7+ of the best main battle tanks you wouldn't want to face
- Main battle tanks have played a crucial role in modern warfare for decades.
- They are heavily armored and armed vehicles that can withstand enemy fire while delivering a powerful punch.
- But which, if any, are the best on the market?
Main battle tanks, MBTs for short, are designed to take the battle to the enemy and survive the encounter. Like these seven best tanks, some are heads and shoulders above the rest.
To look upon them is to see the literal embodiment of war. While their designs vary across makes and models, they are all united in possessing massive firepower and near-impenetrable armor.
Current MBTs are products of the Cold War, where an arms race led to the development of tanks with the firepower of super-heavy tanks, armor protection of heavy tanks, and the mobility of lighter tanks. From the 1960s onwards, MBTs practically became the de facto tank of armies worldwide — a role they still provide and are likely to for some time to come.
Whether you're a military enthusiast or just curious about the latest technology in armored vehicles, you won't miss this comprehensive guide to the best main battle tanks on the market.
1. The Challenger 2 is pure violence incarnate
Design company and country of origin: The United Kingdom - Alvis plc, BAE Systems Land & Armaments
When did it enter service?: 1998
What makes this tank one of the best?: The Challenger 2 has an accurate 120 mm rifled gun and good armor. It holds the record for the longest tank-to-tank kill in the world.
The Challenger 2 is considered one of the world's most capable and formidable main battle tanks. It is armed with a deadly accurate 120 mm gun and can take a lot of punishment.
Modern variants use the latest Chobham armor, which is incredibly reliable in combat. The tank's main gun has a maximum aimed range of just over 5 km and still holds the record for the longest tank-to-tank kill in the world.
Its gun also has one of the world's fastest target acquisition systems of any main battle tank. The first tanks entered service in 1998 and soon replaced its aging ancestor, the Challenger 1. It is currently anticipated for the Challenger 2 to remain in active service well into the 2030s.
2. The Leopard 2A7+ can give as good as it gets
Design company and country of origin: Germany - Krauss-Maffei Wegmann Maschinenbau Kiel
When did it enter service?: 2014
What makes this tank one of the best?: The Leopard 2A7+ is one of the world's few next-generation main battle tanks. It comes equipped with a competent gun and passive armor systems that offer 360-degree protection from various armaments.
Building on its highly capable predecessor, the Leopard 2A6, this MBT is a force to be reckoned with. It was first revealed by Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) in 2010 and was soon accepted by the German Army.
It has a 120 mm L55 smoothbore gun and can fire standard NATO ammunition and programmable 120 mm HE rounds. Its passive armor systems protect from anti-tank missiles, mines, IEDs, and RPG rounds.
Like other main battle tanks, it can be outfitted with additional attachments depending on the combat zone. These can range from mine plows, mine rollers, or dozer blades for clearing obstacles. It is also one of the quickest tanks, with a top speed of 44.7 mph (72 km/h) and a range of 280 miles (450 km).
3. The indomitable K2 Black Panther
Design company and country of origin: South Korea - Hyundai Rotem
When did it enter service?: 2016
What makes this tank one of the best?: The K2 is considered one of the world's most advanced main battle tanks.
The South Korean K2 "Black Panther" is a highly advanced main battle tank. It is also one of the most expensive to produce per unit. Delivery to the South Korean Army commenced in 2016, and to date, around 100 orders have been fulfilled. It is anticipated that a further 200 will be delivered in the not-too-distant future.
It comes equipped with the same offensive capability as the German Leopard 2A7. Defensively it makes liberal use of modular composite armor (any further details are classified), Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA), and an advanced passive protection system much like the Leopard 2A7.
It also has an advanced automated target acquisition, targeting, and firing system. The tank is also fast and has state-of-the-art hydropneumatic suspension.
4. T-14 Armata has an unmanned turret
Design company and country of origin: Russia - Uralvagonzavod
When did it enter service?: 2015
What makes this tank one of the best?: The stand-out feature of this next-generation tank is its unmanned turret.
The T-14 Armata is Russia's most advanced main battle tank. They plan to build around 130 of them, with somewhere in the order of 20 having currently been delivered.
This tank features many innovative features (most of which are classified), but its unmanned turret is leagues ahead of its rivals. The tank only requires three human crew members housed in an armored capsule in the front of the hull.
It is armed with a 125 mm smoothbore, 2A82-1M, a cannon with higher muzzle energy than the German Leopard 2's. Its turret and hull are clad in Malachit dual-explosive reactive armor (ERA). It is also protected by an Afghanit Active Protection System that detects, monitors, and intercepts anti-tank munitions.
5. The battle-hardened M1A2 SEP Abrams
Design company and country of origin: USA - General Dynamics Land Systems
When did it enter service?: 1999
What makes this tank one of the best?: This tank has been proven in battle many times and has a powerful multifuel turbine engine.
The M1A2 System Enhanced Package (SEP) is the successor of the M1A2. This tank has improved armor protection and many other systems from older Abrams variants.
It first entered service in 1999 with 240 new tanks commissioned and 300 M1A2 upgrades to the new standard. A further 400 older M1A1s were also upgraded to the specifications of the M1A2 SEP.
It is widely considered one of the best main battle tanks available. It has excellent defensive and offensive capabilities with advanced armor reinforced with depleted Uranium in places. Its firepower is slightly inferior to other tanks like the Leopard 2A7 due to its shorter 120 mm L44 smoothbore gun. Yet, despite this, it is still a very dangerous war machine.
Its multifuel turbine engine offers good performance but requires much maintenance. The U.S. Army plans to keep the tank in service well into 2050.
6. The Merkava Mark 4 is one of the most formidable tanks in the world
Design company and country of origin: Israel Defense Forces - Israel
When did it enter service?: 2004
What makes this tank one of the best?: This tank can take a real beating and keep fighting. It truly is one of the best tanks in the world.
The Israeli-built Merkava Mark IV is the latest iteration of the competent Merkava series of tanks. Its name means "Chariot" in Hebrew, and the Mk I entered service in 1979.
Mark IV's armor is modular and used on all sides of the tank, including its top and V-shaped belly. This allows for damaged tanks to be more readily repaired in combat.
Like other modern tanks, it has an Active Protection System to intercept incoming projectiles. It differs from other MBTs by having its engine at the front. Offensively, the Merkava is armed with an Israeli-built 120 mm smoothbore gun. Around 360 have been built, with another 300 on order.
7. The Japanese Type 90 is older but is not to be trifled with
Design company and country of origin: Mitsubishi Heavy Industries - Japan
When did it enter service?: 1990
What makes this tank one of the best?: Type 90 was built to go toe-to-toe with Western tanks of the time
The Japanese Type 90 Kyū-maru-shiki-sensha is their main battle tank and a force to be reckoned with, and in cooperation with German Krauss-Maffei and MaK tank manufacturers, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries developed it.
Full-scale production of the tank started in 1992, and it was one of the most advanced tanks in the world. Japan had originally planned to build 600 or so of them, but their hefty unit cost meant production was scaled back to around 340.
It is armed with a German design Rheinmetall 120 mm smoothbore gun built under license in Japan. The weapon can fire standard NATO rounds that can be loaded using its bustle-mounted automatic ammunition loading system. It has rugged modular ceramic/steel composite armor and hydropneumatic suspension. This allows the tank to "kneel" or "lean," offering some exciting options in combat.
8. The French Leclerc is another battlefield behemoth
Design company and country of origin: France - GIAT Industries (now Nexter)
When did it enter service?: 1992
What makes this tank one of the best?: The Leclerc has a very accurate 120 mm rifled gun and modular composite armor. It was named in honor of General Phillipe Leclerc de Hauteclocque, who led French forces that took part in the liberation of Paris in WW2.
The French-made Leclerc main battle tank is yet another of the world's deadliest. Designed and built by the former GIAT Industries, this tank has seen service in various theatres of war worldwide.
It is in use by the French and United Arab Emirates armies and costs somewhere in the region of 9.3 million Euros apiece. It replaced the older AMX30 MBTs of the French military, and around 400 or so, are in active service for the French.
The tank comes armed with a powerful 120-mm main gun and is protected by modular armor. Most Leclercs in the French army have recently been upgraded and improved with an AZUR kit. This provides them additional armor, like side skirts, to enhance their durability against unconventional warfare.
9. The Oplot-M will undoubtedly ruin your day
Design company and country of origin: Ukraine - Kharkiv Morozov Machine-Building Design Bureau
When did it enter service?: 2009
What makes this tank one of the best?: The Oplot-M is an upgraded version of the Russian T-84. It is very capable of destroying ground-based and low-flying, low-speed targets.
The Oplot-M is an upgraded version of the older Ukrainian T-84 main battle tank. It is the most modern and sophisticated tank in the Ukrainian army and comes complete with advanced armor, new electronic countermeasure systems, and other upgrades.
First introduced into the Ukrainian army in 2009, Ukraine has since taken orders from the Royal Thai Army for the tank. It has a conventional layout internally and is armed with a KBA-3 125-mm smoothbore main gun.
This main gun can also fire a laser-guided missile against other tanks, armored vehicles, and hovering helicopters up to a range of about 3.1 miles (5 km). Sadly, only a few were available for Ukraine before the breakout of the recent Russian Invasion.
10. The Russian T-90 exemplifies war in physical form
Design company and country of origin: Russia - Kartsev-Venediktov/Uralvagonzavod
When did it enter service?: 1992
What makes this tank one of the best?: The most recent variant of the T-90 is one of Russia's most advanced tanks. Its main gun can fire a mixture of armaments, including laser-guided anti-tank missiles.
The Russian T-90 is yet another of the world's most fearsome and awesome tanks -- but it is not invulnerable. It is a third-generation tank and first entered service in the early-1990s.
The latest T-90, T-90S, is a modernized and upgraded version of the T-72B and is widely considered one of the world's most advanced and formidable. It has a powerful 125-mm 2A46 smoothbore main gun and is protected by composite and explosive-reactive armor, smoke grenade launchers, explosive-reactive armor, and IR jamming systems.
Like the T-84 Oplot-M and other tanks on this list, its main gun can also fire laser-guided anti-tank missiles up to around 2.5 miles (4 km) away. The weapon can also fire a variety of ammunition, including APDS (Armour Piercing Discarding Sabot), HEAT (high-explosive anti-tank), and HE-FRAG (high-explosive fragmentation), as well as shrapnel projectiles with time fuses.
Interestingly, however, reports from Ukraine indicate that while this is a good tank on paper, it has really struggled in Ukraine.
And that is your lot for today.
The world's best main battle tanks are technological marvels that represent the pinnacle of modern military engineering. These machines are built to take on the most demanding battlefield challenges, from the highly advanced sensors and targeting systems to the formidable armor and firepower.
While there are many factors to consider when ranking the top tanks, we've covered some key features and capabilities that make these vehicles stand out. Whether you're a military professional, a history buff, or simply interested in the latest innovations in defense technology, we hope this article has given you a deeper appreciation for the incredible machines that are main battle tanks.