Iranian Super Tank? M60A1 Gets Mystery Upgrade 

Iran demonstrated its modernised M60 tank with improved armour and weaponry. There are striking parallels to Israel's M60T "Sabra" turret design and firepower enhancements. Powered by a 750 horsepower engine, better targeting systems, and protective measures. Automatic loader, reduced crew size, but turret prevents driver egress.

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Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna is a Defence & Aerospace analyst and is the Director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany with manufacturing units in Russia. He is Consulting Editor Industry and Defense at Frontier India.

On March 15, footage of a modernised version of the iconic American tank M60 appeared online, supposedly built by the Iranian defence industry. Currently, the Islamic Republic has approximately 150 American M60 tanks in its inventory. Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran have inherited 460 tanks.

As per the Bulgarian Military Portal, the recent demonstration of Iranian modifications reveals noticeable differences, making it difficult to draw parallels with the mid-Cold War American tank produced in the late 1950s. However, the video’s shortness prevents any extensive examination of localised updates in Iran.

The designers have drawn major inspiration from futuristic concepts for this extensive revamp. The turret of the Iranian M60 tank is immediately noticeable. This critical tank component has undergone substantial modification and may even have been fully replaced. Although it is difficult to pinpoint the specific differences, the Iranian adaption differs significantly from the original tank turret. The M60 also features dynamic base protection, which improves its defensive capabilities.

There is an impression of it being equipped with dependable modular protection augmented by panoramic view capabilities. The turret is also outfitted with a modern combat module and a machine gun, as is typical of modern tanks. At first appearance, other alterations, such as the hull and angled panels on the sides, appear to be purely aesthetic, with no obvious functional purpose.

Furthermore, there is room for speculation about possible alterations to the tank’s gun. The original American M60, M60/M60A1, and M60A3 models had a 105mm gun. Notably, the American M60A2 version has a 152mm cannon, but Iran never acquired it and instead received the M60A1 variant. As a result, it wouldn’t be surprising to explore modifying the original 105mm gun into a larger 120mm or perhaps 125mm gun. A comparison could be established with the Iranian “Zulfiqar,” which closely resembles the “Abrams” and employs the Soviet 2A46 gun. This likelihood is bolstered by Russia’s close relations with Iran, as well as the presence of 125mm cannons on Russian tanks.

Interestingly, experts have detected a striking resemblance between the updated Iranian M60 and the M60T “Sabra,” which was modernised many years ago and is now in service with the Israeli Defence Force. It’s difficult not to notice the striking similarities in the tank turret design and the identical positioning of the panoramic view.

Even the modifications that Iran appears to have made to its weaponry are substantially reliant on Israeli modernisation efforts. While the angled screens on board differ from those on the M60T, the redesign appears to have been inspired by Israel’s modernisation efforts. It gives the impression that they meticulously followed the blueprint.

The improvements made to armoured vehicles like the M60T show substantial progress in three critical areas: firepower, armoured protection resilience, and mobility efficiency. Firepower has been maximised by integrating modern targeting systems, increasing the calibre of the main gun, and introducing additional armament systems.

Armoured protection has evolved in reactive and composite armour, improving protection against anti-tank weaponry. Powerful engines and enhanced suspension systems have increased mobility across various terrain types.

Finally, the M60T’s modifications have maintained its relevance in modern warfare, as it is well-equipped to deal with the battlefield’s ever-changing problems. However, rapid advances in Israeli technology created the door for developing its own tank, the “Merkava,” which is available in numerous varieties and constitutes a large portion of the Israeli army’s weaponry. Despite being replaced by the more sophisticated “Merkava,” the M60T remains a major milestone in Israeli tank development, representing the advent of next-generation tanks.

There are major differences between the Iranian M60 and the original American variant. The most apparent change is that Iran has greatly increased the tank’s armour and firepower. This includes using reactive armour on the tank’s hull and turret. This M60 also has improved laser rangefinders and thermal imaging systems, which help it detect targets accurately.

The technical specifications are equally intriguing. The Iranian M60 is powered by a powerful Continental AVDS-1790-2 V12 diesel engine with air conditioning and dual turbocharging, capable of delivering 750 horsepower. On the road, this tank has a maximum speed of 48 km/h and a range of around 500 kilometres. The tank weighs roughly 52.6 tonnes and measures 9.3 metres long, 3.63 metres wide, and 3.27 metres high.

The M60 tank is outfitted with several systems meant to increase its combat effectiveness. Among the key features are a ballistic computer for pinpoint precision, a laser rangefinder for precise distance estimation, and thermal imaging technologies to boost visibility in adverse settings. In terms of defence, the tank has a system to protect against radiation, biological, and chemical threats and a smokescreen generator.

The M60’s armament includes a 105mm M68 gun that can fire various ammunition, including anti-tank high-explosive fragmentation and armour-piercing fin-stabilised projectiles. It is also outfitted with a 7.62mm M240 machine gun and a 50 calibre M2 Browning machine gun, both suited for anti-aircraft and anti-infantry operations.

Including an automatic loader is a significant part of Turkey’s most recent improvements to the American M60 tank. This upgrade reduces not just the tank’s overall height but also the crew size. The tank’s welded turret now weighs 13 tonnes, down from 14.5 tonnes before it was armed with the 105mm gun.

Fortification, dynamic protection, and NERA components have been added to improve safety in the Iranian upgraded variant. The turret’s rear contains an ammo magazine, which was originally built with ejector panels to improve safety. Laser radiation sensors and video inspection systems are among the additional turret characteristics.

However, the bigger turret hampers the driver from exiting the tank via the hatch. This obstacle can be surmounted by rotating the turret 90 degrees, enabling the driver to evacuate safely. Of course, this raises problems about the turret’s optimal posture while the tank is stationary. Nonetheless, the M60 tank features advanced targeting technologies, a high-level digital fire control system, and a remotely controlled machine gun module that is seamlessly incorporated into the turret.


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