This question is prompted in part by the current “how to creatively destroy a modern MBT” thread, the “Libya” thread, and also by random bits I read recently about tanks on wikipedia.
For instance : in an article about the WWI French tank B1bis, there was a mention of it destroying unharmed some large number of German tanks all by itself, and taking in an absurdly high (say, 200) number of hits from tanks and anti-tank guns without being damaged. Or about the first Gulf war, where it seems that the crew of an American MBT could have taken a nap while being attacked by a group of older soviet design tanks without much concern apart for the noise. Also, I noticed the large range of tank designs still in use in various countries. Some for instance are still fielding T-34s, which no doubt were excellent tanks 70 years ago.
So, it seems that at some point a tank becomes totally obsolete in that it essentially can’t harm a more modern or better equipped tank, and/or can be destroyed essentially before the crew even notice there’s an enemy tank present. And the time it takes for a tank to become obsolete can be quite short (as in the B1bis example above, since the German tanks couldn’t have been that much old, and the B1bis was of no use for the Germans anymore in quick order, being itself obsolete).
So, I have several questions :
1)The French MBT design (Leclerc) is about 20 years old. It’s about the same for the current British Challenger, and the German Leopard 2 is even older (dating from the 80s). I didn’t look up for the American, Israeli, etc… MBT, but anyway : although a MBT costs an awful lot of money and can’t just be replaced every other year, and although I guess improvements are added to the basic design, 20 or 30 years seems quite long given how quickly technology progresses. So, for how long can an army use a design before it becoming utterly obsolete (as in the example above, not being any challenge for a recent tank)?
2)Are first world MBT roughly equivalent in capacities, or not at all? For instance, assuming that a country fielded a new tank design in 2000, could we assume that the much older Leopard 2 wouldn’t stand a chance against it?
3)Do MBTs even are somewhat equivalent to begin with? For instance, a Challenger is as old a design as a Leclerc. Is it conceivable that a British armored brigade could shred to bits its French equivalent (or the other way around, doesn’t matter) without breaking a sweat?
4)What countries are able to design and produce MBTs about equivalent in efficiency to those mentioned? USA, UK, France, Germany, Israel, I assume Russia and China. Somebody else?
5)Why armies are fielding totally obsolete tanks (say, a T-55)? I can understand if their potential enemies aren’t much better equipped, but in the extreme example of the T-34, what use could it have (I assume that every single modern man portable AT weapon would easily destroy it)? Also, some of those countries have quite a lot of those obsolete designs. Hundreds of them. So, wouldn’t they be better off with, say, 25 modern MBTs than with 250 1950-era designs, even assuming that their neighbours are fielding 1950-era designs too?