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From Battlefield to Target Range: The Evolution of the M60 Patton Main Battle Tank

As a 50-ton Cold War relic, the M60-Patton Main Battle tank now operates as a “target” for weapons and radar training, after serving with distinction for many years.

The M60 tank, which was an upgraded variant of the M48 Patton tank, was not officially a Patton tank but came to be regarded as part of the Patton family.

The M60 Over the Years

The M60 was retired from combat following its performance in the Gulf War in 1991, ended service with the National Guard in 1997, and stopped being used for training in 2005.

Although roughly 20 tons less than a 70-ton Abrams tank, the M60 was not faster or more maneuverable.

The M60 fired a 105mm cannon at a rate of seven rounds per minute, a lethal rate of fire for the Cold War era. The tank has been in service around the world with U.S. allies for many decades in places such as Egypt, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, among others.

While retired and ultimately out-performed and replaced by the Abrams main battle tank, the M60 fuselage and engineering have inspired subsequent armored designs for “bridge vehicles, recovery vehicles and combat engineering platforms.”

An interesting 1998 paper from the Armor Magazine, Army’s Fort Benning, Ga. titled “American Tank Development,” explains that the M60 came to life during the Korean War when the Pentagon realized its tank force size and quality may be outmatched by the Soviet Union. The article says the Army built 2,205 M60s, after connecting a 105mm gun with an AVDS-2 diesel engine from an M-48.

Following its arrival, the M60 was not only deemed reliable, according to the essay, but was also upgraded numerous times throughout the years to improve functionality, lethality, and ability to respond to threats.

Changes to the M60, the Fort Benning Essay describes, included the addition of a longer turret to support the 105mm gun, new suspension and a “redesigned commander’s cupola, a T-bar instead of a steering wheel, better armor protection, an electrical computer and a coincidence rangefinder.” (American Tank Development, 2021. Fort Benning, Ga., by Robert Cameron.)

“The last device proved much simpler to operate than the stereoscopic rangefinder. The viewer observed the target as a split image. Aligning the image determined the range. These modifications resulted in the M60A1 that replaced the M60 on the production line, starting in October 1962. The production run stopped in 1980 after 7,948 M60A1s had been built,” Cameron writes.

The “Super” M60 Rolls Out

Interestingly, after several decades operating the M60, the Army took yet another leap and engineered the “Super” M60 in the mid-1980s. It was a high-performance variant of the -60 which improved the suspension, armor protection and speed of the tank.

A 1985 essay from the U.S. Army Ordnance Center and School describes that “the torsion bar suspension system of the M60 was replaced with a hydropneumatic suspension system.”

The survivability enhancements included “Chobham spaced applique armor,” consisting of an outer layer of high-hardness steel armor panels and an inner layer of ceramic inserts covering the base M60A1 vehicle,” (Janes Main Battle Tanks, 1986).

“Track skirts consisted of Sitall and high-hardness steel for the hull sides as well as Kevlar spall liners for the fighting compartment. Like the vehicle it is based on, it retained a crew of four: the commander, loader and gunner positioned in the turret and the driver in the front of the hull.”