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What Are The Most Common Armored Vehicles In NATO Armies?

January 12, 2019

Via Wikimedia Commons.

The world’s strongest military alliance boasts having some of the most advanced warfighting technology ever built. At the forefront of this arsenal are legacy fighting vehicles introduced during the Cold War. Their performance characteristics and usefulness have kept them in service even with decades of peace leaving them idle. Advances in manufacturing technology will no doubt prolong their lifespans now that new threats are emerging along the edge of Europe. Here is a rare guide to the different tracked and wheeled armored vehicles that form the backbone of NATO’s power.

Of course, it isn’t surprising how US-made vehicles predominate among NATO armies until today. But there are exceptions.

German Leopard 2A7LEOPARD 2

The German Bundeswehr once maintained more than 2,000 of its Leopard 2/2A1 main battle tanks (MBTs). Today the number has dwindled to just 250 operational Leopards, with at least a thousand sold to NATO allies. Upgraded Leopard 2 tanks have been exported to Asia as well, with Indonesia, Singapore, and Qatar acquiring their own modest fleets. Renowned for its firepower and speed, the Leopard 2 and its latest variants are still regarded as the world’s premier MBT.

For a brief period, in fact, the Leopard 2A5 was considered the most advanced third-generation tank in the world. The latest improvements for the Leopard 2 is add-on protection for asymmetrical combat.


Until the 1970s the M60/A1/A3 Patton was the most prolific NATO tank and a favorite of US allies outside Europe. Today almost a thousand Pattons remain inventoried with militaries around the Mediterranean, with the Turkish army being its largest operator in Europe. Despite its age (production started in 1958) the Patton is still participating in combat.

The M60 remains formidable when given the right upgrades. The Israeli Magach 6/7 variant, for example, is designed to resist direct hits from shaped projectiles and has a new engine and transmission.


Another aging weapon system that enjoys widespread use among NATO allies, despite the prevalence of different self-propelled howitzers in Europe, is the M109 self-propelled howitzer. Since entering service in 1963 the M109 has never been replaced by the US Army (they have tried) and eight NATO allies have kept it as their primary self-propelled howitzer. Thousands of M109’s are deployed by Asian militaries as well and these have proven themselves in combat numerous times.

The US Army is now testing a new barrel for its M109A7 self-propelled howitzers. Should it go mainstream, the experimental 58 caliber main armament on an M109 may prolong its career by a few decades more–what a feat!


The accession of former Warsaw Pact states to NATO has revived the BMP-1’s almost doomed career. Once considered the most heavily armed infantry fighting vehicle on the continent, the BMP-1 is still in service with the militaries of Poland, Romania, and Slovakia. In terms of numbers alone, the BMP-1 overshadows its less plentiful rivals in France, Germany, Italy, and the UK.

What makes the BMP-1 so enduring is its 73mm “Grom” main gun that’s able to defeat tank armor (at least without reactive panels) and its remarkable mobility over mud and water. While some may grumble how cramped its troop compartment is, the BMP-1 remains a true fighting man’s machine. Indeed, few APCs have seen as much combat as the BMP-1. Just ask the Iraqi army.


Originally designed to fit inside a C-130 transport, the M113 is operated by at least 60 countries with thousands kept in storage. The M113’s indispensable qualities–easy maintenance being foremost–made it a fixture for ground forces in every continent. Although other countries developed APCs that were just as capable, few matched the ubiquity of the M113. This could explain why it’s still used by mechanized infantry units in at least 30 countries.

The M113 is a bit of a gladiator too with the different weapons it can mount. If an M2 Browning is inadequate, a 25mm cannon or maybe a TOW missile launcher can take its place, although the British Army’s Exactors boast six Spike non-line-of-sight missiles. Kaboom!

The US military, by the way, is estimated to be keeping 8,000 M113A2/A3’s in storage.


With more than 100,00 produced since 1984 the HMMWV, or Humvee, is the most widespread and recognizable multirole 4×4 truck deployed by NATO militaries. Capable of performing a variety of missions, from air defense to medevac, the Humvee has always been a workhorse for all seasons. While there are numerous competitors across Europe the Humvee isn’t any closer to complete retirement. Improvements to its chassis, protection level, and survivability make it a truck that can undertake missions anywhere.

The diverse vehicle fleets of NATO armies does leave a burden on maintenance and repair cycles. One company that boasts of its capabilities for either fixing or upgrading almost any type of armored vehicle is Star Defense Logistics & Engineering (SDLE) from Spain. SDLE’s reputation as a dependable contractor for spare parts and upgrades for both NATO and former Eastern Bloc equipment has earned it a clientele in several regions–Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, North Africa, and Southeast Asia. Each of the vehicles included here can be serviced by SDLE’s staff, whose headcount reached 120 persons in 2019.

SDLE is also a manufacturer responsible for the Dragoon, a modular 4×4 armored security transport. As a protected troop carrier the Dragoon is based on a monocoque hull on a proven off-road chassis. It enjoys seamless compatibility with other transports such as the LAV and the M113. It’s able to support numerous armaments, from a light machine gun on a ring turret to a mortar, and is full amphibious. This year marked SDLE’s expansion to unmanned aerial systems that are ready for export globally.

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