May 8, 2013:
Saudi Arabia has agreed to buy some of the new Turkish Altay tanks. The exact number has not been revealed, but the Saudis do have 320 elderly AMX-30 French tanks in urgent need of replacement. The Turkish Army is planning on buying a thousand of the new Altays for about $5.5 million each. These will be acquired at 4 lots of 250 each, and not all may be needed (depending on the regional military-political situation). The Turkish Army currently has 720 German Leopard 1 and 2 tanks, 930 American M-60s and 1,370 American M-48s. Most (except for the Leopard 2s) are quite old and need replacing soon. Turkey doesn’t really need 3,000 tanks when half the number of more modern ones would do. Altay is similar to the 338 Leopard 2s the Turks currently have. Most of the rest are Cold War era tanks and rapidly approaching retirement age.
Yet another reason for the Saudis to buy hundreds of Altays is to cement an unofficial alliance with Turkey against Iran and anyone else who might threaten Saudi Arabia and its immediate neighbors. Earlier France proposed replacing the French made AMX-30s with the AMX-56 Leclerc. The 65 ton Altay seems a better fit than the 55 ton Leclerc and Turkey is a lot closer than France.
Moreover, the Altay is similar in many ways to the 400 M1 tanks the Saudis have (in service or on order). Both have a 120mm gun, composite armor, and high-end electronics. The two tanks are so similar because, two years ago, Turkey paid South Korea $400 million for rights to much of the technology in the new 55 ton South Korean K2 tank. This vehicle was in turn based on the 1980s K1, which deliberately emulated the M1 design in many ways and did so with the cooperation of the United States. The K1 and K2 proved to be successful designs, and the Turks already had decades of experience maintaining and upgrading American M-60 tanks (the predecessor of the M1). With the addition of the South Korean tech the Altay rapidly took shape.
The K2 has a number of new electronic defenses. These include a laser detector that will instantly tell the crew the direction the enemy laser beam is coming from. Most tanks use a laser range finder before it fires its main gun. The K2 fire control system also enables the main gun (120mm) to be used to hit low flying aircraft (helicopters, mostly). There are also numerous improvements to the K1 mechanical and electronic systems, as well as more armor (both composite and ERA). This will make the K2 easier to use and maintain. An autoloader reduces the crew to three men. The Altay is more heavily armored than the K2 and does not use the auto-loader.