why do we not use drone tanks?

And drone self propelled artillery, drone light scout vehicles etc. I mean operator controlled, not autonomous ones. Seems to me they’d be not technologically that difficult to do and very useful in current asymmetric warfare. Rather than just air strikes in support of allies we could also have drone armoured units supported by allied infantry, without risking ground troops.

One major advantage would be that if the encryption on their comms was done right, they couldn’t be captured and used against our own forces, unlike the masses of HummVEE’s and tanks that fell into ISIS hands.

It’s tough (next best thing to impossible, if it’s done right) to crack good electronic security to do something extreme like take over the tank. However, it’s quite easy to jam the transmissions, or otherwise cut off its communications. In order for a tank to be effective, it needs to be able to respond appropriately in such situations, which means autonomous operation. We trust humans to operate a tank autonomously, but we do not trust computer programs to do so.

I am genuinely curious. Why is that much easier to jam transmissions for a drone tank than a drone aircraft? Distance and speed? It seems like that would be fairly easily solvable. You could have a drone tanks supported by strong signals from high-flying drone aircraft. I don’t know why that would be any different than relaying signals through existing encrypted transmissions for technology that already exists.

I think it is a good question in general. Tanks should be easier to dronize (my new word) than planes except for the fact that they would need some serious self-destruct capability because they could be captured more easily than planes.

It will work in a highly controlled situation. You have control of the air, the enemy ground forces are bottled up real nice, the humans can stand off at a safe distance. But combat conditions can change very quickly and using robots will remove the weapon’s flexibility. The weapon being captured by the enemy is just one adverse development. What if the controller gets taken out unexpectedly? Can the robots go on autonomous mode? Are you going to risk having just one or a few controllers overseeing most of your armed robotic units?

I suspect it will happen, but with a ground vehicle the crew can try to repair some damage. And/or continue to fight with limited ability. Not so much with an aircraft/drone that will crash land. And a drone with a diminished ability may be able to get at least closer back to base.

I think that autonomous flying is a much easier task than autonomous driving. Driving a tank in real terrain is much more complex than flying an airplane.

The latest Russian tankis a step in this direction. The turret is unmanned with the crew sited deep within the hull.

We do that today with EOD robots. No human goes near a known IED anymore.

We do: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unmanned_ground_vehicle

Why don’t we have more? I’d hazard that it’s because militaries are really slow to develop a technology when it isn’t a top priority for someone with the budget sufficient to push it.

Also, while it’s possible to send planes and ships on missions hundreds of kilometers from their support base, ground vehicles will need support crew to be much closer. In many cases, you will want the UGVs to be quite close to your own infantry too. OP mentions allied infantry but the US is unlikely to develop many UGVs that are only intended to be used with foreign troops. Thus, the threat reduction to your own personnel isn’t as high with UGVs as it is with sea and air drones.
On drone tanks specifically: UGVs that weigh 50-70 tons are unlikely because without crew, it may be preferable to have more numerous, smaller, lighter, cheaper, more expendable vehicles than MBTs.

I’m guessing, though I don’t know, that if a UAV has all of its communications cut off, it’s programmed to turn around and fly back to base via inertial guidance. Inertial guidance isn’t nearly as precise as GPS, but it should still be good enough to get it close enough to shake off the jamming.

This is nontrivial for a tank, since a tank’s route back to base is likely to have a lot more obstacles than a flyer’s.

In addition to loss of communications (which, even in the era of encrypted digital cellular communications can happen all too often), there are any number of failures or problems which could occur that a crew could repair or work around but an automated drone cannot, e.g. jamming of the loading/firing mechanisms, overload of the electrical bus, loss of a tread, et cetera.

In fact, an automated main battle tank doesn’t really make much sense, period. The entire point of a tank is that it allows a crewed human presence to operate direct artillery with near impunity to almost any attack except another tank or anti-tank aircraft. However, that mass and weight mostly exists to protect the crew. If you were to design an automated direct artillery system for battlefield use, you wouldn’t build a tank; you’d probably use a fast, low profile, lightly armored system carrying anti-armor guided missile at a unit cost such than you could build dozens for the cost of a single tank. Or better yet, you’d build a low observable flying drone equipped with such missiles with much greater mobility than any land vehicle.


Except that as is pointed out again and again, airstrikes cannot take and hold territory. Drone Armoured units in conjunction with friendly infantry could do that. And yes I agree you’d make multiple smaller cheaper units rather than something the size of a MBT.

Planes go out and come back to a base where all the support folks stay. Pilot or not nobody’s forward to repair, rearm, refuel them. They have to go back to some kind of rear area base anyway. Tanks don’t operate like that. They also operate in an environment that’s less clean and harsher in many ways.

What does the drone tank do when it throws track? What does it do when the air filters need to be blown out? What does it do when it goes through a big puddle spraying mud across the sights right before the attack? What does it do when nearby artillery or small arms fire shreds it’s antenna? What happens when you hit a tree too fast and need to get it off the top of the turret so it’s not in the way of important stuff?. Who clears the obstruction from the gun tube when you screw up and dig the muzzle into the dirt? Who digs the mud out of the sprocket with a shovel? Who cuts the concertina wire off the drive sprocket when you are unlucky enough (or the driver screws up) to snag the end and spool it up threatening to throw track? When all the high tech fire control and/or turret power is knocked out can the drone manually crank the turret around and fire using what’s basically a built in telescope? How do you cache and reload ammo in a fallback position (without a vulnerable, higher profile, expensive and likely limited resupply vehicle parked there the whole time) during a mobile defense? Who camouflages the drone tank when needed?

That’s the biggest issue, and likely a major reason preventing this idea. It’s a bit difficult to sneak up on an aircraft. It would be quite simple to sneak up on a drone vehicle and disable it, burn it or capture it.

It’s actually a turretless design, one that’s been experimented on by both NATO and the Soviet Bloc since the 80’s but only the Russians pushed through with it. It has some problems. Whereas it results in a smaller mass above the vehicle, you still need to armor it up, and loading and unloading is harder. Also, the design is meant for up-gunned variants (> 125mm) so you need a bigger main coach to hold both crew and ammo.

But there’s still a crew to handle various situations mentioned in the last few posts.

(It will take actual battle to see how much the Russians have improved the autoloader system. In prior recent generations of tanks the Soviet-style crewed turret with autoloader tended to not be as quick and flexible as M60s and M1s with human loaders. Maybe the removal of crew from the turret means they can do an efficient fully robotic load/reload scheme without the people getting in its way.)

I don’t see why it would be hard to make that difficult - and seriously hazardous to anyone attempting it.

You don’t “hold territory” with tanks, either. Tanks are a forward offensive weapon (direct artillery) which requires substantial logistical support (fuel, ammunition) to operate for any significant period and distance. The function of the main battle tank is primarily to drive into an enemy front and destroy fixed strategic positions and anti-personnel artillery with greater accuracy than strategic bombing can perform, so as to clear way for mechanized infantry behind it.

In the future of remote/autonomous warfare, less value will be given to protection of mobile battlefield artillery platforms against attack than mobility and low observability, as well as the ability to interoperate with airborne surveillance and coordination. The heavily armored main battle tank is as much of an anachronism to the future of war as a battleship.


Yeah we call it a drone now, but then its a bolo, and then bun bun. We are all screwed.


It is my understanding from reading articles on the subject, it was a popular topic when the US lost a drone to the Iranians a couple of years ago, that drones link straight to a satellite and such an air to air (space) signal is easier to secure. Also, when jammed, the drone can more easily autonomously return to it’s base. A jammed tank would have to just sit there until someone was able to either reach it or reestablish communication.
Tanks tend to be in harms way by design and when they are needed they are REALLY needed. Risking jamming or requiring a very highly reliable data link to fire the gun seems like asking a lot. And people who drive big iron tend to be conservative about such things.