The French AMX-30 Tank Background
Following the end of World War 2 and occupation of France, the countries arms industry had been in disarray and had attempted to manufacturer a heavy tank called the ARL 44 in 1946, but only 60 were manufactured following a number of problems with the vehicle. Its replacement program was the AMX-50, but this too collapsed in the early 50’s paving the way for a possible joint program with West Germany as it was expected they would be allowed to rearm or purchasing a tank they developed and manufactured, whilst in the mean time the French Army were equipped with US supplied M-47’s under the Mutual Defence Aid Program.
In 1953 a French led defence program was established with Italy, Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg AKA “FINBEL” and was later changed to FINABEL, with the additional “A” standing for Allemagne, “Germany” in French who later joined the program that year.
The Joint program started up in 1957 for a medium battle tank that’s survivability focused on the attributes of firepower and mobility called Europa-Panzer and though the principal designers were Germany and France, specialists from the other members of FINABEL also had some input in the design. By 1963 rifts between France and other NATO members had grown, with France finally declaring it would not contribute its military forces to a NATO military organization. In the mean time the French firm Atelier de Construction d’Issy-les-Moulineaux had developed nine prototypes with varying turret designs.
The joint program started to break down in 1963 when Germany withdrew following Frances decision over NATO. A number of prototypes were field tested from the German and French design teams which were now designated the AMX-30 (France) and the Leopard (Germany) in France for Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and the US, between August to October 1963. Results of the trials found the Leopard had greater mobility. Neither Germany or France could agree on the main gun, with Germany already ordering in great numbers, the British L7 105mm rifled main gun, with France wanting to use their own variant as well as other NATO standardisations AKA STANAG’s, such as the use of common type ammo and multi-fuelled engines. This was the final nail in the coffin for the agreement and saw both countries go off in their own directions.
The French AMX-30B Tank
The AMX-30B was the model that entered production in 1966 with a multi-fuelled Hispano-Suiza Hispano-Suiza’s HS-110 diesel engine generating 720hp, which replaced the one used in the prototypes. At the time the vehicle was the 2nd least armoured of its generation (The M60 series was over 3 times thicker) and a true representation of the doctrine at the time, that by not adding an effective amount of steel armour you reduce the weight of the vehicle and thus increase the mobility of the vehicle, so that you can move fast enough across the battlefield, so you become a harder target to hit (a doctrine that is no longer effective thanks to modern FCS that can track vehicles) and why the AMX-30 weighed only 36tons. If struck, the 50mm thick frontal armour on the vehicle did not offer an effective protection against shaped charged munitions such as HEAT and anti-tank missiles, though it did have an effective NBC system.
The main gun is the French state arsenal GIAT 105mm rifled CN-105-F1 (calibre L56) which could be elevated from -8 degrees to 20+. The main gun fires a number of rounds including HE, the OFUM PH-105 F1 smoke round and an improved HEAT round called Obus G. The round was developed to maximise on the advantages of rifling, but to minimise the negative effective shaped charge warheads suffer due to the rifling.
The Obus G has an outer casing which the inner shell containing the shaped charge sits in. The inner shell is narrower than the outer casing, so the space between them contains a number of round steel ball bearings. These allow the outer casing to be spun by the rifling as its fired, (increasing accuracy) and rotates on the ball bearings so the inner shell then remains motionless, so the shaped charges effectiveness isn’t diminished as it impacts on the enemy vehicle. The round could penetrate 400mm of steel plate and had an effective range of 3000m. 50 rounds of 105mm could be stored in the vehicle as well as 748 rounds of 12.7mm for the coaxial MG and 2050 rounds of 7.62mm for the commanders MG. His cupola contained 10 periscopes for all round vision of the vehicle, a binocular telescope with 10x magnification and coincidence range finder (non laser). The Gunner also used a telescopic sight and two binoculars.
The first few years of manufacture and service saw a number of up-grades to its firepower and highlighted some problems around the vehicles mobility.
The vehicle offered a good range of 600km and top road speed of 65km/h. However its AMX 5-SD-200D manual gearbox (five forward gears and five reverse) proved to be troublesome for the driver and caused a number of mechanical issues.
In 1971 a stabilization system for the main gun was introduced to production, giving the vehicle a fire on the move capability. The coaxial 12.7mm MG was replaced with a 20mm Model F2 (Type M693) auto cannon in 1972 with an elevation of -8 to 40+ degrees. This allowed the new weapon to engage anti-tank helicopters and soft skin vehicles like APC’s & IFV’s. All earlier vehicles received these upgrades.
The French AMX-30B2 Tank
This up-grade package started development in 1973, transforming the vehicle from a 1st generation tank to a 2nd generation. Its upgrades were implemented from 1979 whilst the vehicle was still in production. New build vehicles were manufactured to this standard and a number of earlier production vehicles were also upgraded.
A great deal of effort had gone in to ironing out the problems with the vehicles mobility, namely the manual gearbox being replaced with the semi-automatic SESM ENC200. A new torsion bar suspension which increased the vertical deflection range of the road wheels was installed and gave a greater off road capability. A new diesel engine was added, the Hispano-Suiza HS-110-S2, which generated 780hp.
A key upgrade was the new integrated COTAC fire control system APX M581, which incorporated a laser rangefinder and thermal sights as well as a new M496 commander’s sight. The pressurised NBC system was also improved. The French army took first delivery of the B2 in 1982 and a total of 166 B2’s were new builds and 493 were upgraded B’s. Final assembly of the vehicle was completed in the heavy manufacturing factory “Atelier de Construction de Roanne” whilst other facilities manufactured the parts. A total of 1173 AMX-30 (including the new build B2’s) MBT’s (excluding other variants) had been built for the French Army by 1985 when final deliveries were completed.
During the Early 90’s after the Gulf War (which the AMX-30 fought in) the French Army started taking delivery of its new 3rd Generation MBT, the Leclerc. However the AMX-30 continued to play a key role in the French army and two further up-grades were implemented in limited numbers for their rapid reaction force which was made up of 2 Tank Regiments “1er/ 2e Chasseurs”. The first was an Explosive Reactive Armour package called BRENUS which was made up of 112 bricks fitted over the front of the vehicle and turret sides, increasing protection by the equivalent of 400mm of steel.
The final upgrade has been the purchase of 500 Renault RVI Mack E9 turbocharged diesel engines generating 750hp.
The French AMX-30 Tank Variants:
The AMX-30 hull has been used for several other vehicle roles, such Armoured Recovery, Anti Aircraft, self-propelled artillery to name a few.
AMX-30D (Dépanneur-Niveleur) Armoured Recovery Vehicle – Like all MBT series, it requires an ARV of equal capabilities to either repair or recover it on the battlefield, so a total of 105 AMX-30D’s were ordered for the French Army, based on the AMX-30 hull. It entered service in 1973 in limited numbers and entered serial production in 1975 to for the remaining 100 vehicles.
Principal winch – can pull 35 tons
Auxiliary winch – can pull 20 tons
Crane – lifts 10 tons+
Vehicle can carry a spare power pack for a swap out in the field (weight is increased to 40tons) and is equipped with a front dozer blade for digging scrapes, pushing and anchoring the vehicle.
AMX-30H AVLB – The vehicle uses the scissor method of deployment of its bridge rather than extending horizontally and has a span of about 20m. Its rated to support vehicles crossing it of up to 46 tons. Its development was completed by 1975, but was never ordered by the French Army. 12 vehicles were purchased by the Saudi Arabian Army.
AMX-30EBG combat engineer tractor – AKA Engin Blinde de Genie its equipped with a launching tube for demolition charges and four anti-tank mine launching tubes.
Winch – can pull 20 tons
Hydraulic arm for lifting obstacles – fitted with pincers or an auger
Three man crew – commander, a sapper and a driver
AMX-30EBD armoured minesweeper – This vehicle is a modified AMX-30, sometimes with the main gun removed and equipped with Russian mine plough/rollers to the front of the hull, supplied by Germany from old East German stock. There are only a small number of these vehicles and 6 were deployed during the Gulf War by the French Army.
AMX-30DCA twin 30-mm self-propelled anti-aircraft gun – Developed in the late 60’s, the vehicle was only ever ordered by the Saudi Arabian Army in 1975. It had an AMX-30 hull with an S401A turret, (already used on the AMX-13) which the two Hispano-Suiza 831 A 30mm guns were mounted and operated from by the Oeil-noir Fire Control System as well as the Doppler Radar, which was folded away whilst on the move. The main guns rate of fire was 650 rounds a minute and could be fired in 5 round or 15 round bursts. The vehicle could store 1200 30mm rounds.
AMX-30R Roland surface-to-air missile system – Like the AMX-30DCA the vehicle had a specialised turret which housed the radar detection system (16km range) both missile launching tubes and an automatic loader which loaded missiles from the 8 stored in the turret. 183 vehicles were ordered for the French Army in 1977.
AMX-30SA surface-to-air missile system – Built for the Saudi Arabian Army, its very similar to the AMX-30R, however modified to fire the SA-10 Shahine surface-to-air missile. It entered production sometime around 1975.
TEL Pluton – The TEL (Transporter erector launcher) was a modified AMX-30 hull mounting a launcher which housed one Pluton Short-range ballistic missile system. Pluton had a limited range of 120 km and could carry either a high explosive or nuclear warhead (25 kT max). Entering service with the French Army in 1974, the system was designed to fire rockets in to West Germany (due to its short range) to attack Russian forces heading towards France. Just over 100 TEL’s were manufactured for the French Army and only 70 were ever deployed. There were five Pluton regiments in the North of France, each having six launchers. The system was replaced in favour of the longer range Hades missile and its trailer launcher and was completely fazed out of French service by 1993.
automoteur de 155 GCT – Self propelled Artillery Vehicle built on the AMX-30 hull. Click here for the 155 GCT vehicle page.
The French AMX-30 Tank operators & exports:
BOSNIA HERZEGOVINA – Estimates of 34 to 52 were donated by the United Arab Emirates under the Military aid for Army of Bosnian Federation organised by the US.
CHILE – Its reported the country purchased 29 AMX-30’s. A lot is not know as to their status, but are most likely to be retired/in storage following the purchase of 2nd hand Leopard 1 and Leopard 2 A4’s since 2007.
CROATIA – Its reported the country acquired 42 AMX-30’s. A lot is not know as to their status, but are most likely to be retired/in storage following the upgrade of the locally developed M-84 series.
FRANCE – A total of 1173 AMX-30 (including the new build B2’s) MBT’s (excluding other variants) had been built for the French Army by 1985 when final deliveries were completed. During the Gulf War, France deployed 4e Régiment de Dragons AKA the 4th Dragoon Regiment with their 44 AMX-30B2’s to join the Coalition Forces. An additional 6 older AMX-30’s were sent with mine rollers. The 4e Régiment de Dragons were given their own objective called “Rochambeau” where the reportedly destroyed 10 tanks (T-55’s/Type-69QM’s) and 3 BMP’s, (Mk unknown). Since the introduction of the AMX-56 AKA Leclerc MBT, the AMX-30B2 has slowly been withdrawn from service, but some experts estimate that 200 to 250 will remain in service until 2010.
GREECE – 190 were purchased in 1969 with 14 AMX-30D ARV’s. They are no longer in service as the Greece has been buying 2nd hand Leopard 1 &2’s, whilst recently its been building the Leopard 2HEL which is their licensed version of the Leopard 2 A6.
CYPRUS -16 AMX-30B2s and a single AMX-30D were purchased in 1982, and later on purchased an additional 36 B2’s. In 2005, 52 AMX-30’s were purchased from Greece. The Cypriote tank fleet now operates 104 AMX-30’s, along with T-80’s and will be complimented with an order of 41 T-90’s from Russia in 2009.
QATAR – In 1977 24 AMX-30’s were purchased and a further 30 AMX-30B2s in 1987, bring their small fleet up to 54. An undisclosed number of the AMX-30’s were deployed during the Gulf War and engaged in tank on tank fighting against Iraqi T-55’s. On the 30th of January, Qatari forces attempted to repel the occupying Iraqi forces in the Kuwaiti City of Khafji, now known as the Battle of Khafji. Qatari AMX-30B2’s took out 3 T-55’s and captured a further 4 with the lose of 1 AMX-30B2. There are no reports of engagements with the Iraqi version of the T-72.
SPAIN – Like many European countries after World War 2, Spain found itself having to accept US Patton series tank during the 50’s (to replace early WW2 German eerier tanks). But through the 1960 onwards, Spain found itself gradually being isolated due to it being a non NATO member, its involvement in the Ifni War and being a fascist regime. This restricted its ability to licence build the Leopard 1 and to receive military aid from the US, so it found itself signing an agreement with French state manufacturer GIAT in 1970 to licence build the AMX-30 in Spain, as there was no other suitable alternative and would be designated the AMX-30E.
France delivered the first 19 vehicles to Spain, whilst the first batch of 180 entered production in Spain during 1974. Santa Bárbara Sistemas was the principal contractor, with other Spanish companies working as sub-contractors who manufactured parts. Production was completed in 1979. In the same year a second batch of 100 vehicles entered production. In total Spain fielded 299 AMX-30E’s and additionally manufactured 18 AMX-30R Anti-Aircraft vehicles, designated as AMX-30RE, 10 AMX-30D ARV’s and 4 training vehicles.
The Spanish AMX-30’s suffered the same problems as the French ones, but in 1980, France granted Spain a full patent which gave Spain the freedom to implement modifications and to up-grade the vehicles to Spain’s own requirements. Spain even went to the length of building some prototypes using German parts.
The fleet was split in to two projects, the AMX-30EM1 and the AMX-30EM2. The EM1 saw the vehicle reconditioned and the original French transmission replaced with the American Allison CD-850-6A. This over heated and reduced the vehicles range. The EM1 project started in 1988 and 149 of the 299 were bought up to the AMX-30EM1 standard.
The remaining 150 were brought up to the EM2 standard which was a much more in depth up-grade project The program began in 1989 and ended in 1993. The original French engine was replaced with the German MTU 833 Ka-501 diesel engine which could produce 850hp. The troublesome transmission was also replaced with the German ZF LSG-3000. The suspension was replaced with the improved version used on the AMX-30B2, the loaders turret hatch was modified so a .50 cal MG could be fitted to it, a new Mark 9 modification A/D FCS was fitted with a new gunners sight and laser range finder, as well as the NSC-800 Ballistic computer. An internal communications screen system was installed and displayed to the crew the commanders commands such as which ammunition to use etc. A smoke screen generator was installed which injected diesel in to the hot exhaust to create the smoke and pump it out. New steel armoured skirts were added to cover the road wheels and give added protect to the sides of the hull and a new fire suppression system was also added.
Despite the addition of the AMX-30E to the Spanish Army, its armoured corps still lacked modern tanks and took delivery of US M60-A3’s in the early 90’s as a short term replacement to their own indigenous tank development. But still lacking modern equipment Spain persisted in a relationship with German to purchase more modern 2nd hand Leopard 2 A4’s and to licence build the Leopard 2. The Leopard 2E is Spain’s new 3rd generation MBT. Licence built by Santa Bárbara, it is the Leopard 2 A6 but modified to Spanish requirements, whilst the AMX-30EM2 has now been withdrawn from service and replaced with the B1 Centauro wheeled tank destroyer.
SAUDI ARABIA – 190 modified for desert fighting and designated the AMX-30S were built and delivered between 1973 to 1979. These were complimented with 59 AMX-30D ARV’s, 52 AMX-30DCA and 50 AMX-30SA. In recent years the country has been purchasing US M60-A3’s and M1-A1/A2’s which form the backbone of their armoured force, however the AMX-30S is still in limited service, whilst the rest are in storage.
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – 64 tanks and 1 ARV, (armoured brigade strength) were purchased in 1977. Now replaced by the AMX-56 AKA Leclerc, they donated 52 AMX-30’s to Bosnia.
VENEZUELA – run a small fleet of 81 AMX-30’s and 4 AMX-30Ds purchased in 1972. These were upgraded in the 80’s with a new FCS, a new Continental AVDS-1790-5A diesel engine, producing 908hp and an Allison CD-850-6A transmission. New fuel tanks also increased the road range to 720km’s. These AMX-30’s aren’t expected to remain in service much longer as the country has been continuing to purchase military equipment from Russia which include plans to purchase upgraded T-72’s or even possibly T-90’s, but most likely T-72’s have been negotiated during 2009.