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APC/Tank: What’s the Difference?

May 15, 2011

An APC is an Armoured Personnel Carrier, employed to transport infantry into battle.

A tank is an older, larger, more heavily armoured fighting vehicle than the APC.

Both APCs and tanks are examples of “Armoured Fighting Vehicles” (AFVs), military vehicles that transport soldiers and weapons.

“Tanks” for the Memories

Leonardo da Vinci developed a tank prototype. But the British are credited with the first use of a “tank,” during the Battle of the Somme, in the First World War.

Tanks, APCs and their ilk share the ability to cover different types of terrain. This was critical in the “trench warfare” that characterized the First World War, as both sides had to carry men and arms across muddy battlefields.

Early tanks signalled a new era in armament. By using a sort of conveyor-belt track, they covered rough terrain, while thick metal protected the soldiers inside.

It wasn’t long after the first tank hit the battlefield before manufacturers modified the technology. Hundreds of makes and models have been designed for increasingly specific uses, separately and in conjunction with one another.

Canadian Combat Tank

A New Generation of Acronyms

Under the general category of Armoured Fighting Vehicles (AFVs), variations include: tank; Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV); Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV); Armoured Personnel Vehicle (APC); armoured car; self-propelled artillery; tank destroyer; gun-armed wheeled vehicle; light tank; cruiser tank; Main Battle Tank (MBT); super heavy tank; tankette.

Canadian Tank

Differences among Armoured Fighting Vehicles include: how heavy the outer armour is; the type and number of weapons they carry; whether they use a track or wheels to move; whether they are forward-battle or rear support; and the terrain where they are deployed.

These vehicles may be equipped to carry machine guns, surface-to-air missiles, anti-tank missiles, or armour-piercing shells, in a defensive or an attack role. Some are made to fire indirectly at a large distant target; others are best at leading a sudden raid on a specific location. AFVs may need to plow through jungles, mountainous regions, deserts and bogs.

Here are the main differences between tanks and APCs:

  • There are no jokes about APCs, but tanks feature prominently in many jokes.
  • Tanks tend to have larger, longer gun barrels.
  • Tanks always have a caterpillar track; APCs can have tracks or wheels.
  • APCs take soldiers to and from a battlefield; a tank is intended to stay on the battlefield and take part in the action.
  • A tank is a tank. There are no cool-sounding acronyms. It’s a tank.
  • In movies and on TV, there are more soldiers visible in a shot of an APC, than on a tank, where more guys stay inside – unless they are receiving flowers from happy, newly-freed villagers.
  • Tanks have a stubby turret, and a top-mounted pivoting barrel – “autocannon” – the big long thing that fires shells.
  • Lots of video games use tanks. No one has been caught playing “APC” at work.
  • If you call an APC a “tank” when speaking to a military dude, one way or another you will come to regret this.


Want more? Try the military quiz: Fighting Words. Battles, equipment and military law are among the questions.


More “What’s the Difference”:

What’s the Difference?

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