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MBT-70: The Super Tank the U.S. Army Passed On

MBT-70
MBT-70. Artist Rendering. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

During the Cold War, if you served in the U.S. military in Germany, bad thoughts kept you up at night. This fear came from a location called the Fulda Gap. The strategic decisive point was located between East Germany and West Germany on the way to Frankfurt and the Rhine River. It was believed the Soviets would lead a mass armored attack on perfect terrain for tanks that would overpower NATO and the United States.

What was to be done? Build a new super tank to plug that critical avenue of approach. The MBT-70 was the tank designed to waylay the Soviet horde. Made by a joint effort between the United States and West Germany, this armored hulk was going to change everything.

MBT-70: What Happened?

The MBT-70 could kill long-range targets. The suspension was unique to position the gun for accurate fire better. It was going to be highly survivable. This made-from-scratch project became expensive though. There were schedule slips in getting it ready for serial production. The West Germans and Americans finally said no and scrapped the project.

Quick Background

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the tanks of the day for the NATO side were the West German Leopard 1 and the American M60. Both countries wanted improvements to those models. The Soviets brought on their upgraded T-62 and that hastened the development of a new tank for the allies.

Good Armor But Bad Teamwork 

In 1963, engineers and designers envisioned the MBT-70 having enhanced steel-layered tungsten alloy armor and then softer steel below. This was complicated because the West Germans and the Americans had different prototypes. They couldn’t agree on the way forward, they had trouble building on teamwork, and few spoke both languages. Both sets of design groups incorporated different engines and guns. The West Germans wanted to use the metric system and the Americans did not.

Pneumatic Suspension Could Have Been a Winner 

One interesting innovation was a suspension that could be lowered to four inches off the ground to provide a better defensive position for the tank. It could duck behind trees and emplacements, reducing its silhouette to make the tank a difficult target for the enemy. When operators raised the suspension, the tank could travel faster on roads. 

The Crew Sitting in the Turret Was Not Practical

Another aspect of both designs was that the crew was going to sit in the turret to be better protected against chemical weapons and nuclear fallout. The problem was that the driver suffered from motion sickness in this configuration. 

Neat Ideas That Did Not Come to Fruition

The Americans chose robust gunnery with a powerful 152mm gun/launcher to shoot a diverse set of rounds. This had an early auto-loader and laser range finder, even a ballistic computer that was ahead of its time. It could also fire a Shillelagh anti-tank missile. There was a remote-control 20mm anti-aircraft gun. All of the systems sounded fantastic, but they never tested well. The 152mm caseless rounds did not work correctly and the anti-tank missiles never integrated completely. The Germans chose a simpler 120mm Rheinmetall gun.

High Cost and Delays Led to Failure

By 1968, both teams had a prototype for testing. But as you can imagine, all of these technologies became expensive, and delays plagued the program. Planners envisioned a cost of $200,000 per tank, but this amount ballooned to one million dollars each. In 1969, the Germans threw up their hands and withdrew from the project to make their own Leopard 2. Congress poked into the program and by 1970 determined that with its high cost and long lead time the MBT-70 should be canceled.

3 US Tanks That Could Have Changed Everything

MBT-70 Tank. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

MBT-70

MBT-70. Image Credit: YouTube Screenshot.

But the technology was great. The West Germans took some of the better ideas and built the Leopard 2 and the Americans incorporated the most doable innovations into the Abrams tank. Regarding collaborating on a new tank in the future, both countries said no way.

Bonus: M1 Abrams Photo Essay (The Best Tank Ever)

M1 Abrams

Oregon Army National Guard M1A2 Abrams battle tank with Alpha Troop, 3rd Squadron, 116th Cavalry Regiment, engages a target at a firing range during annual training at the Orchard Combat Tranining Center near Boise, ID, June 19, 2021. Soldiers trained in their military occupational specialties during annual training. (National Guard photo by Spc. Dominic Trujillo, 115th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)

M1 Abrams SEPv4

M1 Abrams Tank. Image Credit: U.S. Army.

M1 Abrams Tank

An M1A1 Abrams Tank fires off a round as a demonstration during 1st Tank Battalion’s Jane Wayne Spouse Appreciation Day aboard the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., April 3, 2018. The purpose of the event is to build resiliency in spiritual well being, the will to fight and a strong home life for the 1st Tanks Marines and their families. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Rachel K. Porter)

M1 Abrams

The Abrams Main Battle Tank closes with and destroys the enemy using mobility, firepower, and shock effect.

M1 Abrams

An M1A1 Abrams Tank fires off a round as a demonstration during 1st Tank Battalion’s Jane Wayne Spouse Appreciation Day aboard the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., April 3, 2018. The purpose of the event is to build resiliency in spiritual well being, the will to fight and a strong home life for the 1st Tanks Marines and their families. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Rachel K. Porter)

M1 Abrams NATO

M1 Abrams Tank firing. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

M1 Abrams Tank

An M1 Abrams Tank fires off a round as a demonstration during 1st Tank Battalion’s Jane Wayne Spouse Appreciation Day aboard the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., April 3, 2018. The purpose of the event is to build resiliency in spiritual well being, the will to fight and a strong home life for the 1st Tanks Marines and their families. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Rachel K. Porter)

Expert Biography: Serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood 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. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.

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.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. xheavy

    December 7, 2022 at 9:43 am

    I believe as long as Russia throws in onesies and twosies in tanks we can plink them all day.

    Way too many videos coming from Ukraine shows Tanks trying to flee and then destroyed in detail at the far end of a field or woods.

    Meh.

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