The AMX-30 was the French Army’s main battle tank (or Char de Bataille) for the second half of the Cold War. In June 1966 as the first production AMX-30 rolled off the production line, the French arms industry was an innovative and successful armoured vehicle design, production and marketing center.
France had a relatively strong economy and a large degree of government control and subsidization in its strategic industries.
Great things were expected of the AMX-30 design, which had been conceived as a weapon to arm the armoured forces of Western Europe. The AMX-30 did not achieve the degree of export success met by its lighter predecessor for a variety of reasons, but the battle tank and its derivatives have ultimately served the French army for over 46 years. The AMX-30 series was France’s most significant land weapon system for two generations and represented a significantly different approach to tank design than most of its western contemporaries.
Why a 30-Ton Tank?
Between the early 1950s and 1966, France had arguably already succeeded beyond any other European nation in two domains of the market for land warfare systems: creating light armoured vehicles with exceptional firepower, and the development of guided antitank missile technology. The AMX-13 light tank was the epitome of how successful the French tank design philosophy could be. The French government had every aspiration to become the arsenal of Europe by extending this expertise into the production of battle tanks for their European allies and for export markets.
The expertise accumulated in the AMX-13 program became the guiding force for the design and production parameters of the Char de Bataille AMX-30. The Char de Bataille or Battle Tank concept adopted in France specified a 30 ton medium tank design for the role equivalent to the Main Battle Tank seen in other NATO armies. The choice of a lighter tank design than contemporary armies might have found ideal came because of the failure of earlier French designs of the 45 to 60 ton class. French success in combining relatively powerful guns on light chassis drove French design philosophy towards a lighter battle tank as much as factors like cost did.
The AMX-30’s development was heavily influenced by the failure of previous attempts to create a viable French medium tank design in late 1940s and early 1950s. Attempts to revive the French tank industry in the period following 1945 were crippled by the lack of necessary funding and by a lack of modern designs. Tanks in France had traditionally been built by both the government arsenals and by the private sector heavy engineering firms, a trend which gradually shifted towards a government dominated enterprise by the 1950s, a position consolidated in the 1960s and 1970s, during which time tank design by French private sector companies ceased.
The first step towards government domination of France’s tank manufacture came before the war ended, the ARL-44. The ARL-44 marked an important change in how tank construction was coordinated in France, with government control in the design and production of the vehicle. The ARL-44 was unfortunately a technical anachronism in most respects, comparing unfavourably to contemporary designs like the M26, the Centurion and the T44. The vehicle took nearly four years to reach operational status and its design was not representative of what the French Army required or wanted in a medium tank. Production of the ARL-44 served more as a test of the government’s ability to direct a weapons program.