyptian resistance was spotty and uncoordinated, and during withdraval Egyptians never maneuvered to engage the pursuing Israeli units. When British and French landed troops at Port Sa’id and Port Fuad at mouth of the Suez Canal, Egyptians failed to either beat back the attacks or to block the invading force. As a result, British armor reached al-Kalp before being stopped by US political pressure. Egyptians lost 11.000 troops against 1.100 Israeli and 155 British and French losses. Again, Egyptian troops were tenacious at defense in most places, but there were quite a few cases where their troops fled at very sight of the enemy. Egyptian forces were passive and sluggish, and their attacks were typically conducted long after the opportunity for attack was gone. Egyptian mechanized formation in one case required two days for 90 kilometer march – compare to Israeli’s 150 km advance in one day. Egyptians proved inept at mobile warfare, with junior officers showing no initiative and ability to improvise. Egyptian tanks were used like movable pillboxes, always remaining on defensive positions regardless of the course of battle. When they did attack, they relied exclusively on firepower, forfeiting shock value and maneuver (two greatest advantages of tanks). There was no coordination between arms, and Egyptian troops and low-level commanders deliberately misinformed high command. For example, all six Egyptian Ilyushin pilots reported having caused serious damage to their targets, despite only one managing to find Israel itself. After the war, Egypt again went to modernizing its army, but Soviets were frustrated at long time required to teach Arab troops to use their equipment.
In 1967 war, Egypt had advantage in equipment. However, they opted for forward defense and were surprised by Israel attack. They were also completely unprepared by Israeli focus on maneuver warfare, speed and constant forward movement. When Israeli Air Force attacked Egyptian air bases, EAF commander general Mahmud was in a civilian aircraft. Egyptian pilots refused to take off without his authorization even when Soviet advisors told them to fly aircraft that were left undamaged to safety. Israeli ground commanders, as was their custom and in keeping with German Blitzkrieg doctrine, had only vague guidelines for their drive in order to allow for improvisation. On the other hand, Egyptian commanders were completely incompetent at maneuver warfare.
In the Bekaa Valley, 60% of Syrian tank losses were caused by Israeli tank fire, mostly 105 mm. Israeli M60s proved survivable due to add-on armor and fire extinguishers. However, there was no tank-infantry cooperation, and Israeli fixed-wing close air support, done by fast jets, proved far more dangerous to Israeli troops than to their opponents. Fortunately for Israelis, there wasn’t much of it. During 1973 war, Syria actually achieved same level of surprise as Soviets did in Bagration, as well as huge numerical advantage. But their tank columns were stopped within 20 kilometers by tiny Israeli forces, and Israeli counterattack expulsed them from Golan. This happened despite the fact that Syrians had more troops, more tanks, more artillery and achieved complete surprise.
In Iran-Iraq war of 1980, Iraqis had an army of 2.750 tanks, 1.040 artillery pieces, 2.500 APCs and 330 fighter aircraft. These were opposed to Iranian forces which could muster 500 tanks, 300 artillery pieces, and less than 100 aircraft. By the end of the war, Iraq fielded 5.000 tanks against 1.000 Iranian tanks. Most of Iraqi tanks were T-62 and T-72 models, while Iran had mostly crappy Chinese Type 59. Iraq also had 700 combat aircraft, including Mirage F-1s and MiG-29s; Iran had less than 100 aircraft, most of them F-5s (most F-14s and F-4s were unable to fly due to embargo). Yet Iraq achieved Phyrric victory only by resorting to spamming chemical weapons and creating 20-1 to 30-1 local numerical advantage. This clearly shows something that has been true for all wars, but especially so for those involving Arab combatants: wars are principally decided by the quality of troops, and not by numbers, weapons quality, industry or technology.
During Gulf Wars, US tanks have proven themselves superior in combat to Iraqi tanks. But there were many factors in this: first and foremost was incompetence of Iraqi troops. Management in general was highly centralized, and Iraqi unit commanders preferred to sit waiting for orders rather than to respond to situation so as to avoid possible punishment, leading to most units not acting, or reacting, when they should, leading in turn to their piecemeal destruction. Higher levels of command tended to hoard information for themselves, leaving low-level commanders and troops completely uninformed and thus unprepared. Training that tank crews received was both inappropriate and inadequate. Many tanks were dug in and used as static artillery positions, but these defensive positions were incompetently prepared. Unit cohesion was weak, leading to units often dissolving under heavy pressure, and Iraqis were heavily outnumbered, which helped destroy their OODA loop. There was no cooperation between Iraqi armor and other elements of the army. Iraqi units carried out no reconnaissance, and covering forces systematically failed to provide any warning to main forces of Coalition movement, approach or presence. Lastly, there were technical characteristics of tanks, with Abrams having effective engagement range of 3.000 meters compared to 1.800 m at best for T-72. Iraqi T-54s and T-72s also had no ERA and no composite armor, while suffering from highly unsafe ammunition storage. They also had inadequate sensors, and used steel rod penetrators (for comparison, tanks in WWII already used tungsten penetrators). T-72 itself was a downgrade of T-64 which entered service in 1964, T-72M was an export downgrade of T-72, and Asad Babil was a downgrade of that. Due to threat from air attacks combined with general Iraqi incompetence at least some were unmanned for most of the time while in defensive positions. At 73 Easting, US tanks literally caught Iraqi tankers while latter were in shelters – most Iraqi tanks were either unmanned, or were going through startup, when they were destroyed. As a result of this, during First Gulf War, only 7 M1s were hit at all by T-72 fire. That being said, technological disparity actually had little to no impact on the final outcome. Two US Marine divisions were equipped mostly with 1960-s era M60A1, which had no thermal sights, no 120 mm guns, no DU rounds and no composite-DU armor of US Army’s heavy tanks. Despite that, said M60 units suffered loss rate comparable to, if not better than, US Army’s M1 units. Thin-skinned Bradleys, LAVs and Warriors used by US and UK suffered very few losses despite extensive close-combat experience (in multiple instances, Bradleys used their 25 mm guns to destroy Iraqi T-55s and T-72s, by attacking from the rear). And despite using T-72 tanks, US Army OPFOR regularly won against M1A1 units in training scenarios (which may or may not be relevant, depending on assumptions). It should be pointed out that these successes had nothing to do with air power: Iraqi units’ will to fight was unaffected by aerial bombardment. In essence, Iraqi incompetence and Coalition’s personnel, organizational and technological advantages had mutually reinforcing effect (maybe even mutually multiplying); no factor taken alone would not have produced as great disparity. That is to say, technological advantage yields exponential results against incompetent opponents, yet has little impact on outcome of a war between skilled opponents. Note that most Iraqi “T-72s” mentioned above were Assad Babil tanks, some of worst in the world at the time.
As it can be clearly seen, warfare in the Middle East cannot be understood through traditional material measures – Arab armies tended to loose battles even when enjoying advantages in one, several, or all “material” measures (these measures being: surprise, numbers, firepower, weapons quality, air support, foreign intervention). Therefore, using Middle East wars to assess performance of weapons is completely useless, as Arab armies always performed far worse than would be expected from using traditional measures of comparison. In fact, it is entirely possible that United States would have fared far better against Iraq in Desert Storm had they used T-72 or M-84 over M1, due to said tanks’ superior combat range, lower fuel consumption and more reliable diesel engine.
During almost all wars, tanks have proven extremely valuable in urban warfare. This requires good elevation and view from roof machine gun in order to counter threats from the top, which are typically too high up for main gun or coaxial machine gun to be used. But most important aspect is coordination with infantry. Whenever that coordination was lacking, tanks have suffered heavy losses; good example of that is Battle of Vukovar, where undermanned and underequipped defenders destroyed many tanks with light AT weapons due to lack of infantry support. JNA (by that time Serb Army in all but name) lost 80 tanks in just seven days, and many more during the entire 87-day siege. One of major problems for Serb tanks was their inability to depress gun barrels low enough to fire into basements. In ambush on September 18, Vukovar defenders made use precisely of that shortcoming, firing RPGs from basements; almost entire JNA column of 30 tanks and 30 APCs was wiped out in an area known thencefore as “Tank Graveyard”. In total, around 100 armored vehicles were destroyed in that area. Much like Egyptians, JNA relied almost exclusively on excessive firepower, with little in way of maneuver or shock value.
One important lesson is that main armament of tank is not its gun, but rather its machine guns, which are used to attack soft targets such as resupply vehicles. Operational mobility is necessary in order to avoid confrontations with anti-tank units and other tanks, and strategic mobility is necessary to allow for quick deployment. After the Yom Kippur war, Israelis immediately added heavier machine guns to their tanks.
Factors used in comparison
Personnel factors required are unit tactics, cohesion and training.
Main technical characteristics of tanks are numbers, surprise, mobility, firepower, protection, infantry support mechanisms and crew comfort.
Numbers relevant are total numbers avaliable and numbers avaliable at the point of engagement. Latter number is measured by using number of combat-ready tanks in formation (readiness percentage times total number of tanks in formation) and number of tanks at the point of engagement (number of tanks that remain combat-ready after 200 mile forced march). Major factor is also time needed to repair combat damage.
In order to surprise the enemy, tank should have a low profile, small presented area as well as low infrared and acoustic signatures. Low profile is self-explanatory. Small presented area means primarily small turret area, as turret is higher up than the hull and so easier target, especially if tank is in hull-down position. Another factor is situational awareness, both “buttoned up” and with commander looking out.
Mobility can be operational, tactical and strategic. Strategic mobility means ability to deploy over large distances, typically with ship, railroad or airplane. It requires low combat weight and acceptable dimensions. Since tanks are transpored by trucks, rail or aircraft over large distances, number of tanks per flatcar or transport aircraft is also important. Operational mobility means ability of tanks to move to the objective under their own power. It requires low fuel usage over large distance as well as mechanical reliability, good average road speed (including stops for repairs and refueling), good road range, ability to wade rivers (wading/fording depth with and without snorkel) and to cross low capacity brudges (combat weight). Tactical mobility is ability to maneuver in a tactical engagement. Most important measures of tactical mobility are “dash” speed (acceleration), speed over rough ground, trench-crossing distance, ability to cross vertical obstacles, power-to-weight ratio, ground clearance and ground pressure.
Firepower has two main considerations: main gun and machine gun effectiveness. Main gun is typically used against hard targets but can, with proper ammo, be used against soft targets as well. Relevant measures are avaliable ammo types and their performance, as well as rate of kill against multiple units. Rate of kill is determined by speed of turret traverse, aiming/ranging and reloading. Also important is number of rounds carried. Machine guns are used exclusively against soft targets, with counter-infantry application being the most important one. Measures for estimating machine gun effectiveness are field of view, mechanical reliability, speed of response, field of fire and number of rounds carried.
Protection has multiple areas. Against antitank weapons (guns, mines, missiles), two main factors are ability to prevent penetrating hits, and to avoid critical damage and casualties if armor is penetrated. Latter in particular requires ammunition to be separated from crew compartment, with blow-out panels installed, as well as unflammable or low-flammability hydraulics. There is also an issue of NBC protection. Further, smaller tank is harder to hit; consequently, height and presented area (especially turret side area) are of great importance.
In order to cooperate with infantry, infantry has to be able to either ride on tank or follow closely behind. Just as important factor is the ability of tank crew (commander) to communicate with escorting infantry without using radio.
Last but not least, there is an issue of crew comfort, which can easily determine actual tank combat performance, especially over longer missions. There were repeated cases of tank crews having to fight for days, up to a week, on end, without much in terms of sleep or rest – stress of such sustained combat operations is extreme, and very hard to handle by a 3-man crew, especially if tank is uncomfortable by design.
Unit price is as follows:
Abrams: 8,58 million USD
Challenger 2: 6,9 million USD
Leopard 2: 5,74 million USD
Leclerc: 12,9 million USD
Ariete: 7 million USD
M-84D: 2,5 million USD (?)
However, Leclerc and M-84D are disadvantaged by additional maintenance requirements of having an autoloader while Leclerc and Abrams are disadvantaged by maintenance- and fuel- -hungry power plant. Consequently, all three will likely fare worse in actual combat presence than indicated by simple price comparison.
While turbine engine is very quiet, it has huge IR signature which makes M1 easy to spot with IR sensors, especially from the air. Against other tanks however, acoustic signature is more important as sound is not blocked by line-of-sight obstacles, and in that area M1 has advantage. Leclerc has a cooling unit, used to cool its exhaust and reduce engine signature, while Swiss Leopard II has an engine muffler which reduces noise levels (though its sound signature will still be considerable).
M1 is 2,44 m high, Challenger 2 is 2,49 m high, Leopard 2 is 2,79 m high, Leclerc is 2,53 m high, Ariete is 2,45 m high and M-84D is 2,20 meters high.
In terms of turret profile, M-84 is likely the best, followed by Leclerc, Challenger II and Ariete. M1 Abrams and Leopard II are rather bad in that area, with large turret profile. Overall, M-84D is best at surprising the opponent in ambush, followed by M1 and Ariete, though M1s advantage over other tanks (Leopard II excepted) is reduced or eliminated by its large turret profile. In overall profile surface, M1 Abrams is 2,5 square meters larger than M-84. As it can be seen in the next section, M-84D has smallest frontal dimensions.
All tanks being compared have advanced thermal imaging sensors, allowing them to fight at night and in low-visibility (fog, rain) conditions, as well as laser warning systems.
M1 is disadvantaged against other tanks in short-ranged acceleration due to several second lag inherent in turbine engine (despite having 7 second acceleration from 0 to 32 kph once it starts accelerating). Over long-term acceleration, horsepower as opposed to engine type is the deciding factor, but this acceleration is only relevant on open plains; when there is cover avaliable, sprint performance is far more important. M1 Abrams has 1.120 kW engine power, 57 metric tons in M1A1 and 63 metric ton weight in M1A2SEP variant. This gives it power-to-weight ratio of 19,65 kW/t for M1A1 and 17,78 kW/t for M1A2SEP. Maximum speed is 67 kph on road for M1A1, 68 kph for M1A2SEP (basic M1 coould achieve 72 kph but is no longer in service) and 48 kph cross-country, but poor suspension means that average speed over the rough ground is slower than that of Challenger II, and slower than most other tanks. Ungoverned maximum speed over the road is 112+ kph. Power pack can be replaced within 30 minutes.
M1 Abrams does not have good operational mobility primarily due to its turbine engine, which uses huge amounts of fuel when idle or at slow speeds when compared to diesel engine. Average fuel consumption, even with high percentage of travel on secondary roads, is 3,86 US gallons per mile when idling is included (turbine burns 10 US gallons per hour when idling). With 504 gallon fuel tank, this translates into 130 mile (209 km) range. Without idling and travelling on road at economic speed fuel consumption is 1,67 US gallons per mile, giving 302 mile (486 km) range. In combat operations consumption can be as high as 8,6 gallons per mile, for range of no more than 58,6 miles (94,3 km). It can take up to 60 seconds to start, compared to no more than 5 seconds for diesel, which means that in combat environment it has to be kept at idle – in which case it will consume entire fuel in <15 hours. Its turbine also has high maintenance requirements. M1 requires 1 hour of refuelling every 3 hours and one hour of filter cleaning every 2 hours; consequently, it is immobile for 14 hours every day. Its gas turbine breaks down every 250 km, unlike more reliable diesel engines. During Desert Storm, it had to stop every three to five hours in order to undergo engine maintenance and repairs, and could not travel for more than 30 kilometers without undergoing emergency maintenance due to sand clogging up engine filters, which necessitated filters to be replaced. This lack of mobility allowed key Iraqi armored units to escape destruction during the Desert Storm, causing 12-18 hour delays due to fuel shortcomings alone. Neither are these issues exclusive to desert areas: falling leaves and snow can also be sucked up into air intake during operations, requiring organizational maintenance. Crew is typically not allowed to try and clean intake by themselves for fear of damage. Overall, 3/4 of the fuel used on Iraq and Afghanistan wars was used to get the fuel there in the first place. But supply train is very vulnerable, being composed of thin-skinned vehicles, and thus can be easily destroyed, stranding tanks. Larger supply train requires more troops to protect, which reduces number of troops deployed against the enemy. While turbine is often stated to have advantage of multifuel capability, most if not all diesel-engined tanks in this comparison are multifuel capable, and using any fuel other than JP-8 will damage the engine. Listed maximum range (without idling) is 463 km for M1A1 and 411 km for M1A2SEP. Ground clearance is 483 mm. It can ford 1,2 m deep water obstacles without preparation and 2 m with preparation. It can climb 1,2 m obstacles and pass 2,7 m trench. Specific ground pressure is 1,05 kg/cm2 for M1A1 and 1,09 kg/cm2 for M1A2. It can traverse 60% gradient and 40% side slope. It is 9,77 m long, 3,66 m wide and 2,44 m tall.
Challenger 2 is said to be one of faster tanks over the rough ground due to its excellent suspension – while its top speed over rough ground is not as high as some other tanks, it can fire accurately at higher speeds due to suspension ensuring stability. It has weight of 62,5 metric tons in basic variant and 74,95 metric tons in Streetfighter variant. With 890 kW engine, this gives it a power-to-weight ratio of 14,2 kW/t in basic variant and 11,9 kW/t in Streetfighter variant. Maximum speed is 59 kph on road and 40 kph off road. Acceleration from 0 to 32 kph is 12 seconds. It has 421 gallon (1.592 l) tank. Range is 450 km on road and 250 km off road. Combat fuel consumption is 6,4 liters per km, giving a range of 249 km. Ground clearance is 510 mm. It can ford 1,1 m deep water obstacles without preparation. It can also climb 0,9 m vertical obstacles and pass 2,34 m trench. Specific ground pressure is 0,9 kg/cm2 for basic variant and 1,08 kg/m2 in Streetfighter variant. It can traverse 60% gradient and 30% side slope. It is 11,55 m long, 3,52 m wide and 2,49 m tall.
Leopard 2 has top speed of 72 kph on road and 45 kph off road; it achieved maximum speed of 120 kph during tests in Switzerland. Leopard 2A6 weights 62,4 metric tons and has 1.103 kW engine, giving it power-to-weight ratio of 17,7 kW/t. Acceleration from 0 to 32 kph is 6 seconds. It has 314 gallon (1.200 l) tank. Range is 550 km on road and 219 km over terrain. Combat fuel consumption is 5 liters per km, giving range of <240 km, and fuel allows for 60 hours of idling. Ground clearance is 487 mm on rear and 537 mm front. It can ford 1,2 m deep water obstacles without preparation and 4 m with preparation. It can also climb 1,1 m obstacles and pass 3 m trench. Specific ground pressure is 0,92 kg/cm2. It can traverse 60% gradient and 30% side slope. It is 10,97 m long, 3,7 m wide and 2,79 m high.
Leclerc has top speed of 72 kph on road and 55 kph off road, and has hydro-gas suspension (same type as used on Challenger II). In tests, it achieved top speed well above 80 kph. Leclerc Series XXI weights 57,4 metric tons and has 1.100 kW engine, giving it power-to-weight ratio of 19,2 kW/t. Acceleration from 0 to 32 kph is 5,5 seconds. It has 1.300 l (343 gallon) fuel tank, with 1.700 l possible if external drum is used. Range on road is 550 km on internal fuel and 650 km with external fuel. In combat operations however fuel consumption can get as high as 13,8 l/km, giving combat range of 94 -123 km. Ground clearance is 500 mm. It can ford 1,1 m deep water obstacles without preparation, and 4 m deep obstacles with preparation. It can climb 1,1 m obstacles and pass 3 m trench. Specific ground pressure is 0,9 kg/cm2. It can traverse 60% gradient and 30% side slope. It is 9,87 m long, 3,71 m wide and 2,92 m high. Power pack can be replaced within 30 minutes in field conditions.
Ariete has top speed of 68 kph on road and 55 kph cross-country. It weights 54 metric tons and has 956 kW engine, giving it power-to-weight ratio of 17,7 kW/t. Acceleration from 0 to 32 kph is 6 seconds. It has 1.100 l fuel tank. Range on road is 550 km. Ground clearance is 440 mm. It can ford 1,25 m deep water obstacles without preparation and 5 m with preparation. It can climb 1,1 m vertical obstacles and pass 3 m trench. Specific ground pressure is 0,85 kg/cm2. It can traverse 60% gradient and 30% side slope. It is 9,67 m long, 3,6 m wide and 2,5 m high.
M-84D has top speed of 70 kph on road and 35 (?) kph cross-country. It weights 48,5 tonnes with reactive armor and has 895 kW engine, giving it power-to-weight ratio of 18,5 kW/t. Without reactive armor, it weights 45 tonnes and has power-to-weight ratio of 19,9 kW/t, but this is not a standard configuration. Acceleration from 0 to 32 kph is 7 seconds. It has fuel capacity of 1.450 l. Range is 700 km on road. In combat operations fuel consumption can be up to 4,5 l/km, giving it combat range of 322 km. Ground clearance is 428 mm, and it can ford 1,8 m deep water obstacles without preparation, or up to 5 m deep obstacles with preparation. It can climb 0,85 m vertical obstacles and pass 2,8 m trench. Specific ground pressure is 0,813 bars or 0,83 kg/cm2. It can traverse 58% gradient and 47% side slope. It is 9,53 m long, 3,57 m wide and 2,19 m high.
M1 uses 120 mm L44 smoothbore gun and also has one 12,7 mm and two 7,62 mm machine guns. During the Desert Storm it could acquire targets at 4.000 meters with thermal sights and engage them at 3.000 meters by using DU ammunition. Turret can rotate 360* in 8 seconds. Gun elevation is -9 to +20 degrees. It has no generalized HE round for use against soft targets (it has sub-caliber AT DU round (3,5% of mass is titanium), HEAT round, canister round and HE-ORT round, a HE round used for destroying obstacles). Muzzle velocity with DU round is 1.680 m/s.
M1 has a disadvantage in machine gun effectiveness due to very wide and flat turret roof, which creates significant blind spots. It carries 42 120 mm and 11.300 mm machine gun rounds (900 * 12,7 mm, 10.400 * 7,62 mm).
Challenger II uses three-part ammunition, though British tankists can load it just as quickly as US ones can load single-piece ammo through “laploading”. It uses 120 mm L55 rifled gun, which provides superior accuracy at range compared to smoothbore guns, at the expense of smaller selection of rounds and decreased lethality. It also has two 7,62 mm machine guns. It carries 52 120 mm and 4.200 machine gun rounds. Main gun has effective range of 3.000 meters; it should be noted that Challenger II holds the record for longest-ranged tank kill in history, having destroyed Iraqi tank at distance of 5,1 kilometers. Turret can rotate 360* in 9 seconds. Gun elevation is -10 to +20 degrees. It has no dedicated HE round for use against soft targets. However, its rifled barrel allows it to use HESH round, which is capable against both light armor and soft targets. Muzzle velocity with DU rounds is 1.550 m/s.
Leopard 2A6 and later models use 120 mm L55 gun, which gives greater precision and muzzle velocity, thus allowing superior penetration for equal ammunition. Unlike M1 and Challie, it uses tungsten carbide ammunition for anti-tank work. Pure tungsten is denser than DU and much harder, but lacks depleted uranium’s thermal and self-sharpening properties. Modern tungsten carbide penetrators have same self-sharpening properties as DU rounds; this was first seen in German DM53 round introduced in 1993. However, tungsten carbide also has lower density of 15,63 g/cm3 compared to DU-Tis 17,12 g/cm3. It also has two 7,62 mm machine guns. It carries 42 120 mm and 4.750 machine gun rounds. Main gun is stated to have maximum effective range of 4.000 m with tungsten penetrator and 6.000-8.000 m with LAHAT. Muzzle velocity with tungsten round is 1.800 m/s which, assuming same penetrator size, would give it 4,8% advantage in KE energy compared to M1’s DU sabot. Turret can rotate 360* in 9 seconds. Gun elevation is -9 to +20 degrees. However, wide and flat turret roof may limit machine gun effectiveness. It can fire programmable HE munitions.
Leclerc utilizes 120 mm L52 smootbore gun, superior to US L44 but likely inferior to Challenger’s and Leopard’s L55 guns at least in terms of precision. It utilizes tungsten ammunition. Leclerc is capable of firing at a target 4.000 m away while travelling at speed of 50 kph, and has 2,5 km identification range. It also has one 12,7 mm and one 7,62 mm machine gun. It carries 40 120 mm and 4.100 machine gun rounds, and main gun’s autoloader allows 12 rounds per minute rate of fire (6 rpm (?) when on the move?), which is still lower than human loader’s maximum of 15 rpm. Gun can also be loaded manually, from either inside or outside the tank. Muzzle velocity with tungsten round is 1.790 m/s. Turret can rotate 360* in 9 seconds. Gun elevation is -8 to +15 degrees. It has HE round avaliable.
Ariete utilizes 120 mm L44 smoothbore gun. Loadout is 42 120 mm and 2.500 machine gun rounds. Muzzle velocity with tungsten rounds is likely cca 1.500-1.600 m/s. It also has two 7,62 mm machine guns. Gun elevation is -9 to +20 degrees. It has HE round avaliable.
M-84D uses 125 mm L50 gun, however it has short effective range when compared to other tanks used in comparison (2.000-2.500 m vs 3.000-4.000 m), and due to operating at lower pressure, its larger caliber provides it with no meaningful advantage. It also has roof-mounted 12,7 mm and coaxial 7,62 mm machine guns. Loadout is 40 125 mm and 2.360 machine gun rounds. Autoloader allows rate of fire of 9 rounds per minute, and turret can rotate 360* in 22 (?) seconds. Muzzle velocity with tungsten rounds is likely cca 1.700 m/s. It is also capable of firing LAHAT missiles from the gun, which are laser-guided anti-tank missiles with 6.000-8.000 m effective range and penetration of 800 mm RHA against tanks with ERA. They can also be used against helicopters, but are expensive and so there is a high chance of running out of the stock during a serious war. Gun elevation is -6 to +13,5 degrees, which limits its ability to engage targets in urban or mountain areas, as well as ability to fire from hull-down position. Machine guns utilize remote weapons stations, reducing crew exposure but also significantly reducing situational awareness when utilizing machine gun. It can fire HE round.
M1 uses DU modules at front of the turret, but rest of the tank is armored with standard Burlington (Chobham) armor package. Front of its turret and hull are angled, while roof, sides and rear are flat (horizontal and vertical, respectively). Main gun ammunition is stowed in turret’s “bustle”, providing safety from cookoff in case of a penetrating hit, and bustle itself is better protected than in other models mentioned here. It has 10 smoke grenade launchers on the turret, as well as onboard smoke generator. It has no escape hatch but some versions have V-shaped hull to improve mine protection. Turret controls are electro-hydraulic. Hydraulic liquid itself is very flammable and may explode when hit by fragments; in fact, hydraulic turret drives are the leading cause of crew losses, at least in tanks with proper ammunition storage. M1s turbine engine is also extremely hot, which increases possibility of oil leaks causing fires; turbine engine is also more prone to oil leaks than diesel engine is.
Challenger II utilizes tungsten layer(s) in its Dorchester armor (more advanced version of Burlington / Chobham composite, which itself was also British design); DU modules mentioned above for M1 Abrams were actually an attempt by US military to bring M1 up to par with Challenger in terms of protection. However, due to British Cold War shoot-and-scoot tactics Challenger was designed around, there was no composite armor at all at bottom and lower glacis of the tank (presumably rear as well). This led to some tanks getting penetrated by IEDs during counter-insurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan; one such incident involved RPG-29 set up like an IED, hitting tank’s unarmored bottom. Answer to this issue was Challenger II Streetfighter, which added external Dorchester modules to bottom, lower glacis and sides of the tank, as well as ERA to the sides and cage armor on the rear. No Streetfighter has ever been penetrated by any weapon; it has even proven itself immune to “Daisy Chain” IEDs – 155 mm shells grouped together and placed under the road. These have shown themselves lethal to even M1 Abrams tanks. It has advantage over most other tanks in that its roof is not a completely flat armor plate, making it difficult to score a 90* hit even with roof-attack ammunition. Challenger 2s highly angled turret front increases probability of enemy sabot fire being deflected (redirected) when tank is firing from the hull-down position. It uses cast steel turret, with composite armor being mounted on it by using rails on the outside of the tank. This allows for easier maintenance as damaged armor can simply be replaced. Its armor piercing ammo is stored in turret bustle, but charges and HESH rounds are stored in fighting compartments. It can lay down its own smoke cover without requiring smoke grenades by injecting diesel fuel into exhaust manifolds, and also has 10 smoke grenade launchers. Challenger II Streetfighter also has V-shaped hull to improve mine protection. Both versions have escape hatch. Turret controls are completely electric, removing vulnerability of flammable hydraulic liquids.
Leopard 2 has better top armor than Abrams; basic armor composition is identical, as both utilize Chobham armor, but it may (?) also utilize tungsten layer(s). While its front, side and rear turret armor is completely vertical, front and sides of its turret are mounted with NERA wedge add-on from Leopard 2A5 onwards. This add-on shatters sub-caliber penetrators – when outer plate is hit, rubber layer behind the plate compresses; it decompresses once plate is penetrated, redirecting energy back into the penetrator and forcing additional material into its path. It also helps diffuse penetrating jet from shaped charges, further improving on spaced armor effect present. However, only 15 rounds are stored in turret’s bustle while remaining rounds utilize hull stowage next to the driver. It is equipped with escape hatch underneath the tank. Turret controls are all electric, eliminating hazardous hydraulic liquid. While it does have 16 smoke grenade launchers, it has no exhaust smoke generator.
Leclerc, like Challenger II, utilizes tungsten layers in its armor. Armor is modular, allowing it to be tailored to the threat as well as in-field repairs and easy upgradeability, and provides better all-around performance than sabot-specialized Chobham. Weight saving was achieved by using ERA packages for added protection, allowing reduced thickness of base armor, as well as by having small profile (among other things, by using autoloader), which allows better protection for given weight (Leclerc’s turret frontal area is 0,5 m2 smaller than that of Leopard 2). It has 22 rounds stowed in autoloader and 18 in front hull, next to the driver. It has escape hatch. It also has 18 smoke grenade launchers, but no onboard smoke generator. Turret controls are all electric.
Ariete has composite armor on front and sides and two four-tube grenade launchers. It has no V-shaped hull. Unlike M1, it does have escape hatch. It has 15 rounds stowed in turret bustle and 27 in the hull. It has eight smoke grenade launchers but no onboard smoke generator. Turret controls are electro-hydraulic, significantly hampering survivability.
M-84D, unlike prototype M-95, has no bustle stowage; 22 rounds are in autoloader and 20 in hull and the turret. Autoloader itself is located low in the hull, with little in way of extra armored protection or separation from rest of the tank; ammunition is colocated with charges, latter being right on top of the former. Consequently, hits that penetrate its thin side armor will often result in tank’s destruction. Thick frontal armor and low position of ammunition in the hull provide adequate protection from the front; however, latter feature leads to vulnerability to mines/IEDs. Effective armor thickness from front is 550-650 mm for glacis and 560-700 mm for turret (maybe more), but as noted before, side armor is thin. Situation is made worse by the fact that (again, unlike M-95) it has no proper composite armor. Compared to basic variant, it has chains at the back of the tank to protect the engine and SLAT armor around the ammunition to reduce possibility of it being hit. Like Leclerc, thinner basic armor is compensated for by extensive use of ERA. It is however 15-20% smaller target when compared to most other Western tanks. It has 12 smoke launchers as well as smoke generator and escape hatch. Turret controls are electro-hydraulic, leading to even worse survivability than unsafe ammo storage would suggest.
It should be noted that smoke rounds fired by at least Leclerc and Leopard II are “multiband”, blocking both visual and IR sensors. Further, Challenger II has smaller profile than Leopard II, Abrams, similar to if not slightly smaller than Leclerc, almost identical to Ariete and larger than M-84; drawings can be seen here. As mentioned before, M1A1 weights 57 metric tons, M1A2SEP weights 63 metric tons, Challenger II weights 62,5 metric tons in basic variant and 74,95 metric tons in Streetfighter variant, Leopard 2A6 weights 62,3 metric tons, Leclerc weights 57,4 metric tons, Ariete weights 54 metric tons and M-84D weights 45 metric tons. From this it can be concluded that Challenger II Streetfighter is the best protected tank, followed by M1A2SEP, Challenger II basic, Leopard 2A6, Leclerc/M1A1, Ariete and M-84D (in that order). However, M1A1 may be better armored than Leclerc (different armor compositon notwithstanding) due to lighter powerplant. Difference is not likely to be significant as M1A1 has to carry more fuel, and despite lighter engine, propulsion system weight is not likely to be much lower. Some info also states that M1 and Leopard 2 use composite armor only on frontal arc, which may make Leclerc overall better protected.
M1 Abrams is again screwed over by its turbine engine, as infantry cannot follow the tank closely for the fear of getting extra crispy. This is a major problem in urban combat, as infantry cannot use the tank for cover. That being said, in most situations using tank for direct cover is not very advisable as tanks are high-value targets.
M1, Leopard 2, Leclerc and Challenger 2 all have tank-infantry telephones. Thus, M-84D and Ariete (?), are seriously disadvantaged in tank-infantry cooperation.
Crew comfort and sustained operations
Challenger II has an inbuilt kettle for making tea (and heating meals), which has proven itself such a huge plus that during exercises other tank crews have been known to come over for a hot meal. Leopard 2 may also have a heating surface for meals.
M-84D is likely to be uncomfortable, as are most other tanks based on Russian designs. All tanks have air conditioning, with possible (?) exception of M-84D; at the very least, its air conditioning is likely to be unsuitable for desert conditions. M-84D likely also has standard issue of Russian T-72 tanks (which was also a problem on T-64) – namely, autoloader trying to feed parts of the gunner into the breech along with the ammunition. M-84D and Leclerc both have 3-man crews, which is a disadvantage in sustained operations due to both combat survivability and sustained operations issues. Latter are crucial, as tank with autoloader not only has less crew to perform maintenance, but also has an additional highly complex piece of technology which requires maintenance; end result is that tank readiness goes down and maintenance downtime goes up, all other things being equal.
Tanks often have to dig their own tank ditches. This requires appropriate equipment (bulldozer blade) and strong drive train. M1 Abrams, Challenger 2, Leopard 2 can all include dozer blades even on tanks that are not dedicated engineering / recovery vehicles. Dozer blade can also help clear obstacles. However, to my knowledge, M1’s dozer blade capability is limited to USMC tanks, and other M1 tanks only have mine-clearing blades.
Best tanks per category
Acoustic signature: Abrams
IR signature: M-84D
Terrain speed: Leclerc, Ariete
Ground clearance: Challenger 2
Ground pressure: Leopard 2, M-84D
Trench: Leopard 2, Leclerc, Ariete
Gradient: Abrams, Challenger 2, Leclerc, Ariete
Side slope: M-84D
Unprepared fording: M-84D
Cruise range: M-84D
Combat range: M-84D
Fuel consumption: M-84D
Road speed: Leopard 2, Leclerc
Prepared fording: Ariete, M-84D
Combat weight: M-84D
Combat weight: M-84D
Effective range: Leopard 2, Leclerc
Tank destruction: Leopard 2
Soft target destruction: Leopard 2, Leclerc, Ariete, M-84D
Combat load: Challenger 2
Rate of fire: Abrams, Leopard 2, Ariete, Challenger 2 (?)
Positive elevation: Abrams, Challenger 2, Leopard 2, Ariete
Negative elevation: Challenger 2
Reliability: Abrams, Challenger 2, Leopard 2
Overall: Leopard 2
Coverage: Challenger 2, Ariete (?)
Combat load: Abrams
Armor protection: Challenger 2
Mine protection: Abrams, Challenger 2
Ammunition storage: Abrams
Turret drive: Challenger 2, Leopard 2, Leclerc
Smoke launchers: Abrams, Challenger 2, Leopard 2, Leclerc, Ariete, M-84D
Smoke generators: Abrams, Challenger 2, M-84D
Escape hatch: Leopard 2, Challenger 2, Leclerc, M-84D
Overall: Challenger 2
Tank-infantry cooperation: Challenger 2, Leopard 2, Leclerc
Crew comfort: Challenger 2, Leopard 2
Crew complement: Abrams, Challenger 2, Leopard 2, Ariete
Combat engineering: Challenger 2, Leopard 2
Overall: Challenger 2, Leopard 2
Most Western tanks were designed with goal of tank-to-tank combat, to destroy Soviet tanks coming through the Fulda Gap. Consequently, little importance was given to strategic and operational mobility, and this shows, with only tank with adequate mobility being M-84D, which follows Eastern design practices. M1 Abrams in particular suffers from crippling overspecialization, having so little operational mobility that it is of extremely limited use outside that particular situation. This single-minded focus on one scenario and ignorance of actual usage of tanks through history of warfare has caused some major failures in combat, such as Iraqi Republican Guard escaping during the Gulf War I due to US M1s running out of fuel, which allowed the Saddam regime to survive until 2003. Leclerc is not much better, having only slightly if at all higher operational range; its only major advantage over Abrams in operational mobility is its lower weight (which is also advantage in strategic mobility). Both tanks have clearly inadequate operational range, and should be either reengined or replaced with more adequate models.
Overall, tanks can still be divided into three groups, according to their roles more than their weight (though weight is relevant as well). Heavy tanks are designed with focus on tank-to-tank combat, relatively static ambushes against enemy columns and penetrating enemy static defenses, plus direct fire support of infantry. Medium tanks are used for enveloping maneuvers, as well as deep penetration into enemy territory in order to destroy fuel depots etc. Role of light tanks (scouting) is nowadays mostly taken over by other vehicles, primarily IFVs and APCs. Consequently, heavy tanks have priorities of firepower <> armor > mobility, while medium tanks should go mobility > firepower > armor. Within this comparison, best Western heavy tank is Challenger 2 and best medium tank is M-84D, albeit latter is significantly disadvantaged by lack of fourth crewmember and cramped conditions in the tank, winning mostly because of lack of competition in the category (Ariete may be considered a contender, but has serious mobility disadvantages). If only one tank type is used to fill both roles, best choice is Leopard 2. In a direct fight, the winner would most likely be a tank with the best crew, albeit M-84D is seriously disadvantaged in technical characteristics against other tanks compared here. However, taking price into account, a combination of Challenger 2 and M-84D would be optimal. While Gulf Wars are used to point to M1 Abrams’ performance, they are useless for any such purpose. Far from proving M1s superiority, Coalition tankers have done nothing more than defeat a bunch of incompetents in monkey-model garbage; in the first Gulf War, old M-60 tanks have performed just as well as newer Coalition tanks. As explained before, M1 Abrams failed in its intended role due to gas turbine engine. Drawbacks of turbine engine on tank’s actual combat performance (as opposed to History Channell / Discovery Channell / forum statistics measurement contest) are so large that M1 Abrams and Leclerc are the worst Western tanks simply due to inadequate fuel efficiency and excessive maintenance requirements.
Notes – Greek tank evaluation
- Leopard 2A5 was judged the overall best with 78,65%, followed by M1 Abrams (72,21%), AMX-56 Leclerc (72,03%) and Challenger 2E (69,19%)
- Only Leopard 2A5 demonstrated deep fording ability.
- Main gun firing results (10 rounds static, 10 rounds on the move) were as follows:
- 2000 m distance daytime: M1A2 17; Leclerc 20; Leopard 2A5 19; T-84 11; T-80U 11
- 1500 m distance nightime: M1A2 20; Leclerc 20; Leopard 2A5 19; T-80 13
- Hunter-kill: Leclerc 13; Leopard 2A5 17; Challenger 2E 8; T-84 9
- Note that Challenger 2 did not have proper ammo for the gun. T-80UE and T-84 used practice rounds which behave unpredictably past 2.000 m and do not correspond to BM15 past 1.500 m.
- Main gun rate of fire: M1A2 8 rpm; Leclerc 9 rpm; Leopard 2A5 9 rpm; Challenger 2E 9 rpm; T-84 6-7 rpm; T-80U 6 rpm
- Range: M1A2 365 km; Leclerc 500 km; Leopard 2A5 375 km; Challenger 2E 440 km; T-84 450 km; T-80U 412 km
- Both Leclerc and Challenger 2E were fitted with German 1.500 HP MTU EuroPowerPack instead of their indigenous engines.
- Only Leopard 2A5 demonstrated deep fording capability.
- Neither Leopard 2A5 or Challenger 2E could pass 30 grad slope.
- T-80U had the best mobility and reliability.
Further reading and links of interest
Arabs at War: Military Effectiveness 1948-1991
Victory Misunderstood: What Gulf War Tells Us About The Future Conflict
The Battle of Kursk: Myths and Reality
There is also a good explanation about tanks and Blitzkrieg here:
How M1 Abrams repeats Tiger IIs failures
The Half-Crewed Tank Scam