Entering The 21st Century
With the end of the Cold War in 1991, questions once again started sprouting concerning the relevance of the traditional tank. Over the years, many nations cut back the number of their tanks or replaced most of them with lightweight armoured fighting vehicles with only minimal armour protection.
This period also brought an end to the superpower blocs, and the military industries of Russia and Ukraine are now vying to sell tanks worldwide. India and Pakistan have upgraded old tanks and bought new T-84s and T-90s from the former Soviet states. Both have demonstrated prototypes that the respective countries are not adopting for their own use, but are designed exclusively to compete with the latest western offerings on the open market.
Ukraine has developed the T-84-120 Oplot, which can fire both NATO 120 mm ammunition and ATGMs through the gun barrel. It has a new turret with auto-loader, but imitates western designs with an armoured ammunition compartment to improve crew survivability.
The Russian Chyorny Oryol ("Black Eagle") is based on a lengthened T-80 hull. An early mock-up, shown for the first time at the second VTTV-Omsk-97 International Exhibition of Armaments in 1997, appears to have dramatically heavier armour, and a completely new modern turret separating crew and ammunition. The prototype has a 125 mm tank gun, but is said to be able to mount a new 152 mm gun. Russia is also rumoured to be developing the Obiekt 775 MBT, sometimes called T-95, with a remote-controlled turret, for domestic service.
The Italian C1 Ariete MBT was among the latest all-new MBTs to be fielded, with deliveries running from 1995 to 2002. The tank is nearly the same size of the very first tank, both being 8 feet (2.5 m) high. The Mark I had a ~9.9 m long (hull) and the Ariete as a 7.6/9.52 m long (hull/hull+gun). However, the Ariete weighs over double and can travel ten times faster, 54,000 kg vs. 25,401 kg and 40 mph vs. 4 mph (60 v 6 km/h).
A number of armies have considered eliminating tanks completely, reverting to a mix of wheeled anti-tank guns and infantry fighting vehicles (IFV), though in general there is a great deal of resistance because all of the great powers still maintain large numbers of them, in active forces or in ready reserve. There has been no proven alternative, and tanks have had a relatively good track record in recent conflicts.
The tank continues to be vulnerable to many kinds of anti-tank weapons and is more logistically demanding than lighter vehicles, but these were traits that were true for the first tanks as well. In direct fire combat they offer an unmatched combination of higher survivability and firepower among ground-based warfare systems. Whether this combination is particularly useful in proportion to their cost is matter of debate, as there also exist very effective anti-tank systems, IFVs, and competition from air-based ground attack systems.
Due to vulnerability from RPG's, the tank has always had local defense from machine guns to solve the problem. This partially solved the problem in some cases, but produced another. Because the machine gun had to be operated by the commander from outside the tank, it made him vulnerable to enemy fire. To solve this problem, gun shields were made to reduce this threat, but did not completely solve the problem. So, when the development of the M1A2 TUSK (Tank Urban Survival Kit) came, the finalization of a remote machine gun came into place, and was one of the first main battle tanks to have one. Other examples of this gun have been seen, such as a 20 mm remote cannon on the M60A2. This remote machine gun, under the name CROWS (Common Remotely Operated Weapons Station) has solved the problem of enemy fire threat to the commander, when operating the machine gun. It can also be equipped with an optional grenade launcher.
Possibly one of the main evolution sources for tanks in this century are the active protection systems. Until 15 years ago, armour (reactive or passive) was the only effective measure against anti-tank assets. The most recent active protection systems (including Israeli TROPHY and Iron Fist and Russian Arena) offer high survivability even against volleys of RPG and missiles. If these kinds of systems evolve further and are integrated in contemporary tank and armoured vehicle fleets, the armour-antitank equation will change completely; therefore, 21st century tanks would experience a total revival in terms of operational capabilities.
Read more about this topic: History Of The Tank
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