Thailand’s defense relies on a well-equipped Royal Thai Armed Forces, strategically positioned to address regional security challenges. Through diplomatic ties and active participation in international initiatives, Thailand contributes to the maintenance of stability both domestically and in the broader Southeast Asian context. The Royal Thai Army (RTA) possesses a wide array of main battle tanks (MBTs) that are crucial in protecting national defence and projecting influence in the region. From the state-of-the-art VT-4 MBT-3000 to the enhanced T-84 Oplot, these tanks offer a distinctive combination of capabilities and advantages. This article explores the details, characteristics, and operational backgrounds of Thailand’s top five tanks, offering valuable information on their technological progress and combat effectiveness.
Thailand’s Key Battle Tanks
The VT-4, also referred to as the MBT-3000 is a Chinese main battle tank developed by Norinco specifically for international export. It boasts a 125 mm smoothbore cannon and a remote-controlled weapon station mounted on the turret, which is armed with a 12.7 mm heavy machine gun. Additionally, this tank is equipped with a state-of-the-art third-generation thermal imaging system. Its fire-control system possesses advanced features like hunter-killer capabilities, a laser rangefinder, and a panoramic sight. To ensure optimal protection, the VT-4 is fortified with dual-layer defence comprising composite armour and FY-4 explosive reactive armour. This tank incorporates cutting-edge technology and subsystems from other advanced Chinese main battle tanks like the Type 96B and Type 99A. With a maximum speed of 71 km/h and a cruising speed of 42 km/h, the VT-4 can cover a distance of 500 km. It is capable of traversing water barriers up to 4-5 meters deep and trenches measuring 2.7 meters wide. The Royal Thai Army has procured a total of 60 Norinco VT-4 main battle tanks through multiple orders since 2016. The initial purchase consisted of 28 tanks in 2016, while the final batch of 12 tanks was delivered to the RTA’s 6th Cavalry Battalion in Khon Kaen, northeast Thailand, in October 2023.
The T-84 Oplot, a Ukrainian main battle tank (MBT), is based on the Soviet T-80 MBT and is an upgraded version that includes an armoured ammunition compartment in a new turret bustle. It was first constructed in 1994 and was introduced into the Ukrainian Armed Forces in 1999. With a power-to-weight ratio of around 26 horsepower per tonne, its high-performance opposed-piston engine makes it one of the fastest tanks. The tank is equipped with advanced fire control systems and a powerful 125mm smoothbore gun that can fire various types of ammunition. The T-84 is powered by a 1,200-horsepower engine, allowing it to reach speeds of up to 70 km/h on roads and approximately 45 km/h off-road. Its advanced suspension and tracks contribute to its high mobility and manoeuvrability. In 2011, the Royal Thai Army ordered forty-nine T-84 Oplot-T MBTs, with the final six being delivered in 2018 due to delays caused by internal fighting in Ukraine.
The M60A3 is an upgraded variant of the M60A1 main battle tank (MBT). It boasts improved turret armour, enhanced gun stabilization, an upgraded fire control system, and a new range of 105mm ammunition. Production of the M60A3 took place between 1978 and 1983. It is powered by a Continental V-12 559.7kW (750hp) air-cooled, twin-turbocharged diesel engine. This tank can reach a maximum speed of 10mph to 12mph off-road and up to 30mph on paved roads. To enhance its operational capabilities during both day and night, the M60A3 is equipped with a Stabilized Thermal Sight (TIFCS). The Royal Thai Army has undertaken the modernization of some of its M60A3 tanks. Although the exact date of acquisition by Thailand is not specified in the available sources, it is known that the Royal Thai Armed Forces had plans to further upgrade their M60A3 main battle tanks, as reported in May. These upgrades were likely carried out in collaboration with Israel Military Industries (IMI) and Elbit Systems.
The Stingray, also referred to as the Commando Stingray, is a light tank manufactured by Textron Marine & Land Systems division, previously known as Cadillac Gage. Its main objective was to minimize costs by utilizing existing components from other American armoured fighting vehicles. The development of the Stingray began in the 1980s as a private venture by Cadillac Gage Textron, and the prototype was completed in 1985. Equipped with a 105 mm rifled cannon, the Stingray can reach a cruising speed of 44 mph (71 km/h). It boasts a maximum grade of 60% and can conquer vertical distances of up to 2.7 feet (82 cm). Additionally, the tank can ford water up to 3.5 feet (107 cm) and can be transported via a C-130 cargo aircraft. Powering the tank is a Detroit Diesel Allison 8V-92TA, a liquid-cooled turbocharged 2-stroke V-8 diesel engine, enabling it to achieve a maximum speed of 70 km/h (43 mph). With an operational range of 300 miles (480 km), the Stingray was purchased by the Royal Thai Army in 1988, acquiring 106 tanks for a contract valued at $150 million. To this day, the Royal Thai Army remains the sole user of this tank.
The Type 69-II, an enhanced version of the Type 69-I specifically designed for export, commenced production in 1982. Notable improvements included a new Type 889 radio, a rubber track skirt, and an advanced fire control system incorporating a TSFC 2-axis gun stabilization system for the main gun. Additionally, it featured a Type 70 gunner sight, TLRLA Laser rangefinder, and BCLA Ballistic computer. Equipped with a 100mm smoothbore gun, the Type 69-II boasted a 12150L-7 V-12 diesel engine generating 580 hp, enabling a maximum speed of 50 km/h. With an operational range of 440 km, the tank weighed 36.7 tonnes and measured 6.24 m in length (hull), 3.3 m in width, and 2.80 m in height. Its crew consisted of four members. As for armament, the tank featured a 7.62 mm coaxial and bow machine guns, along with a 12.7 mm antiaircraft machine gun as secondary armament. The Type 69-II employed a torsion-bar suspension system. In 1987-1989, the Royal Thai Army introduced 53 Type 69-II tanks and 5 Type 563 tanks into service. However, they were decommissioned in 2004, except for 5 T-69s that underwent upgrades and continued to be utilized as opposing forces.