Taiwan has announced plans to upgrade the US-made M60A3 main battle tanks (MBTs) in service with the Republic of China Army (RoCA). The upgrade programme aims to improve the combat capability of the ageing tanks against any landing attempt by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) amphibious troops.
The M60A3 is a Cold War-era tank produced by General Dynamics Land Systems between 1960 and 1987. It is armed with a 105 mm gun and has a crew of four. It has a maximum speed of 48 km/h and a range of 500 km. The RoCA operates more than 300 M60A3s, which are mostly deployed along the west coast of Taiwan facing mainland China.
The M60A3s are considered obsolete compared to modern MBTs such as the US-made M1 Abrams or the Chinese-made Type 99. The PLA has been modernising its amphibious forces with new vehicles such as the ZBD-05 infantry fighting vehicle and the ZTD-05 light tank, which have superior mobility and firepower than the M60A3s.
According to a contract award announced by Taiwan’s tendering service, the state-owned National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST) will upgrade the “shooting, gun control, and sighting system” of 40 M60A3s in an initial phase. The contract is worth TWD444 million (USD 15.56 million) and is expected to be completed by December 2024.
The upgrade will involve replacing the original analogue fire control system with a digital one, installing new thermal imaging sights for both the gunner and commander, enhancing the stabilisation system for improved accuracy on the move, and upgrading the communication system for better situational awareness. The upgraded tanks will also be fitted with explosive reactive armour (ERA) modules for additional protection against anti-tank weapons.
In addition to upgrading its existing fleet of M60A3s, Taiwan has also ordered new engines from US-based Renk America for USD 241 million. The engines are AVDS-1790 series diesel engines that can provide up to 1,200 hp, which will increase the mobility and performance of the tanks.
The upgrade programme reflects Taiwan’s efforts to enhance its deterrence against China’s growing military threat. By improving its existing tank fleet, Taiwan hopes to extend its service life and increase its combat effectiveness against potential PLA invasion scenarios.
However, some analysts have questioned whether upgrading old tanks is worth the cost and time compared to acquiring new ones. They argue that even with upgraded systems, the M60A3s will still be outmatched by newer PLA tanks in terms of armour protection, firepower, mobility and survivability. They suggest that Taiwan should invest more in asymmetric capabilities such as anti-tank missiles, mines or drones that can disrupt or delay PLA landing operations.
Moreover, some experts have pointed out that tanks are not very suitable for defending Taiwan’s terrain, which is mostly mountainous or urbanised. They contend that tanks are vulnerable to air strikes or artillery fire in open areas or congested streets. They recommend that Taiwan should focus more on developing its naval and air forces that can prevent PLA forces from crossing the strait or reaching its shores.