Recognizing the need for a budget main battle tank on the world market, the Italian concerns of OTO-Melara and FIAT combined to produce the export-minded "OF-40" MBT. Work on the type - along with the derivative Palmaria 155mm Self-Propelled Gun - began in 1977 to which pilot vehicles were unveiled in 1980 (the Palmaria SPG utilized the chassis and hull of the OF-40 design with an all new turret). Through the joint venture, FIAT garnered the contract to manufacture engines and transmissions while OTO-Melara was the overseeing prime contractor and fulfilled the rest of the design and component requirements. Following trials and evaluation, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) became the first - and subsequently the only - customer of the OF-40 tank resulting in 39 total examples completed. The Palmaria SPG system has since gone on to see considerably better export success. Production of OF-40 vehicles spanned from 1980 to 1985.
The OF-40 was a highly functional yet wholly basic main battle tank end-product. Design was conventional with a four-man crew, a 105mm main gun fitted to a well-sloped traversing turret and a tracked hull with the powerpack fitted to the rear. The engine consisted of a German MTU MB 838 Ca M500 V10 series supercharged diesel-fueled system outputting at 820 horsepower. The vehicle was suspended atop a torsion bar configuration while the track-and-wheel system sported seven double-tired road wheels to a side with the drive sprocket at the rear and the track idler at the front. The upper portions of the track link system were protected in thin skirt armor. All told, the OF-40 gave a top speed of 37 miles per hour with an operational range of 370 miles. As the OF-40 shared many of the same automotive components of the subsequent Palmaria design, it was logistically sound for countries to consider the purchase of both vehicle types - though this benefit never materialized on the global market. The standard crew included the driver at the front-right of the hull with the commander, loader and gunner in the turret. NBC protection was standard and night vision equipment made optional. The vehicle weighed in at 50 tons and sported a running length of 30 feet, a width of 11.5 feet and a height of 8 feet.
At the heart of the OF-40 design was its 105mm L7 main gun. The British-designed weapon proved a popular anti-tank measure during the Cold War - particularly for Western tank designs - before being superseded by a more powerful 120mm offering. 57 x 105mm projectiles were stored in the turret and hull of the OF-40 while self-defense was through 2 x 7.62mm machine guns - one fitted in a coaxial mounting in the turret alongside the main gun and the other fitted on the turret roof to counter both enemy infantry and low-flying enemy threats. 5,700 x 7.62mm ammunition was carried aboard for both machine guns. The OF-40 could generate its own smoke screen to cover actions through 2 x 4 smoke grenade dischargers identified along the frontal turret sides.
The United Arab Emirates received their OF-40 tanks in an initial batch of 18 x Mk 1 series vehicles. A second order for 18 more Mk 2 standard vehicles and 3 x Armored Recovery Vehicle (ARV) variants followed. The Mk 2 standard introduced an improved fire control system (FCS) with laser rangefinder as well as improved gun stabilization. A stabilized, turret roof-mounted day/night scope was afforded to the commander's position and all major optics were replaced for the better. A Low Light Level Television (LLLTV) camera was further added. When receiving their new Mk 2 models, existing UAE Mk 1 forms were all upgraded to the Mk 2 standard.
Despite the improvements, the OF-40 was quickly superseded globally by many modern MBT types including the German Leopard 2, British Challenger (1 and 2), the French Leclerc, the Russian T-90 and the American M1 Abrams. Each has since evolved to feature a bevy of advanced sensors and improved accuracy while the popular 105mm of old has since given way to the 120mm caliber or larger - leaving the OF-40 series somewhat outmoded by modern standards. However, the OF-40 was never intended to compete directly with these powerful mounts, only supplying potential buyers with a competent, budget-conscious alternative concerning an MBT. At any rate, the OF-40 may very well do adequately in combat against the foes the UAE are expected to face. Global interest in the system was shown by other parties initially though the UAE became its sole operator. The OF-40 is neither in production nor is it actively marketed by OTO-Melara as of this writing (2016).