The collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War impacted tank development as well as every other aspect of military activity. Everybody started looking for ways to stop, or at least slow the rate of spending. In tank development this meant the retention of equipment in service with programmes of technical refinement already under way: Improvements in protection with ‘Chobham’ , composite and reactive armour; upgraded fire control and sighting systems; better engines. Those Main Battle Tanks already in service – M1 Abrams, Challenger 2, Leopard 2, T72 – continued with periodic upgrades, and older machines continued in second tier and Third World formations. New vehicles in development, like the Russian T90, continued, though often at a reduced pace.
But the end of the Cold war did not simply call time on the tank. The First Gulf War in the early ‘90’s saw orthodox armoured engagements, as did the Iraq invasion of 2003. The various conflicts in the Caucasus saw Russian armour in action. All these conflicts showed new threats to tanks or highlighted design issues, and some even provided combat tests for the tanks mentioned above.
The changing nature of conflicts, post-1989, however, has meant that the basic vehicles or platforms will continue for some time, being improved or modified to extend their lives. The latest version of the M1 Abrams is even scheduled to be in service through until the middle of this century. At around $5 million per tank, this is perhaps not surprising.
The wars of the late 20th and early 21st century, though, have focused development more on versatile combat vehicles – the APCs of earlier times. Vehicles such as the Bradley and Warrior are more than ‘armoured taxis’ for the infantry. They are true fighting vehicles with turrets and armament to provide localised fire support for the soldiers they carry, and which are of more immediate and wider value in the sorts of situations experienced in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Caucasus.