The Tank is Dead, Long Live the Tank – Part 1

People have been predicting the end of the tank since the first ones rolled over German trenches in 1916 (and got stuck) but the rumours of their demise have, for what will be over 100 years by the time Army 2020 is realised, are greatly over stated.

British Mark IV Female Tanks being loaded aboard railway trucks at Plateau Station in preparation for the Battle of Cambrai. IWM
British Mark IV Female Tanks being loaded aboard railway trucks at Plateau Station in preparation for the Battle of Cambrai. IWM


Since then they have shown remarkable resilience with the last major tank battle that involved UK forces less than a decade ago in 2003

Challenger 2 in Iraq 02

They still remain a powerful and effective element of combined arms manoeuvre.

The simple fact is that mounted close combat and the use of armour has utility in all spectrums of conflict, we might argue whether they should or should not be in Afghanistan and for a number of reasons the UK has declined to deploy Challenger 2 but other nations have achieved a measure of success with theirs.

This is a multi-part look at the role of armour in recent conflicts, their relevance in the future and a look at current programmes;

Part 1 – Introduction

Part 2 – Selected examples of recent use

Part 3 – Looking into the crystal ball

Part 4 – SDSR, Army 2020 and the Challenger LEP

Part 5 – Future Protected Vehicle

Part 6 – A Few Ideas on the Future

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October 28, 2012 10:04 pm

They are highly mobile, highly protected, mount very accurate weapons targeted by very sensitive all weather sensors. One could hardly ask for more. But now they are networked as well they are even more awesome. Simples really.

Brian Black
Brian Black
October 28, 2012 11:24 pm

World War I relics lumbering around 21st century battlefields teeming with independently-seeking, smart, anti-armour weapons?

October 29, 2012 9:47 am

I’ll ignore that fact that there weren’t any tanks at the fight at FSB CORAL (ie night one after the air assault), but I’d note that the most useful Cent ammo was cannister because it shredded the vegetation and allowed the infantry to see their targets, and driving over the type of small bunker the VC used in the laterite soil of Phuoc Tuy province was also useful. Cents were also useful for escorting M110 (203mm) on direct fire forays.

However, it’s useful to remember that between the wars, ignoring light recce AFVs tanks developed into either Cruisers or Infantry (support). The former carried the heavy cavalry tradition of ‘shock action’, and its worth remembering that historically shock action didn’t always work (as the British infantry demonstrated). After WW2 the anti-tank role was transferred from RA to RAC, which led to the multi-role MBT.

One of the modern unknowns is the extent to which the battle has swung to anti-tank advantage, ATGW, direct and top attack are one thing but the imapact of SADARM type indirect fire weapons (eg BONUS and SmArt155) and air-delivered precision anti-tank have probably swung the battle in anti-tank’s favour. Obviously not a problem against an army mainly equipped with RPG 7 and only a few handfulls of modern ATGW, but against a serious opposition I reckon tanks are probably goners (unless you have umpteen thousands and can take heavy losses). Maybe the cheap suicide tank is the way to go, but I can’t see western armies going that way!

Whether the I tank role has value is moot. It has attractions, and doesn’t need a high velcity gun, in fact flat trajectories are fundamentally flawed for the infantry support role (angle of impact and richochet against targets only a few inches high). The advantage of the I tank is that it fires cheap and cheerful ammo and fire control is very simple. But the I tank is still a sitting target when plentiful modern anti-tank munitions are available.

Obviously there is now a usefully wide choice of effective long range anti-tank options compared to the late 1940s when RAC took over the role.