10 of the Most Unique Tank Designs Throughout History

Arts & Entertainment

  • Author Jude Colborn
  • Published May 16, 2023
  • Word count 2,353

Over the 100 years that tanks have existed, there have been many unique innovations that have shaped them into what they are today. Many of these have been groundbreaking technologies, like composite armor and stabilized guns, while others were more… outside the box.

In this article I will be covering some of the more eccentric designs in tank history- the strange brainchildren of military engineers that make us wonder if creative problem solving may have gotten a little too creative.

  1. 1k17 Szhatie

Laser tanks. They are practically synonymous with science fiction, but it would be crazy to think of building one in real life… Right? Well, not in Russia.

Meet the 1k17 Szhatie: Russia’s laser tank. At first, you might be wondering why Russia isn’t ruling the world right now, but the 1k17 isn’t the titanium melting death ray that you see in titles like “Star Wars”. In fact, it served a much different purpose on the battlefield.

The sole function of the Szhatie was to effectively “blind” enemy tanks. It fired 12 high power lasers all at once that were meant to damage or destroy the complex electronic sights that modern tanks employ. Despite looking like a 20th century superweapon, the 1k17 was actually fairly harmless to enemy tank crews. Even though it threatened to blind the unfortunate soldier, all you had to do to avoid permanent eye damage was simply look away.

Having unfortunately been under development during the fall of the soviet union, no more than two prototypes of this vehicle were ever made. Although a little underwhelming, the 1k17 Szhatie was certainly one of the more interesting military vehicles from the late 20th century.

  1. Object 760

If you are reading this article you’ve probably heard of a hovercraft, and you’ve definitely heard of tanks. Now what happens when you combine the two? That is exactly what Soviet engineers were thinking in the 1960s.

Weighing in at nearly 6.5 tons, the Object 760 was a strange tank that had two large fans mounted in the hull. These fans forced large amounts of air underneath the vehicle which greatly reduced the tank’s ground pressure, making it immune to land mines and able to traverse boggy terrain that normal tanks would find themselves stuck in. The Object 760 was designed as a light reconnaissance vehicle, with armor only thick enough to stop rifle caliber rounds.

Like many of the other vehicles on this list, the Object 760 never made it past the prototype phase. Perhaps soviet designers realized that hovercraft and armor don’t mix very well. One thing’s for sure: it gave the history books an unusual and interesting vehicle concept.

  1. UDES XX20

So far the tanks covered have been Russian, but what do other countries have to offer? For Sweden, that would be the UDES XX20.

Built in the 1980s, the UDES XX20 was a 20 ton articulated (two separate hulls connected by a flexible joint) light tank. This unique design meant that the crew of 3 and the main gun were housed in the forward fuselage, while the engine and ammunition were housed in the rear. The main reason that Swedish engineers chose this design was for increased mobility. By splitting the hull into two, the XX20 was able to cross rough terrain much more fluidly than regular vehicles. Although good on paper, the problem with most articulated tank designs is heightened ground pressure. With less track touching the ground to spread out the tank’s weight, the UDES XX20 struggled in soft terrain. Along with this, the articulated design was much more complex to operate and very difficult to produce. The Swedish military eventually decided to cancel the project in favor of more traditional vehicles, leaving us all to wonder what the modern battlefield would look like if people had chosen to adopt this bizarre design.

  1. Object 279

The Object 279 was a 60 ton super heavy tank designed by Soviet Russia in the late 1950s. In many ways the final evolution of soviet heavy tanks, the Object 279 had a rounded, almost boat-like hull which was meant to deflect shockwaves from nuclear detonations, as well as a set of four tracks, instead of the normal two, in order to better spread out the immense weight of the vehicle.

The Object 279 had nearly 11 inches of frontal armor and a 130mm main gun (its American counterpart, the M60 Patton, had just under 4 inches of armor and a 105mm gun). With so much weight from the armor and the gun it would be easy to assume that the Object 279 didn’t have much to offer on account of mobility, but although the tank’s top speed of 34mph might seem slow by today's terms, it was very respectable in the late 50s.

Speed, firepower, protection. The Object 279 had everything that a tank needs, so why did it never get put into service? The main reason why the Object 279 never saw the battlefield was more a matter of financial and doctrinal difficulties rather than technical difficulties. The truth is, this amazing new prototype was just too complicated and too expensive to produce in large numbers. Along with this, the tank came at a time when the Soviet military was transitioning away from traditional heavy armor and focusing more on flashy new technology like anti-tank missiles. This all led to a cancellation of the project, marking the end of an era dominated by big guns and heavy armor.

  1. Chrysler TV-8

Designed in the 1950’s in the USA, the Chrysler TV-8 was a nuclear powered, amphibious medium tank. One very unique aspect of this tank was that nearly all of its components (including the nuclear reactor) were housed in the turret with the crew. This, along with a lot of spaced armor (armor plates separated by pockets of air), was what made the turret so disproportionately large compared to the rest of the tank. This spaced armor also had the added benefit of giving the tank very high buoyancy. The designers took full advantage of this, giving the TV-8 a water jet propulsion system at the rear of the turret which allowed it to move around in water almost as easily as it did on land.

Another feature of this unique tank was the closed circuit television system that it used instead of traditional vision ports. Video footage from outside the vehicle would serve as the crew's only way of seeing what was going on around them. This, coupled with a completely watertight crew compartment, all but entirely sealed the crew away from the outside world. A very useful feature during the nuclear arms race.

In short, the Chrysler TV-8 was a strange culmination of the sci-fi futurism and nuclear fervor that shaped the decade that it was designed in. Although it never proved itself on the battlefield, it holds its spot in a different hall of fame as one of the most unconventional tanks ever proposed for the US military.

  1. Challenger 1 TRIGAT

For this vehicle, we travel to 1990s Britain. The UK had just adopted a new anti-tank missile known as TRIGAT, and they were looking for vehicles to mount it on. Many designs were proposed, but one of the most unique was based on the Challenger 1 main battle tank. The TRIGAT was a fire and forget missile system, which meant that once it had a lock, the vehicle did not need to keep line of sight on its target. This led British engineers to come up with the unique idea of mounting the missiles on an elevating boom. This in theory gave the Challenger 1 Trigat the ability to raise up its boom, find a target, and fire a missile all while keeping nearly the entire vehicle safely behind cover. In addition to the eight missiles stored atop the boom, the Challenger 1 TRIGAT also featured a magazine of sixteen more at the rear. A suitable explanation is yet to be discovered as to why this vehicle was never produced. Is it as upsetting to you as it is to me, that Great Britain passed up the opportunity to equip itself with an army of cutting edge armed cherrypickers?

  1. Stritsvagen 103

Also known as the “S-Tank” this is the only vehicle on our list that saw actual service, as Sweden’s main battle tank from 1967 to 1997.

The first thing you might notice about this vehicle when looking at it is its lack of a turret. Turretless tanks, although nowadays uncommon, have been seen numerous times throughout history and are not too unusual. The Stritsvagen 103 is not a common turretless tank though. Instead of putting the gun on pivots like most tanks, the gun in the S-Tank is fixed to the hull. This means that the entire vehicle has to rotate in order to aim the gun. In order to assist with this, the tank had hydropneumatic suspension which allowed the gun (and the entire vehicle along with it) to elevate or depress.

The main advantage of such a design is the incredibly low profile offered to the enemy. Not only does this make the tank hard to spot, but it also makes it a hard target to hit if spotted. Another advantage of the S-Tank’s layout is increased armor protection. The lack of a turret allows the frontal armor to be very heavily sloped which increases its effective thickness.

Although the Stritsvagen 103 was a very effective tank design when it was first put into service, advances in technology quickly made it outdated. The tank's biggest disadvantage was that it lacked the ability to fire on the move. With the advent of new gun stabilization, allowing tanks equipped with it to very accurately fire while moving, this became a major problem for the Stritsvagen 103. In 1997 the tank was taken out of service and replaced with the German made Leopard 2, but it will always be remembered as the most untypical tank ever fielded by a modern military.

  1. M-V-Yoh

The Americans designed some strange vehicles in the 1950s. One particularly unique example of this was the M-V-Yoh. It was created as part of a program aimed at finding new solutions to old problems pertaining to armored vehicles.

The distinguishing feature of this tank is its incredibly skinny turret and hull. The reason for this odd looking design feature was to help the tank deflect enemy fire from the front. Another unusual feature of this tank was its turret. Instead of a normal elevating design, this turret featured a main gun that was fixed in place. This meant that in order to aim, the entire turret had to move up and down along with the gun. This allowed rounds to be fed into the gun by an automatic loading system instead of a person. The designers most likely chose this system because the turret was so skinny that there was no room for both ammunition and a crew member to load the gun.

The M-V-Yoh was one of seven designs created by the Yoh company in the 1950s. Unfortunately for them, none of the designs ended up in production even though they certainly achieved their goal of creating unique ideas.

  1. Object 490

After getting this far in the article, it is probably not hard to believe that this next peculiar prototype comes out of Soviet Russia. Designed in the 1980s, this unique vehicle included many groundbreaking design features. This tank had a two man crew located in an armored compartment at the rear of the tank. This meant that a round would have to penetrate through nearly the entire engine and gun compartment in order to reach the crew, giving them a level of protection comparable to nearly 177 inches of traditional steel armor. To accommodate such a small crew, the Object 490 featured an autoloader (a system that feeds ammunition into the gun via mechanical means instead of requiring a human to do it) that fed the main gun which was mounted in an unmanned turret. Along with all this, the object 490 featured hydropneumatic suspension that allowed the vehicle to rotate its hull up and down, much like the Swedish Stritsvagen 103. This suspension system also allowed the vehicle to reach a top speed of 56 mph.

The Object 490 was a very promising design, but although it had speed, protection, and firepower on its side, it did not have as much luck with timing. Being developed just years before the collapse of the Soviet Union, this tank did not make its way into the 21st century. If it had however, it would have surely revolutionized the playing field for modern main battle tanks.

  1. Baby Assault Tank

With a name almost as unusual as the vehicle itself, this last entry is arguably the strangest armored vehicle ever dreamed up.

Designed in the USA, this insect inspired oddity was intended to attack enemy positions as a sort of “first wave” to soften defenses and make the job easier for normal infantrymen. With a tripod design, it had three separate sets of tracks each mounted on a long boom extending from the vehicle. Inside the hull was a two man crew featuring a driver and commander/ gunner.

The original design mounted 2 machine guns, a recoilless rifle, a flamethrower, and a breech loading mortar. All of these weapons were to be operated by a single crew member, and it is not clear how the recoilless rifle or mortar would be reloaded.

Although very unique, the baby assault tank had many design flaws. First of all, it is hard to imagine that the flimsy struts connected to the tracks would have been very effective at holding up the weight of the vehicle. This strut design also would make the tank very easy to immobilize. Another issue was the small crew, which gave too many tasks to each crew member.

In the end, the baby assault tank was an incredibly creative solution to a problem that never existed. Never gaining any form of widespread support, the Baby Assault Tank wasn’t very successful for its designer. Although many people might consider this tank a failure, it’s creations like these that act as stepping stones to the extraordinary vehicles that we know today.

I am strongly interested in military history and enjoy writing about it!

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