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Main battle tanks are often classified as belonging to a particular generation, although the actual definition and membership in these generations is not clearly defined. Soviet and Russian military planners organize tanks with first generation of tanks up to 1945, and four generations of main battle tanks[Note 1] while Canadian strategists organize main battle tanks into three generations.[Note 2] The military of the People's Republic of China also recognizes three generations of its own tanks.
In 1983, Rolf Hilmes saw three tank generations and three "intermediate generations", which consisted mainly of upgraded vehicles. The first generation of main battle tanks were based on or influenced by designs of World War II, most notably the T-34 and the Panther tank. The second generation was equipped with NBC protection (only sometimes), IR night vision devices, a stabilized main gun and at least a mechanical fire control system. The third generation is determined by the usage of thermal imagers, digital fire control systems and special (composite) armour.
However, Hilmes acknowledged that tanks cannot be definitively grouped by generations, as each tank-producing country develops and introduces its tanks in tune with its own ideas and needs. He also states that breakdown of postwar tanks by generations is based on timeframe and technical factors, as a basis for further discussion.
The first generation consists of the medium tanks designed and produced directly after World War II that were later redefined as main battle tanks.
|Name||Entered service in||Origin||Notes|
|Centurion||1946||United Kingdom||First "Universal Tank" (MBT) Culmination of the WWII cruiser tanks.|
|T-54||1946||Soviet Union||Russia's First Generation of MBT.|
|M47 Patton||1952||United States||A development of the M46 Patton and M26 Pershing tanks.|
|M48 Patton||1953||United States||A further development of the M47 Patton tank.|
|T-55||1958||Soviet Union||Improved T-54.|
|Type 61||1961||Japan||Developed and used by the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force.|
The second generation had enhanced night-fighting capabilities and in most cases NBC protection. Most western tanks of this generation were armed with the 105 mm Royal Ordnance L7 tank gun or derivatives of it.
|Name||Entered service in||Origin||Notes|
|T-62||1961||Soviet Union||A further development of the T-55.|
|M60 Patton||1961||United States||A further development of the M48 Patton tank. Later models(M60A2 and M60A3) are considered as the first intermediate generation.|
|Leopard 1||1965||West Germany||A main battle tank designed and produced in West Germany that first entered service in 1965.|
|Panzer 61||1965||Switzerland||A further development of the Panzer 58 tank.|
|MBT-70||1965||United States / West Germany||An American-West German joint project to develop a new main battle tank. Never entered service.|
|T-64||1966||Soviet Union||World's first composite armored tank, later versions of the T-64 may be considered as third generation.|
|AMX 30||1966||France||The AMX 30 served as the principal Main Battle Tank (MBT) for the French Army.|
|FV 4201 Chieftain||1966||United Kingdom||Armed with the British 120 mm Royal Ordnance L11A5 gun.|
|Vickers MBT||1967||United Kingdom||British private venture design for export, licence built as the Vijayanta for India.|
|Stridsvagn 103||1968||Sweden||Turretless design developed and employed solely by Sweden. Double engine feature; both diesel and gas turbine.|
|Panzer 68||1971||Switzerland||Swiss Main Battle Tank (MBT) based on the Panzer 61.|
|T-72||1973||Soviet Union||Hilmes puts the T-72 in the first intermediate generation.|
|Olifant Mk 1||1974||South Africa||A further development of the Centurion Tank.|
|Type 74||1975||Japan||Hilmes puts the Type 74 in the first intermediate generation.|
|Merkava Mark I||1979||Israel||First Main Battle Tank developed and used by Israel Defense Forces.|
|Ch'onma-ho||1980||Soviet Union / North Korea||Copy of the T-62; later versions include upgrades.|
|OF-40||1981||Italy||Main Battle Tank used by United Arab Emirates.|
|Tanque Argentino Mediano||1983||Argentina||"Argentine Medium Tank" developed from Marder IFV by Argentina and Thyssen-Henschel.|
|Merkava Mark II||1983||Israel||Improved Merkava Mark I.|
|T-55AM||1985||Soviet Union / Czechoslovakia||T-55 with new engine, FCS computer, BDD composite armor (later active armor or ERA; T-55AMV, T-55AMD), equipped with new APFSDS ammunition (BM-20 or BM-25). Frontal protection of T-55AM with BDD add-on equals first T-72s .|
|Lion of Babylon||1985||Iraq||Licensed copy of the T-72.|
|Type 88||1988||China||Variants include the Type 80, Type 85 and Type 88C.|
|CM-11(M48H)||1990||Taiwan||Variant from M48 Patton.|
|CM-12||1990||Taiwan||Variant from M48 Patton.|
|Type 96||1997||China||Domestic version of Type 85-IIM later known as Type 96.|
|Al-Zarrar||2003||China/ Pakistan||An upgraded variant of the Chinese Type 59 tank.|
The third generation of main battle tanks is characterized by composite armour and computerized stabilized fire control systems, which allow firing on the move as well as very high first hit probability on targets up to 2,000 meters away.
|Name||In service from||Origin||Notes|
|T-80||1976||Soviet Union||World's first turbine engine equipped tank. Though the Swedish Stridsvagn 103 that entered service in 1960s used a turbine engine alongside a diesel. However, T-80 in Hilmes's book is very different to a T-80 in real world, and early models of the T-80 offer no big differences compared to T-64A in overall performance. So models prior to the T-80B should be regarded as Second generation intermediate.|
|Leopard 2||1979||West Germany||Replaced Leopard 1.|
|MBT-80||1979||United Kingdom||Prototype, never entered service.|
|M1 Abrams||1980||United States||Replaced M60 Patton.|
|FV4030/4 Challenger 1||1983||United Kingdom||Replaced FV 4201 Chieftain.|
|AMX-40||1983||France||Prototype, never acquired by the French Army.|
|M-84||1984||Yugoslavia||A Yugoslav variant of the soviet T-72.|
|EE-T1/EE-T2 Osório||1986||Brazil||Prototype, never acquired by the Brazilian Army.|
|K1 88-Tank||1988||United States / South Korea|
|Merkava Mark III||1989||Israel||As of 2016, the Merkava III is by far the most numerous tank in frontline IDF service. Compared to the Merkava II, it has upgrades to the drivetrain, powertrain, armament, and electronic systems. The most prominent addition was the incorporation of the locally developed IMI 120 mm gun.|
|Type 90 Kyū-maru||1990||Japan||Replaced Type 74.|
|Ch'onma-ho 215/216||1992||North Korea||A further development of Ch'onma-Ho.|
|AMX Leclerc||1993||France||Replaced AMX 30.|
|Zulfiqar I/II/III||1993||Iran||Iranian tank derived from T-72 and M60 Patton. Zulfiqar III is the most advanced variant.|
|T-90||1993||Russia||Updated version of the T-72; originally named the T-72BU, it was renamed the T-90 after the poor performance of the Iraqi T-72 crews against American armoured crews during the Persian Gulf War.|
|PT-91 Twardy||1995||Poland||A development of the T-72M1.|
|C1 Ariete||1995||Italy||Replaced OF-40.|
|TR-85||1996||Romania||First built in 1985, the modernised TR-85M1 "Bizonul" (the bison) variant was updated in 1996, as an effort to bring it up to date with other NATO countries. The project was a cooperative effort between Aerospatiale-Matra, Sagem, Kolmorgen-Artus, Racal and Romanian factories, such as ROMARM, METRA, I.O.R. and Aerostar|
|Stridsvagn 122||1997||Sweden||Based on the German Leopard 2.|
|M-95 Degman||1997||Croatia||Croatian development of the prototype Yugoslav M-91 Vihor.|
|FV4034 Challenger 2||1998||United Kingdom||Armed with the British 120 mm Royal Ordnance L30 gun. A future life upgrade is the planning phase.|
|T-84||1999||Ukraine||Upgraded Ukrainian version of the T-80 tank.|
|K1A1||2001||South Korea||Upgraded version of the K1 88-Tank.|
|Al-Khalid/MBT-2000||2001||China||Design based on T-72. Variants exported by China as VT-1A/MBT-2000|
|Type 98/99||2001||China||Replaced Type 88.|
|Tank EX||2002||India||Prototype, Never entered service.|
|T-72M4 CZ||2003||Czech Republic||Upgraded Czech version of the T-72 tank.|
|Olifant Mk 2||2003||South Africa||Improved Olifant Mk 1 Tank.|
|Arjun MBT||2004||India||Replaced Vijayanta.|
|Merkava Mark IV||2004||Israel||Improved Merkava Mark III.|
|M-84AS||2004||Serbia||Upgraded Yugoslav version of the M-84 tank. M-84AS is sometimes referred to as M-84AB1 and M-2001.|
|Type 96A/B||2005||China||Upgraded version of the Type 96.|
|Type 99A||2014||China||Upgraded version of the Type 99|
|T-72B3||2013||Russia||Upgraded Russian version of the T-72. T-72B3M is the most advanced variant.|
|PT-16||2016||Poland||A further development of PT-91 Twardy. Upgrades include improved armor, armament, and mobility.|
Next Generation/Third generation advanced
Next Generation or Third Generation Advanced are still under development or at early stages of their generation. While the term '(Fourth) Next generation' and 'Third generation advanced' have no formal basis, these main battle tanks are using the latest technology and designs to compete with the current advanced warfare environment. "Third Generation Advanced" been stated, rather than "Next Generation" in many premieres for these tanks. Those described as "Third Generation Advanced" are normally upgraded variants using the same framework of the standard third generation tank. They have their advancements built into existing or newly designed frames than being an add-on technology. Those described as "Next Generation" have had their tanks and their advanced features designed and built from scratch and are not considered upgrades of previous existing tanks.
Next Generation/Third Generation Advanced
|Name||In service from||Origin||Notes|
|Merkava 4 (Merkava Mk IVm Windbreaker)||2011||Israel||3rd Generation Advanced|
|T-90MS||2011||Russia||3rd Generation Advanced|
|Type 10||2012||Japan||Next Generation|
|Arjun MBT MK 2||2012||India||3rd Generation Advanced|
|K2 Black Panther||2014||South Korea||Next Generation|
|Leopard 2A7+||2014||Germany||3rd Generation Advanced|
|VT-4||2014||China||3rd Generation Advanced|
|Type 99A2||2009||China||3rd Generation Advanced|
|T-14 Armata||2020?||Russia||Next Generation|
|Altay||2017||Turkey / South Korea||Next Generation|
|Karrar||2017||Iran||3rd Generation Advanced|
|M1A2C||2017||United States||3rd Generation Advanced|
- Future Combat Systems
- Future Combat Systems Manned Ground Vehicles
- ASM Program (Cancelled due to the end of the Cold War)
- Future Force Unit of Action
- List of U.S. military vehicles by model number
- List of main battle tanks by country
- List of armoured fighting vehicles
- List of modern armoured fighting vehicles
- Armoured fighting vehicle classification
- List of armoured trains
- Improvised fighting vehicle
- Infantry fighting vehicle (IFV)
- Armoured fighting vehicle (AFV)
- Armored personal carrier (APC)
- Reconnaissance vehicle
- Military engineering vehicle
- Armoured recovery vehicle
- Armoured vehicle-launched bridge
- Armored bulldozer
- Infantry mobility vehicle
- Medium Mine Protected Vehicle
- Armoured car
- Tank destroyer
- Super-heavy tank
- Heavy tank
- Medium Tank
- Light tank
- Infantry tank
- Cruiser tank
- “The Soviets saw tank generations in this manner: 1920-1945, first generation; 1946-1960, second generation; 1961-1980, third generation; and 1981-present, fourth generation. Since the last really new tank design, the T-80, came out in 1976, they feel that they have not produced a true Fourth Generation Tank Design. In comparison, they count the M1, Challenger, and Leopard 2 as Fourth Generation and the LeClerc as Fifth Generation.”
- “The Canadian Directorate of Land Strategic Concept defines three generations of Main Battle Tanks. The first generation of post World War II Main Battle Tanks includes the U.S. M48/M60, the German Leopard 1 and the British Centurion and Chieftain. The second generation includes most of the 120 mm Main Battle Tanks such as the American M1A1, the German Leopard 2 and the British Challenger. As for the third generation Main Battle Tank, they include the latest ‘digital’ tank such as the French Leclerc and perhaps the American M1A2 and the German Leopard 2A5.”
- Note to the Pancerni website source - Translation of most important parts of 1st, 2nd, 2.5 and 3rd generation MBTs characteristics: "The first generation MBTs are tanks made immediately after WWII. The second generation MBTs have better sights in comparison to the first generation MBTs. Also second generation MBTs were the first ones to use laser sights and APFSDS rounds. The third generation consists of tanks armed with high caliber and velocity guns like M1A1 Abrams. Third generation tanks also use composite armour as well as armour made out of highly resistant sintered ceramic materials. Third generation tanks also have full stabilization system for the main gun. There tanks between second and third generations, like Soviet T-72 which has powerful gun which would classify it as a third generation MBT but at the same time the stabilization system is much too primitive for it to a third generation MBT. It also lacks engine power to be a third generation MBT and has ammunition with less quality."
- —Sewell 1988, note 1.
- —Lamontagne 2003, pp 7–8.
- Hilmes, Rolf (1983). Kampfpanzer der Die Entwickelungen der Nachkriegszeit (in German). Verlag Soldat und Technik. ISBN 3-524-89001-6, p. 7.
- Hilmes 1983, p. 8.
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