The MBT-70, a Forgotten Super Tank Designed to Battle Russia

During the Cold War, the “MBT-70” project emerged, a collaborative effort between the United States and West Germany to develop a cutting-edge main battle tank.

American intelligence services learned that the Soviet Union was upgrading its main battle tank, the T-62, with powerful modifications such as an automatic main gun and improved armor.

To effectively counter Soviet armored vehicles, then-Defense Secretary Robert McNamara opted for an unprecedented “super tank.” Although this effort never came to fruition, the jointly built armored car contributed to the future capabilities of main battle tanks.

How did the MBT-70 program come about?

During the Cold War, NATO countries utilized various weapon systems that rarely shared anything beyond airspace, such as ammunition, fuel, or spare parts. Secretary of Defense McNamara recognized an opportunity to address this disconnect in the armored vehicle industry.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, US forces primarily used the M60 Patton main battle tank, while West Germany sported the Leopard I.

In an effort to carry out McNamara’s plan, Germany and the United States signed a memorandum of understanding guaranteeing that both countries would have an equal say in the tank’s design and features.

However, this was the reason why the MBT-70 program never came to fruition. During the design phase of the MBT-70, disputes arose around all aspects of its design. The debate over whether or not to adopt the metric system was the most divisive issue between German and American engineers.

German and American engineers disagreed on the design.

Although the tensions ruined the collaboration project, the designers agreed on some considerations. The MBT-70 was to have tungsten alloy armor with layers of steel and an inner protective cuirass. In theory, this design would protect against the 105m shells fired by the Soviets at the time.

As Defense Media Network explains, “instead of the crew’s stations being inside the hull, as was customary, they were placed inside the oversized turret of the MBT-70, which would be protected against nuclear, biological and chemical threats ( NBC). 

This also helped design the tank’s armor, which was split into two layers: a strong, hard, cold-rolled steel exterior and a softer steel interior to prevent spalling or the interior of the armor breaking apart.

Both groups of engineers evaluated an air suspension system that could be lowered to within four inches of the ground as an intriguing feature. This design would enhance the tank’s defensive stance. The projected tank’s main cannon was very stunning.

Based on the design of the MBT-70, a 152mm gun replaced the previous 105mm main armament. Moreover, the main combat tank was more mobile than its predecessors. The higher acceleration of the MBT-70 allowed it to reach a top speed greater than that of the American M60 Patton and the German Leopard I.

The MBT-70 project was finally scrapped.

Ultimately, design complications and a lack of communication between his German and American engineers scuttled the MBT-70 project. The tank was too heavy to move on the road. The tank was too heavy to ride on European railway carriages and bridges, rendering it useless for further combat on the continent.