Tanks are considered to be one of the world''s most well-known weapons of war. However, small and inexpensive drones may finally end the "age of the tank," according to the author.
Let''s take a look.
Are tanks still important today?
Tanks were first introduced during the First World War, which was intended, in part, to break the war of trench warfare. During the lengthy Battle of the Somme in 1916, it was the British who developed them simultaneously.
Four Mark 1 "Male" tanks were put under fire and were found to be lacking. While they managed to reach enemy lines about a mile or so, they were far too slow to hold their position and quickly overrun.
These early tanks were notoriously unreliable and often fell down or fell into a hole in the ruined area. It wasn''t until large quantities had been built and could be deployed en masse that the true power of these land battleships eventually surpassed.
All of the major world powers adopted the lessons learned from these early tanks, and tank designs would become more complex, reliable, and powerful over the course of time. By the time of the Second World War, some developed tanks would become popular for decades to come.
The "age of the tank" has finally arrived.
According to some military historians, during the Cold War, some military historians suspected this situation would not last. The advent of anti-tank guided missiles, but ATGMs for short, was believed to spawn the end of tanks as a major weapon of war from the 1950s. However, as we know all too well today, tanks are still critical to modern combined armed forces.
Generally speaking, when you have a tough knife to crack, such as a bunker or a dug in opposition, you need tools like tanks to overcome this problem. However, tanks aren''t a panacea for a military problem. They are vulnerable on their own and require infantry, artillery, and air support. Tanks can and will be killed en masse without it.
From 2015''s "Fury," you can get a sense of this. While this is quite heavily dramatized, the role and vulnerability of tanks are fairly well shown. Even with this type of support, tanks are often knocked out by a technologically identical opponent.
Tens of thousands of tanks were created by all armies involved in the war, some of which was intended to replace lost, broken down, or captured tanks across the various buildings of the conflict.
Tank commanders and their superiors anticipate significant losses from their tank divisions during large-scale conflicts. It''s something of an occupational danger, but tanks will be a target on the battlefield.
The British lost somewhere in the area of 15,880 tanks during the Second World War. For the United States, something similar to 10,000 was lost as part of their total combat. The Soviet Union lost around 67,400 tanks and self-propelled guns, and the Soviet Union suffered horrendous tank losses.
"Lost" tank figures don''t necessarily mean they were killed by enemy fire, but they were also considered irrecoverable (i.e., beyond repair or no longer serviceable).
That is a lot of armor. And, of course, a lot of people. In our modern times, as in Ukraine, Russian tanks have proven to be sensitive to drones, and even to being towed away at night. However, the tank is still considered a valuable asset to modern militaryes.
NATO''s involvement in Iraq and, in a lesser extent, Afghanistan is one of the most recent examples. Initial invasions and wars demonstrates the value of the tanks used.
When the conflict became more about dealing with insurgencies and so-called "asymmetrical" warfare, a large amount of rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) can be deployed with very little difficulty against unarmed military, no matter how well-armed and armored they are.
This is one important advantage of tanks, which often overlooked, help inspire troops. These enormous amounts of metal are often seen in a similar manner to old cavalry units, giving significant morale boosts to beleaguered soldiers when they are in a fix. This cannot be ignored. Obviously, such losses may have an opposite effect on soldiers, but this is true for any military asset.
This doesn''t necessarily show that tanks are obsolete, but it''s quite the opposite. While counterinsurgency actions may not be the correct tool for the job, they''re also one of the best options available for providing extensive mobile support (if appropriate).
Battleships (a prior to the introduction of aircraft carrier and long-range fighter jets) ruled the seas for several decades. While advancements like sea mines or torpedoes might easily knock them out, nothing else came up short of the kind of support battleships would offer.
These innovations entaild the survival of the battleship, but also its effective replacement with aircraft carriers. These might be of a different meaning, therefore battleships became effectively a dead-end, technologically speaking.
Although some continued to serve navies until the 1990s, such as the USS Missouri, their role hand changed significantly from their original intention. Certainly, tanks may well be true.
As a heavily armored and armed zombie, the tank has managed to overcome many obstacles and adapt itself to different roles in the near future. However, this is unlikely to happen in the near future, even with the threat that drones offer.
How vulnerable are tanks to drones?
So far, tanks have managed to overcome many of the challenges most specifically designed to take them out. But is the most recent challenge, the one of low-cost and unmanned drones, a step too far for this venerable war machine?
Let''s first focus on how drones are used to attack and destroy tanks.
A simple technique is to equip drones with gravity bombs or transform it into a miniature kamikaze-like weapon. These drones are capable of sneaking up on unsuspecting tanks and attacking them when they may be most susceptible.
In 2017, there was a now-infamous example of a drone blasting a small explosive device on an Iraqi tank and killing its commander while he was exposed in the open hatch.
Detachable drones are becoming more prevalent over the years. In Ukraine, drones like the Turkish Baykar BayraktarTB-2 are getting a lot of headlines, and for a good reason.
These drones are effective against Russian armor in the besieged country, both small and inexpensive (when compared to a tank).
According to a candid interview, Ukrainian drone operators provide ammunition such as anti-tank grenades (like the Soviet-era RKG-3) and Molotov cocktails, strike at night, and remove the weapon on the outside of the tanks under the cover of darkness, before anyone sees them coming. This appears to be quite effective.
While anti-tank grenades are generally considered obsolete, this is primarily because of the way that they are usually used, i.e., by being thrown or deposited on the tank by getting in close. Molotov cocktails are nevertheless quite effective against armor because they can either injure or kill the crew directly (if you can get one inside the tank), or knock out the tank''s engine.
Molotov cocktails are generally placed towards the back of the tank where the engine is located. This part is equipped with ventilations and air intakes that may easily be used by the highly combustive liquid making up the cocktail. Successful hits will stop the engine and often result in the tank crew abandoning the tank.
While the tank isn''t destroyed, it is effectively out of the fight. Neither defense is possible against such attacks (unless non-combustion engines are installed), thus being adequately supporting tanks is critical in combat.
This approach, coupled with technology like Starlink, is assisting Ukrainian forces in lifting their weight.
Turkish drones are a lot more sophisticated than traditional vehicles capable of flying anti-tank missiles from above. With a wingspan of 472 inches (12 meters), these unmanned aerial vehicles are capable of carrying up to four laser-guided bombs to the enemy.
Each cost around $1 million, has a range of 93 miles (150 km) and has the capability to fly in the air for more than 24 hours. This allows them arousely superior ability to conceal and destroy enemy armor without feeling any danger.
Another type of drone being used by Ukrainian soldiers is the AeroVironment Switchblade 300 and 600. These drones are small enough to be carried by ground personnel and are then launched using a ramp in a similar fashion as conventional mortars.
The 300 and 600, as the names suggest, vary in their length and payload, but both have a broad range and loitering potential. The 600 variant, which is smaller, is designed to attack more heavily armored targets, like tanks, and is used in a suicide-style attack on a potential target.
It is equipped with a ATGM warhead based on the FGM0148 "Javelin" anti-tank missile and can be set up and launched in less than ten minutes. These units are significantly less expensive than dedicated anti-tank missiles, allowing an operator to be at a safer distance when deployed when compared to handheld anti-tank missile launchers.
Considering that a relatively inexpensive piece of kit is proving to be more than a match for multi-million-dollar machines such as tanks, the outcome of such a head-to-head may well be a battle of attrition, or depend on how deep the pockets of either side.
What solutions might the tank adopt to the threat of drones and anti-tank weapons?
What are the chances that tanks can defend themselves against anti-tank missiles?
One of the most serious threats to modern warfare, as has been demonstrated in Ukraine, is, unsurprisingly, the threat of anti-tank missilesand other specialist projectiles. But, rather than cowering away or never deploying them, tanks have evolved to combat this exact series danger.
Traditional this consists of simply adding more and more armor to the tank''s hull, but this approach is evidently strict. The tank, at the end of the day, must be able to move.
However, the average weight of tanks over the last 100 years has more or less quadrupled. One of the first tanks, the British WW1 "Little Willie," was in at around 16.5 tons.
A modern main battle tank, like the American M1 Abrams dwarf tank, comes in at around 70 tons, give or take. On a modern tank, the majority of the weight is armor plating.
As you get older, specialist armor plating is one option, but modern tanks do have some tricks up their sleeves to help improve their combat survivability.
What other options are offered by modern tanks?
1.Active armor plating takes the villain to the projectile
Anti-tank missiles became even more complex in the 1970s, with NATO forces rapidly developing strategies designed to isolate Soviet tanks from a distance. To combat this, the Soviets invested heavily in discovering potential countermeasures, leading to its active protection system, or APS for short.
These types of systems include a range of sensors, usually millimetric wave radars, placed in strategic positions on the tank to monitor and track any incoming missiles. Once a threat is detected, the system then launches a little missile of its own to intercept and destroy the threat at a distance.
These systems have proven effective and have the advantage of being relatively compact. They also appear to be less expensive, on average, than simply slapping more armor plating to the tank.
Russia''s much-touted ARENA system is one of the most impressive examples. It was developed by the Kadashiya Design Bureau and is widely considered to be a highly effective countermeasure system.
ARENA is capable of discovering incoming missiles about 50 yards from the tank and has a reaction time of around 0.7 seconds. Common anti-tank missiles and missiles, like the Russian RPG-7 or American TOW, travel somewhere in the region of 300 yards per second (274 m/s).
This is fast enough to avoid being intercepted. Since human reaction times are nowhere near capable of dealing with this threat, ARENA has 22 to 26 interceptor explosives that it can deploy on its own. Explosions are launched and intercept the incoming round at a distance of 10 feet (roughly 3 meters) from the tank.
One disadvantage is that the ARENA isn''t very effective against weapon firing from buildings and rooftops and has a kill zone of up to 30 meters around the tank, thus that friendly troops must stay away from the tank.
Russia is not the only country to have developed these kinds of systems either. Israel, for example, has its own version called "Trophy." South Korea is also arming its K-2 "Black Panther" tanks with their own domestically developed version.America, for its part, is also testing its own APS for its frontline Abrams tanks and Bradley infantry vehicles.
2.Reactive armor plating is a double-edged sword.
reactive armor is a less technologically advanced way to construct tanks, which comes in a range of forms, but one of the most common, explosive reactive armor, effectively works by limiting an incoming projectile''s ability to fully penetrate the tank''s armor.
The most anti-tank weapons (tank shells, RPGs, or otherwise) have to penetrate the tank''s armor and either detonate the crew or the tank''s internal systems.
The tank''s armor plating includes some form of explosive between the armor plates to make a kind of sandwich. When an incoming projectile hits and penetrates the outer plate, the explosive inside reacts, expanding the armor and disrupting the original path of the projectile.
The anti-tank projectile is effectively deflected away from the tank''s shell. Although this kind of armor has previously proved beneficial, it is not foolproof. Alternatively, it can be defeated by directing several projectiles to the same component of the tank, thus triggering the defense mechanism, leaving the component of the tank vulnerable to future attack.
This type of armor is also a less than useful for "friendliness" organizations like infantry that are close-in, especially in the blast radius of the armor.
Sollicited by military capabilities that include Soviet-era tanks, such armor is often used as an alternative on US tanks which can be equipped with so-called "Tank Urban Survivability Kits."
3.NERA is designed to vaporize projectiles on impact.
This explosive-based structure consists of several layers that combine ceramics or other nonmetallic materials as well as steel. Unlike reactive armor, the purpose is to provide the inner lining with enough impact energy as possible from a projectile in hopes of reducing the damage to the tank.
NERA is also less dangerous for friendly units, although it is still less effective than reactive armor, which is certainly a compromise.
Today, the most common form is a "Chobham armor," which was first developed by the British for their experimental FV 4211 tank (a Chieftain tank derivative).
This armor was very effective against high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) projectiles.
It''s this armor that gives the modern US M1 Abrams and British Challenger tanks its distinctive "slab-sided" appearance.
Another popular form of tank armor is depleted-uranium plating.
Another modification tanks have undergone in recent years is the integration of heavier, thicker, and tougher armor. This type of armor, mainly derived from heavy metals, is less about refinement and more about making the tank as tough to crack as possible.
This type of tougher armor plating was developed to counteract advanced kinetic penetrating munitions from late Soviet times like the 3BM-32.
tungsten (as in the British Challenger 2), a mesh of depleted uranium encased in steel (as in US M1 Abrams tanks), or titanium carbide, are common armor plating.
All of our equipment is well and excellent, but this armor does have one major downside, which is very heavy. For this reason, adopting this type of armor comes with a compromise.
More weight will impact non only the tank''s overall performance and endurance, but it may also be costly to produce, install, and replace/repair in combat.
5.Slat armor is a inexpensive and effective way to save a tank.
If you are an avid Ukraine student, or a researcher, then you may be familiar with some of the cage-like attachments on some modern armor. This armor is called slat armor (also bar, cage, or standoff armor), and it is a relatively technologically straightforward strategy to protect tanks from some forms of anti-tank ammunition.
It''s still quite common today, despite being an old technology.
This kind of armor is based on a rigid, grid, or cage-like structure that is directly mounted to the tank''s hull. The armor works by destroying the shaped charge of HEAT warheads by either crushing it, preventing optimal detonation blast formation, or even preventing detonation in the first place.
This kind of armor is most effective when the cage spacing is less than the diameter of the incoming warhead.
Russian tanks in Ukraine have been repurposed with turret-top mounted canopies of slat armor, according to some military experts. These changes seem to be a trial-and-error effort to to help protect the vulnerable tops of tanks from drones and arcing anti-tank missiles.
Some modern anti-tank missiles, like the FGM-148 "Javelin," are capable of arcing the missile steeply upwards before plunging down onto the target in much the same way as plunging shots that proved fatal in "big guns" maritime battles. It is a good bet that a direct attack here will be able to penetrate and knock out the tank in short order.
Whether side or top-mounted, slat armor is designed to trigger an incoming projectile explosion that could have occurred earlier, dissipating the energy away from the tank.
These kinds of armor is ideal in theory, but it is designed to defend against more common, and older, munitions than the very common RPG-7. "Javelin" missiles, and other modern anti-tank missiles, tend to consist of two-stage tandem warheads with the main fuse at the center of the warhead. This allows these weapons to defeat spaced and reactive armor, maximizing their penetration potential.
Given the number of Russian tanks, many with the slat-armor modifications described above, apparently being knocked out in Ukraine, this strategy is less than foolproof. Some experts even believe that causing an earlier detonation, even one half a meter away from the hull, might increase the penetration of the warhead.
Despite the fact that munitions like kamikaze drones or gravity bombs should be adequately protected, slat armor should be standard.
6.Electric armor is designed to crush current projectiles.
Tank armor, formerly known as "electric armor," was initially designed to assist personnel carriers in overcoming high-profile grenades (RPGs) and other "shape charges."
This armor, as the name suggests, includes two or more conductive plates separated by an air gap or insulating material.
This composite structure transforms the armor plating to the tank into, effectively, a powerful capacitor. When the armor is operational, it is provided with a high voltage from a power source.
When the armor is hit by a projectile, the armor''s circuit is effectively broken, resulting in a massive discharge of electrical energy at the point of impact. This results in the penetrating munition being either completely vaporized or transformed into high-energy plasma, effectively tempering the impact and saving the tank.
While technical details of this type of armor are usually top-secret, it is yet to be installed on armored vehicles in masse. For example, the People''s Liberation Army of China is reportedly developing this type of armor for their tank divisions.
The United Kingdom is allegedly developing this type of armor called a "Pulsed Power" system, and the United States is also being used for a Bradley Fighting Vehicle variant.
7.Energy defense systems might be the future
The development and enlargement of direct-energy defense tools for future drone defense in tanks might be a concern. Whether it be using laser or microwave energy, such systems may be used to target, confuse, or even completely destroy unmanned aerial vehicles before they become a clear and present danger to something like a tank.
It may also be used to target and destroy existing munitions.
General Dynamics Land Systems is developing one new example, which is technically being developed for integration on General Dynamics'' Stryker vehicles, but there is little to be preventing it from being modified for Abrams'' main battle tanks.
General Dynamics Land Systems will have a few more buildings built.
General Dynamics andEpirus collaborated to develop the latter''s Leonidas high-powered microwave-directed energy weapon as part of its ashort-range air-defense strategy.
This system would be mounted to a trailer mounted behind a Stryker (or MBT) to provide an on-the-ground anti-drone aerial defense. It has been very successful, considering that it would be capable to target and destroy multiple drones or individual targets in short order.
This kind of add-on might be beneficial for many tank divisions around the world if fully developed into a working system.
Is the tank''s day numbered therefore?
If, then, some remotely-operated vehicles may be developed that can safely shield infantry in close proximity and provide substantial support, then it is unlikely that the tank will be retired. Put simply, modern ground forces'' combat strategies are based on the tank''s capabilities, and until it can be replaced with something better, little, if anything, will change.
That is, though, that tanks may "rest on their laurels." They must adapt or confront extinction, as in any military technique.
In order to counteract new threats, these are likely to include a combination of offensive and defensive techniques, but other changes will likely come in the way that tanks are deployed in combat. For example, they are not the best tools for combating counterinsurgencies and are particularly vulnerable in large-scale urban areas.
Determination of military principles will change over time, too. It might even be the case that additional remote-controlled equipment might be developed to assist the tank, as they support infantry in turn. This is especially the case for tanks with overhead threats.
If not, and tanks are retiring, this will likely lead to unforeseen circumstances, such as the loss of unarmored ground forces and infantry. This would be ironic, in a way, as this is exactly what tanks were designed to do in the first place.