Impressive technological advancements continually inspire awe as feats once thought impossible come to fruition. Historically, the defense sector has been at the forefront of advance. Since the first functional tank was built, a 3.5 mile-per-hour speedster named Little Willie, iconic defensive technology has captured the imagination and astonishment of the world.
Below, we explore some of the most powerful battle tanks around the world.
1. The South Korean K2 Black Panther
At $8.5 million per unit, Korea’s K2 Black Panther is one of the world’s most expensive battle tanks. The South Korean-built K2 was developed by a subsidiary of the Hyundai Motor Group. It has been Korea’s “next generation tank” since 2014, though its history traces back to the late 1970s.
Its modern successor, the K2, boasts state-of-the-art agility as it cruises at over 40 miles per hour while rapid-firing a devastating salvo of 120mm rounds. It also launches the unique KSTAM-II (Korean Smart Top-Attack Munition), which follows an artillery trajectory and slows itself with a parachute to maneuver toward an opposing tank.
The K2 is notable for its nimbleness, with a variable suspension that raises it to clear rough terrain or lowers it for increased speed. It can lean front-to-back or sideways and ford water up to 13 feet deep.
Such innovations were born of their origin on the hilly (sometimes swampy) Korean peninsula. A hot commodity internationally, the K2 was sold to Turkey in 2008 and, a few years ago, to Poland, in a $9 billion deal for 800 tanks.
2. The Russian T-14 Armata
Russia’s new-and-next-gen T-14 eschews the tank designs of the past for a versatile modular construction. The Armata Universal Combat Platform is a modular heavy military tracked vehicle platform built into tanks or other military vehicles such as armored personnel carriers.
The T-14 features a remote-controlled turret with a 125mm 2A82-1M smoothbore cannon and can fire laser-guided missiles with a maximum range of around 7 miles. The T-14 protects its crew of three through various means, including multi-layer, composite armor, and an active protection system that uses radar to detect and intercept attacks. It even has an onboard toilet.
As with Korea’s K2 Black Panther, the T-14 is customized for specific environmental challenges. Its rear-positioned power plant provides smooth operation in temperatures of -50 degrees Celsius.
Currently, Russia has very few T-14s, and a planned order exceeding 2,000 units — slated for arrival by 2020 — has yet to occur.
3. The German Leopard 2
The Leopard 2 is one of history’s most successful main battle tanks, serving the German armed forces for more than 40 years. The 3,200 units also serve Austria, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, and Turkey.
The Leopard line has been improved multiple times and continues to undergo refinement with the upgraded Leopard 2A7V, whose “V” stands for Verbessert or improved. Various modifications make it among the world’s heaviest, most robust, and best-equipped main battle tanks.
In service since 2014, the Leopard 2A7 line-up benefitted from an AC system, auxiliary power unit, panorama sight with thermal imaging, add-on armor packages, and an integrated information system.
As of 2019, German forces have been testing the newer Leopard 2A7V variant, which received “massively increased” armor capabilities to withstand high-energy hits. As well, NBC protection guards against nuclear, biological, and chemical attacks. The tank's mobility is also impressive, as are its optical abilities with the SPECTUS II spectral imaging system and a laser rangefinder, allowing clear views across varying light levels.
Offensively, it currently utilizes four types of ammunition, including high-explosive tracer rounds with programmable fuses. It also fires armor-piercing, fin-stabilized projectiles. Finally, its revamped L55A1 smoothbore tank gun achieves higher gas pressure to engage targets.
4. The Chinese Type 99
China has benefitted from both Russian and Western influences in crafting the Type 99. In addition to the standard protective measures, such as NBC protection and fire suppression, it features modular reactive armor that can be replaced when damaged or upgraded when advances become available.
It also has various ammunition types, including fin-stabilized kinetic impactors, anti-tank options, and explosive fragmentation rounds. Its carousel-type autoloader is based on Soviet designs and allows it to discharge eight rounds per minute. Its laser rangefinder, innovative ballistics control, advanced imaging, weather sensors, and auto-tracking allow target acquisition at 3 miles. The T99 also borrows from German designs in its side armor and turbocharged 1,500-horsepower diesel engine.
Its evasive options range from smoke grenades and screens to a laser-based self-defense capability that disables enemy missiles and optics.
5. The American M1A2 Abrams
The M1 Abrams is considered the pinnacle of modern tank design and has a reputation to match its lofty status. The American M1 Abrams was designed by Chrysler Defense, the tank-building division of Chrysler, which has since become General Dynamics Land Systems.
The M1 entered U.S. Army service in 1980 and has since been improved. For example, ammo is only as good as accuracy. The M1A2 sports innovative targeting technologies that track through adverse weather conditions and battlefield obscurants, giving it “eyes” that can see the otherwise unseeable.
Its main gun is a 120mm XM256 smoothbore cannon. It’s manually loaded and can launch five types of NATO ammunition to pierce armored vehicles, engage infantry, or take down low-flying aircraft. It’s additionally equipped with a .50 caliber machine gun, two 7.62mm M240 machine guns, more than 40 rounds of 120mm ammunition, and 11,400 rounds of 7.62mm ammunition.
It has a range of nearly 270 miles and a maximum speed of 42 mph, powered by its 1,500-horsepower turbine engine. As expected, the M1A2 leverages cutting-edge technology, including its Inter-Vehicle Information System, which facilitates an “automatic and continual exchange of information between vehicles.”
Its navigation abilities allow commanders to quickly and effectively track crews and enemy positions. This synchronized tech manages battle reports, artillery requests, map graphics, and operational orders, with all transmissions directed through a secure radio system. Multiple power distribution avenues bolster the Abram's many capacities, in case one is disrupted.
The M1A2 armor is fortified with depleted uranium mesh, keeping it well-protected against heavy forces. The tanks also have advanced active protection measures that identify and destroy incoming threats with a shotgun-like blast.
Few technologies match the might of modern battle tanks. With ongoing innovations, there are unforeseen possibilities for future defense advancements.