Is this the world’s first stealth tank?

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Tanks have come a long way since the first world war when they resembled nothing more than primitive tin cans on tracks. Since then the concept has become bigger and badder, and a lot safer for the occupants inside too.

Now though, these armoured battle wagons are taking on a whole new dimension – one that emulates stealth fighter design and can pretty much avoid detection. With an infrared camouflage that is able to fend off radar, the striking new PL-01 tank could become one of the most formidable fighting machines ever made when it rolls off the production line in 2018.

What’s more, this new innovation in tank design isn’t being produced across the pond. It’s actually being developed by the Polish company Obrum in collaboration with BAE. While the PL-01 is still currently in development, its manufacturers reckon that a ready-to-roll version could be leaving the production line in 2018. And, by the look of it, the new machine looks pretty threatening.

The new tank will feature a 350-degree field of vision so that the crew inside can see all oncoming threats, while an estimated top speed of around 43mph on the road should ensure that it can manoeuvre out of harm’s way if anyone can find it. Adding to the protection is a potent 120mm gun, which can fire off six rounds a minute when needed.

Tank-building innovations are much more sophisticated than they used to be, with the iron and steel that was several inches thick in places being replaced by modern manufacturing methods. The PL-01 utilises a complex covering of thermal-based tiles, which allow it to operate covertly. Adding to the stealth factor is the way that the tank can use these tiles to fend off detection by infrared missiles and also troops using thermal imaging tools.

The 35-tonne, 7-metre-long tank will be home to a crew of three and, while it is in development, carries a finish that resembles a charcoal or matt black fighter jet finish. However, production models are likely to be finished in a traditional camouflage paint job. Underneath, however, the hexagonal plates that are used to ward off incoming radar will be carefully adjusted depending on conditions in the battlefield. These adjustments will allow the tank to effectively change its temperature and adapt to its environment.

Military combat is changing rapidly as technology evolves, with experts predicting that many battles in the future will be conducted using machines without men. Unmanned drones, robot tanks and pilotless planes could all be utilised to steal a march on the other side. However, in the meantime the tank is likely to retain its place as one of the key machines that will remain on the battlefield.

The PL-01 is dubbed a Direct Support Vehicle, or DSV, and an early incarnation of the armoured vehicle was unveiled at the International Defence Industry Exhibition in Kielce back in September of last year. While on the face of it the armoured innovation boasts a fairly conventional design with the driver located at the front and the turret mounted at the rear, the chassis is actually based on that of the unusually named Combat Vehicle 90.

Although the PL-01 is being designed primarily as a tank, the stealthy innovation can also be configured to be used as a command vehicle as well as for more everyday duties including mine clearance and armoured vehicle repair. Nevertheless, the machine should also be able to prove its worth as a fairly formidable fighting machine as it can also be optionally fitted with additional armaments that include machine guns and grenade-firing devices. Meanwhile, the onboard active defence system should be able to detect and avoid incoming missiles from enemy attackers.

While the design might look like a normal tank, the overall thinking behind the PL-01 is to confuse the enemy into not being sure what they’re seeing. The machine won’t exactly be invisible when it arrives from the factory, but those complex tiles fitted to the exterior of the tank should mean that it will be hard to detect, particularly if you’re a radar operator looking for your next target on the battlefield.

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