Africa’s most powerful main battle tank in 2020

In a bid to complete our African TOP TEN SERIES list we’ve decided to come up with a detailed analysis of the TOP TEN MOST POWERFUL MAIN BATTLE TANKS IN AFRICA. This is the follow-up sequel to the TOP TEN MOST POWERFUL TANKS IN THE WORLD which showcased some very powerful tanks. However, this list only features tanks used by African countries and the criteria used in ranking includes

  • Armor
  • Armament
  • Technology (force-multiplier systems like APS, RWS, ERA, LASER, RADAR, COMMS e.t.c.)

The Main Battle Tank (MBT) is basically a huge moving block of hard metal armed with a really big gun primarily used to protected lesser armored allied vehicle or infrastructure. It is usually used to engage other enemy armor on the battlefield. Modern main battle tanks has evolved radically from their forebears which were slow, cumbersome and lightly protected and mostly used for crossing trenches and covering troops.

royal moroccan army m1a1sa abrams main battle tank (1)

Most African countries see the use of tanks as a must-have weapon system since most conflict occurring in the continent are usually low-intensity in nature whereby rebels are armed with soft-skinned vehicles. Tanks rarely engage each other in Africa, with the most recent tank battle occurring in 2014 in Nigeria where a Nigerian Army T-72s from the 3rd Armored Division attacked and destroy a Boko Haram-captured Vickers (Eagle) tank in the Northeast of the country.

This list was compiled after careful analysis of all contenders based on their merits and advantages over each other. It does not contain tanks outside Africa or tanks categorized as light, tank-destroyer, Armoured cars, Infantry vehicle or other vehicles with the same role as a tank.

Note: All tanks featured here are all ‘African’ versions.

Please note that the tanks featured here might not necessarily win in a real shooting war encounter as a victory in a real-life scenario depends solely on various factors such as Terrain, Crew training, combat support systems/infrastructure, Presence of infantry or other fighting vehicles and most importantly Combat Air Support.

A Sudanese Type 96 destroyed a South Sudanese T-72 in a border clash in 2012, this might not be due to the superiority of Type 96 over the T-72 but the crew might be better trained or more experienced.

THE MOST POWERFUL AND BEST MAIN BATTLE TANKS IN AFRICA TODAY

  1. T-90 MBT
A T-90 main battle tank

The T-90 (A.K.A Vladimir) tank is a technological marvel, combining the best attributes of the effective T-72 and the technologically superior T-80 tank. The T-90 is currently making its way as the most capable tank out there. Having been equipped with the latest Russian gears and bursting with the best ammunition package available in this Twenty-first century. This MBT is a beast on the battlefield.

T-90 MBT Specifications

  • Crew: 3
  • Armor: Hardened Steel, Composite
  • Armament
    • Main gun: 125 mm 2A46M smoothbore Gun
    • Secondary Gun: 12.7 mm Kord Heavy machine gun and 7.62 PKMT GMPG
  • Technology: KONTAKT-5 ERA, Advanced optical equipment, IR jammer, Laser Dazzlers
  • Engine: V-92SF series 1130 hp (831 KW)
  • Range: 550 km (340 miles)
  • Users
    • Algerian Army: 572 T-90SA
    • Ugandan Army: 44 units

2) M1 Abrams MBT

An M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank

The M1 Abrams tank is undoubtedly one of the greatest tanks ever developed, its sheer armored covering is mind-blowing. Bristling with the latest American tank technology. Its spots heavy armored plating to withstand the most withering tank and missile fire coupled with advance tank protection gadgets. Also, this tank does not lack any modern navigation, optical or electronic devices.

M1 Abrams Specifications

  • Crew: 4
  • Armor: Burlington Composite armor, reinforced Depleted Uranium
  • Armament
    • Main gun: 120 mm M256A1 Smoothbore gun
    • Secondary Gun: 0.50 cal (12.7mm) M2HB heavy machine gun, 7.62 mm M240 GMPG
  • Technology: Digital Maps, CROWS, ERA, softkill (AN/VLQ-6) MCD APS, BlueForce tracker
  • Engine: Honeywell AGT1500 C turbine engine
  • Range: 426 KM (265 mi)
  • Users:
    • Egyptian Army: 1,005 M1A1 (200 ordered)
    • Royal Moroccan Army: 222 M1A1 SA (Situational Awareness)

3) T-80 MBT

A T-80 Main Battle Tank

A futuristic tank design having its roots from the successful T-64 MBT. A new unique tank around which uses a semi-combustible cartridge that burns up completely during firing. This type of round minimizes space albeit with a slight disadvantage i.e it is easily combustible so the whole ammunition storage is at risk. Although, various upgrades have diminished the risk. Uniquely among Russian tanks in the presence of a powerful gas-turbine engine coupled with a high Power-to-Weight ratio which gives the T-80 a blistering speed (of 70 km/h) but with a severe range limitation.

T-80 MBT Specifications

  • Crew: 3
  • Armor: Hardened steel (RHA 440-650 depending on variant)
  • Armament:
    • Main gun: 125 mm 2A46-2 Smoothbore gun
    • Secondary Gun: 7.62 mm PKT or NSVT coaxial GMPG 
    • 9M112 Kobra or Refleks ATGM
  • Technology: Shtora-1 APS, ERA Blocks,
  • Engine: 1,000 hp SG-1000 gas turbine
  • Range: 335 km (208 mi)
  • User:
    • Egyptian Army: 24 T-80K, T-80U

4) VT4 (MBT 3000)

The VT4 (MBT-3000) main battle tank is a third-generation armored combat vehicle designed and developed by China North Industries Corporation (Norinco). It is intended primarily for export markets.

The VT4 tank features integrated advanced armor and fire control capabilities and offers increased firepower and protection to combat forces in the battlefield.

The hull of the VT4 MBT is of all-welded steel armour construction. The gross vehicle weight of the tank is approximately 52,000kg. Informed sources claims that the FY-4 ERA on the VT4 has the same protection level as the Russian Kontakt-5.

The 125mm gun can fire armour-piercing fin-stabilised discarding-sabot (APFSDS) rounds, high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) warhead, artillery and guided missiles. The maximum firing range of the anti-tank missiles is 5km.

VT4 (MBT 3000) Specifications

  • Crew: 3
  • Armor: all-welded steel armour, ERA
  • Armament:
    • Main gun: 125 mm Smoothbore gun
    • Secondary Gun: 12.7 mm Heavy machine gun, 7.62 mm coaxial GMPG 
  • Technology: Red Shield 2 active protection system, 76 mm smoke grenade launchers
  • Engine: VT/E1 Diesel engine 1,200hp turbocharged diesel engine
  • Range: 500 km (310 mi)
  • User:
    • Nigerian Army

5) Type 96 (ZTZ-96) MBT

Type 96 (ZTZ-96) MBT
Type 96 (ZTZ-96) MBT

An advanced Chinese design able to go toe-to-toe with even the most deadly western tanks and still come out unscathed. The Chinese after realizing that all their current fleet of MBTs were outmatched and out-gunned by the west as shown during the Gulf war went ahead with an ambitious plan to fill up that gap. Type 96 comes loaded with unique Chinese technology after years of painful study of other designs.

Type-96 (ZTZ-96) Specifications

  • Crew: 3
  • Armor: Composite, Applique armor
  • Armament: 
    • Main gun: 125mm smoothbore gun
    • Secondary Gun: 12.7 mm anti-air machine gun
  • Technology: ERA blocks
  • Engine: 780 hp (582 kW) diesel engine
  • Range: 400 km
  • User:
    • Sudan Army

6) Al-Khalid MBT

Al-Khalid MBT
Al Khalid tank

Al Khalid (The Immortal Tank) This fiercely named tank was named for its formidable strength and firepower. This is the most unique of all tanks featured here because it was built by combining all the best qualities of different tanks worldwide into a single unit. Furthermore, all the Pakistani hard-learned lessons during the Indo-Pak war of the 70’s was crammed into this majestic vehicle.

Al-Khalid MBT Specifications

  • Crew: 3
  • Armor: Composite armor, RHA, ERA
  • Armament:
    • Main gun: 125 mm Smoothbore gun
    • Secondary Gun: 12.7 mm Heavy machine gun, 7.62 mm coaxial GMPG 
  • Technology: 
  • Engine: 1,200 hp KMDB 6-cylinder diesel
  • Range: 500 km (310 mi)
  • User:
    • Royal Moroccan Army: 150 VT-1A

7) T-72 MBT

T-72 MBT tank
T-72 Tank

The ‘AK-47’ of tanks, this MBT has seen combat more than any other modern tank in history. It has served in virtually all continents and is still being used as of today. More upgrades are being churned out in different factories all over the world as we speak. The T-72 has gained the reputation of being the benchmark for all modern tanks. It features a more reliable autoloader, improved armor e.t.c. It was intended to be a cheaper tank due to economic considerations, playing second fiddle to the T-80 but due to constant refinement and upgrade, it has become almost as powerful as the T-80.

T-72 Specifications

  • Crew: 3
  • Armor: Steel armor, RHA, ERA, Spaced armor
  • Armament:
    • Main gun: 125 mm 2A46M Smoothbore gun
    • Secondary Gun: 12.7 mm NSVT Heavy machine gun, 7.62 mm PKT coaxial GMPG 
  • Technology: ERA, Improved Situational Awareness, More accurate Fire Control System, Laser range-finder
  • Engine: 1,130 hp V92S 12-cylinder diesel
  • Range: 460 km (290 mi)
  • Users
    • Algerian Army: 500 T-72M, T-72M1, T-72AG
    • Angola Army: 22 T-72M1
    • D.R.C Army: 100 T-72AV
    • Djiboutian Army:
    • Ethiopia Army: 50 T-72s, 171 T-72UA1 on order
    • Kenya Army: 77 T-72AV 
    • Libyan Army: 150 in 2003 (current state unknown)
    • Moroccan Army: 148 T-72B, T-72BK
    • Sudanese Army: 400 T-72AV (170 on order)
    • Ugandan Army: 50 T-72B
    • Nigerian Army: 16 T-72AV (some unofficial source says 55 units)
    • South Sudanese Army: 101

8) Oliphant MBT

Oliphant Tank
Oliphant Tank

Afrikaans for “Elephant” this is an ambitious SADF upgrade of the old British Centurion Main Battle Tank. It was developed too late to partake in the South African Border war however, Recent improvements include improved armor, night vision equipment, and laser range-finder. Designed by Olifant Manufacturing Company (OMC) but it has undergone several upgrade programmes by BAE Land Systems. Uniquely among modern tanks, it has not yet seen combat although it performs excellently well in exercises and various mock combats simulating real conflict. it spots a high-powered 120 mm smoothbore main gun.

Oliphant MBT Specifications

  • Crew: 4
  • Armor: Composite armor, RHA, ERA
  • Armament:
    • Main gun: 125 mm Smoothbore gun
    • Secondary Gun: 12.7 mm Heavy machine gun, 7.62 mm coaxial GMPG 
  • Technology: ERA blocks, Indigenous NVG, Laser Range-Finder equipment, Enhanced Fire Control System (FCS)
  • Engine: 900 hp Continental Diesel V-12 turbo diesel engine.
  • Range: 350 km 
  • User:
    • South African National Defence Force.

9) T-64 MBT

T-64 Tank
T-64 Tank

The very formidable Soviet T-80 MBT was designed from the T-64. Having an autoloader meant the absence of one crew member made this tank to have a lower squat-looking profile which is advantageous in a tank battle, the T-64 pioneered many innovating technologies present in today’s tanks such as the ability to fire an Anti-Tank Guided Missile(ATGM) right from its main gun barrel.

T-64 Specifications

  • Crew: 3
  • Armor: Glass-reinforced Plastic, RHA, ERA
  • Armament:
    • Main gun: 125 mm D-81T (2A46) Smoothbore gun
    • Secondary Gun: 12.7 mm NSVT Heavy machine gun, 7.62 mm PKMT coaxial GMPG 
  • Technology: Auto-loader, Enhanced situational awareness equipment, spent rounds ejector.
  • Engine: 700hp 5-Cylinder 5DTF diesel engine. 
  • Range: 500 km (310mi mi)
  • User:
    • Democratic Republic of Congo Army

10) T-62 MBT

A T-62 MBT

This is technically the Soviets first ‘real’ modern main battle tank due to its vast improvement over the T-54/55 series tanks which was very popular. It was the first Soviet tank to fire an APFSDS round at high velocity. Although, it was plagued with slow turret traversing and limited protection for the secondary gunner. Recent upgrades have been developed by various companies which makes the T-62 a deadly foe to encounter in any battlefield.

T-62 MBT Specifications

  • Crew: 3
  • Armor: RHA, ERA
  • Armament:
    • Main gun: 115 mm U-5TS Smoothbore gun
    • Secondary Gun: 12.7 mm Heavy machine gun, 7.62 mm coaxial GMPG 
  • Technology: Auto-loader, Enhanced situational awareness equipment, spent rounds ejector.
  • Engine: 581hp V-55 12-Cylinder diesel 
  • Range: 650 km (400 mi)
  • User:
    • Angolan Army
    • Egyptian Army
    • Eritrean Army
    • Ethiopian Army
    • Royal Moroccan Army: Libyan Army

11) Vickers MBT

Vickers MBT Specifications
Vickers MBT

Although an outdated design but the Vickers has shown that it is readily adaptable to various upgrades to keep it relevant in the battlefield. The Vickers still fights on till this day even though it was developed in the 1960’s. This is largely due to the flexible designs and the ingenuity of the users. With further upgrades, this tank can still pose a grave threat to unsuspecting enemy tank crew.

Vickers MBT Specifications

  • Crew: 3
  • Armor: RHA
  • Armament:
    • Main gun: 105 mm L7 Rifled gun
    • Secondary Gun: 12.7 mm Heavy machine gun, 7.62 mm coaxial GMPG 
  • Technology: 
  • Engine:
  • Range: 
  • User:
    • Nigeria
    • Tanzania

Ekene Lionel

Techy, Futurist, Award-winning defense technology writer.

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