A lot of senior officers in the US military are worried that the nation’s weaponry is becoming dangerously out of date. For nearly two decades much of the military budget has been focused on the war against Islamic terrorism; before that came over another decade of spending cuts and force reductions. The result is that, apart from a few systems, most of the USA’s combat power is made up of Cold War systems. The US Navy’s task forces are based around Nimitz-class carriers, 688-class submarines and Arleigh Burke destroyers, all designs from the 1970s and 80s. The main USAF combat aircraft is the F-15 Eagle, which first flew in 1972, backed up by the lighter F-16, which took to the air two years later. The most common strategic bomber in US service is the B-52, and the youngest of those is 56 years old.
The Navy and Air Force don’t have too much to worry about just yet, though. Their main combat systems might be old designs, but they’ve been radically upgraded over the years, and they’re still more than a match for what any potential adversary might have. The real worry is the US Army. Two of its main ground combat systems – the M1 Abrams and M2 Bradley – date back to the mid-1980s; the third, the M109 howitzer, entered service in 1963. Again, they’ve all been upgraded, but other countries – some of them potentially hostile – are now producing up to date systems that can match, or even outclass, anything in the current US inventory. One example is the new Turkish Altay main battle tank.
Turkey has been a major NATO member for decades, but in the last few years, it’s started to worry western leaders. President Erdogan is a hard-line Islamist, and he’s playing his own games – attacking US allies in Syria, for example. At the same time, the Turkish military is well into a long-term programme to develop its own indigenous weapons wherever possible, instead of relying on US designs as they have in the past. A couple of years ago I looked at the MPT-76 battle rifle, which Turkey is producing to replace its elderly G3s; now their own tank design is entering service, too.
Right now, Turkey’s tank fleet is mostly obsolete M60s, M48s and Leopard 1s, with a few hundred Leopard 2s to give it some backbone. However, this year the first Altay tanks should become operational with front-line units. The Altay is the first domestically-produced tank to enter service, and it’s an impressive modern design.
There’s no tradition of building tanks in Turkey, so just as they did with their new rifle, they’ve started with a modern design from somewhere else and reworked it to suit Turkish requirements. In this case, the base model is the South Korean K2 Black Panther, but a lot of changes have been made, including a lengthened hull, completely redesigned turret, and new indigenously-produced fire control system.
With a weight of 72 tons, the Altay seems to be carrying a lot of modern laminate armor. It’s propelled by a 1,800bhp diesel engine, a local upgrade of the popular MTU Europack, but maker Otokar is looking at adapting their electric bus engine for future Altay variants to reduce its audible and thermal signature.
The Altay is armed with a 55-caliber, 120mm smoothbore gun based on the standard Rheinmetall weapon, giving it the superior firepower to the M1A2 Abrams. A remote weapon station is likely to be fitted on the turret, and there’s also a 7.62mm coax. All weapons are controlled by a modular Aselsan Volkan-III fire control system incorporating a ballistic computer, day and thermal sights and a battlefield target identification system.
It probably won’t be long before the Altay picks up some combat experience, and I guess that it will prove to be a very effective design. In some areas, it clearly outmatches the M1A2, which is what we’d expect because it’s a far more modern design. Given Turkey’s increasingly Islamist politics it’s also likely to become the standard MBT of the radical Islamic world – Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are both reported to be interested in buying it. Unless US tanks want to find themselves outmatched on a future battlefield, it’s time to start looking seriously at designing an MBT for the 21st century.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.