Are Tanks Obsolete Weapons?

BTW – anybody have any statistics on exactly how many Iraqi troops surrendered to fighter pilots during the Gulf War?

I don’t know about fighter pilots, but some did try to surrender to a recon drone.

Actually, in my opinion, a shifting in competitive advantage away from armor and toward aircraft and missiles (as you assert) would be a completely UNnatural evolution. To reiterate my earlier point, you gotta occupy territory in order to conquer somebody. You can’t do that with aircraft and missiles. For that, you need infantry, and infantry will always need a mobile, high-powered gun. In other words, a tank.

The best asset you can have in the field is a soldier. Period. I think you’re downplaying the advantages and benefits of tanks in the Gulf War (without tanks, the whole “Left Hook” stratagem wouldn’t have worked). The Gulf War also offered a skewed perspective, in that we so completely dominated the airspace that we could do whatever we wanted in terms of air support and bombardment. That type of scenario isn’t guaranteed in every battle or every war.

As you note, tanks have been involved in wars for 84 years. I actually think they’re more vital now than ever before.

I agree with you, but I have to pick this one nit:

Correct, but the goal of every participant in a war is not necessarily to “conquer somebody”. Also, one of Napoleon’s greatest strategic breakthroughs was to shift emphasis away from occupying and holding territory and toward the destruction of an enemy’s capacity to fight. A lesson which rebounded upon him in his Russian campaign, actually.

I thought that Clausewitz (sp?) laid down the (modern) view of war (in terms of its aims and objectives). Succesful war is NOT the occupation of land, or the subjugation of cities is NOT the aim of war. The aim IS the DESTRUCTION of the enemie’s capability to make war. So, by that standard, the tank is as obsolete as the armored knight.

Any reason a Mech has to have two legs? Why not four? Just because humans are always tottering forwards…
An Imperial Walker, as it were, only using legs with a greater degree of motion.

Oooh. Army vehicles that can climb over obstacles, crouch, and leap! :slight_smile:

Most sci-fi mechs are represented with two legs, but I think even a four (or six, or eight) legger would have problems in mud, snow, and ice. And the number extra number of parts involved to make a mechanical leg vs. wheels means more parts to break, so there would need to be significant advantages gained by having legs. Unless the vehicle could really be made to move fluidly like a cheetah, I don’t see that legs would be a big improvement.

But we’re talking theoretical vehicles vs. the OP which is directed toward getting rid of tanks now. Getting back to reality for a moment…

I believe you are incorrect. (And I believe Clausewitz’s “politics by other means” is incorrect as well, but that’s another monster. Read Keegan’s A History of Warfare.) History shows us that you can’t just bomb an enemy and win a war, with the possible exception of using nuclear weapons, and I don’t think you’re seriously suggesting we nuke anybody who looks at us funny.

It was shown in WW2 that strategic bombing will not necessarily destroy the enemy’s ability to wage war–Germany’s production increased in spite of heavy bombing. Why? Because machine tools are near indestructible; unless they take a direct bomb hit, you clear off the rubble and start cranking out parts again. Transportation is a better target, but not fool-proof, especially if the road is untouchable (Vietnam - Ho Chi Minh Trail). Iraq’s army was still in the field and did put up some resistance despite incessant air attacks for six weeks before the ground war.

You still need ground forces to seize territory and deny the enemy political control. If you can’t do that, you might win by popular uprising, but you might not. Do you really want to depend on winning wars by political crapshoot?

No, Armor is not obsoloete. Some tank designs are, while others were merely ineffective (bad designs).

The best man-portable anti-tank missile system (and that’s stretching things a bit) is the TOW-II. It has a maximum effective range of 3,750m and a flight time to maximum range of 13 seconds, and leaves a smoke trail that is essentially a big white finger pointing directly to the point-of-origin.

The TOW Gunner absolutely must keep his reticle on the target the entire time; if he flinches, he misses. If he ducks to avoid counter-fire, he misses. If the target maneuvers faster than the gunner’s ability to adjust, he misses. If the target pops smoke and disappears (and modern smoke has IR-blocking capability), he misses. If the target drops behind a terrain feature (a depression in the ground, or a hill, or some trees), he misses.

The true man-portable anti-tank missile systems are extremely limited in range; at best, maybe a kilometer. Typically quite less. M1-family vehicles have good thermal optics that will quite easily detect a human’s body heat, busting any planned ambush. The only disadvantage is that in high temperature conditions, objects with close-to-ambient temperature tend to get lost in the backgroud thermal environment. Which is why the Mk.I Organic Occular Imaging Device will never become obsolete.

The M1 series tanks, up to the M1-A1 Heavy (the last production model that I have hands-on experience with) have a Laser Range Finder that will determine, to +/- 5m, the range to any target out to 8,000m. They also have a Ballistic Computer that will calculate a firing solution for the 120mm main gun out to 4,000m and the 7.62mm Co-axially mounted machine gun out to 700m.

However, the 120mm Depleted Uranium Sabot penetrator is ballistically stable out to between 5,000-6,000m. Gunners have been known to induce a bit of “Kentucky Windage” and reliably hit targets out to 6,000m. That’s over 3 miles.

What if all those electronics break down? you ask.

Tank Commanders and Gunners are rigorously drilled to use the auxillary optical sights, with no computer/electronic aid, to hit staionary, moving ground and even airborne targets with the main gun. That’s right: tank crews are trained to shoot down aircraft with the main gun.

Considering that the DU Sabot has a muzzle velocity of over 5,000m/sec, that doesn’t leave much time for evasive maneuvers on the part of any target.

Land-mines technically pose some risk, but the U.S. Army (courtesy of I.M.I.) have dedicated mine-plow tanks, (typically one per platoon) for clearing safe passages through minefields. These attachments in no way detract from the vehicle’s firepower, and have only a marginal impact on the tank’s mobility.

The U.S. Military practices the Air-Land Battle Doctrine, a combined-arms mode of operation copied from the Soviets (the Ruskies never quite perfected it, though that is thought to be a deficiency in their recruitment/training methods, and not an inherent flaw in their tactical doctrine).

Thus, a U.S. Armored Force deploys with Infantry, Artillery and Close Air Support, as well as their Engineers, Medics and Air Defense Artillery (usually Stinger teams, what we called “Duck Hunters”) for overlapping and mutually-supporting fields of fire and spheres of defense.

Comparing tanks to knight in armor, or even the outdated tactics of WWII or Korea, is a false concept. Mobility is emphasized (thus our gas-guzzling, 40+mph cross-country Abrams), and is actually a major factor on the modern battlefield. While this also requires a sophisticated and extensive logistical support network, if you want to play to win, you bring the varsity.

Another point: the M-1 Family of MBTs are highly crew-survivable. Heavy, sophisticated composite armor, compartmentalized architecture, fire-detection/supression systems, crew body armor, NBC filtration/over-pressure systems, along with rigorous crew/training and drills, makes for a very survivable vehicle. Considering the training of the crew (initial and ongoing), crew survivability is a smart investment. You can replace the vehicle for a fraction of the cost of a well-trained crew. When you start talking combat aircraft, the ratio drops considerably.

Next point: Von Clauswitz spoke of the “Fog of War”, the confusion inherent to the chaotic conditions on the battlefield. What with the rapid-mobility of the modern battlefield, information-management is an even greater factore than ever before.

Which is why the modern U.S. Armor Force is being modernized with sophisticated C3 systems, position/location reporting systems, automated logistics-status reporting systems, all linked with an encrypted, frequency-hopping (and thus largely jam-proof) FM (VHF) communications system.

The modern U.S. Battlefield Commander can look at a large color LCD map and see where his forces are, where they are going, their composition, their fuel and ammo status, all overlaid on a terrain-map, with suspected/probable/known enemy formations/locations/dispositions/direction of advance.

With a click of a mouse, or the touch of a light pen, he can quickly detail a battle plan to the on-board screens of the nearest units (Command Tanks & Bradley IFVs) under his command, plot artillery fire, call in air support, order re-supply convoys to designated coordinates, notify Medivac units, and everything else necessary to a modern battle.

Which brings me to a point raised in the opening sentence: not all countries have the same design priorities. Some of the Soviet designs are downright bizarre: honeycombed fuel-cells to allow ammo storage within the fuel cell!. Separate projectile/propellant main-gun rounds, with the propellant and projectiles stored in the crew compartment in an unprotected carousel.

You’ve seen those DS/DS pictures of Soviet-designed, Czeck-built Iraqui T-72s? The ones with the turrets lying over 100m away from the burnt-out hulls? Now you know why.

A more accurate question may have been: Are tanks still necessary?

What with the emergent countries like Iraq and China, more than ever.

And, to my knowledge, no Iraqi T-72 tank ever survived a hit from a 120mm Depleted Uranium SABOT round; most rounds went in the front and out the back even at 4,000+ meters.

“Mostly Harmless :p”

I wondered how long it would take before ExTank would step in! :slight_smile:
Folks, believe me when I tell you that he knows what he is talking about. When it comes to this subject, I would consult with him before I would consult with the Pentagon.

Thanks, Slythe.

It comes from 6 years of kickin’ track, busting knuckles (that armor is hard!), humpin’ ammo, and all the various and sundry tasks necessary to keep the pigs rolling.

Oh yeah: and eating sand and MRE’s for 8 months, while watching the worlds longest and best fireworks disply.

The BDA’s brought back by our DS/DS pilots were later revised back down (after post-mission analysis) to reality; typicaly less than 40% of what they claimed.

They did do a great job of interdicting the airspace, and disrupting lines of communications (for non-military types, that includes roads, bridges and rail lines as well as the usual electronic methods). They made it possible for the land-war to be engaged that much more effectively.

But the pilots and airplanes did not, by any stretch of the imagination, win the Gulf War.

That was accomplished by Brigade/Regiment sized formations of M-1 Tanks and M-2 Bradleys, working in conjunction with Helicopter Scouts, Gunships and Field Artillery.

In Army terms, aviation is what is called a “Combat Multiplier”; a unit/weapon system that aids or enhances the performance of front-line combatants.

That these “multipliers” are often front-line combatants as well is an irony that doesn’t escape the Army, or said “multipliers”.

But the Air Force still thinks that fighter/bombers can fight and win a war; it can’t.

Until you park a Tank in your enemy’s driveway, and put a grunt with an M-16 on his lawn, the war ain’t won.

“Mostly Harmless :p”

Amen to that, ExTank.

Sorry if you may have taken my earlier comments as derisive. I’m ex-infantry (only 3 years, though) and I couldn’t resist dreaming a bit.

Infantry may be the mortar which holds the modern army together, but Armor is the bricks.

Allesan: if you’re referring to this:

I took no offense; I’d read much the same from old studies conducted at the end of the Vietnam War. It’s a continual race, not only of weapons, but of tactics.

After all, the best weapon system is only as good as the method of employment and the guy (or gal) behind the trigger (button, keyboard…you get the idea).

Check out some of David Drake’s work. Military sci-fi, with fusion powered hover tanks, sheathed in density-enhanced Iridium armor, mounting 200mm plasma cannons and tri-barreled gatling style plasma cannons for anti-personnel and point-defense work. Tie it all together with radar, thermal, IR and sonic imaging systems, a comprehensive AI package (not the nice talking type, just the work-a-day bland type) and tanks are once again the top of the battle field food-chain.

Technology see-saws back-and-forth, with advancements in one area pushing Armor to secondary role before other advancements bring it back.

Plus the Strategic imperatives of the times may render heavy Armor superfluous; not obsolete, just unnecessary. Considering the material investment necessary to create, transport and sustain an Armor force in sustained combat, it’s no wonder that some “experts” are calling for their removal from the inventory for lighter, more easily transported “Rapid Deployment” assets.

But I use the term “experts” somewhat disdainfully, as these policy wonks might be great bean-crunchers and “paradigm modelers”, or scenario testers, but they don’t seem to know dick about force structure, shock effect, or History.

I wish like hell I could find this quote, but it came from an Iraqi Republican Guard Battalion or Regimental Commander.
I believe he had surrendered or was captured, but was probably sent home to Uncle Saddam for a less-than-pleasant “Heroes Welcome”.

The bewildered officer said something to the effect of: “After a month of aerial bombardment, I had lost a half-dozen tanks. After 10 minutes of combat against M-1s, I had lost my entire unit.”

I have no doubt that the modern American Infantryman is better trained, better equipped and armed than any other time in our history, and is absolutely indispensible to the conduct of warfare, in any time or place.

But what does he do when confronted with an impenetrable obstacle? A mass formation of enemy tanks? He picks up his H-250 handset, gets on the command freq, and calls for The Lightning, The Thunder, and the Hammer of God to clear the way so they can go in and hose them out.

And to borrow from George S. Patton Jr; Infantry grabs them by the nose, and Armor kicks them in the…well, you know.

“Mostly Harmless :p”

Ah, I see where the trouble lies, ExTank. You were thinking David Drake, and I was thinking Robert E. Heinlein. :wink:

Hey, the cavalry has arrived. Now I can sit back and watch the fireworks. What? I missed it already? Damn, you guys are quick.

A couple points…

You can’t really blame them too much… tanks were not easily deployed or utilized in the jungles of Vietnam, while the deserts of Iraq were ideal for the tanks that had superior targeting and ranging.

Unless the knight had a catapult strapped to his back…

You are correct that direct comparisons to WW2 tactics (when I mentioned Rommel) are not entirely accurate, but there are some things that still hold true. Armor is still vulnerable to well-armed infantry in confined spaces (ie. city fighting) and, as the Gulf War showed again, to air power. We’ve replaced Rommel’s 88’s with A-10’s. (The stats I looked at indicated well over half of the roughly 3,700 Iraqi tanks destroyed were hit by aircraft, but as you pointed out, they had a lot more time to work.)

I think a more realistic future threat to tanks than mechs or infantry is something that hasn’t been designed yet. Say you built an aircraft like AWACS that instead of tracking aircraft, it could scan the ground with some sort of infrared sighting and pick out all the enemy vehicles on the ground in a fairly large radius. Friendlies could be verified with some sort of encoded radio transmission or by a heat signature pattern unique to friendlies. If that tracking info was then sent back to some missile system (either ground or air based) that would send a warhead in on top of each of those enemy targets, then they would have a very bad day.

Think that would work, ExTank? I realize of course, that the enemy tank might have the engine running for infrared to pick them up, but we can work on that…

Hey! Who are you calling an adolecent! :slight_smile:

Besides, as any Macross fan can tell you, mechs don’t replace tanks . . . they replace planes. Are you suggesting the physics as presented are less than entirely accurate?

Is THAT what you think a mech is? Get this man a copy of Heavy Gear 2, stat!

Besides, everyone knows properly designed powered armor beats tanks. They proved it in MADOX 01. :slight_smile:

Oh, wait. There’s a real debate going on here. Sorry. :slight_smile:

“Prepare to fire the Wave Motion Gun!”

I was, of course, using an extreme example… I am a little familiar with Mechwarrior and the like, but I haven’t had enough time to even install my copy of Combat Mission on my PC.

ExTank said:

You can find this quote in Into the Storm. I’ll try to dig it up tonight.

Didn’t the AirLand Battle doctrine get superseded by something else in the 1993-94 timeframe? Or am I just crazy?

I think it was called “Clinton’s Let’s Just Hand This War Off to the White House Staff” plan.

They made a big deal about Iraq having the 5th largest military in the world. The number that is significant is that they were #50 in military spending at the time of the Gulf War. It would be foolish to draw any conclusions about modern warfare from fighting an unsophisticated second rate power.

Fighter and attack aircraft would not survive the tactics against a first class opponent that they were able to use in the Gulf. It is not reasonable to expect tactical air to take a large toll of enemy armor protected by sophisticated SAM systems. The A-10s were scheduled to be phased out due to their low expected survivability for their assigned tasks.

The attack helicopters are the airborne weapons of choice against a more sophisticated opponent because they can use terrain to mask their presence. They can coordinate with many sources of laser target identification to fire and remain unseen.

When the US perfects the MLRS launched anti-armor multiple homing missiles and coordinates it with JSTARS it will make it difficult for armor to survive on a battlefield. An opponent would basically have to be able to take out the JSTARS for their armor to survive. Our allies are developing JSTARS types of airborne systems and one must suppose our potential enemies are as well.

During the Yom Kippur War the Egyptians took out a large number of Israeli MBTs with a Soviet made man portable missile that was set up and then fired and directed from a remote location. The Israeli tactic was to shoot at the launch point but the operator was a hundred yards away and able to direct the missile. The operator has to quickly bring the missile in line with himself and the target and a defensive tactic to aim at the missile instead of the launch point would bring the operator under fire. I suppose that is why the system did not become a standard. If the missile were laser rather than wire guided the operator would never line up with the missile. Seems like an idea that should be revived.

ExTank You can probably answer a couple questions for me-
The German designed 120mm gun on the M1 is a listed as a smoothbore. How does it generate spin on a standard round? Is it a polygonal smoothbore like a Glock barrel or does something in the round cause the spin?
What are those pots on the barrels of many tanks? If they are weights are they there to counterbalance the large rear end of the turret when the gun is aimed to the side or to inertially reduce recoil? Or perhaps to reduce harmonic vibration in the gun?

I have a question for ExTank, too. I read somewhere that the frontal armor on the M1A2 is good enough to resist its own armor-piercing rounds? It’s called Cobham Armor, or something like that, originally developed in the UK. True?

Here’s someone who has a whole lot of opinion about the tank: