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Russia Hates Them: Meet the 3 Most Powerful Tanks on Earth Today

Merkava IV tank. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
Merkava IV tank. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Yes, the tank isn’t going away anytime soon. Here are some of the best on the planet: Are tanks still useful in the 21st Century? Which tanks would experienced commanders choose in combat operations today? I can offer three tanks that deserve clear recognition as the three best tanks on Earth, although I will admit, there is room for debate.

The M1 Abrams for sure belongs on this list. It has been almost 20-years since the American Abrams main battle tank was used in a force-on-force battle during the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003. It was also deployed in Iraq’s Anbar province in 2004 and 2005, plus Afghanistan’s Helmand Province in 2010.

I would also offer up the South Korean K2 Black Panther and the German Leopard as tanks that belong in this list. Here are all of the reasons why:

3 Best Tanks On Earth: Meet the M1 Abrams

The M1A2 Abrams, with all its upgrades, has to be considered the best tank compared to the Leopard and the Black Panther.

To be sure, as a U.S.-based publication, we could be biased.

But no other tank has been so battle-tested and seen as a topnotch force multiplier in combat like the formidable Abrams.

Take a look at the track record. The Abrams performed gallantly in the first Gulf War. During Operation Desert Storm. 1,848 tanks were deployed to Iraq and only 23 exited the fight. These were mainly minor damages, none were destroyed by the enemy, and no tankers were killed. In the second Gulf War, the Abrams led the armored driving force that eliminated Saddam Hussein. There were unfortunate incidents this time as a Marine Corps Abrams fell off a bridge over the Euphrates River near Nasiriya and four crew members drowned in 2003. Two American tankers that year were also killed due to an attack by militants that damaged an Abrams and took it out of service. Nonetheless, the M1 Abrams performed in battle flawlessly time and time again.

North Korea Marines

An M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank with 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, fires its 120 mm smoothbore cannon during a live-fire event as part of Exercise Eager Lion 2015 in Jordan, May 9, 2015. Eager Lion is a recurring multinational exercise designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships, increase interoperability between partner nations, and enhance regional security and stability.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Devin Nichols/Released)

Taiwan Tanks

M1 Abrams Tank firing. Image: Creative Commons.

M1 Abrams

But the Americans learned from combat and improved it. There has been a major upgrade package for the Abrams every seven years. Every system in the tank has been replaced since its inception in 1980. The latest M1A2 SEPv3 will improve the tank’s mobility and survivability with improved armor, communications, and fuel savings.

3 Best Tanks On Earth: Meet The K2 Black Panther

The South Korean K2 Black Panther is an interesting beast.

It has a dual performance suspension in which it can be adjusted for better travel and be optimized on tough terrain or roads. It can also lean to the left or right. It could be deadly if it ever sees combat. The Black Panther boasts a lethal smart munition called the KSTAM-II that can automatically detect an enemy tank’s weakest area. This is fired in stand-off ranges of 5 miles like an artillery shell, then it pops a parachute and floats downward while computing its target – usually the top of its turret on an enemy tank. The main gun is also effective while shooting when the Black Panther travels over hilly terrain.

K2 Black Panther Tank

Image: Creative Commons.

3 Best Tanks On Earth: The German Leopard 

The German Leopard 2, the best tank in Europe, has also been upgraded to the latest 2A7V version with improved protection of its “wedge turret.”

The turbocharged diesel engine has 1,500 horsepower and can totally move out at a speed of 42-miles per hour with a maximum range of 341 miles.

It fires a powerful armor piercing sabot round with a thermal imaging sight. The German military will have 104 of the upgraded tanks deployed by 2023.

Older German Leopard 2A4 Cold War versions had problems in Syria though. In 2016, the Turkish military fielded the Leopard and ISIS destroyed ten of them by mines, mortars, or anti-tank missiles. This should give us pause and place the Leopard in third place due to poor combat performance.


NATO Leopard Tank. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

What Does the Future Hold For These Tanks? 

Clearly all three tanks are truly deadly weapons of far and would be welcomed into any modern army. Nonetheless, as the modern battlefield is constantly changing, all three tanks face challenges.

For example, the Abrams will have its hands full if there were ever force-on-force conflict with Russia and China. This would likely combine urban terrain, plus obviously hilly and wooded areas, and not the flat deserts of the Middle East.

The Black Panther has no combat experience on the Korean peninsula, but that KSTAM-II smart munition is dynamite. But how would it held up against old but numerically superior North Korean tanks in an resumption of the Korean War?

The German Leopard 2 is a mixed bag. It has a great reputation, but ISIS really pulled a number on the older version. Hopefully the latest upgrade will raise the bar on performance.

1945’s 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.

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.