Military Expert Peter Suciu Gives Us His Analysis on the M60: The United States Army continues to operate the M1 Abrams main battle tank, which first entered service back in the early 1980s. This third-generation main battle tank is arguably one of the best tanks ever fielded. It has a long and storied career, in part because it has been steadily upgraded and improved.
Yet, before the M1 Abrams, there was the M60 – a second-generation MBT that was introduced more than 20 years earlier, and which remained in service for more than three decades with the U.S. military. The M60 still populates the arsenals of nearly two dozen nations around the world. Hundreds of the tanks remain operational despite the platform’s age, highlighting the M60’s capabilities.
It is a timeless classic.
Egypt maintains one of the largest fleets of M60s, with some 300 M60A1 and 850 M60A3 variants still in service; Saudi Arabia operates nearly 400. Hundreds more are in storage in both countries, and some of those tanks could one day be used against the 150-odd models still reportedly employed by Iran.
Officially designated the “Tank, Combat, Full Tracked: 105-mm Gun, M60,” the second-generation MBT has been considered as a descendant of the Patton family of tanks that emerged during the early stages of the Cold War. The original M60 bears a close resemblance to the M48A2 “Patton,” and it is often informally grouped into that line of tanks.
That perception is incorrect, however. The M60 was actually a new design that featured numerous improvements, including a more powerful engine, increased armor, a more powerful main gun, a newly developed turret, and a vastly improved hull. The M60 was an evolutionary leap forward, and it became the go-to tank of the U.S. military in the 1960s and 1970s. The M60 was meant to address threats from new Soviet tank designs, notably the T-54/55 line of MBTs.
It was initially armed with the M68 105mm rifled main tank gun. This was based on the British-designed L7 rifled gun tube and cartridges, but it featured an American-designed mount, breech assembly, and recoil mechanism, while it offered up to six inches of homogenous steel armor on the hull. Powered by twin diesel engines that produced 760 horsepower, the M60 had a top speed of 30 miles per hour on roads, with a range of approximately 300 miles.
The M60 was not the speediest tank of the late Cold War, nor was it the most heavily armed. But it was a solid design that was more than able to stand up to Soviet armor of the era – which is why it remains a workhorse around the world even today.
A Safe Bet to Win
“The M60’s long service in the U.S. Military is a testament to the durability of the tank,” said John Adams-Graf, military vehicle historian and editor of History In Motion, the official newsletter of the Military Vehicle Preservation Association.
“Fielded in 1959, it remained in service until after seeing combat in Operation Desert Storm in 1991 — 32 years of service is pretty impressive for a main battle tank,” Adams-Graf told 1945. “Furthermore, while many criticized its tall profile, it proved itself time and time again on the battlefield, including the 1973 Yom Kippur War, 1982 Lebanon War, and even Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada in 1983.”
Given the poor showing of the Soviet-designed T-72 in the Gulf War in 1992, and more recently in Ukraine, it is easy to see that the M60 would have been the tank to bet on in a head-to-head showdown and shoot-out.
Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.