The MBT-70 tank appeared to be a technological marvel that combined the best of America and Germany. Yet this tank never moved.
MBT-70. Artist Rendering. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
Negative thoughts kept you awake at night if you served in the U.S. military in Germany during the Cold War. This phobia originated in an area known as the Fulda Gap. The critical turning point was situated between East and West Germany on the route to Frankfurt and the Rhine River. The Soviets expected to spearhead a massive armored assault on terrain ideal for tanks, which would defeat NATO and the United States.
What was required? Construct a new super tank to block this vital approach route. The MBT-70 was meant to counter the Soviet horde. This armored hulk, created jointly by the United States and West Germany, was destined to alter everything.
The MBT-70 could kill distant targets, and Unique suspension was designed to position the pistol for more accurate fire. That would be quite survivable. Yet, this made-from-scratch endeavor proved costly. There were delays in preparing the product for serial production. The Americans and West Germans finally said no and abandoned the project.
In the late 1950s – early 1960s, the West German Leopard 1 and the American M60 were the tanks of choice for NATO. Both nations desired enhancements to these vehicles. The introduction of the Soviet Union’s upgraded T-62 accelerated the development of a new tank by the allies.
In 1963, engineers and designers envisioned the MBT-70 with layered tungsten alloy and softer steel. It wasn’t easy because the West Germans and the Americans had different prototypes. They could not agree on a course of action; they had difficulty fostering teamwork, and few spoke both languages. Both sets of design teams utilized unique engines and weapons. The West Germans wanted to use the metric system, whereas the United States did not.
A suspension that could be lowered to four inches off the ground to improve the tank’s defensive stance was an intriguing innovation. It could conceal itself behind trees and defensive positions, making it a tough target for the opponent. When raised the suspension, the tank could drive faster on roadways.
The crew would sit in the turret of both designs to be more protected against chemical weapons and nuclear fallout. In this scenario, the problem was that the driver suffered from motion sickness.
The Americans selected robust gunnery with a potent 152mm gun and launcher to fire various ammunition. Ahead of its time, it had an autoloader, laser rangefinder, and a ballistic computer. It could also launch anti-tank Shillelagh missiles. A 20-mm anti-aircraft gun controlled remotely. The systems sounded incredible, but they never performed well in testing. The 152mm caseless rounds did not function properly, and the anti-tank missiles were never fully integrated. German forces opted for a simpler 120mm Rheinmetall cannon.
By 1968, both teams had a testable prototype. However, as one might expect, the cost of these technologies rose, and delays plagued the program. Planners anticipated $200,000 per tank, while the actual cost was $1,000,000. In 1969, the Germans gave up and withdrew from the attempt to develop their Leopard 2 tank. Congress investigated the program and, by 1970, ruled that the MBT-70 should be terminated due to its expensive cost and lengthy development period.
But the technology was superb. The Americans implemented the most feasible advancements into the Abrams tank, while the West Germans incorporated the best ideas into the Leopard 2 tank. Considering future collaboration on a new tank, both nations responded negatively.