The Buzz

Revealed: The Old American Tank Taiwan Is Modernizing to Fight China in a War

The M60 “Patton” tank is one of the most iconic tanks of the Cold War. While it did not see use in the Vietnam War, it saw extensive use by Israel and Iran in the various hot wars of the twentieth century, and comprised the vast bulk of the U.S. Army’s tank fleet facing down the Warsaw Pact throughout the 1970s and 1980s. It was also used by U.S. Marines in Grenada and Operation Desert Storm. While it was phased out of American service in the 2000s—and most other tank fleets by the 2010s—the M60 continues to serve on in some countries. Advanced upgrade packages are being added to remaining M60s in an attempt to make them adequate for today’s battlefield. Most of these packages are based on the M60A3, the latest variant to see widespread service introduced in the 1980s. Some of the upgrade packages are based on the far older M60A1 variant. This article will discuss the Taiwanese proposed upgrade package, the Turkish upgrade package that has seen combat service and the low-end Thai upgrade package.

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Taiwan’s M60 upgrade is probably the most up to date. After failing to acquire M1 Abrams tanks from the United States, Taiwan is now attempting to upgrade their fleet of 400 M60A3 tanks, which are in use by the Republic of China Army and Marine Corps. In 2017, two M60A3s were transferred to Taiwanese R&D institutes for evaluation. These evaluations of possible upgrades are expected to finish in 2019, with the upgrade being implemented in 2020. The upgrade package is said to include new fire control system, turret drive, sighting systems, NBC (Nuclear, Biological and Chemical)  and environmental control systems, and what is described as an automatic loading system. It’s not clear if the package includes a true autoloader or is a semi-automatic loading system with an assisted rammer. The 105mm M68 rifled gun is supposed to be replaced with a new 120mm smoothbore, which would enable the tank to fire modern Western ammunition. Active Protection Systems are also being considered—a wise decision considering the outdated nature of the M60A3’s simple steel armor hulls. All upgrade components are to be taken from the commercial domestic market with the exception of the 120mm gun. Despite this, Raytheon is said to be in talks with Taiwan to do technology transfer of the M60 upgrade or to provide some components for it. Taiwanese sources have stated that this M60A3 upgrade package will be superior to the M1A1 in some aspects. This could be true, given that the upgrade package lists an improved commander sight as an option—the M1A1 lacks an independent, stabilized, thermal commander sight, a feature only added in the M1A2. Such sights are now common and probably included in the Taiwanese M60A3 upgrade.