Saudi Arabia has made remarkable progress in terms of military strength and strategic defence, particularly in the advancement of its armoured forces. This article provides an in-depth analysis of the primary battle tanks that form the core of Saudi Arabia’s ground forces. From the renowned American-made M1A2S Abrams and M60 Patton to the formidable French AMX-30, we delve into the characteristics, capabilities, and historical significance of these impressive machines. Furthermore, the article sheds light on Saudi Arabia’s strategic acquisitions throughout the years, highlighting the nation’s unwavering dedication to enhancing its defence capabilities.
List of Saudi Arabia’s Tanks
Saudi Arabia has made significant investments in strengthening its armoured forces, particularly through the acquisition of the M1A2S Abrams, a third-generation American main battle tank. Initially, the country purchased 373 M1A2 tanks and later placed an order for an additional 69 M1A2S tanks on January 8, 2013. These tanks were delivered by July 31, 2014. Towards the end of 2021, Saudi Arabia received another batch of 153 American-made M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tanks (MBTs), which are set to be upgraded to the M1A2S standard. As a result, Saudi Arabia now possesses the third-largest fleet of M1A2 MBTs in the world.
The M1A2S Abrams is one of the heaviest tanks currently in service, weighing approximately 68 short tons. It was designed by Chrysler Defence (now General Dynamics Land Systems) and named after General Creighton Abrams. This tank was specifically developed for modern armoured ground warfare and introduced several innovative technologies to the US armoured forces. These advancements include a multifuel turbine engine, sophisticated Chobham composite Armor, a computer fire control system, separate ammunition storage in a blowout compartment, and NBC protection for the safety of the crew.
The initial models of the M1 were equipped with a 105 mm M68 gun, while later variants feature a license-produced Rheinmetall 120 mm L/44 designated M256. The M1A2 represents the U.S. Army’s technological enhancement of the original M1A1 design and is widely regarded as the most advanced battle tank in the world. It boasts a maximum speed of 42 mph and has a range of 265 miles. The tank is armed with a 120mm XM256 Smooth Bore Cannon, a 7.62 M240 coaxial Machine gun, and a .50 cal M2 Machine gun. With its combination of advanced features and formidable armament, the M1A2S Abrams is a highly capable asset in any ground conflict.
The M60 Patton tank, a second-generation American main battle tank, was standardized as the Tank, Combat, Full Tracked: 105-mm Gun, M60 in March 1959. Although not officially a Patton tank, it was an upgraded version of the M48 Patton tank and was considered part of the Patton family. Equipped with a British-designed 105mm gun, the M60 was capable of destroying any known enemy tank, a significant improvement over the M4 Sherman’s 75mm gun that struggled against the Armor of Nazi German Tigers during WWII. Since its inception in 1959, the M60 Patton tank has been utilized by numerous countries, including Saudi Arabia. It is renowned for its spacious and comfortable interior, as well as its ability to be upgraded, reliability, and durability. With over 15,000 units produced over a long period, the M60 was still in service in the US in 1997 and remains in frontline service with many armies worldwide today, a testament to the soundness of its original design. Currently, the M60 serves as the primary mobile artillery force on Kinmen, Penghu, Taitung, and Hualien islands in the Taiwan Strait, featuring a Raytheon fire control system, AN/WG-2 eye-safe laser rangefinder, and M21 ballistic computer. Its secondary armament includes a 7.62mm machine gun and a Browning M2 ‘Ma Deuce’ 50-caliber machine gun.
The French Army received the AMX-30, a main battle tank developed by Ateliers de construction d’Issy-les-Moulineaux (AMX, later known as GIAT), in August 1966. This tank featured a 12-cylinder engine capable of running on multiple fuels, a mechanical transmission, and torsion suspension. Its tracks were made of metal and had detachable rubber pads, enabling it to overcome water obstacles. Saudi Arabia obtained the AMX-30 tanks through the ‘Palm Tree contract,’ which included various versions and support vehicles. Deliveries of the AMX-30s took place between 1975 and 1989. To facilitate training, a Saudi Arabian armoured school was established in the 1980s, managed by around 2,000 French military advisors and trainers. However, by the early 2000s, the AMX-30 tanks lacked the capabilities to effectively counter the Iraqi T-72 or Israeli Merkava tanks. Consequently, half of the AMX-30 fleet was placed in long-term storage, and they were replaced by M1A2 Abrams and M60A3 tanks, which were ordered and delivered starting in 1989. By 2002, Saudi Arabia possessed a total of 1,055 combat tanks, with the Khamis Mushait region housing all 290 AMX-30 vehicles (including variants), out of which approximately 160 to 170 were operational. As of 2015, these tanks were observed to be deployed by the Saudi Border Guard Corps.