Iran (2016)
MBT – Prototype

Hot news from Tehran

On April 13, 2016 the Iranian Ground Forces officially revealed several new armored vehicles, including the 57 mm SPAAG Bahman (a KrAZ 6×6 truck carrying the half-turret housing a twin ZSU-57-2) and a specialized NBC, locally modified BTR-60 called the Shahram. But most experts were more interested in the strange main battle tank unveiled as the “Tiam”, a first since the appearance of the Sabalan.

Little information had emerged since so we will try to put a light on a prototype which could potentially lead to a mass conversion, although not clearly stated in the official review. During this review other MBTs were also seen, several refurbished 1960s Shirs (Chieftain) and T-62s. Probably more interesting however was in February the revelation of the new Karrar MBT, said to be of the level of a Russian T-90, and possibly modeled after the T-72. Despite all expectations no image or mock-up was shown during the April event, however, General Ahmad Reza announced that it would be revealed in May.

First evidence about the Tiam

What baffles the experts is the apparent mix between a Sabalan chassis (which is the Iranian modernized version of the venerable M47M Patton) and apparently a modified Chinese Type 59 turret. Back in the fall 1960s, Iran obtained from the US the modernized version of the M47 Patton also called M47M. About 800 in total were purchased both by Pakistan and Iran, which left some doubts about the exact numbers of M47M in service with Iran before the revolution, 400 being the most plausible number.

The M47M was basically a Patton completely overhauled, to include engine and fire control elements from the M60A1, with the co-driver eliminated to store more 90mm ammunitions. In March 2014 was revealed the Sabalan (after the Sabalan mountains) by General Ahmad Reza Pourdastan. It was a radical overhaul of the M47M of which about 170 are still in service.

This tank included a brand new turret, tailored to fit the ring and housing a much more potent 105 mm (smoothbore according to local sources), locally produced but derived from the M68/L7 type cannon. Aside from the rigid side skirts on the roadwheels, the turret had a new fire control system and other improvements. It was announced this upgrade will cost 1/3 of the price of the new Zulfiqar MBT.

Sabalan
Sabalan MBT (2014) no mass conversion seemed to have been going on since.

Facts and supposition about the Tiam

Contrary to the previous Sabalan, the Tiam is ostensibly showing a full ERA suite of reactive armor, designed locally. This protection is an important part of the modernization of some 400 aging Type 59 and T-54/55 tanks, known as the Type-72Z, Safir-74 and T-72Z. They all have a set of ERA bricks manufactured by the Shahid Kolah Dooz Industrial Complex, claimed to be proof against most Kinetic Energy penetrators (KE), so one composite layer added to an energetic material layer, able to defeat most rounds and tandem warheads. Less extensive than on the Safir-74, this protection seems to be focused on the glacis front, the upper part of the turret, upper sides of the hull, next to the turret ring, and on the turret front.

This turret is also an enigma, partially hidden behind three rows (one lower, two upper) of ERA bricks circling almost to the basket a seemingly prismatic add-on armor perhaps comparable to the one used by the modernized version of the Type 59D, T-72BM or T-90. It is not known if this structure is filled with composite materials and ceramic layers or simply hollow, or even possibly made of modules, due to the presence of ERA bricks above. The sole potential culprit to evacuate the modules theory is there are no specific gaps between rows of ERA bricks that could have betrayed a separation. At the contrary this add-on armor seems to circle the turret entirely (the lower base of the turret is still visible), apparently protruding well on the mantle.

The contrast of colors (the tank is mostly painted in a dark grayish-green livery made ever brighter the ERA bricks) could have two purposes: One, showcasing the ERA protection, and second possibly operate some concealment by sheer contrast with the turret add-on armor, evidently to avoid revealing too many details. On the other hand, the hull also received sloped side, unlike the original Sabalan. The power unit should be the same Continental AVDS-1790-2 V12, air-cooled Twin-turbo diesel engine 750 bhp (560 kW) seen in the M60A1. The turret recoignised as the the old cast model common to the Type 59 and Safir-74 tanks is given a basket surrounded by the two add-on armour parts fitted each side, which served as a support for ERA. The original DshK mount is kept, as well as the 105mm cannon (possibly smoothbore as claimed for the Sabalan), with the coaxial KPT machine-gun. The original IR searchlight is also kept right hand side to the gun mount, and for active concealment two banks of four smoke dischargers are fitted on either side of the turret front. The IR sights fo the commander and gunner are visible, but the FCS seems to bear strong resemblance with the system already used on the Safir-74 and is likely to be the Slovenian Fotona computerized fire system. No sensors could be seen through.

Hypothesis

Since the Sabalan never led to conversions for the last two years so there is one seemingly explanation: The turret designed by the Self-Sufficiency Jihad Organization of the Iranian Army Ground Force is perhaps too costly or complex for mass production. Therefore a simpler upgrade with retired, spare Type 59 turrets was preferred. If this found to be true, in the next future so we will see conversion of about 170 M47M as Tiams instead of Sabalans entering service.

Links

The Tiam on Jane’s

Specifications

38-42? tons, 6.70 x3.30 x2.90 m
Crew 4 (driver, cdr, gunner, loader)
Continental AVDS-1790-2 V12 diesel 750 bhp (560 kW), 65kph, range 400+ km
Torsion bar suspensions
1x 105mm, 1x 12.7mm DshK, 1 coaxial 7.9mm KPT LMG.
Patton original+ add-on armour+ERA

Video

Gallery

Tiam MBT
Tiam MBT

Tiam Tank
Tiam Tank as shown on the official presentation, 13 April 2016.

Tiam with ERA
Tiam without ERA or side skirts, showing the supposed shape of the add-on armour welded on the old cast turret of the Type 59. A strange Sino-American hybrid.

Tiam
Prospective livery of the Tiam, if built in serie and operational

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6 Responses to Tiam

  1. SSSmk2A4 says:

    Interesting indeed. If Iran’s economic situation is still the same before 2016 (if the Sabalan turret is too costly) maybe we can see more Tiam conversions in the future.
    But now the sanctions are lifted. If they can gather more budget because of that, It’s possible the Sabalan upgrade will continue instead of Tiam.

  2. TinkerTanker says:

    Why can’t you click on any of the pictures to make it bigger? Just a quick question.

  3. HeroOfDover says:

    it’s really sloped and I would think it would be very effective against shells but how thick is the Armour?

    • Stan Lucian says:

      First off, you’re talking about a modern MBT. The data about their armor is almost always kept a secret.
      Second off, it’s Iranian, so sources are even fewer and less reliable.
      So the answer is we have no idea and will probably not have for some decades.

    • Billy Bob says:

      in this day and age, where modern ATGMs have literally thousands of mm of penetration, sloping is now considered negligible. Judging by its size, the Armour is probably only good for small arms fire, and not enough is known about Iranian ERA to make a guess if it could even shrug off an RPG.

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