The top ten tanks today are the German KF51 Panther, the American Abrams M1A2, the Russian T-14 Armata, the Korean K2 Black Panther, the Chinese T-99, the German Leopard 2, the French Leclerc XL, the British Challenger 2, the Israeli Merkava V, and the Japanese Type-90.
Each tank is competing for superior firepower, mobility, and strength, but these qualities alone no longer determine which tanks are the most advanced in the world.
Today’s most advanced tanks are defined by their artificial intelligence (AI) and remote operating capability.
KF51 Panther, Abrams M1A2 SEPv3 and T-14 Armata
Automation and advanced sensory data systems set the stage for AI integration. The KF51 Panther, the Abrams M1A2 SEPv3, and the T-14 Armata all have autoloader cannons. The T-14 has unmanned turret capabilities, while the KF51 is equipped with the latest sensor-to-shooter link technology. The M1A2 SEPv3 hosts Ammunition Data Link technology, which allows the newest Advanced Multi-Purpose cartridge to be pre-programmed to different modes prior to firing. Once integrated into these systems, AI technology would assess a target against millions of data points; simultaneously evaluating sensor data, environmental conditions, and mission criteria in order to relay the correct ammunition and firing specifications to the tank’s automated fire control system in real-time.
Along with AI technological capacity, remote operation capability distinguishes the most advanced tanks and reveals the different strategic approaches among today’s best tanks.
The KF51 drone-integration technology allows for the operation of multiple remote-controlled weapon systems, including the HERO 120 loitering munition drone, and the ability to work with drone “wingmen” is integrated into the conceptual design of the tank. As a result, the KF51 German Panther is likely the most advanced in this area.
As part of the Abrams tank’s development model of adapting and upgrading, the M1A2 SEPv3 will likely soon adopt drone operation technology. As previously reported by Warrior, the U.S. Army has tested drone launches from the turret and the use of smaller unmanned armored vehicles that could potentially be operated by the tank’s crew as scouting or first engagement vehicles.
In contrast, the T-14 is designed to be remotely operated itself as an Unmanned Vehicle (UV). Overall, the Russian conceptual design for the T-14 Armata seems to be that of a stand-alone, self-contained network platform.
Though there are network security risks to cross-platform integration, the KF51 and M1A2 SEPv3’s approach is likely superior, at least for now.
“The advantage of sharing information across a joint network for exceeds any advantage gained by a self-contained network,” Staff Sgt Jason O’Connell (RET), former Instructor, Armored Force School and Replacement Center at Fort Knox told Warrior.
This is because AI technology is only as effective as the amount of available data.
To this end, the KF51 and M1A2 SEPv3 are being designed to communicate with sensors off-platform as well as on. In addition to thermal imaging, Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR), and 360 degree sensor technology, the KF51 has SEOSS panoramic sight technology that is viable both during the day and at night and the M1A2 SEPv3 has Blue Force Tracker (BFT) technology.[vii] Crucially, these systems are being developed or modernized as part of an integrated network. This means that the thermal images of enemy forces from the KF51’s drones, the data from the 360 degree panoramic sensors, FLIR sensors, satellites, and even information from the nearest command post can be accessed through the tank’s network link and soon, all fed to AI data analysis technology to help inform tank operations.
“The modern battlefield requires that all forces and platforms within them should share a collective network,” said SSG O’Connell (RET). “Integrating a shared network across forces and platforms is a significant force multiplier. Providing the tank crews and AI systems on the ground with as much battlefield information as possible should always be the goal. The ability to share views of the battlefield from aircraft providing close air support (CAS) is invaluable.”
Beyond the potential AI and remote capabilities of the world’s top three tanks, survivability—determined by both the mobility and protective capabilities of a tank—sets all ten most advanced tanks above their peers.
Though exact data regarding these metrics is often unavailable for national security reasons, the Leclerc XL, the Leopard 2, the T-90, the Type 90, the K2 Black Panther, and the M1A2 SEPv3 all appear capable of achieving speeds in the 40 to 45 mph range. The T-14 Armata and the fifth-best T-99 tank excel in this category as they reportedly can achieve speeds of up to 50 mph.
K2 Black Panther
The fourth most advanced tank, the K2 Black Panther, stands out for its advancements in hydropneumatics suspension and amphibious technologies. At only 55 tons, about 20 tons lighter than the Abrams M1A2 SEPv3, the K2 Black Panther’s design allows each boogie wheel to be operated separately meaning the tank can “sit,” “stand,” “lean,” or “kneel” in any direction. This type of capability is important for crossing rough terrain or obstacles, such as anti-tank trenches, and altering the tank’s profile during a fire-fight. In addition, the K2 Black Panther is capable of fording bodies of water up to 4.1 meters or almost twice it’s height. New armor technology allows the turret to seal completely, while at the same time allowing the tank to take on up to 500 gallons of water to ensure that it remains planted on the ground underwater.
Advanced Armor & Decoy Technology
Passive protective capability in the most advanced tanks in the world is achieved by advanced armor and decoy technology. From the information available, the top ten tanks all employ some form of explosive reactive armor (ERA). The KF51 is equipped with a ROSY smoke obscure system, while the T-14, the M1A2 SEPv3, and Challenger 2 Tank all also report smoke screen-generating capabilities. The T-99 includes a Laser Defense Weapon (LSDW) designed to confuse the laser and infrared guidance technology on incoming missiles. Meanwhile, the Leclerc XL tank has additional infrared decoy technology as well as an anti-IED system that jams cellular signals in its vicinity.
The ninth-ranking Merkava V is notable for its emphasis on personnel protection. It shares the passive protective technologies described above but includes iron balls on chains attached to the turret, which are designed to spark early grenade detonation. The Merkava V also supports an all-electric turret and single commander’s hatch in order to minimize disruptions to the passive armor system. Perhaps most uniquely, the tank also features a rear escape hatch that allows undetected evacuation or rescue of external personnel.
KF51 Panther, Abrams M1A2 SEPv3 and T-14 Armata
Altogether, protection, mobility, firepower and the ability to support AI and automation technology make the KF 51, M1A2 SEPv3, and T-14 the top three tanks in the world today. But what about tomorrow?
Will AI and automation enhance the armored forces or ultimately replace them?
“In my experience across diverse battlefields from the sands of Iraq to mountainous wooded terrain of Bosnia there will always be a need for heavy armor,” SSG O’Connell (RET) told Warrior.
“Since 1940, armored division unit patches have contained three symbols: tank tracks, a canon, and a lightning bolt. These symbols represent speed and armor protection, firepower, and shock effect. The current threats in the world, Russia, China and North Korea and several players in the Middle East still require speed and armor protection, firepower, and shock effect just as in 1940.”
Therefore, tomorrow’s most advanced tanks must combine both AI and remote operating technology and the even more advanced, mobility, survivability, and firepower technology.
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