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M60 Patton Tank: Retired from the US Military, Still Waging War?

M60. Image: Creative Commons.
Image: Creative Commons.

M60 Patton Tank Led to Victory in the Desert Fighting of the Middle East: The legendary M60 Patton was the main battle tank of the U.S. military during the 1960s and 1970s. It is still in service in 19 countries with an estimated 5,000 of the venerable tanks in use. The M60 is currently seeing battle in Syria with the Turkish Army and with the Saudi-led coalition and Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

It won’t see any more combat with the U.S. Army or the Marine Corps, but various upgrades have kept the M60 in the news. Moreover, the M60 should be given credit for the influence it had on tank design in the years after it was first developed. It was the M60 that led to the M1 Abrams, the National Training Center, and victory in Operation Desert Storm.

Below is a short primer on might M60 Patton Tank:

The M60 Still Survives with Numerous Upgrades

Originally produced in 1959, the M60 has been upgraded several times, most recently with the M60A3 Service Life Extension Program (SLEP). This brought the gun up to date, so it matched the 120-millimeter M256 gun of the M1A2 Abrams with a modern computerized fire control system. And the engine now has more horsepower – 950 compared to the 750 horsepower of earlier models.

Yom Kippur War Is the Genesis of Modern Tank Battles

In the early 1970s Pentagon analysts studied the 1973 Yom Kippur War closely. This was major league force-on-force maneuver warfare. The Israelis took on 3,000 enemy tanks coming from the Golan Heights and faced damaging AT3 anti-tank missiles against Egypt on the Suez canal. Israel immediately lost 100 tanks on the first day of the battle. The M60 turret was tall, and that made for an easier-targeted silhouette. The tanks caught fire after only one hit and Israeli crews had to desperately escape the burning tanks while exposing themselves to enemy machine-gun fire.

Revolution in Armored Warfare

The U.S. Army knew that they needed a revolution in training after the alarming losses in the Middle East. So, they developed the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California to push the envelope in tactics, techniques, and procedures with tanks, armored mechanized infantry, cavalry, and artillery. The M1 Abrams tank, the M2 and M3 Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and the Multiple Launch Rocket System were all tested at the National Training Center.

The M60 Started the U.S. Military Toward Middle East Victory

The M60 Patton tank was the impetus for the new armored warfare that would later be on display in Operation Desert Storm. In fact, the U.S. Marine Corps fielded the M60 during that first Gulf War. The marines destroyed 100 enemy tanks and only lost one M60.

The M60 is still a mainstay in the Middle East. The Israelis kept it going until 2014. Egypt has 1,700 M60s, the Turks at least 900, and the Saudis have 450. Israel has helped Turkey upgrade 170 of its M60s with new armor, and improved targeting system, and a 120mm smoothbore gun.

M60 Patton Tank

Image: Creative Commons.

M60 Tank

An M60A3 main battle tank from the 1st Platoon, 48th Brigade, 108th Armored Division, Georgia National Guard, moves through a recently cleared roadblock during the training exercise Company Team Defense. (1983)

M60 Tank

An M60A1 tank from the Royal Jordanian Armed Forces fires a round at a range in Wadi Shadiyah during a massive military demonstration in front of dignitaries and media, May 18. HRH Prince Feisal, the Supreme Commander of the JAF, Chairman of the Joint Chief-of-Staff Gen. Mashal Al Zaben and Gen. Lloyd Austin III, head of the U.S. Central Command, were among those who attended the culminating event of the two-week, multinational Exercise Eager Lion 2015. In addition to the U.S. and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, participating nations included Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Egypt, France, Iraq, Italy, Kuwait, Lebanon, Pakistan, Poland, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the U.K. and representatives from NATO.

Sometimes precursor tanks like the M60 Patton are not given enough credit. If it wasn’t for the M60’s combat performance in the Middle East in the early 1970s, the M1 Abrams would not have become a reality. This evolution led to the successful encounters with mass, speed, and violence of action that was initially forged at the National Training Center and displayed against Saddam Hussein’s armored hordes during Operation Desert Storm.

Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.