The M60 was the principal United States main battle tank from 1960 until the introduction of the MI Abrams in 1980. The design even soldiered on until the 1991 Gulf War and effectively, the end of the Cold War. At first it was indistinguishable from its predecessor, the M48, which had been up-gunned with the 105 mm L7 gun in its final guise, the M48A5. This was at first seen as a stopgap pending the introduction of the MBT70, and intended for foreign markets.

As well as the introduction of the 105mm gun, the transition from the M48 to the M60 series included a new engine, transmission and turret changes such as a ballistic computer for the fire control system. The main difference in appearance between the two vehicles was the straight edged glacis plate of the M60, that of the M48 being boat shaped.

The M60 was continuously developed throughout its service life until the final few years when it was obvious that the M1 Abrams would be introduced. After that time any changes were for the export market.

One interesting variation of the M60 was the M60A2, which had a distinctively different turret with the 152mm Shillelagh gun/missile launcher, in an attempt to increase the lethality of the M60. This entered service in 1973 but the concept proved hazardous with some disastrous turret fires as a result of burning residues in the launcher “cooking off” subsequent rounds. As a result this sub-type only lasted a couple of years in service.

M60A1s exported to Israel and used operationally were the origin of many changes. One of the problems was the turret’s hydraulic oil, known as “cherry juice” (because of its colour), which proved flammable under high pressure and had to be replaced. More armour was also required meaning more engine power was needed to carry it. Gun stabilisation was updated and the thermal sleeve added to the main gun to counter barrel warp. The fire control computer then installed was a real computer as opposed to the older version, which was a gear and cam type. A laser rangefinder replaced the old stereoscopic version. The swan song of the M60 type was its widespread use in the Gulf War by the U.S. Army and Marines, and in a solitary example, by the U.S. Air Force! After this the type was phased out of service and “cascaded” to allies, scrapped or used as hard targets. The last ones in National Guard service were swapped for the M1 Abrams in 1997.

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