Military vehicles are often mis-identified as tanks, even by respected media outlets. The caption for this Reuters video states that it “appears to show Syrian rebels using explosives to blow up a military tank“. The vehicle in the video is a Soviet-made BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicle. It has caterpillar tracks and a rotating turret, but it’s not a tank.
Wikipedia has a useful and accurate definition of a tank:
A tank is a tracked, armoured fighting vehicle designed for front-line combat which combines operational mobility and tactical offensive and defensive capabilities. Firepower is normally provided by a large-calibre main gun in a rotating turret and secondary machine guns, while heavy armour and all-terrain mobility provide protection for the tank and its crew, allowing it to perform all primary tasks of the armoured troops on the battlefield.
So, why is the vehicle in the Reuters video not a tank? It’s tracked, designed for front-line combat, and has a gun in a turret. However, it does not have heavy armour, nor is the gun of large calibre. The BMP-1 is a Soviet design, introduced in the late 1960s. It has a 73mm gun, which might sound big, but the T-64A, a Soviet tank introduced around the same time, has a 125mm gun. The BMP-1 has an anti-tank guided missile because its gun isn’t big enough to engage tanks, especially at long ranges.
The BMP-1 does not have “heavy armour”. Its armour (up to 33mm thick) is much thinner than the T-64A’s armour (up to 450mm thick). The role of tanks like the T-64A is to dominate the battlefield. They’re designed to be virtually invulnerable, whilst being able to destroy anything they encounter. The BMP-1 is an infantry fighting vehicle. It can carry up to nine infantrymen, giving them some protection from its armour while they are on board, and when they get out to fight, it can provide support.
How to Recognise a Tank
This short list should help you spot the difference between tanks and other military vehicles. The list is based on post-WWII tanks, since they’re the ones most likely to be seen on the news. There are exceptions to these rules, but they will suffice for most people.