The Tank is Dead, Long Live the Tank – Part 2 (Selected examples of recent use)

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

Surely the main battle tank is a cold war legacy item, something our transformational paradigm shifting, seamlessly connected new model Army 2020 is supposed to be dispensing with?

A few examples;

Vietnam (Australian forces)

A quote from Wiki about the Battle of Coral – Balmoral in Vietnam;

Ultimately though the firepower of the Australian combined arms teams proved decisive. Indeed, while the value of using armour in Vietnam was originally questioned by the Australian Army, the performance of the tanks during the fighting at Coral and Balmoral demonstrated their advantages once and for all. Indeed, whereas before the battle some infantry had doubted the usefulness or necessity of the Centurions, afterwards they did not like working without them. Over the next four years the tanks would provide invaluable close support, particularly during the clearance of bunker systems, proving to be powerful weapons in both offence and defence and were later credited with limiting casualties among the Australian infantry

And a great video

Yes, oldies, that was an SLR!

Although the history of armoured warfare in Vietnam has been subject to much historical analysis I think the above provides a pretty good snapshot.

Iraq 2003 onwards

For OIF/TELIC there were four heavy brigades, 3 from the US 3rd Infantry Division, a total force of 200 M1’s and the British 7th Armoured Brigade, with 116 Challenger 2’s. The USMC also provided a considerable heavy force by reinforcing their forces with pretty much every M1 they had.

On the drive to Baghdad the after action report from the US 3rd Infantry Division clearly stated;

This war was won in large measure because the enemy could not achieve decisive effects against our armored fighting vehicles. While many contributing factors helped shape the battlespace (air interdiction, close air support, artillery), ultimately war demands closure with the enemy force within the minimum safe distance of artillery. Our armored systems enabled us to close with and destroy the heavily armed and fanatically determined enemy force often within urban terrain with impunity. No other ground combat system currently in our arsenal could have delivered similar mission success without accepting enormous casualties, particularly in urban terrain. Decisive combat power is essential, and only heavily armored forces provide this capability

In operation in the South, the British Royal Armoured Corps played a key role.

Learning lessons from the drubbing in the Gulf War, Iraqi forces had set up extremely effective defences in and around Basrah.  Making up for their lack of firepower their defences included concealed firing pits, positions inside buildings, killing zones and an extensive network of mobile telephone linked spotters.

General Brimms (GOC 1(UK) Armoured Division), credited Challenger and Warrior, as being the top 2 war winning assets in the initial stages of the Iraq war, operation TELIC.

One of the official lessons learned from Operation TELIC (0.161 to be precise) was very clear on the value of armour;

The value of armour providing heavy direct and indirect firepower and high levels of ballistic protection when operating in support of lighter forces has been reinforced by Operation TELIC. Combined arms training for light brigades needs to be addressed

In the latter stages of Operation Telic, Challengers were often used to carry out strike missions, provide visible deterrence, compound wall breaching, route security and convoy protection.


Phil wrote a nice case study on the Danish Army last year so a look at the Danish tank experience in Bosnia is in order.

In an operation that was subsequently called Operation Bøllebank (hooligan bashing) the Danish Army Jutland Dragoons were sent to relieve a Swedish observation post called Tango 2.

The Danish force consisted on seven newly upgraded Leopard 1A5’s and an armoured personnel carrier. Tango 2 had been receiving heavy fire from Bosnian Serb forces and it was decided to send the tanks because, in the words of the squadron commander;

Actually, we intended to move up with the tanks because they tend to stop the shooting

The tanks were ambushed by Bosnian Serb forces with anti-tank missiles. After realising that the concerted ambush would continue and being refused close air support they decided enough was enough and returned fire in a rather spectacular fashion.

Read the details at the link below;

The Serbs clearly intended to destroy the Danish force but clearly did not anticipate the response, characterised as the ‘mouse that ate the cat’


The lessons learned during Operation MEDUSA by the Canadian Army leadership included the importance of maintaining heavy armour as part of a balanced force.

Beginning in December 2006, the tank squadron and armoured engineers featured prominently in all major combat operations undertaken by the Canadian Battle Group, including at BAAZ TSUKA and ACHILLES, working side by side with Afghan National Security Forces, American Special Operations Forces (SOF), and ISAF troops. The Battle Squadron was initially responsible for establishing attack-by-fire positions in support of infantry companies and in forming the nucleus of a Battle Group counter-moves force capable of responding throughout the entire Canadian area of operations. Many Taliban insurgents learned the hard way of the capabilities of the Leopard’s main gun during the following years when attacking Canadian strong points with rocket propelled grenades (RPG) and indirect fire.

During these operations, the tank squadron proved its ability to conduct sustained combat operations at great distances from the re-supply nodes at each of the forward operating bases (FOBs). Additionally, Leopard mine ploughs were used to clean up an old Soviet minefield. Since May 2007, the tank squadron has fought almost constantly alongside Canadian and Afghan infantry in close combat with the Taliban.

Supported by the artillery, combat engineers, attack aviation and fast air groups, mechanized combat teams from the 2 RCR BG have achieved decisive victories against insurgents in the Howz-e- Madad, Nalgham and Sangsar areas of Zhari District where vineyards and imposing compounds render wheeled vehicle movement particularly difficult. Leopard tank crews have extensively used the 105 mm High Explosive Squash Head (HESH) round to eliminate insurgents attempting to attack dismounted soldiers. More importantly, tank rollers and ploughs have continued to mitigate risk to coalition soldiers by clearing routes of pressure-plate detonated IEDs while providing intimate support and a breaching capability to dismounted infantry companies.

Danish Leopards have supported the British led Helmand Task Force, even in the Green Zone, where they have provided overwatch.  Operation Sond Chara and Abbi Toora made extensive use of the Danish contingent.

Op AABI TOORAH began with the pre-positioning of the Danish tanks, previously used on Op SOND CHARA in December to great effect. At the same time the Danish Leopard tanks were in an overwatch position on high ground to the north and west and were used throughout the battle to engage, from range, the well dug-in enemy positions.

Sven provided a link to the document below (cheers) on the Canadian experience with main battle tanks in Afghanistan.

Perhaps most obvious of the lessons we have relearned is the importance of the combined arms team in full spectrum operations, and the continued significance of the tank and armoured engineers in the COE.  While our understanding of the threat and the complexity of operations in the modern battle space is sound, we have been excessively optimistic about our ability to find the enemy and determine his intentions without having to fight for information.  We will strive to achieve knowledge-based and sensor-led operations, but we are not there yet.  Until we can deny the enemy a vote, it will be necessary to form and deploy flexible combined arms teams capable of advancing to contact, and crushing opposing forces with overwhelming combat power and manoeuvre in extremely complex terrain, by day and by night

Although it is a few years old, it is a very interesting read;

So there you go; a handful of selected instances of the continuing viability and plain old usefulness of heavy armour across a range of conflicts in recent memory.

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Brian Black
Brian Black
October 28, 2012 11:54 pm

The examples highlight the use of armour in support of infantry operations and against light forces, and many like to suggest that modern weapons and airpower have made armour manoeuvre and widespread tank-on-tank shootouts a thing of the past; however, the Iraq experience -particularly GWII- shows that despite overwhelming air and information superiority, a switched on enemy force simply following good basic routine can hide away a suprisingly large and dangerous amount of armour in the field.

Brian Black
Brian Black
October 28, 2012 11:56 pm

I’ve used longer sentences before.

Swimming Trunks
Swimming Trunks
October 29, 2012 2:27 am

” Leopard tank crews have extensively used the 105 mm High Explosive Squash Head (HESH) round to eliminate insurgents attempting to attack dismounted soldiers. More importantly, tank rollers and ploughs have continued to mitigate risk to coalition soldiers by clearing routes of pressure-plate detonated IEDs while providing intimate support and a breaching capability to dismounted infantry companies.”


” Op AABI TOORAH began with the pre-positioning of the Danish tanks, previously used on Op SOND CHARA in December to great effect. At the same time the Danish Leopard tanks were in an overwatch position on high ground to the north and west and were used throughout the battle to engage, from range, the well dug-in enemy positions.”

Why don’t we have Challengers out there again?

The Other Chris
The Other Chris
October 29, 2012 9:27 am

@Swimming Trunks

“Why don’t we have Challengers out there again?”

Local level diplomacy?

Anyone know how much rebuild work we’re doing at the moment on the compounds and villages after a typical engagement? Structural and relations wise?

Is there typically a relationship to rebuild after an engagement in someone else’s house?

If we sent in tanks as well, would there be more or less fallout, both materially and socially? Would we use them more often?

How would they be deployed in Afghanistan? Would they be in the right place?

Finally, how much would it cost to ship enough tanks out, spread them around, operate distributed maintenance sheds, retrieve them when they’ve been damaged/broken down/etc?

October 29, 2012 11:35 am

The other Chris

I think that gets to the heart of the problem.

It is often forgotten that the original spec for the tank called it, a ‘Shelled area vehicle’ . It was anticipated as a way of carrying infantry and supporting firepower over rough terrain under fire.

The nature of that enemy fire has changed dramatically but it still remains the major point of armour on a battlefield:-

1) It allows to be mobile- to a degree pick the time and terms of an engagement, or indeed if one happens at all.

2) It allows you protection, to close with your enemy, under protection that presents him with at best a limited ability to destroy you.

3) It provided a means of effectively destroying the enemy.

I was one of those who saw the tanks demise:- Heavy armour atheist if you like.

The considered arguments by those on this site have reawakened my faith:- somewhat!

My Tank facebook status, is now probably specifically – Tank agnostic. (BTW thats not the same as being armour or even medium armour agnostic, There I remain a true believer.

MY doubts come with the idea of the modern tank, you kno- 70 tons with hyper velocity non standard gun on it in a turret.
Very heavy, Heavy to the point of being very difficult to shift around and deploy. To a degree your comment makes that point- Chally maybe brilliant but frankly if it aint there, coz we can’t afford to get it there, it may as well be made of chocolate.
Very maintenance intensive and about a resource and logistically demanding as anything the army uses.

It does a job, but in the modern battlefield is there a better- more mobile less expensive way of doing the job? An extreme and gruesome example is, you can kill a soldier by driving over him in a tank, or you can shoot him. the latter is vastly cheaper and easier to accomplish than the former. In short if something cheaper to buy and run could do the same job then we should ditch the tank and move to that.

Why I remain agnostic, is that some of the examples given refer to the use of 1st and 2nd generation MBT of weights and armament rather less than Chally and Merkava. Using 105 mm guns firing shells at targets which are not what those guns were designed by and large to deploy Heat/ hesh for example, not ideal for engaging field fortifications or troops dug in – standard exploding shells would be quite a lot better, But the ‘ pure tank ethic’ of modern tank theory does not by and large literally have room for them.

In all the above examples, have they done anything that say a 40 ton MICV derivative with a 105 mm light gun could not? (Think Anders style).

It is worth remembering that the Amx 30 derivatives used by the French in Gulf 1 had a very good kill ratio v Iraqi Tanks. The amx 30 was something a joke in tank circles by then. On paper a t72 or even a t62/4 should have mullerred it.

So I remain unconvinced.

October 29, 2012 12:30 pm

: it’s interesting to wonder if the conventional “tank” is really practicable. Just to chuck in my 5 penno’th…

– really, given air transport capacity, strategic deployment of anything larger than a squadron of CVR(T) is impracticable, and hence CR2 really has the same strategic deployability as any other armoured vehicle. This is probably the case even if we buy another 20 C17 (which I think makes great sense anyway!). I suspect the issue with CR2 now is that it’s “trafficability” given existing road networks in likely conflict regions, where a 50 tonne limit would probably suit better in that all those ISO compatible trucks (just for you @TD!) weigh that much

– There are ways of mitigating tank weight, primarily in moving to unmanned turrets and replacing the long gun with high velocity missiles. They have their disadvantages too, but the balance is shifting I suspect. Even the ability to be “AMX30-like” and motor about on wheels for long road wheels would make tanks much more practical for theatre level moves

– the need for similar protection for all vehicles within armoured units, the universal intermixing of tank and armoured infantry and the need for relief drivers and commanders drive you towards a single “heavy” vehicle with a crew and infantry fire team on board. With the crew in the hull, we are looking at a crew compartment much smaller than an IFV’s, with reduced armoured volume to protect. Easily enough to bring us to sub-50 tonne if we assume 40mm cannon plus HVM missiles rather than a main gun

October 29, 2012 1:59 pm


yes I should make it clear I am not a big fan of ‘Flying armour’; i am sure it has some tactical use on occasions, but in reality not even the US could fly tanks around in any numbers and only in aircraft that would have the devil’s own job landing.

I am more concerned about ‘trafficability’ as you put it, weight as you say about 4o tons max, road/ rail bridges, rail loading gauges and road widths etc etc. the availability of tractor units to tow low loaders. Most commercial 48 ton tractor units could pull a low loader with a 35-40 tons vehicle on it. Its a serious specialist job to pull a 70 ton C2. Even in shipping Ro Ro Lane widths and deck strengths come into play.

It is remarkable how much more even a Warrior is strategically mobile than a C2. Ideally I would like everything to fit on an ISO container flat rack, but I suspect that is going a bit far in compromising capability…

October 29, 2012 2:26 pm

The problem comes when a medium weight tank bumps into a heavyweight MBT. Then heavy armour gives a very worrying advantage. If you need to flank him to get killshots into his side armour, whereas he can simply put you out from whatever angle, then he has an incredible advantage in the conditions for winning. Same as the soldier analogy you put up. If he’s under cover, you have to set up a base of fire, send a fireteam to flank him and finally do an assault rush on his position, all the while worrying that his shots don’t hit, because if it does, you might be trading lives for a life. Lots of effort, lots of risk. A tank simply drives over him.

I do agree MBTs are a pain logistically, but it’s all about trade-offs. Light, air mobile, logistically convenient but with weaker armour and weapons or Heavy, road/rail/ship bound, logistical hogs with heavy armour and heavy guns. You can’t have everything. Honestly, if you can get a light, air mobile, logistically convenient tank with heavy armour and a big gun with a good price, I’d say you’re well on your way to becoming a rich man.

Right tool for the right job. Against top of the line MBTs, another MBT is the safest. For scouting and quick reaction, CVR(T). Not to say MBTs are not a pain. For either side. :)

October 29, 2012 2:47 pm

@ The Other Chris

How come the MOD have managed to deploy RE Trojan AVRE’s to Afghanistan.

The non-deployment of Cr2 and As90, has to be a political one. Tony Blair vetoed the deployment of the RA’s MLRS Regiments to Kuwait for GW2, because he thought they were to “Terrible a Weapon”!

If the Canadian and Danish have managed to deploy successfully their Leopard 2’s, I’m sure we could have put have a Cr2 detachment into Helmand as well.

October 29, 2012 2:48 pm

As a really really funny aside, during the 90s, Singapore did a few studies to determine what direction weapons and equipment development should take for the next generation. One of the problems faced was that our infantry heli-mobile forces were too lightly armed/armoured for setting up an airhead (don’t laugh, it’s the actual term. lol), given time, an enemy could concentrate armour against them and overrun their AO, which means you can kiss goodbye to your battalion.

One of the experiments tried was to pallet drop an AMX-13 scout tank from a C-130. After setting up a drop zone, the theory was to parachute the tank down to give the infantry some armoured support. The landing broke the suspension of the tank. Project shelved. :P The final evalution was to give up airborne armour as a lost cause, instead concentrating on boosting firepower to compensate, which evolved into 3 strains.

1) Milan ATGMs for the infantry (OTS, so no worries there)
2) Spike ATGM/120mm motar equiped heli-borne light strike vehicles
3) Heli-borne 155mm artillery

The Russians tried airdropping tanks too I think. They were more successful because they used retro-rockets + parachutes.

October 29, 2012 3:17 pm


And there is the cause of my agnosticism!

Once upon a time I would have gone on the attack over the assertion that in effect ‘That extra 20 tons of armour really is needed’.

However far to many people who have been there and done it believe it does for me to be so cavalier! I still would like to see some work/study/ analysis dealing with these questions:-

Given the need for mobile armoured visual range fire support,medium armour, is concentrating on the armour V armour issue really helpful?

Can we give a lighter vehicle the protection to counter and the armament (not necessarily a 120mm long gun), to tackle REALISTICALLY, in normal combat terms the conventional MBT.

It’s a bit like my argument with the boys in dark blue that they tend to have a role which needs doing so they seem start from the – what kind of kit do we need to put on a frigate/ destroyer to do that? Rather than ask ‘do we need a frigate or destroyer to do that’?

Army reasoning = We need armour to tackle MBTs, so what kind of MBT do we need to do that?

October 29, 2012 3:21 pm

Simon 257

They equally might not be there because of cost. – Back to my chocolate Chally 2…

October 29, 2012 3:44 pm


Unfortunately, Sad but True.

When GKN Sankey designed the Warrior. Didn’t they propose a variant fitted with a 105mm Gun or something similar, for close support work?

October 29, 2012 3:46 pm

I dont know why they are not there. It is interesting that the US doesn’t seem to have MBTs in Helmand either. The Danes operate in an AO with plenty of desert so they have a good roam. I can see arguments for and against to be honest. The main benefit the MBTs bring are their optics. But you don’t need a monster MBT just to mount good optics.

And to be honest, we massively overmatch the Taliban as it is fire power wise. I think the effects in terms of firepower would be marginal and confined to small areas.

October 29, 2012 3:54 pm

Simon 257

Yes they did, and in the era of 60,000 T/whatevers due to come storming over the German plains, it was received with a thunderous silence.

I still thing the 105 light gun is man enough for most visual fire support jobs, and commonality makes it shoe in for the job. If the abbot could carry it so could a low profile warrior hull. and ammunition commonality would be a big help – no new calibres etc. stick a box of some serious anti tank missiles on it and it would do 90% of what we actually use tanks for an a big chunk less cost. It’s the other 10% that I worry about.

October 29, 2012 3:56 pm

There we go then! Like I say I can see that there could be some logical arguments for leaving them at home. And with ROE they don’t add quite as much as you’d think in firepower as you might think. I would like to see the official reason why they aren’t there though.

October 29, 2012 4:17 pm


It’l be better than your Chocolate Chally though?

October 29, 2012 4:52 pm

: the official reason would be “they are not needed”, followed by the swift scrubbing of those MOD articles about how helpful the Dane’s were being with their tanks.

Unofficially, it’s probably more that the light infantry mafia would prefer to give the impression that tanks are obsolete, and a CR2 squadron might puncture that impression :-)

October 29, 2012 5:25 pm

The Danish tanks (called Alpha Troop if you’re interested) operate in the old NES(N) AO around Gereshk, I’m not aware of how often they move out of that area. But seeing as NES(N) was a combined DA, GBR AO with DA lead then the tanks were employed as per the AOs CO as fit. We used them a few times and they’d nearly always escort the CLPs to the FOB but they couldn’t use the bridge and stayed out in the desert on overwatch.

Unless they can get up onto elevated terrain they are not useful in the most kinetic areas which are areas of fields and compounds. Useful out in the desert but then we had or have a Sqn of CVRT out there around Route 601 doing a job the Danes have no equivalent vehicle with which to do it with and so use Leapords.

I’m agnostic really as to the utility of CR2 in Helmand. Useful in the desert but has only marginal firepower advantages over CVRT or Warrior and next to useless in built up terrain given the ROEs and hearts and mind stuff which tend to take a beating when you drive 70 tons of armoured beast over 54 villages yearly income.

October 29, 2012 6:42 pm

Hmm… wonder if the desire for heavier armour is reflective of sensitivity to troop losses. The Danes have never lost personel at the rate/numbers that some other countries are used to. So maybe we’re looking at it backwards, the heavy armour isn’t there to defeat the enemy but to provide a safer working environment for their troops.

Despite the road to greater firepower as compensation for lack of armour, one thing still bugs me. The concept was never given a live fire test. 2 of the 3 solutions were ATGMs, and IIRC, a CR2 was pelted by dozens of anti-tank rockets without cracking in GWII, including a MILAN, so there is a serious chance that it might not work. If ATGMs can’t cut it, there’s only the 155mm left, and that’s an artillery piece, not an anti-tank gun. It’s the best we could come up with for the air mobile side, but it might not be enough. The main body of the army got the Leo2s for an mutual MBT headbutting if it devolves to that, it’s the forward deployed guys that get screwed if their anti-MBT measures don’t work.

For Afganistan though, unless the Taliban somehow got a squadron of MBTs over the border, I’d say using CVR(T)s is pretty safe. And if they did get MBTs over the border, killing them would be the least of your problems, CAS can handle them, the border loophole would be a greater worry.

Mike W
October 29, 2012 6:59 pm

“I’m agnostic really as to the utility of CR2 in Helmand. Useful in the desert but has only marginal firepower advantages over CVRT or Warrior.”

Would you care to explain that comment in a little mpore detail, young man? 120 mm versus 30 mm. Only “marginal advantages”? Seems a no brainer to me.

I’m not even sure that I agree with your comment about their next to uselessness in built-up terrain? Can understand it if you think that Helmand is a very special case because of “hearts and minds” etc. but as a general principle, MBTs are considered invaluable in urban “FIBUA”-type situations, aren’t they? The Russians found that out to their cost as far back as the Second World War, when they sent infantry into urban situations without armoured support and came to the conclusion that they needed far more of an “all-arms” approach.

October 29, 2012 7:00 pm

Personally I think it comes from having an AO that includes a good bit of desert and not having large numbers of other types of AFVs like Maistiff or CVRT.

I know 120mm is a big gun, but its effectiveness against what amounts to light infantry is marginal over 30mm HE, Javelin, 40mm GMG, mortar, GMLRS, air support and other weapon systems, especially when you add in the fact that the 120mm is severely restricted in its usage and is effectively useless across a lot of the terrain because it cannot be bought to bare without driving over crops and fields and churning up the countryside.

To cover the areas CR2 would be useful in we have Mastiff, CVRT and WARRIOR which already have good optics and have overwhelming firepower advantages over the Taliban as is. And Mastiff arguably offers as much IED protection as an MBT for all intents and purposes.

October 29, 2012 7:07 pm

You’re fighting light infantry Mike. Armed at best with RPGs. The suite of weapons out there now can smash that threat to bits ten times over. And in areas CR2 can’t reach or bring its firepower to bear on. You’re thinking in absolute terms. Which is incorrect.

We have hundreds of vehicles that are well armoured against RPGs and also IEDs that have more than enough firepower to defeat the threat and can go places CR2 can’t. Just his much value would CR2 add? Other than in the hard on length of Internet fan bois?

And don’t call me young man. I’m not young anymore.

October 29, 2012 7:09 pm

I think that at a basic level the desire for the additional 20 tonnes of armour comes from the idea that the user is sitting in a metal box full of propellant and high explosive and people will be shooting it with the biggest guns they can get their hands on. If that 20 tonnes can give the user some confidence then you get a more effective unit.

If you could afford to tailor your vehicle to suit the situation it is deployed in then that could be valuable. A 40t base vehicle that can be expanded to 70t depending on the situation would be good.
Modular armour, distributed and modular powerplants on a hybrid drive system, fuel tanks to match the powerplants, use different charges in the gun to stress the platform less depending on the all-up weight. Maybe have different length gun barrels, change the stowage capacity (smaller charges when you are not going tank-on-tank, fewer main armament rounds but more co-ax)

It should be possible to use this modularity to use some of the same systems such as drive train, motors and powerplants to create similarly sized and modular APCs, IFVs RRVs or whatever other TLAs may be required.

October 29, 2012 7:11 pm

And Mike. I’m talking about Helmand. Yes in FIBUA where full use can be made of that 120mm HE lobber then yes, MBTs are very welcome indeed.

October 29, 2012 7:59 pm

: the Canadians reported getting good use out of Leo I and II in forcing their way into compounds and over obstacles via main gun or just weight :-)

But yes, of limited use in Helmand. Kandahar, another matter I suspect

October 29, 2012 8:15 pm

I don’t doubt the efficacy of the MBT when the context allows its advantages to be exploited fully.

October 29, 2012 8:36 pm

You’re really talking assault guns or infantry tanks here, not tanks / main battle tanks.

October 29, 2012 8:43 pm

There’s no essential difference.

Mike W
October 29, 2012 9:05 pm


Thanks for the interesting replies.

“And Mike. I’m talking about Helmand.”

Yes’ I thought you were talking about that specific context from your previous comments. Your point about fighting light infantry is well taken, as is the following point: “I know 120mm is a big gun, but its effectiveness against what amounts to light infantry is marginal over 30mm HE, Javelin, 40mm GMG, mortar, GMLRS, air support and other weapon systems”.

However, I don’t think that I was wrong to think/argue in absolute terms. Although he gave specific examples of the use of the tank in various campaigns, the main thrust of TD’s post was about the use and future of the MBT in a broad, general sense, wasn’t it?

Sorry about the use of the appellation “young man”! I’m so used to playful badinage, that I forget sometimes that it does not amuse in some cases.

October 29, 2012 9:14 pm

No it’s fine really it was just me misinterpreting your tone.

I broadly agree with TD. The MBT is a useful weapon when used correctly but they are no panacea and Helmand shows how their efficacy can be limited by the context they have to operate in.

As to tank vulnerability in the future to ATGWs. Used properly in concentrations and with combined arms I think enough will survive to be useful. When thinking about how vulnerable they are we must again take in the context, combat is incredibly costly to the attacker and taking heavy losses doesn’t necessarily mean the concept is bad just that such losses are intrinsic and inevitable.

Mike W
October 29, 2012 10:21 pm


“As to tank vulnerability in the future to ATGWs. Used properly in concentrations and with combined arms I think enough will survive to be useful.”

I’m not so far removed from that opinion myself. Of course, in the absence of ATGWs held by the opposition (admittedly a situation not likely to be encounted that often), I would imagine that in a tank on tank battle, sophisticated Western MBT like the Challlenger 2 would be more than enough to see off opposition MBTs, which in most of the contingencies or conflicts we are likely to encounter, would certainly be inferior vehicles. We are not likely to encounter Leopard 2s or M1s.

In fact, there was a skirmish (not much publicised) between about a dozen Challlengers and some Iraqi tanks somewhere south of Baghdad. There were only about a dozen Challengers involved but they routed the greater number of opposition tanks in next to no time. I wish I could find the reference to it but do not have the time tonight.

And what about the sheer ability of something of the size and power of the Challenger to instill public order in a situation? Apparently in Iraq, the mere sight of a large MBT positioned at a crossroads was often enough to bring about such order.

October 29, 2012 10:36 pm

It depends. CR2 on the attack against dug in enemy MBTs will take probably heavy losses. It’s the nature of the attack against a broadly peer enemy sadly.

I know about the skirmish but I believe that it turned out the Iraqi tanks were probably not manned.

As for tanks being intimidating. It’s a one shot thing suitable only for the general public in a public order scenario. It wouldn’t take long for the effect to wear off and the enemy to start trying to crawl over the things or move about under the MBTs arcs if it did not have support.

I really can’t see the role for a big, heavy, well armoured, well armed, mobile battle wagon diminishing for a very long time indeed. It combines what you need on the battlefield, a dirty great big death machine combining endurance, weight and fire-power that is just looking for half a chance to kill you in a number of nasty ways.

Mount a flamethrower on a CR2 and you have a monster FIBUA, fortified bunker weapon.

Mike W
October 29, 2012 10:53 pm


A great reply. Thanks very much.

“I really can’t see the role for a big, heavy, well armoured, well armed, mobile battle wagon diminishing for a very long time indeed.”

Well, that’s re-assuring! I thought from the way you were arguing thatyour views were rather different from that!

Flamethrowers are against the Geneva convention, aren’t they? (Although I’ve no doubt that, if a major European war were ever to break out again, they would be used.)

Sorry, no more time tonight but the exchanges have been most interesting.

October 29, 2012 10:55 pm

“Phil says:
October 29, 2012 at 20:43

There’s no essential difference.”

I thought mankind had left that idea behind decades ago.

The differences are huge. It’s late, so only a short list:
* importance of road range is different
* importance of fire on the move is different
* importance of automotive reliability is different
* importance of ability to cross bridges is different
* importance of automated target pattern detection or automated target tracking features is different
* importance of rate of fire is vastly different
* importance of ammunition load is different
* importance of traverse is different

MBTs need to be suitable for mobile warfare, while assault guns / infantry tanks do not need to be so. The demands placed on an assault gun-like tank can be satisfied by a Centurion with improvised slat armour.
The demands placed on a MBT on the other hand can -depending on doctrine – exceed even what a Challenger2 is capable of.

October 29, 2012 10:58 pm

A peer enemy would not kill tanks from the ground in such a case he who has air dominance wins. That’s why it’s unlikely we’ll ever see a peer tank on tank engagement. It’s why we bought apache and brimstone after all.

John Hartley
John Hartley
October 29, 2012 10:59 pm

If you want to smash the defences of an enemy country, hit it with Tomahawk/Storm Shadow cruise missiles, then laser guided bombs, followed by Apache gunships,MLRS & 155mm artillery, but to prove to the regime & inhabitants that they are conquered, you need your tanks on the lawn of their presidential palace, like the Vietcong did in Saigon in 1975, with T54/55.
(Is that sentance longer?).
There is no point in having some super wonder weapon stuck in Britain. You need something deployable. The Vickers Mk3M, 39 tons, 105mm gun, or EE-2 Osorio, 44 tons, 120mm gun. A modern version of these would be good. Medium armour by itself is vulnerable, but if backed up by helicopter gunships, it is pretty much unstoppable.

October 29, 2012 11:02 pm

NVA not VC. :)

mick 346
mick 346
October 29, 2012 11:39 pm

@ Mike W

“MBTs are considered invaluable in urban “FIBUA”-type situations, aren’t they? The Russians found that out to their cost as far back as the Second World War, when they sent infantry into urban situations without armoured support and came to the conclusion that they needed far more of an “all-arms” approach.”

I thought built up areas was one of the main places you didn’t want to put your tank?

October 30, 2012 2:10 am

It would depend on situation and doctrine, as like all things. Some countries would throw the tank in to provide mobile cover for infantry moving in (Israel), some would go infantry 1st with tanks as mobile support guns (Most western countries), and of course, it would all depend on the amount of anti-tank weapons the enemy has.


Siege tank (/Assault gun) and cruiser tank (/Tank destroyer) is a very, very old classification system that went out of use with the MBT since they combine the broadly similar firepower of the siege tank with the 105/120mm gun and the cruising capabilities of the cruiser tank. Don’t think any army has ever created a new assault gun in decades, maybe even before the Vietnam War. The closest thing I can think of to a modern siege tank are CEVs with their monster demolition gun (usually 165mm IIRC), but that is a demolition vehicle, not infantry support. An MBT firing HESH is enough to make life living hell for any infantry in fortifications. Having the wall you’re hiding behind start spewing high velocity rock shards is never good news.

October 30, 2012 3:46 am

Was watching that series ‘Our War’ earlier.

I think those guys (Welsh Guards) might have enjoyed a bit of Challenger fire support. With their sat comms busted they had no way of communicating back to next echelon of command to call in air support or even helicopters.

Having challengers close by would have made a hell of a difference for those guys. With the ability provide precision 120mm fires, two additional medium machine guns and the ability to act as a moving bullet magnet during their casualty extraction, not to mention the ability to lay covering smoke would have gone a long way.

I’ve worked with soldiers who have seen service in Iraq post-invasion and they couldn’t speak highly enough of the Challenger. HESH rounds being used to demolish structures (the shockwave carries through simple buildings and almost literally shakes them to pieces) being used as firing points was a common story, as was using APFSDS rounds to hit targets behind thick walls that even 30mm rounds from an Apache couldn’t penetrate.

The firepower argument has to be put in perspective. Is a 120mm HESH round as effective as a 155mm artillery round? Maybe, maybe not. But the HESH round can be fired with a degree of precision that the 155 cannot. It can be called for using short range radios or even hand signals, and has a much quicker reaction time, while achieveing a high degree of persistence, plus the ability to add additional machine gun fire when needed, fire that almost cannot be suppressed by the insurgents.

October 30, 2012 5:53 am

Provided you got enough Challengers to assign 2 per infantry patrol, and that infantry isn’t going to go through gullies or alleys.

I can forsee the counter argument though. Wouldn’t a Warrior firing 30mm give the same effect seeing as the opposition doesn’t have much to effectively counter tanks? Worst case, you drive closer before letting lose a burst of rounds.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m pro-MBT, more or less, but they do have a point in terms of effectiveness. If the enemy can’t shoot through either Warrior or Challenger armour, then killing them is just a matter of driving to the right location.

October 30, 2012 6:41 am

You’d have to ration the tanks – in no less than troop size – to the areas decided to be in most need and where the effect was most useful. Realistically, if you’re sending Challengers you’re probably sending Warriors as well, as opposed to an either/or situation. So it’s not a case of “do we send this or that asset”, it’s a case of sending all the assets you can afford to spare, rotations considered.

Much of the combat operations appear to be taking place in relatively flat terrain, but that’s one of the things I’d assume they’d look into as to who gets what assets.

Not sure a 30mm cannon is going to deliver the same effect as a 120mm round though.

October 30, 2012 7:55 am

Chris I don’t disagree that a CR2 would have helped their immediate situation but as I have said the trouble is they can’t get to a lot of the most kinetic areas without literally destroying the infrastructure and land. Even TDs example shows the DA tanks were placed on high ground. That can’t always happen and even then the insurgent can still find cover. Iraq was far more urban and had fat better roads and CR2 was consequently far more mobile and far more useful. Also Iraqi weapons were potentially a lot more of a threat to AFVs.

Instead of CR2 we have hundreds of other AFVs with weapon suites more than capable of smashing the enemy along with mortars, GMLRs, air support, Apache and EXACTOR. 2009 was a different environment. Arguably CR2 would have been more useful then when we cared less about hearts and minds and had less infrastructure in place.

SO whatever your theoretical distinctions and definitions the fact is the world has left those concepts far behind. A modern MBT is useful enough

Mike W
October 30, 2012 8:04 am

@Mick 346

“I thought built up areas was one of the main places you didn’t want to put your tank?”

Hi, Mick. Are you using “your” as a possessive adjective referring to my personal opinion? Or are you perhaps using it impersonally, referring to a more generally received opinion among experts or others?

If it is the former, in which particular sentence have I expressed that view? I can see none. The view that armour should not be a part of an all-arms approach to urban warfare is one I certainly do not hold.

John Hartley
John Hartley
October 30, 2012 8:39 am

OK, not a tank, but for infantry support in places like Afghanistan, I think it a shame we do not have a few updated 16 ton Abbots with their 105mm guns.

October 30, 2012 8:40 am

Send in just AFVs you’re looking at annihilation. Send in just infantry you’re looking at very, very heavy casualties indeed. Send in both into urban terrain in a fight you’re just looking at very heavy casualties for both.

October 30, 2012 9:00 am

Abbots would have precisely the same problems.

There is a perfectly good way of delivering suppression and precision fires in Helmand: Apache. Expensive as hell but c’est la guerre.

October 30, 2012 9:11 am

They were let down by the whole idea of trying to fight two medium + campaigns without remotely resourcing them properly. I remember reading SDR and how we’d do two medium campaigns and now I realise it was , like so much in government circles, empty bollocks. 2009/10 was a watershed in Afghan, when we finally took it seriously as a country and a coalition.

We were out in the arse end of nowhere in the upper gereshk valley and we had a troop of Scimitars for a week once and the Danish tanks for a few days and when they came up on a CLP but we had no comms problems other than the radios dropping their fill just before patrols.

Shitty state of affairs and one that goes right to the very top.

paul g
October 30, 2012 10:16 am

with regard to abbots, as we are not going to upgrade all of the warriors to the 40mm CTA, why not purchase some cockerill ct-cv turrets. They have been mentioned on here before, however they do tick a few boxes. Able to use all current 105mm ammo, direct fire capability indirect also, thanks to a 42 degree elevation on the barrel and the icing on the cake ATGW up to 5km, the big plus with that is the abilit to engage and reload the ATGW missile under armour.

You could have a sqn attached to a warrior unit for overwatch (although arguing which capbadge would crew it would be fun, ie RA or RAC). and you have a common vehicle platform.

there is a video on the link

October 30, 2012 11:53 am

Assault guns / infantry tanks and MBTs/medium tanks/heavy tanks have distinct tactical requirements, and to ignore this difference means to talk superficially about hardware, ignoring its use.
To talk of infantry support (by a handdful of tnaks, not even at least a company) means to talk of the future of assault gun tactics, not about the future of (MB)tank tactics.
Being blunt as usual; it’s ignorant to mix both up. You can do assault gun tactics with a MBT (although not necessarily), but iut’s a very different beast and it would be a waste to procure a high-end MBT with the sole intent of infantry support.

“Mark says:
October 29, 2012 at 22:58

A peer enemy would not kill tanks from the ground in such a case he who has air dominance wins. That’s why it’s unlikely we’ll ever see a peer tank on tank engagement. It’s why we bought apache and brimstone after all.”

This is a popular view, and at the same time totally wrong in all but desert terrain. If nothing else, clever and adequately survivable battlefield air defences coupled with its ability to provoke strike packages and the tank troops’ ability to hide much of the day and night mean that the idea of destroying tank brigades from the air is totally dependent on having NO peer opponent or at least on having desert terrain.

Other words:
Fighter-bomber arrives over battlefield in flight, flight doesn’t survive air defences.

Fighter-bomber squadron arrives over battlefield as part of a strike package involving dozens of other aircraft, air defences stop emitting radiation or play with SEAD aircraft. Ground forces hide.

Strike package arrives AND friendly ground troops engage hostiles on the ground at the same time = ground battle with some air power influence (and very difficult to arrange).

Only Iraqis are stupid enough to march with a tank army over desert dirt roads in face of thousands of modern opposition aircraft and guarded only by 60s and 70s ShorAD.
Peer and stupid like that does not fit together. We’re not THAT dumb.

October 30, 2012 12:03 pm

Actually Phil, the Israelis seem to have had a bit of success with using MBTs in MOUT during Cast Lead, and there does seem to be a push towards urban tank combat with things like TUSK (Tank Urban Survival Kit) et al.

Chris, your infantry patrol is starting to look more like a recce in force with a combat team. Phil is correct in that tanks do tear up a lot of real estate, not to mention when one drives by, you literally eat sand, which does little to endear people to you.

When I was in Thailand for training, a water truck with spray nozzles had to go before armoured vehicles to wet the ground so that huge clouds of dust won’t be kicked up by the passing vehicles. Reason for that was the staggering number of complaints from the dust kicked up by the people living there. It was cheaper to “flush money” than pay compensation in the long run.

As forward recce assigned to armour, I can safely say that a lot of the terrain I hoof over would be totally impassible to most vehicles. Trail bikes would have a chance. Not much else would.

TD, poor infantry are already carrying close to the weight limit. Carrying spares as well makes poor infantryman sad faced. :(

That being said, it does seem interesting that some high profile sticky situations do seem to result from comm problems, one that comes to mind most glaringly was Bravo 2-0. Was just wondering if an hourly comms check might be a good idea, both for HQ to monitor your unit progress and to keep an eye on the comms status. The Sec Com doesn’t even have to be involved, ask your radioman to do it for you. It becomes a habit. Just a warning in practice. DON’T ask all your teams to check in at xx:00hrs, you’ll flood the comms. Stagger them at xx:00, xx:15, xx:30, xx:45.

October 30, 2012 12:06 pm

One would humbly suggest the problem in Helmand is the Army having to do with a platoon (often under strength) what the Americans do with a company. (Their companies are larger 3 x rifle platoons plus heavy weapons platoon too.) The lack of organic firepower is just another problem on top.

October 30, 2012 12:17 pm

Observer. I’m not saying tanks are bad in FIBUA. I’m just saying heavy casualties are intrinsic to that type of fighting. It’s common to see heavy casualties equated to poor performance or vulnerability when it is simply the gruesome cost of doing business.

x that was a massive problem until 2009 when the Brit AO was massively reduced and force density rose dramatically. I don’t take the criticism of lack of organic fire power. We have it in spades on just a normal patrol, on an op synchronised with additional fire assets like GMLRS and booking an Apache cab or two we are unstoppable frankly as long as the commander accepts the risks of not being stop. That will depend on the man and the mission.

Peter Elliott
October 30, 2012 12:26 pm

@ Phil

It kind of begs the question what the fuck did we think we were up to in Afghan from 2001-2009?

AFAIK no-one in either the government or the armed forces has yet been held accountable for that mismatch between situation and resources.

October 30, 2012 12:31 pm

Yes it does. We seem to have been wildly optimistic in 2006 when we entered Helmand. And when we realised the shit had hit the fan there was nothing in the cupboard to send because it was in Iraq. Thus in my view there was a disinclination to believe that Helmand was a massive shit storm and it wasn’t going to quieten down after a few rotations.

This is why the problem was so high up. With hindsight the focus should always have been on Afghan and containing Iraq.

October 30, 2012 12:32 pm


That doctrine went out in the 1960s. You want blunt? You’re 50 years behind. Modern MBTs can do both roles and tankers are trained for both situations, sticking to an either/or solution is a wasteful proposition especially when you can dual role your equipment and training. What do you think Mech. Infantry/Armoured Cav is if not armour and infantry working together?

You’d end up with, as an example, 50 assault guns and 50 tank destroyers, which means only half your force is available for either dedicated anti-structure or anti-tank roles, as opposed to 100 dual role MBTs which means that 100% of your force can be brought to bear on a specific task provided that they don’t have to do both simultanously, assuming a 1:1 replacement. This doesn’t even take into account the extra logistical pressure a second type of vehicle would take.

I find most of your “analysis” totally undeserving of the word, and more of a fanboy rant than a considered evaluation of tactics, strategy and logistics. I’m still /facepalming at your old suggestion that 100% of the army should be out in the field with no fortifications or secure base of resupply because to do otherwise would be “timidity”. Bullsh-t. Your army won’t last 7 nights in the field. I personally know how easy it is to infiltrate a field camp of tired people at night, and how much trouble a simple wall or lit fence can be to lightly equiped small teams.

You bring to mind that old saying on the people who study tactics and those who study logistics.

October 30, 2012 12:42 pm

Ah, I see. I agree, FIBUA (now called MOUT) is bad business all around. The old rule of thumb against a peer enemy was that you needed 5 men for every one the enemy had for a decisive victory if he was fighting in a city, 3:1 for fortified areas. And expect to lose 1/3 to 1/2 of them. I expect the numbers only went up with the new MOUT tactics to minimise civilian casualties. I’m still a bit nostalgic for the old days, where clearing a room in FIBUA simply involved chucking a grenade in first or failing that, unloading 100 rounds full auto into a room from a window and waiting for the ricochets to stop bouncing. Much more fun and undoubtedly safer for the men, but sucks if you were a civilian in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Friendly fire? What’s that? :P

Just joking on the last, but more restrictive ROEs = more casualties.

October 30, 2012 12:55 pm

MOUT is a crass Americanism. I’ll meet you in the middle with OBUA.

October 30, 2012 1:08 pm

I’m still in favour of FIBUA. Operations in Built Up Areas to me sounds like the description of a hospital. :P

Go ahead and use OBUA though, my mind’s not so fosilized that I’m ready to use it as building material yet, I’ll just substitute FIBUA when I see OBUA. :)

October 30, 2012 1:14 pm

@Observer:”The old rule of thumb against a peer enemy was that you needed 5 men for every one the enemy had for a decisive victory if he was fighting in a city, 3:1 for fortified areas.”

That rule of thumb is nonsense unless you strive for total control of the city. That’s not going to happen in many modern megacities anyway, though.

About the previous rant:
You don’t seem to get it. I didn’t talk about splitting the force like that. It happens naturally by using old MBTs as support tanks.
I know that MBTs can usually do many assault gun/infantry tanks (though not necessarily) and wrote the same. You’re basically discussing against a strawman, for you simply don’t get what I wrote about.

To discuss the employment of MBTs in a support tank role does not mean to discuss the future of MBTs (what’s usually meant with “tanks”). It means to discuss the future of infantry tanks.
MBT tactics require a lot more mobility and endurance. MBTs are usually required to defeat other MBTs head-on as well, something you don’t need in a support tank.

I’m hardly decades behind; the truth is rather that the Cold War lead to such a focus on MBTs that the West (not so much the Soviets) neglected the infantry support component.
Post-2002 we modified said MBTs to serve better as infantry tanks, and now many people overemphasize infantry tank tactics.

The way to go is to have the clarity of discerning both tactics, their different requirements and then look at the hardware with this in mind.
Even old MBTs can be decent infantry tanks, but the MBT of the future is not going to be defined by infantry tank optimization.

Besides, it’s not the West and its stupid occupation wars that defines modern MBTs. It’s the East and South Asians who actually still build hundreds of MBTs every year and add more new types than the whole of NATO.

Thank god we now know that the armies of 19th and 20th century wars eliminated each other by exploiting that troops living in the field cannot survive at night in camp after a few weeks of campaigning.
Or not.
(See? I can do strawman as well. It’s not hard. Want more?)

October 30, 2012 2:01 pm

: I’m not following you re Iraq. In 2006, Afghan was a backwater with minimal UK involvement, while Iraq had a brigade plus in residence. Surely, since we couldn’t cope with two medium wars, why not finish Iraq, then move to Afghanistan?

Our top brass failed to understand the dynamics of Iraq and put in the effort to evolve and improve, so decided to run away as fast as possible to somewhere where they could “win”. The fact they lacked the moral courage to admit their Iraq strategy had failed, ask for reinforcements and adapt the way the US did says much about them.

In the end, the US showed that Iraq could be “won”, while Afghanistan will likely revert to it’s pre-2001 state of partition, with the Taliban ruling the south when we leave. Doubtless it will then rapidly revert to looking as it was….

October 30, 2012 2:16 pm

@ wf

I think you can put down the end of British involvement in Iraq down to certain members of the Labour Government. They were to busy fighting amongst themselves for control of Number 10. Which to them, was obviously more important than fighting the War in Iraq!

October 30, 2012 2:16 pm

Because we and presumably ISAF were wildly optimistic about what Helmand was going to be like. And once we were in we were in. The answer is likely to be the most simplest, Helmand was going to be a non complex, non enduring medium (-) operation.

It wasn’t.

And it took some time to realise that the fighting wasn’t going to be transient and it wasn’t just going to be a case of breaking the back of the resistance. We started Afghan with fundamentally false assumptions about the risk probably informed by the fact that we’d had a presence in Afghan for 4 years previously that I don’t think fired a shot.

October 30, 2012 2:30 pm

Concerning AFV vs MBT: Merkava, anyone? As much information as you’ll ever need here:

Internally mounted 60mm mortar’d be useful in OBUA. And the rear compartment?

“This compartment has now been used as: a medical operating theater (Tankbulance), a forward command and control center, a UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) control tower, an ELINT forward operating office, an air-to-ground FAC (Forward Air Control) station and a forward battle field command post. If this rear tank compartment contained armed infantry, then up to 10 fully combat soldiers could be carried & the clam-shell door would allow for deploying these soldiers while on the move under combat conditions and taking fire.”

October 30, 2012 2:49 pm

I personally don’t think infantry should be mounted under effective enemy fire ever. You don’t win against a proper enemy by driving through their positions. You win by dismounting and clearing them.

October 30, 2012 3:14 pm

Dunno on the mounted while under fire part. I can see some situation dependent use as a breacher vehicle in FOFO, but that’s fairly unorthodox tactics. Whatever works I guess, and in a wire heavy, trench heavy area, I can see some advantage in rolling right up to a trench, spread some suppressive and unloading your AI right into the trench itself. Still unconventional but it sure beats setting up a bangalore torpedo under fire then charging in or facing a long trench network without a flank to turn.

Myco, depends on the type of buildings. Really tall ones would block the motar shot , and it’s incredibly hard to drop a motar round between two streets as it comes down at a slant, more likely to hit the edges of the buildings. Best case use would be down the street that you are on. And if that’s the case, you might as well fire HEAP. The 60mm motars historically were best used in open terrain to root out Sagger teams on reverse slopes.

October 30, 2012 3:46 pm

I think against a determined enemy you won’t have the option of dismounting on the objective. You either fight your way there or don’t get near it. We’ve been lucky for a long time not to go up against a truly peer enemy because a lot of our more daring escapades of recent years would have become infamous for our defeats. Thunder Runs for example, we’d have never got away with that against a determined enemy.

We used to believe that Soviet mounted tactics would have been suicide against our prepared positions and kill zones. We’d fare no better doing it ourselves.

October 30, 2012 4:21 pm

I do think you MIGHT have the chance, but it’s an incredibly high risk kind of thing which you might want to try if you have absolutely no choice left. I can think of so many ways it can go south, worst case being someone in a position with a SAW for a shot when the rear doors go down. Instant blender. Or simply running over an IED/anti-tank mine, or having con.wire tangled into the drivewheels, or just nosing straight into the trench itself (the AT ditch is still one of the most effective barriers to tanks).

It’s POSSIBLE. Just don’t think it should be done casually or as a first option. It’s like gambling. You MIGHT have a chance to double your money… or get stuck with an ugly butcher’s bill.

October 30, 2012 4:23 pm

: the interesting point about the Iraq Thunder Run’s both small and large about how many of them involved tank to tank combat, as well as well prepared fixed positions pre-seeded with ammunition of all sorts. Doesn’t this qualify as determined opposition?

I suspect the reason many of the urban armoured engagements worked is because when the terrain was fairly open the US/UK had better optics, and when the range was short they had better armour.

BTW, all those prepared kill zones really wouldn’t have worked against the Soviets. However many we would have killed, they could afford to send more, backed up by KGB troops happy to shoot anyone displaying the wrong attitude.

Swimming Trunks
Swimming Trunks
October 30, 2012 4:24 pm

RE: Assault gun. The BAE Charger concept is interesting; looks like a Stug with 120mm gun-mortar(?) and VL missiles.

Similar to this idea for an assault gun-mortar:

October 30, 2012 4:48 pm

No it doesn’t count as a determined enemy in my book. I am talking about an aggressive, cohesive, angry enemy, well organised and well lead ie a peer enemy. An equivalent would be fighting the Germans in WWII.

They are going to try and infiltrate your convoys, split you up and block your escape routes by channelling you into complex 3D ambushes and they will try and finish the job and let nobody but stragglers back out. They’ll move around you and defeat you in detail if you are not adequately supported. The Chechens even managed it in 1995.

The kill zones would have worked well, there is no reason why NATO couldn’t pull off what every well dug in defender has done and inflicted massive losses on the enemy. The Soviets had depth and that was their advantage. The kill zones would have worked fine but if the echelons could not have been separated Soviet depth would have eventually penetrated. But there was an awful lot of scope to attrit the Soviets, they’d have suffered stupendous losses.

And then, when they finally got through the balloon would have really gone up.

October 30, 2012 6:05 pm

“They’ll always have more” sounds more like a computer hack than a real military force structure. :) GW2 was pretty much a foregone conclusion even before the first tank rolled out, the coalition had such an advantage in air superiority and sheer numbers that it was almost impossible to lose. Definately not the peer enemy in Phil’s estimation.

Though on a more honest note, peer opposition capable of facing down any repeat of the coalition is rather scanty on the ground at the moment.

October 30, 2012 6:15 pm

I am at work so cant find my references, but will post tonight when I get home – this weekend I downloaded a podcast from the Institute for Strategic Studies (I think – look for it in iTunes University) on the British Army 2020 – it was a talk by the General who did the majority of the work, who’s name now escapes me, but you all know who I mean !

Anyway, he comments on the most complex threat envisaged for FF2020 and the use of armour.

1. Threat – a highly motivated, highly trained, non-state actor (militia) supported by a “near peer” state in a “hybrid war” scenario (I am thinking Israel versus Hamas when I hear that)- hence:

2. Core of the deployable force – Armoured Infantry on Warrior, and apropos to this discussion:

3. Use of Tanks – no GW1 style tank on tank highly mobile manoeuvre warfare projected in the threat matrix, but tanks highly integrated in battle groups to provide infantry with supporting fires

He even mentions a newly sized tank regiment to make that easier – why a type 56 is easier to integrate into an infantry dominated battle group than a type 58 is completely beyond me, but what the hey…

So, to the comments of this thread, it appears the official view of the army is that tanks will be used in “high end” manourvre warfare, alongside armoured infantry in Warriors, against an enemy that probably wont have many, if any modern tanks, BUT will have modern ATGW / RPG and may have some tactical air power (for example Gazelles with wire guided ATGW ?). Tanks may also be used in what SO characterizes as “assault gun” mode, in direct fire support of infantry, and as the General makes specific mention of population densities across the globe, tanks will be used in Urban warfare.

If you think about it, in the above scenarios based on the defence planning assumptions, an upgraded Chally 2 with existing rifled gun requires a steady supply of HESH rounds, and the ability to manufacture / gain supply of, a top end long-rod kinetic energy penetrator for MBT v. MBT becomes somewhat moot – saving us the money of upgrading the gun (my god, it always leads back to money and the Treasury….)


October 30, 2012 6:16 pm

Yes indeed they thankfully are although I do wonder how hard the Serbs would have fought in Kosovo.

As long as the commanders on the ground keep a good idea of the dynamic levels of risk they are running we won’t have any more problems than is normal in combat.

But, if they start mindlessly pulling shit they could get away with against the Taliban or your average insurgent against what turns out to be a more competent and determined enemy they’re going to get a nasty slap.

October 30, 2012 6:19 pm


Very good point, which the General covers in the podcast I mention above – he notes we have lots of young leaders who now have “considerable combat experience” – but if we let their recent actions colour their perception of all possible combat scenarios, then we could end up in trouble.

Does that sound like the early Iraq _ “this is how we did it in Ireland” syndrome ? Sounds like we might actually have learnt an important institutional lesson !

October 30, 2012 6:20 pm

I would say that assumption is as good as any and quite realistic for the 2020 time frame. Although I would be loathe to put all the eggs in one basket as more traditional state threats can still emerge, for example Serbia or some sort of convoluted sequence of events that sees us drawn into somehow fighting Iranian forces or Syrian. Not likely at the moment, but it is a frightening fact that the international stage changes far faster than our western equipment plans and defence planning cycles.

Uncertainty remains my buzzword! Not least regarding what I am having for dinner!

October 30, 2012 6:25 pm

Oops crossing posts here.

Re: the institutional lessons.

I hope so. I am painfully aware that a lot of the Afghan combat experience is not applicable to higher end warfare and this is more the case the closer to the PBI you get.

So back end CSS/ CS functions are operating in a context that means they can take many lessons from Afghan and apply them in another more traditional combat setting. But in a high intensity operation infantry don’t only move in Afghan snakes and they don’t clear for mines all the time and they don’t patrol through urban areas unless they can help it and don’t lumber about slowly and ponderously with ECM and front and back body armour.

So the closer to the front end you get the fewer isomorphic learning opportunities they are. But, like you, I think we seem to have grasped this and there is a lot of talk now of the regenerating post Afghan capabilities which is a tacit admittance that we expect to do things differently in the future or rather go back to bread and butter contingency, more high end combat stuff.

Also, it is encouraging that PDT still includes building up from a conventional combat skills base. I am confident we are cognisant of the special nature of the Afghan campaign and think we are far more likely to forget to apply Afghan lessons in another Afghan scenario than apply Afghan lessons in a conventional setting. The first CR2 being brewed up would quickly focus minds on fire and manoeuvre!

October 30, 2012 7:20 pm

I think we are straying from the point here.

October 30, 2012 7:53 pm

I think we are straying from the point here.

Surely the questions TD is asking/answering are of a more of a general application than just Afghan.

The whole point of the MBT is that it replaced the whole plethora of infantry/cruser/ heav/light/medium/assault gun/ tank destroyer devices. It is a one size fits all vehicle, it came about because modern (as in late WW2 modern,) battle conditions demanded 40 ton plus armour and 80mm plus guns. Engine power and transmission technology finaly caught up and allowed for all that to be moved at a decent speed.

Experience showed that all those different vehicles looked good on paper but whenever the shooting started it all went to crap. Cruiser tanks ended up supporting infantry, infantry tanks had to take on enemy armour, tank destroyers ended up supporting infantry, or acting as assault guns, for the simple reason, the enemy was here and all we have is (insert wrong type of armoured vehicle). It is in that light Montgomery’s famous memo asking for the ‘Universal Tank’ should be read. Any replacement for the MBT has got to offer the ‘swiss army knife’:- Fire support/ Anti tank/ etc.

IMHO however the anti tank bit has come to dominate as in lots of armour and big specialised gun. this can restrict it utillity in other roles.

Lets face it if anti tank could be done easier, the MBT would look very different.

October 30, 2012 9:15 pm

@ Observer,

“Chris, your infantry patrol is starting to look more like a recce in force with a combat team”
— Not my infantry patrol. Theirs.

I’m not sure those terms have much meaning for those fellas. They were based out of an old fort. About 2km from the nearest artillery support and almost entirely reliant on one sat com unit for getting support from bastion while out on patrol. Mission = undefined.

Having Challengers to aid them, even just in overwatch would have made a significant difference to their operations. I don’t think it’s really a case of top trumps, which unit is best for providing support etc. We have Challengers, so it’s a question of whether they are worth being sent to the theatre and can they add anything.

I think they can.

October 30, 2012 9:26 pm


They’d have been just as well served by a WARRIOR or VIKING / WARTHOG or CVRT.

I tend to agree with the MoD on this one. We have hundreds of vehicles out there right now that over-match the enemy by a considerable degree. The Danish get some use out of their tanks but they employ them in exactly the same manner we have been employing our AFVs out there. And trust me, the Taliban aren’t afraid of kicking off right under the nose of 2x Leopards so they add nothing in the intimidation stakes.

And there isn’t very much manoeuvre space for them in the British AOs. The NES(N) AO the Danes are in and were in has a bridge strong enough to take the MBTs over the river around Gereshk and the geography is such they can sit out in the desert and cover the thin green zone from there.

October 30, 2012 10:00 pm

I guess it depends how many assets you have available. Warrior/Viking/anything with armour, mobility and a gun is an upgrade of sorts.

That’s where I’m headed with this. Is it really an either/or question, as in Warrior or Challenger, or should we be looking at both? We have them, so send them, kind of thing. Warrior over here, Challenger over there etc.

mick 346
mick 346
October 30, 2012 10:24 pm

@ Mike W

“MBTs are considered invaluable in urban “FIBUA”-type situations, aren’t they? The Russians found that out to their cost as far back as the Second World War, when they sent infantry into urban situations without armoured support and came to the conclusion that they needed far more of an “all-arms” approach.”

No my view on the subject is you don’t want to put tanks in built up areas, as the Germans found early on in ww2 and yet repeatedly made the same mistake.

Swimming Trunks
Swimming Trunks
October 30, 2012 11:34 pm

@Mick 346 – Was saving this for TD’s Urban warfare piece but what the hell…

October 31, 2012 1:25 am

Their patrol involves an infantry section on a walkround. Yours was an infantry section backed up by a pair of Challengers with Warriors in support. One’s a scouting sweep, the other is really recce in force, literally. (BTW, recce in force as a tactic, not a description).

2 of something won’t be enough, once you get started on adding stuff, you’ll end up adding more and more. My estimate is that once you add AFVs to the outpost, you’ll end up with ~4-6 units, 2 for your patrols, 2 on overwatch at base, and another 2 for patrol rotation, and since you’re at it, you might as well add 2-3 APCs for transport. 6 tanks and 3 APCs is an armoured combat team, not an infantry garrison. This turns outposts into a major force sinkhole, and you’ll never have enough for all your outposts, not to mention there is an easy counter. Hit those forts WITHOUT armour.

This is in addition to the massively increased logistics on the force. Infantry lives well on food, water, 5.56 rounds and grenades, with the occasional spare parts resup. Add Challenger and you need to add repair parts, lubricants, fuel, 120mm rounds, 7.62 rounds if your infantry doesn’t already use GPMGs (tanks eat those at an incredibly rate), on a dispersed force to boot. You’ll have much larger number of transports moving all over the place to supply all the outposts, which translates into more IED targets. That’s probably the reason you don’t even have Warriors/Hogs there, much less Challengers.

Easy to say “put a tank there”. Hard to keep up the supplies needed to turn the tank into something more than an armoured pillbox.

All in all, I still think Phil’s Apache overwatch is probably the most efficient, centralised logistics, speed enough to support multiple patrols at once, no need for extreme distance basing. Downside is a slower response time and inability to add mobility to unit on the ground. Provided your comms don’t F-up.


Common misconception. They keep chucking armour into FIBUA not because they like mistakes, but that they keep bumping into situations where they needed the tank in there, especially to demolish buildings that infantry keep hiding in.

As I mentioned earlier, the Israeli Op Cast Lead is an example of how armour in urban ops can play a very important part, and the TUSK kit for the Abrams does indicate the US thinks so too.

October 31, 2012 2:52 am

@ Observer,

“Their patrol involves an infantry section on a walkround. Yours was an infantry section backed up by a pair of Challengers with Warriors in support”
— Erm no.

I was infering that if you had Challengers and Warriors in theatre, then you would send a Challenger troop to one area, a Warrior platoon to another, spread the love (and fire support) so to speak.

What you would have would be a small infantry garrison with a little bit of armour for fire support. I suspect you wouldn’t routinely want the armour going out every time the infantry did, more used as a reactive back up or to provide overwatch for a very specific mission being conducted, that sort of thing.

“…not to mention there is an easy counter. Hit those forts WITHOUT armour”
— Fine. Put the armour where we need it most and leave outlying feint posts of more limited value unarmoured so to speak. Insurgents follow your tactics and go after the easy battles, leaving the key population centres where the war is won and lost undisturbed because of the presence of armour.

Somehow though I don’t think the enemy would be that accommodating.

“All in all, I still think Phil’s Apache overwatch is probably the most efficient, centralised logistics, speed enough to support multiple patrols at once, no need for extreme distance basing”
— That’s only if you’re looking at it from an either/or basis, as in ‘we can only afford to provide one kind of support’.

We have Challengers. And we have Warriors. And we have Apaches. The use of one does not mutually exclude the use of others. There’s no reason you couldn’t deploy vehicles to a number of hotspots – selected because they represent the best opportunity for deployment of said vehicles – and still have the Apaches in support.

October 31, 2012 7:37 am

Decentralising them would be difficult. A lot of the PBs are nothing more than 20 blokes in a mud hut living off compo. You could put them in the main FOBs with all the Mastifffs, Vikings, Warriors and CVRT if you understand what I’m saying.

I know I’m arguing against instinct but I think any CR2 capability would be a cost rather than a benefit since they’ll be confined to the main FOBs and roads, add nothing in mobility or firepower and the logistical effort to keep them going would be massive.

Patrols have lots of organic fire power, air support, AH support, vehicle support in areas they can get to, organic mortars, tube artillery GMLRs and EXACTOR. Considering we’re fighting blokes in sandals with at best RPGs I can see why they are not considered needed.

October 31, 2012 8:16 am

“I was infering that if you had Challengers and Warriors in theatre, then you would send a Challenger troop to one area, a Warrior platoon to another, spread the love (and fire support) so to speak.”

My bad, thought you meant intergrated organic patrol support. In this case though, if you were using the scenario earlier, it would have still caused the same result, it was comms that failed, so even having an armoured brigade in backup would not matter if you can’t call them either.

I still think a constant comms check would have been an easy solution to the problem, you would know quickly when you lose contact with your outpost and can decide to continue or turn back. After all, Phil has already pointed out, the firepower is there, you just need to call for it. Simple proceedure change which uses existing structures without adding cost, men or equipment.

BTW Phil, when you were out there, how often did patrols check in? If they already are doing hourly or bihourly comms check, then I’ll probably have to chalk it up to bad luck that comms went down just when they were attacked. Or very fiendish ECM. Somehow, I doubt the latter.

October 31, 2012 8:22 am

Patrols would be talking to higher almost constantly effectively by moving mortar x rays, receiving ICOMM and getting info from ISTAR assets and general progress and location reports. It was good practice to ensure higher knew where you were so there’d be a constant ‘that’s my call sign passing OQOB’ and ‘that’s my call sign at Compound 21’ etc etc

If they knew they had lost comms then they can turn back or accept the risk. I’d never second guess their decision on the day.

ECM. Not that.

October 31, 2012 8:48 am

Well in that case, no choice but to chalk it up to “shit happens”.

October 31, 2012 2:34 pm


a useful distinction today is between
– fully capable tank (modern MBT, for example)
– limited capability tank (previous generation MBT, for example)

Germans and British don’t have this duality (Germany had, though: Leo 1/M-48 and then Leo 2/Leo 1), but many others do.

It makes sense to remember that an old MBT that’s rather a liability in the MBT role can still be turned (easily!) into a viable infantry support tank.
This isn’t only important in regard to friendly inventories, but even more so concerning respect for seemingly obsolescent ‘red’ inventories.

Mike W
October 31, 2012 4:34 pm

mick 346

Sorry, have only just seen your reply.

I think you are adequately answered by Observer’s comment:

“Common misconception. They keep chucking armour into FIBUA not because they like mistakes, but that they keep bumping into situations where they needed the tank in there, especially to demolish buildings that infantry keep hiding in.”

I would also add the comment that modern kits such as TUSK, involving the fitting of add-on of armour suits (slat, reactive etc.), remote weapon turrets, flank skirts, sniper-firing hatches, infantry phones etc. etc. make the tank much, much better able to protect itself in modern urban warfare.

In my opinion too, the British Army (if it can afford it) should consider the fitting out of a few redundant Chally2s with that kind of kit, plus possibly removing the main 120 mm armament and substituting 1) a demolition charge projector (the French have one on their Engineer tank) and 2) some kind of cannon (quicker-firing and shorter barrel that the 120 mm). Now that would be a useful acquisition but I don’t suppose there’s a bean in any of the Treasury’s coffers!

Mike W
October 31, 2012 4:57 pm


So I’m not talking my usual bilge, then? Look forward to that then, TD.

October 31, 2012 4:57 pm

Didn’t the Germans have plans to mount AT missiles on the end of long hydraulic arms mounted in turn on tank hulls? A similar system would perhaps be a boon for a “tank” used in FIBUA scenarios. Lifting the gun (or whatever) up a storey or two, or allowing it reach over walls and other urban clutter.

October 31, 2012 5:20 pm

@ TD

Sorry. Compared to the intricacies and subtleties of naval warfare all this land stuff is pretty straightforward. :) ;)

Seriously one of things that has amazed me about Afghanistan is that the West hasn’t leveraged more technology to deal with those high walled compounds. There have been some efforts but not many.

October 31, 2012 5:37 pm

I think the idea originally goes back to the UK’s “Praying Mantis”.

October 31, 2012 5:54 pm

@x, @TD: it’s been done. M901 ITV :-)

October 31, 2012 6:05 pm

“Seriously one of things that has amazed me about Afghanistan is that the West hasn’t leveraged more technology to deal with those high walled compounds.”

Do we need to? We have plenty of bang bang stuff that comes in vertically.