Armor: A New Light Tank Design


November 3, 2020: The Philippines Army has been shopping for eighteen light tanks and has apparently selected the new Israeli Sabrah. The competition included the Indonesian Harimau medium tank, the South Korean K21-105 and the Turkish Arma 105. Sabrah apparently won because it was the latest light tank design and,  unlike the Arma-105 and K21-105, was not just a IFV (Infantry Fighting Vehicle) with the addition of a larger turret containing a 105mm gun. The Harimau was not designed as a light tank and is an older design.

The Sabrah was built to do what a modern light tank is good for; reconnaissance and infantry support. Sabrah is also available as an 8x8 wheeled armored vehicle. The Philippines is buying eight tracked and ten 8x8 wheeled versions. The chassis and two-man turret are the same as is the wide array of sensors and modern communications equipment. This includes the new Israeli software-controlled radios, which the Philippines is also buying. The new radios are already standard in the American armed forces, where they have proved to be more secure (encrypted signals) and can be quickly modified because the software is an integral part of the radio. The Sabrah also has a powerful thermal sensor which is always useful, even when the 105mm gun is not needed. 

The Sabrah was not ready to be announced yet but Israel speeded that up to compete for the Filipino contract. All the competitors weighed 25-30 tons and had similar 105mm guns and operating characteristics. One new light tank design, the Chinese ZBQ-15, did not compete even though it is being offered for export as the VT5. The ZBQ-15 is a 33-ton tracked vehicle with a 105mm gun. It has been undergoing field testing in Tibet and the Vietnamese border since 2017 and entered service in 2020. About 300 have already been built so far but China and the Philippines are in a state of undeclared war over Chinese efforts to take control of Filipino portions of the South China Sea.

There are not as many light tanks as therr used to be. There is still a need for light armored vehicles armed with a 105mm gun to carry out armed reconnaissance and provide fire support for the infantry. These duties have largely been taken over by 8x8 wheeled vehicles or IFVs armed with a 105mm gun. Most armies no longer see the need to maintain a force light tanks because tracked vehicles cannot travel long distances on their own without wearing out their tracks. Even light tanks must be moved long distances via railroad or tractor-trailer trucks to avoid track wear. Another reason for preferring the Sabrah is that the Philippines has no land borders and China is not threatening to invade. But there are still problems with some Islamic terror groups in the south and these groups sometimes ambush military vehicles, often using roadside bombs. The Sabrah, more than the other competitors, is designed to deal with that sort of thing.




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