The Tank is Dead, Long Live the Tank – Part 3 (Looking into the crystal ball)

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

To start with, a quote from Director Royal Armoured Corps;

Tanks are agile and well protected, have a first class direct fire precision strike capability (minimising collateral damage), can be utilised as a surveillance asset (in overwatch and route protection for clearance and logistic patrols), have permanence and, once deployed, are cheaper and quicker into action than both aviation and air. They also serve as a deterrent; highly effective in both the prevention of engagements as well as demonstrating a proven ability to bring about the early cessation of hostilities. Critically, and fundamental to effective deployment, our tanks must continue to be maintained and our crews properly trained if they are to be used in the future.

Some might say, well he would say that wouldn’t he.

But this is a good description that covers a broad span of operations, it is not just about how intimidating they are in a COIN setting or how they can be a destroyer of enemy morale in an open tank on tank engagement, it is about both.

And therein lies the continuing usefulness of the main battle tank, it utility in a broad span of conflicts.

But to say the world is not going to change in the couple of decades is clearly nonsense, of course the basic principles of warfare will remain but the context in which war is waged will change. The tank has continually evolved, changed and adapted to the prevailing conditions around it so there is no reason to expect that it will not need to in the future.

There are many factors that will influence tank design, their employment, purchase and maintenance of the capability.

Yet again we have to look into the crystal ball and rely on the work of the Ministry of Defence’s Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre(DCDC) with their guiding document, the Future Character of Conflict.

I do like this document, it’s fascinating and in the introduction section is a quote from Professor Sir Michael Howard that recognises the limits of looking into the future;

No matter how clearly one thinks, it is impossible to anticipate precisely the character of future conflict.  The key is to not be so far off the mark that it becomes impossible to adjust once that character is revealed

So this is about making educated guesses and having enough wriggle room to ensure that should the less likely manifest itself, your broad predictions are not too far off.

In addition to looking into the future context in which ‘war is waged’ there are also technology factors to consider and of course, the likely budget and defence planning assumptions that colour so much of our thinking.

The Future Character of Conflict

Perhaps it is worth recapping on the brad conclusions of this work and especially the six assumptions on which it is based


The UK has significant global interests and will therefore wish to remain a leading actor on the international stage as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), a nuclear power, a key member of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the European Union (EU) and other international institutions, irrespective of the potential for its power base to decline.


Defence will be the Nation’s ultimate insurance policy.  We cannot rule out the re-emergence of a major state-led threat, but in the foreseeable future, there is no state with the intent and capability to threaten the UK mainland; threats are more likely to be manifested in less traditional, non-military domains.  However, the sovereignty of some of our Overseas Territories will still be subject to territorial claims by other states, which will seek to exert pressure on them through some or all of diplomatic, economic or military means.


Future planning will be conducted against a background of finite financial resources while the military purchasing power of potential competitors is increasing and their pace of adaptation is outstripping ours


Our adversaries are unlikely to engage us on our terms and will not fight solely against our conventional strengths.  They will seek an asymmetric advantage and some will employ a wide range of warfighting techniques, sometimes simultaneously in time, space and domain.  Their logic will not necessarily be our logic and thus our ability to understand adversaries – and our ability to make them understand our intent – will be challenging


Since final resolution of conflict will involve people and where they live, strategic success will often, but not exclusively, be achieved through the results of actions on the ground. These actions are unlikely to be purely military although it will be vital for the UK to achieve military effect both on the land and in the global commons


The UK will act with others where shared interests and values coincide.  We will routinely operate with allies and partners, in particular as a supporting partner in a US-led coalition.  It is extremely unlikely that the UK will conduct warfighting without US leadership, but in other operations the UK may be called upon to lead a non-US coalition

Although the document is a few years old these assumptions are still valid and in many regards were repeated in the SDSR and related publications.

My only reservation is the use of the term warfighting, come on!

The document then goes on the describe the ‘2014 Battlespace’

Congested; In the future, we will be unable to avoid being drawn into operations in the urban and littoral regions where the majority of the World’s population live and where political and economic activity is concentrated.

Cluttered; Clutter (which leads to an inability to distinguish individuals, items or events), particularly in congested environments, will provide the opportunity for concealment and will confound most Western sensors

Contested; Adversaries will contest all environments where they seek to deny our freedom of manoeuvre

Connected; Activity, including our own and that of the enemy, will continue to gravitate towards the inter-connected nodes

Constrained; In the complex battlespace of the future, Western legal and societal norms will place continued constraints on the conduct of operations

The five C’s neatly describe the likely operating environments that should inform any discussion on the tank. So whilst the likelihood of traditional conflict with peer enemies would seem unlikely, it still remains a possibility and therefore, not to be ignored.

These conditions were reproduced in Southern Iraq

To demonstrate the difficulty of operating in this kind of environment an example from Basrah is almost perfect; a Challenger 2 from C Squadron Royal Scots Dragoon Guards came under intense fire which disabled their sights, backing up it went into a ditch and came to rest at an angle that exposed the under belly armour. Blind and immobile it was a sitting duck until a recovery was executed but they could not have used their main gun because it was a cluttered and constrained environment.

Despite improvements on operations a decade or so earlier, the Iraqi forces in Basrah failed to capitalise on their advantages, instead choosing to engage at distances that made them relatively easy to defeat. Had they made better use of fixed defences in the denser areas around the Old City, dense streets and canals, things might have been very different.

Would a piece of equipment other than a Challenger 2 have fared better?

Should it have been there in the first place?

This kind of difficult environment is likely to be encountered again, regardless of whether we have main battle tanks or not.

The question therefore, is this;

In this kind of difficult environment does the main battle tank have a role?

If it does not then we can drastically reduce their numbers and hold what is left in reserve, ready for the less likely Gulf War open tank battles?

Defence Planning Assumptions

Defence planning assumptions and the reality of a relatively small Army 2020 also have to be considered.

The image below shows the SDSR 2010 Defence Planning Assumptions


It is important to understand these because they set the tone for discussions on scale.

At full stretch and with ‘sufficient warning’, the UK will be scaled for 3 Brigades, or roughly a division.

In Iraq in 2003 the Army deployed 130 Challenger 2’s

The current plan is for 227 Challenger 2’s to remain in the fleet, is this number reflected in the defence planning assumption?

Technology Trends

The amount of precision weaponry available to Western forces is staggering and in comparison with only a decade ago, even more so.

It is easy to be seduced by the allure of modern systems but their impact cannot be ignored; Brimstone, Paveway IV, Javelin, Hellfire and even GMLRS are extremely effective against armoured vehicles. If one is to assume that modern tanks are primarily used to counter other modern tanks then it could be argued that in an age of precision everything, they have slipped down the league table in terms of significance.

Control of the air allows Apaches, RPAS and current and future aircraft to unleash unrivalled destructive effects. Driving T72’s around the desert without control of the air is an extremely hazardous occupation and likely to be repeated only by the lunatic fringe.

But don’t forget, control of the air is not always a given and taking it for granted is likely to end in tears. Portable anti-aircraft systems are proliferating and even old fashioned massed automatic gunfire has proven devastatingly effective, especially against low flying and slow aircraft like helicopters.

An occasional TD author, Monty, posted this as part of a comment on a similar post some time ago

Moreover, we’re also now seeing the proliferation of third and fourth generation hand-held surface-to-air missiles that are lighter and more deadly than their predecessors. Weapons such as the Russian SA-18, French Mistral and US Stinger Block 2 are frighteningly effective, while China and Iran have developed their own versions of such weapons. Whatever the source, hand-held SAMs are the new weapon of choice for terrorists. Strategic analysts predict that shoulder-fired SAMs are likely to have the same equalising effect on expensive combat aircraft as shoulder fired anti-tank missiles such as Javelin, or even the humble RPG7, on battle tanks

Active protection systems look likely to negate some of the hard advantages of light weight precision anti-armour missiles

It is a theme I have often covered but one threat that I think we consistently underestimate is the proliferation of micro unmanned systems in the ultra-low altitude zone.

One can go online today and buy a sophisticated quadcopter UAV for less than $10k.

Apart from the obvious threat of not being able to hide anywhere it does not take an enormous leap of the imagination to envisage an enemy fielding a couple of hundred of these, each one equipped with an explosively formed penetrator warhead and accurate radar distance sensor. They could be programmed to recognise armoured vehicles shape or EM signature, fly right over them and at the correct distance, detonate their warheads.

EFP’s are very effective and they would be directed at the traditionally thinner top armour.

We are ill equipped to counter this threat and flying at an altitude of 50 feet, twenty of them, launched from the back of a civilian truck or out of a flat window is a problem any number of F35’s or Typhoons are not going to help one bit with.

This threat does not exist today, no one has mounted an EFP on a quadcopter and equipped it with a recognition capability, but does anyone think it is far off?

If the risk of this threat is realised, how can we defend against it?

I was a little unfair on the Tyhoon and F35 because they provide the capability of interdicting the launchers and provide a link in the ISTAR chain but in a cluttered and congested urban environment with its many urban canyons they might not be enough and the ground forces will have to face that threat alone.

We might ensure ground forces operate inside a powerful ECM bubble or we might even equip tank commanders with a modern version of this;

However we counter the threat of ultra low level suicidal UAV’s EFP carriers it is just one of the future threats to armoured vehicles.

The traditional effect and counter effect continues, armour and anti-armour solutions will continue to evolve with one or the other having temporary supremacy over the other.

Threats should always be considered in any discussion but should they be the overriding consideration?

So, there are a wide range of factors to be taken into consideration when discussing the future of the tank and although we can make reasonable predictions about the future there is always an element of uncertainty that must not be ignored. We may well think that the future is going to be more like Basrah or Lebanon than the open desert and we would probably be right but as the quote from Professor Howard quite correctly states, the future is an uncertain place.

The next post in this series will look at what path the UK armed forces are treading in respect of the heavy metal


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October 31, 2012 7:54 am

As I said in my post on Pt 1 I think the MBT/Anti-tank balance has moved in favour of anti-tank. It’s not just air delivered weapons, it’s the variety of infantry operated ATGW with varying attack modes (The Spike family come to mind) and indirect fire, weapons of the SADARM (EFP) type (eg BONUS and SmArt155, or a clutch in a GMLRS warhead to start attrition early), and short range versions fired from mortars should be technically possible. Costs will come down. The issue is how available these munitions will be to lesser armed forces and non-state parties.

Assuming it is limited then the conclusion is that there is no role for the MBT, they won’t survive on the ‘advanced’ battlefield and are overkill on the lesser one.

This takes us down the path of driverless (and possibly totally unmanned) middle weight vehicles with a medium velocity largish calibre gun. To use a historical (manned) example, the modified Centaurs used by the RM Assault Regts in the summer of 1944 (and then disposed of).

October 31, 2012 8:43 am

Not really Obsvr, Spike family and the like are a weaker system than the heavy MILAN, and during the incident TD mentioned, a MILAN was used against the CR2 with a noticable lack of results. I havn’t encountered any reference of use of the artillery deployed munitions, so it’s really anybody’s guess how effective the 155mms would be, but that doesn’t overlook the fact that artillery needs a spotter, and that MBTs tend to deploy with a medium weight scout screen. If anything, I’d pity the scouts in the 30-40 ton probes.

My guess is MBTs would be kept hidden and protected until a high value target is found, then deployed in a rapid strike before being pulled back to hidden positions again, similar to artillery when there is a counter-arty environment or planes when landed.

“Assuming it is limited”
-this is the part where it is speculation. There is no premise that an MBT is limited to the point where it becomes useless. You might as well say since infantry are weak against everything from a 9mm to a near miss from a HEAT round, infantry is useless. Arguement is similar isn’t it? Tanks can get killed by ATGMs, which are a lot, so it’s useless = infantry can be killed by ARs, which are even more in number, so infantry is useless?

RCing 40 ton vehicles might not be so good an idea. Anyone playing with RC cars knows you tend to run into things. Now imagine a 40 ton RC car, and the wall of someone’s house. :)

TD, I prefer our version of the 5Cs :P

Cash, Car, Career, Condo, Credit Card. lol

October 31, 2012 9:25 am

We are I think foolish to fail to regard not only the sophistication of technology, but also its proliferation as a real issue. I did post a while ago about how Maplin and Radio shack could be as big a threat to modern war theories and anything being cooked up by foreign govts in secret programs.

The example of the I phone ballistic fire director cooked up in libya comes to mind. IED’s never forget are just that IMPROVISED. It took the spams years to cook up the EFP using the Miznay Shardin effect… It too some Iraqi insurgents months to figure out how to make them out of scrap and trigger them using mobile phones.

No tank is invulnerable nor has any tank ever been. So saying –
‘thats the end of the tank’ is a little simplistic. But the portability of many of the new threats remain. eg That Milan that was fired against a chally 2 with little effect:-

Who fired it?
Against what part of the tank?

I will be seriously impressed if it’s roof or rear armour withstood the blow… And that is where the current and future generation of anti armour weapons are going to aim..

If we reach for active protection measures such as the Israeli system, if it works – then do we need all that 70 tons of armour?

Ultimately a tank has to ‘come out and fight’ if it does, and invited cheap and easily carried destruction from TD’s quadcopters, then we are in a different position than we were. I am sure tactics will change tanks will evolve to meet the threat. But for example they could evolve into something a lot smaller and easier to hide!

October 31, 2012 10:47 am

Point IXION, after all, I did light into SO for not considering 50 years of tech development merging the assault gun/cruiser tank into the MBT, and you are right, anything doing an ATOP attack on a tank is worrying. On the other hand though, a blanket statement like “MBTs are worthless” is going too far in the other direction, and even more ironic that the proposed replacement is a 40 ton tank weaker to a wider range of threats.

On the quadcopter armed HEAT though, the payload is a bit low. A 40mm HEAT MV grenade penetrates ~1.5cm RHA, not enough to even pierce the hatch cover of a tank. Might need something bigger. Saw a testplate cutaway of a 40mm HEAT hit at STK company showroom years back along with the cutaway model of the 40mm at one of their display cases. Wasn’t very impressed with the penetration, was thinking that might not even pierce APC armour.

October 31, 2012 12:29 pm


Yea I’m not saying it is easy, – Yet! But there are plenty of RC controlled mini helicopters that can carry a decent weight of bang- eg double charge rpg warhead or such.

Did not the US loose some Abrams to rpg7’s in Iraq? Lots of talk about ‘precise targeting’

I remain concerned that the big gun big tank, thing could be coming to the end of that particular development branch.

So at the moment IMHO Tanks finished – NO Heavy (anti tank biased) MBT possibly.

October 31, 2012 12:47 pm

I don’t see why people think this. Yes they are vulnerable. Everything is vulnerable. Infantry are pityfully vulnerable yet they remain the bedrock of all armies. There are only so many ways to skin a cat when you want a mobile, well protected death machine.

MBTs may be more vulnerable than for a long time but that really doesn’t equate to not having utility. They might change in detail but the basic recipe of armour, firepower, optics and engine I can’t see changing.

In fact. In any future general war I see them becoming simpler but far more numerous. Like a modern Sherman. Mass and depth are a quality all of their own.

October 31, 2012 12:55 pm

Soooo, as fare as I remember the Chally 2 in the incident mentioned soaked up multiple RPG’s on the turret and was hit on the front of the turret by a Soviet era Wire guided ATGW NOT a Milan. Of note is that the tank was a mission kill, a operational casualty caused by being blinded, its 7.62 co-ax being disabled by one of the many hits on the turret, and unable to use its 120mm because of the mentioned constraints.

Either way for who ever it was said a Milan is more apropos than Spike, think again, Milan is old tech, at the end of development, Spike comes in various sizes and has a EO / IR guidance system which can be used in fire and forget or man-in-the-loop (via fibre optic) which would allow you to precisely target optics etc (under the right conditions of course).

Does this mean the death of the MBT, does it bollocks. Note what Chally 2 does not have yet is active protection system a la Merkava MK4. Is the EFV carrying quadcopter the death of the MBT, no of course if isn’t ! A small Millimeter wave radar for spotting them, an evolved active protection system or RWS to shoot them down, BAe’s IR cloak, IR / visual smoke, jamming the quadcopters RC command link, burning out its el cheapo sensor with a laser (like existing helicopter active manpads countermeasures kit). Come on, use your imagination gents…..

Anti-tank measurve versus countermeasure versus counter-countermeasure, plus doctrine, procedures and training – it is a complex world and no single weapon system auto-magically renders another obsolete overnight.

October 31, 2012 1:03 pm

Nothing’s invulnerable. The role of armed forces is to inflict violence on the enemy. Protection as nice as it seems to us civilians really is a secondary consideration. When you look at the number of tanks (and AFVs) deployed by the US and Israel in recent conflicts and the losses to ATGMs and mines etc. you see the latter is a very small percentage of the former.

October 31, 2012 1:20 pm

Personally I think the protection is more about an easier repair than particularly stopping damage. It’s relatively easy to mission kill a modern tank but relatively easy to return it to service too since the armour should have protected most of it. I believe most knocked out Allied tanks in WWII were repaired and sent back to the front.

October 31, 2012 1:35 pm

@ Phil

I think some of my civilian friends put a little too much emphasis on the “vehicle” surviving. Nobody wants dead soldiers because of Snatch Landies like scenarios. But there is a substantial difference between accepted risk to 60tons of Chobham armour skinned and near negligence of the Snatch.

October 31, 2012 2:36 pm

I’m having a sense of Deja Vu.. Didn’t we have this argument a couple of weeks ago, in the Chally 3 or Leopard Thread?
I suggested the idea of a Chally fitted with a Short Barrelled Demolition Gun for the purpose of fighting in towns. I was promptly shot down!

Anyway, whether in the past, present or future, a Good Tank Crew is worth more than a Good Tank.

October 31, 2012 2:57 pm

Yeah that’s something of a myth. Lots of broadly competent crews in large numbers of average tanks will defeat the good tank crews in good tanks. Our professional army model is excellent for limited conflicts but it is massively flawed for anything larger. For example, artillery doesn’t care how good your infantry skills are.

October 31, 2012 3:09 pm


I think its a matter of who’s left in control of the battlefield as to who gets to collect up and repair it’s tanks.

German war effort suffered quite a blow when it started going backwards, and it could not collect up its enemies ‘leftovers’.

I do not think the ‘Tank’ is finished.

If however it is relying on projectile active defence systems or even: – (And at this point all the Star Trek fans get excited); Phase plasma shields, and cloaking devices.. Yes really, both are in the pipeline. Then it will probably look a lot different and if its got all the above, will it need to be 70 tons and 3.5 metres wide?

Nothing relying on solid armour alone is going to be able to deal with top attack by a 120mm double headed heat STRYX type mortar round. So maybe much of the bulk and weight goes. It is that bulk and weight that counts against the tank the mobile protected firepower combination is always going to be a good idea, if we could reduce it then the Tank may be more relevant (and used) than it is now.

Plse note Milan is a bit old hat as an anti armour weapon, there are many around now much more powerful.

The Kornet is supposed (and I do say supposed) to have caused the Merkava problems, in Lebanon. Certainly the promise of it lead to the MK 4 being brought forwards as the Mk 3 was felt to be potentially vulnerable.

October 31, 2012 3:26 pm

@ Phil

I think you misunderstood what I meant.

How long does it take to build to build any AFV, from start to finish, say 6 months? What’s the average age of a British Tank Crewmember, would I be wrong if I said 21 years of age. Give or take a year or two. That’s a combined total of 80 odd years to produce one crew for any one Tank. We put a lot of time and effort to train our men and woman.

When we send them into harms way. I would prefer giving them the best possible chance of coming home.

October 31, 2012 3:38 pm

Yeah and that’s fine in the limited wars we fight. But in a general war our model is flawed. The people are just as easy to replace as kit in such a scenario. Quite a grotesque thought isn’t it.

October 31, 2012 3:48 pm

“When we send them into harms way. I would prefer giving them the best possible chance of coming home.”

The tank driver’s sister is sick, she suffers from a rare and lethal disease that will kill her by 2025 at the latest.

Will you spend additional millions on the tank for it could eventually maybe save some lives or will you spend the money on medical research that doesn’t interest profit-driven corporations instead?

Resources (such as budgets) are scarce and resource allocation should thus follow the idea of optimisation, not of perfecting or maximising select details.

October 31, 2012 4:18 pm


Still shooting on the 165mm demo gun part. A 120mm firing HESH is going to be able to do what a demo gun does, with the addition of AT capability to boot. That’s an advantage the British Army has over the more common US APFSDS route, that their main ammo type is as effective in infantry support as AT, while the US would need to switch to HE/HEAT for buildings or softer targets. HESH also doesn’t really lose penetration over range like FSDS does.


Ironically, I’m actually qualified to comment both on military and medical, and I’ll honestly say that I have never found a relationship in amount of money poured into a project vs results, especially medical research. Amount of money spent = results is a fairy tale, and unless you have a proper method of treatment, no amount of money is going to change that. If that tankee’s sister is going to go post-2025, she’s going to go. Tough shit, life’s like that. Phase 1 clinical trials already take about 10 years, Phase 2 10-15, and that is even assuming you can find a promising new treatment in the first place.

Forget fairy tales, they don’t happen in real life.

October 31, 2012 4:32 pm

Observer, you have a remarkable talent for not getting what I write.

The tanker’s sister was a placeholder and her connection to the tanker was merely meant to make it more connected. There will be other sick people a decade later, or two, or three…

Furthermore, medical research was a placeholder for alternative benefit-offering opportunities for allocating the resources. The efficiency of medical research is thus an irrelevant detail here.
Even if it wasn’t a placeholder: Your reply is fatalistic and simply illogical unless one accepts the premise that all medical research is ineffective.
Keep in mind the example wasn’t about adding the millions to an ongoing huge research, but about research in a field that’s not being properly researched.

Maybe someday my creativity will expand to the point that I can anticipate how you will misunderstand anything I write, but so far I’m astonished how exactly you manage to misunderstand everything with perfect reliability.

Martin Ryder
October 31, 2012 4:40 pm

Surely the point is that the battle tank is just one instrument in a bloody big orchestra. It is how it performs when working with other instruments that counts not how it manages when on its own. When the Challenger, in the example above, was being attacked in Iraq, where were the other tanks in the troop? Where was the armoured infantry? Where was artillery and air support? There isn’t a weapon system on the planet that cannot be defeated when it is on its own.

As for the five C’s everything will depend on how desperate you are to win the battle. Congestion and Clutter will literally be blown away in a desperate battle, where fire power will decide who the victor is. If we go in with rules of engagement written by the liberal establishment that runs our country the battle will be lost before it starts. Better then not to join the battle however good our soldiers, tanks, MICVs, etc are.

October 31, 2012 4:46 pm

Sorry I keep thinking the MILAN is larger/heavier than the SPIKE. It isn’t. No idea why. Maybe it’s because I got taught that the MILAN is a heavy AT missile (or F-cking HEAVY!! if you asked the guy hauling it) while the SPIKE was promoted as “light” for a vehicle mount.

Though I think you might have misunderstood my intent, it was not to sell the MILAN over the SPIKE, we got both as an AT-counter, but when you see a report that indicates that one of your main AT missiles might not be as effective as expected, you worry a bit, not to mention the OP was selling the ATGM as the cure-all for the MBT, which needs a lot more evidence for the claim.


I can see why I might keep misconstruing your meaning. I’m seriously analytical and deals in specifics while you tend to work in hyperbole, so when you use such a broad brush, I’m going to be picking out all the imperfections that such a general sweep is going to make.

Not to mention you seem to love ignoring things like combat loss ratios accepted for a long time without stating WHY it’s no longer valid or “ignoring the political” (I’m still smiling at Phil’s reply to that one) or tech developments that invalidate your premise.

October 31, 2012 4:56 pm

Hear hear Martin.

October 31, 2012 5:01 pm

Ryder: the tank concerned was from a squadron of RSDG’s detached to 3 Commando Bde. It had no armoured infantry support, but had a platoon of RM’s in direct support who made a difference. But a platoon in Warrior would probably been better (no disrespect to the RM) since they could have supplied more suppressive fire via Rarden and deployed a dismounted base of fire further forward

October 31, 2012 5:56 pm

Most amusing.
I suppose we agree to disagree on each other’s skills.

About the five Cs:
The first three are promoting an aversion to large scale manoeuvre to a degree uncomfortable to me.

It’s about the same as the current over-emphasis of infantry support (easily visible even in R&D and procurement, see the urban warfare kits that do not add, but subtract a lot from large scale mobility).

It’s dangerous to be(come) reliant on tanks for tactical success (tanks are weak in too many terrains if faced with adequate munitions, training, morale and tactics).

At the same time it’s large scale manoeuvre that exploits the tanks’ unique strength of keep moving in face of most threats (if on suitable terrain or enabled by surprise).
Tactical anecdotes from tankers are fine, but it is the report that for example a brigade has cut off three hostile brigades in a long hook manoeuvre that means a politically useful victory (as happened IIRC in Namibia).

October 31, 2012 6:01 pm

“in face of most threats”

Tanks that don’t stop to fight such threats get brewed up.

Manoeuvre is earned, it is not a choice. To earn manoeuvre requires density, mass and fire-power in a combined arms attack that involves MBTs supporting infantry and fighting other tanks where and when. The beauty of the MBT is that by simply swapping the chambered round or firing it off and reloading another it moves seamlessly from infantry HE support to APFSDS tank killer.

The emphasis is correctly on fighting close with the infantry because it is these engagements which are the norm when fighting forces meet.

October 31, 2012 6:28 pm

Suppressive fire via chain gun is orders of magnitude more likely than suppressive fire via Rarden. Rarden isn’t the sort of piece suited to suppressive fire..


The Primary UK AT round is APFSDS. HESH is the secondary nature. It scores over the older US system that had APFSDS as primary with HEAT as secondary as the older HEAT round was somewhat limited against targets that weren’t AFVs in that it would go through light armour or walls but not really do much damage beyond the shot-line, while HESH was effective at causing substantial damage against buildings, softskins and LAVs.

These days there are much more effective secondary natures available for 120mm smoothbores, so the Challenger advantage is less pronounced.

Regarding loss of effect at range, there isn’t really much difference between secondary (HESH and HEAT respectively) in that regard.

non-specific comments:
Even with active protection systems, there is still a relationship between weight and protection. A vehicle with a higher carrying capacity could either carry more active protection consumables or more passive armour to increase the threshold at which an ADS is used, therefore reducing the amount of consumables it needs to use.

If we are calling for the death of the tank (whatever that is specified to be – it changes greatly from person to person) based on its vulnerability to anti-armour technologies then we must, by logical progression of the argument, also call for the death of the armoured fighting vehicle in all it’s forms, as every other AFV is equally vulnerable.

Regarding remotely operated vehicles – this fails, in my mind, due to the issues with bandwidth. You cannot possibly relay all the data required to operate any significant number of vehicles wirelessly. Not without taking over the whole spectrum for it. As a specialist capability for certain situations, perhaps it would be a neat trick to have up your sleeve as well, but I wouldn’t stake normal operation on it.

Top attack ATGW suffer from having to take an attack path that takes them out of ground clutter, which makes them more vulnerable to active defence systems, silhouetting them against an otherwise clear sky.

October 31, 2012 7:08 pm

““in face of most threats”

Tanks that don’t stop to fight such threats get brewed up.”

You didn’t really think about what I wrote, did you?

Count the AT weapons on a battlefield that can penetrate at least the side of the tank, then count the assault rifles.
Voilà, I am perfectly correct. The tank’s strength is to move on in face of most threats since assault rifles are really only a problem for its optics and antennas.
Unlike infantry (even in most vehicles), which proved repeatedly to be impressed by small arms fire and cannot simply move on in face of such a threat.

Tank forces cannot only move on in face of most threats, they can also deploy much quicker from marching to combat formation and back, possibly frustrating delaying action efforts.

Tanks cannot just keep moving in the open in face of powerful AT weapons and expect few or no losses, and may be bogged down into lots of short dashes between different cover/concealment. I was writing about their strength which defines them, not their imperfection, though.

October 31, 2012 7:13 pm

“Voilà, I am perfectly correct.”

Alright fine by your definition you are right. Personally I wouldn’t define an assault rifle as being a practical threat to an MBT but there we go I’m not getting into definitional debates.

Manoeuvre is still earned.

October 31, 2012 7:29 pm


If the modern top attack weapons are not going to hurt the MBT why is everyone from Sweds to Isrealis banging them out?

If they are going to be stopped with Plasma armour, trophy or whatever, then why do those systems need to be on MBT sized vehicles?

If they are as effective as claimed (Including against APFSD), then why do we need to keep the 120mm non standard guns on them?

Like I said the mobile protected firepower triangle in one platform, is I think here to stay, just I suggest current heavy tanks (and they are heavy tanks), are the last of this Mastadon class of vehicles.

October 31, 2012 7:45 pm

Looks like I’m not the only one having problems with SO’s reasoning style.

“It’s about the same as the current over-emphasis of infantry support”

…. how do you spell “irony”..

“Tactical anecdotes from tankers are fine, but”

This part is usually called user feedback by experienced operators. I’m going to ask something that some young officers fresh from OCS get asked regarding their warrant officers. By what qualification do you brush aside the advice of people who have been doing this for years in the field while most of your experience comes from a textbook in a classroom? Or to put it bluntly, why should I take your word over people who have years of experience and have put their skills into practice in the field?

@Mr fred

Ouch. Sabot in a rifled barrel.

October 31, 2012 7:58 pm

Phil, simple explanation for the misunderstanding:
My context was the whole force, not tanks alone:

“At the same time it’s large scale manoeuvre that exploits the tanks’ unique strength of keep moving in face of most threats (if on suitable terrain or enabled by surprise).”

See? This was meant as a descriptive of armour relative to the other arms.

The infantry tank perspective rather emphasizes that a tank can return fire and actually gain fire superiority in face of most threats even if infantry cannot do so reliably.
Different emphasis, different influence on compromises regarding hardware. Just as it can be seen with the urban warfare kits for tanks and their cages.
A design modification for optimised operational-level mobility would rather aim at a more compact engine, more internal fuel, less friction components/coatings, higher durability dynamic components and the like.

The 200#’s occupation campaigns have left an impression in hardware and minds, but the tank’s future may lie somewhere else.

The legacy/leftover MBTs with extra kits are acceptable for the infantry support / cooperation role.
Future tanks (MBTs) should rather place an emphasis on mobility – unless we assume that the legacy inventories might not suffice for the infantry support / cooperation role.

This, of course, is when I want to repeat my warning to pay attention to inventories of supposedly obsolescent tanks, even models such as T69s. They can be turned into acceptable infantry support tanks real quick, and we don’t have many such old tanks.
(This is in part a consequence of the CFE treaty, of course.)

October 31, 2012 7:59 pm

What can achieve the same effect then IXION? Protection costs weight. Tracks or wheels are needed to move. And big guns are needed to defeat enemy tanks.

I’ve not seen a realistic counter proposal to a massive great big bastard of an MBT.

October 31, 2012 8:04 pm

SO those old tanks come at a cost in force structure and money.

Yes M48s were useful in the Territorial Heer Home Defence Brigades back in the Cold War, but when budgets are tight and there’s already more tanks than there are political will to deploy overseas, old tanks have no utility at all.

In a wider war they’d be better than nothing certainly, but they are a millstone around the neck of modern expeditionary forces.

October 31, 2012 8:08 pm

What you are seeing is actually a sequence of offence/defence/offence/defence countermeasure-counter countermeasure race that took place over a period of time.

The progress was something like this

Direct fire ATGM -> reactive/composite armour -> Top attack missiles -> Active defence system -> Precursor rounds.

There are a few sidebranches, like tandem charge warheads and it is very simplified, but that’s the gist of it. And this was over 50 years.

You don’t really have to kill a tank hollywood style in war, there are other types of kill classifications, like mobility kill (tracks blown off), firepower kill (main gun damaged) or mission kill (tank unable to proceed any further). All these can take the tank out of a fight temporarily, so even if missiles can’t penetrate the main body, it’s still not good to let them hit, optics damage can mean a mission kill (can’t see), or a bent main gun can mean a firepower kill (can’t shoot).

As for ADS vs APFSDS, the system can get overwhelmed, so your best tactic would be to gang up 2-3 vs 1 with 120mm guns and overload the system.

Not so sure on the demise of the heavy MBT. They, by virtue of their heavy armour, actually have the highest survivability of all the armoured platforms in existance currently. A 120mm sabot MAY get through a CR2. It will against a CVR(T).

October 31, 2012 8:34 pm


Of course Sabot in a rifled barrel. The original sabot rounds (APDS) were fired from rifles. Sabot from smoothbore is the recent invention.

October 31, 2012 9:38 pm

Well, that’s true. The switch to smoothbore was only after people kept trying to improve the efficiency of the sabot and found that spinning it was redundant and slowed the round down, so I do take your point that it was recent.

October 31, 2012 9:42 pm

There are down sides to using old MBTs in a more limited capacity, like infantry support other than in fairly narrow windows of time. Leaving aside the learned lessons regarding single use tanks, there are economic impacts. The fewer new MBTs that you buy increases your unit cost for both the vehicles themselves and also your training and maintenance. Your older tanks are increasingly maintenance-intensive and progressively less efficient in terms of logistic supply. There tends to be decades between generations of MBTs so the automotive technology has greatly progressed, not to mention the development of other systems key to the operation of the vehicle.

When you are changing from one to another, running two fleets is inevitable. Running two fleets for extended periods doesn’t make much sense economically, strategically, operationally or tactically, unless there is a step change from one to the other and the two vehicles essentially perform different roles. Examples of this would be the Leo2 vs Leo1 (potentially, I’m not sure that anyone did) or retaining the Cromwell as a recce tank when the Centurion was introduced. That said, the latter example also had a couple of years gap between the designs, tops, and there were lots of low mileage Cromwells knocking around from the preceding conflict.

October 31, 2012 9:54 pm


Sabot rounds progressed from spin-stabilised to fin stabilised when it reached the point where the Length/Diameter ratio was too great to be gyroscopically stabilised by the spin. Greater L/D ratio improves your retained energy at range and your armour penetrating capability*. Sub-calibre fin stabilised projectiles from rifled barrels tend to have slip rings to limit spin-up and the fins tend to kill the spin pretty quickly anyway.
The drag in the barrel from the rifling wastes energy imparted to the projectile compared to a smoothbore, so a smooth-bore firing long rods is more efficient. However, it also increases the cost and complexity of full-bore rounds (HE and other secondary natures) because they must be high-tolerance fin-stabilised as well.

October 31, 2012 10:02 pm

Mr Fred

I partly disagree. I think it depends on the context. The German Cold War context for example made perfect sense to cascade older tanks down to the Home Defence units since it was likely to be a tank familiar to the older reservists who filled out the TH and a light infantry brigade on the Central Front was a pretty pointless proposition unless it was just for point defence, which those formation weren’t.

In such cases I think they have utility since their resource impact is easily absorbed.

But I argue it would be positively harmful to have them in the fleet now.

October 31, 2012 10:12 pm

Mr.fred, there’s no real standardisation in large armies anyway.
The German army still uses a heavily modified M-48 chassis as well as several types of modified Leo 1 chassis for specialist vehicles, for example.

Infantry support tanks aren’t single use tanks either. They’re still potentially effective tank destroyers, too. Their tactics repertoire is merely more limited.
A T-62 could still kill a Challenger2. It only takes good enough visibility, camouflage/concealment/deception, a flanking position, a daring platoon or company leader, competent crews and 1980’s ammo.

October 31, 2012 10:26 pm

“A T-62 could still kill a Challenger2. It only takes good enough visibility, camouflage/concealment/deception, a flanking position, a daring platoon or company leader, competent crews and 1980′s ammo.”

Wittmans don’t win wars.

October 31, 2012 11:02 pm


What I am trying to say, (and obviously failing to get over), is

The modern heavy tank is likely to be able survive the various smart targeted weapons when it adopts active defence measures.

If it only survives with active defence measures, then why do those active defence measures have to be on a 70 tonner.

If we have to have 120mm smooth bores, (if thats whats wanted), they can be mounted on warrior type hulls. If that has all the clever active defence systems on it how is it worse off defence wise – it’s smaller size would assist its survival.

I am not challanging the well protected Tank as an Idea. Just the nature of the protection. After all if resultant easer deployabillity and a relative cost reduction, means we get more, and they ‘get out a bit’ more is that not a good thing?

John Hartley
John Hartley
October 31, 2012 11:04 pm

Had the cold war carried on, our MBTs would probably be armed with 135 or 140mm electro thermal guns by now.
In this expeditionary age, lighter armour is easier to shift to the “danger zone” (Thunderbirds lives on), so playing fantasy tank, what about an updated/uparmoured Stormer with the unmanned 40mm CTA turret.

October 31, 2012 11:10 pm

Phil that’s kind of why I wrote earlier

“Tactical anecdotes from tankers are fine, but it is the report that for example a brigade has cut off three hostile brigades in a long hook manoeuvre that means a politically useful victory (as happened IIRC in Namibia).”

Nevertheless, an obsolescent MBT modified to be an RPG-resistant HE dealer is not really a one trick pony either.

October 31, 2012 11:21 pm

Lighter armour is easier to transport? Yes if you’re transporting it to be sold not if you intend to fight with it. AFVs would have to be significantly lighter to realise any major benefits along with the corresponding massive lightening of their logistical footprint and combined arms force structure. And there’s nothing out there even remotely comparable to an MBT that’s lights enough to do that and powerful enough to allow force structure reductions.

It’s all marginal again.

October 31, 2012 11:29 pm

: good to see you know your history :-)

And we got him eventually anyway :-)

October 31, 2012 11:42 pm

@ Phil
Yes I do agree with you, that we do fight our wars, a certain Moralistic way. Whether it is the right or the wrong way, I honestly don’t know. Unfortunately our Enemies don’t seem to want to fight that way!

Whilst watching GW2 unfold. I remember watching News footage of a British Platoon pinned down by an unseen Iraqi Sniper, who was hiding in a building on the outskirts of a small town. It took quite awhile for the Platoon to pinpoint him. And he was eventually dealt with by a USMC Harrier. I was watching this with my late Grandfather, a Former Sapper with the 53rd Welsh Division. I turned to him and asked him how they would have dealt with that situation in 44/45. He replied rather coldly, “We would simply pull back and let the Artillery level the place. Our lives were more important, than theirs!” I couldn’t really argue with that.

@ S O

This Friday, will be the Tenth Anniversary of my last session of Chemotherapy. I was being treated for Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. I had a Huge Tumour grow on the right-hand side of my face. Their was a young Woman, who also had Non-Hodgkins and was receiving the same treatment as me. Who strangely enough was in the same school as me, although a couple of years below me. I survived, sadly she did’nt. It came back 4 times and eventually overwhelmed her… Such is life. You can the best health care in the world, which hand on heart, I can honestly say, I received. When your time is up, it’s up, and theirs nothing you can do about it!
‘The Tank Drivers Sisters Sick’ comment, doesn’t wash with me.

@ Observer
I was just pointing out, that we have recently done this that’s all… Although I just wonder why we felt the need in WW2 to fit Short Barrelled Howitzers to Churchills, the above mentioned Centaurs, Cromwells and Shermans for the Close Support Role.
Is fighting in built up areas in WW2, any different from fighting in built up areas in the 21st Century?

November 1, 2012 1:12 am

Simon247 – well done on fighting that cancer matey !

Ref; “Is fighting in built up areas in WW2, any different from fighting in built up areas in the 21st Century?”

Yes – the 5 C’s, the western morals, the restrictive ROE that is the reflection of those morals, the concept of the 3 block war, etc etc etc

Just as British Chally 2 regiments would not be expected to undertake a Grozny, neither would they be expected to undertake a Moscow / Stalingrad / Berlin type campaign.

Might this change – maybe if we were to be engaged in a war of survival against an existential threat, but in expeditionary “wars of choice” – well we would need our entire “best efforts” division to invest a single reasonably sized city (if not more).

November 1, 2012 4:23 am

Ah, I think I see the point now. You’re assuming active defences protect against all attacks. This isn’t the case, it’s specifically designed to stop missiles and maybe sabot, anything else is still handled by the passive armour, like HEAT/HESH rounds and fast firing 25-40mms.

You can put an ADS on a Warrior, that would give it protection against ATGMs and maybe 105-120mm FSDS, but then that would shift it’s main worry to the quick firers mentioned above, which can still get through it’s armour, or the HEAT/HESH, and these are still countered by heavy armour.

There is no perfect defence system, like there is no perfect offensive system, it’s all about tradeoffs, shifting one weakness to another. MBTs have an advantage in their weight translates to more systems to complement each other, so less weak areas. Remember why the Viking was temporarily withdrawn from service? It overloaded on the defences.


To be honest, when WWII kicked off, I don’t think the UK was in any means ready to fight a war on that scale, nor did it have the right equipment, design, training or doctrine, it was all learn as you go, hence the experimenting and retrofitting.

As for what is different now? Yes, you can refit a 165mm demo gun onto “insert MBT of your choice”, but why not simply load HESH into the gun instead? HESH originally was designed as a building breaker, ironically for the same 165mm gun, but 120mm isn’t small either and in most cases, it’s just making rubble bounce to use the 165mm.

IIRC, the CEV 165mm is rather slow firing, fairly inaccurate (not totally unable to hit target, just not likely to hit anything moving fast) and has limited range, which suits the job of demolitions, but why not just use a 120mm which is designed for a higher standard, which, once you finish tearing down buildings, can be rolled elsewhere to kill tanks? You don’t even need to spend money to refit it, it does the job fine already, just need to load the right ammo.


I think I’m starting to see where the difference is. You’re not avocating MBTs be replaced by assault guns in tactics, you were talking about using older, smaller tanks as assault guns in lieu of MBTs to cut costs. Might want to indicate you were talking about economy instead of tactics/strategy. Swapping for a weaker tank makes no sense in terms of tactics and strategy, but does have sense in possible economy. Might want to indicate the POV you’re coming from so that people know there is a change of focus, most of us here failed “Mind Reading 101”.

November 1, 2012 9:39 am

Spike family and the like are a weaker system than the heavy MILAN, and during the incident TD mentioned, a MILAN was used against the CR2 with a noticable lack of results. I havn’t encountered any reference of use of the artillery deployed munitions, so it’s really anybody’s guess how effective the 155mms would be, but that doesn’t overlook the fact that artillery needs a spotter, and that MBTs tend to deploy with a medium weight scout screen.

The point of using Spike family as an example is that it has moved beyond rather small HEAT warheads attacking more or less parallel to the ground. CR2 with lots of addon is optimised to defeat this threat. Another benefit of some Spike variants is ‘son of Swingfire’ as it were, the ability to fire from behind cover. Brigade long range anti-tank fire from the ground, up to say 6km range, could equip an RHA bty. That plus the air delivered, plus arty delivered, plus scatterable mines, plus off-route mines with radio activation, the game has changed, one tank is no longer the sole solution to another tank as it was throughout the Cold War. Tanks are no longer critical in the anti tank role. As I said I’m also unconvinced by the cruiser tank role. That leaves the infantry support role. Its very simple really, I look forward to Centaur 2030.

Re arty needing observers, glad you reminded me, after some 100 years the British Army has at last got itself a reasonable scale of arty observers. Add to that MUAVs have been put into core which means seeing what’s the other side of the hill and you don’t need precision mensuration for SADARM types weapons – each shell has a footprint of 100/150 metres diameter (or more I haven’t checked). Then the TUAVs can probably standback out of SAM range use their radars and also derive an adequate fix on moving tanks.

As for tank defensive measures, that’s what dumb arty fire is for, it only kills tanks when it gets really lucky (45kg incl 10kg of HE through your engine deck is going to be a big job for REME and I don’t think your sqn ftr sect will be much help), what dumb arty fire does to tanks is seriously bash around the external fittings including precision sensors and armament. Never mind an enemy who is unsporting enough to use bomblets (and the serious players haven’t signed up to the treaty). I’m sure our US friends will happily point out what lots of bomblets do to AFVs.

In summary, MBTs may well seem invincible against a second class opponent, and if that’s your league fine, but don’t be silly and play against the big boys.

November 1, 2012 12:07 pm

Some interesting points going back and forth.

@ Observer was right earlier about active protection systems. They might stop ATGM’s and maybe APFSDS rounds, but they can’t cope (yet) with multiple volleys of 3-4, 20-40mm rounds. So unless you’re protected against those then you’re in trouble, especially when someone fits a 50mm in their turret.

I think people expect too much of the tank. It’s not supposed to be invulnerable, it’s just designed to be less vulnerable. And since, ooooh, about WW1, it’s been understood that the tank is one component of a larger army.

In the same way that cavalry’s inability to break infantry squares didn’t render cavalry obsolete, nor will the fact that lucky hits by artillery or the possibility of a damaged optic or thrown track render armour obsolete.

Armour is meant to be the tip of the spear. It’s a weapon of breakthrough and counter breakthrough. You find a soft spot in the enemy line with good tank country behind it, soften it up some more, then tally ho and away, taking armoured infantry and self propelled artillery with you, presuming the government hasn’t sold the last of your AS-90’s.

Anytime you meet heavy resistance; suppress and bypass, leaving a fun job for others to clean up later while you press on towards the enemies supply lines, communications hubs and command and control nodes, as part of a wider operation with a clear goal.

Expectation? That quite a few of your tanks will break down, some will run out of fuel and others will be lost to enemy fire, but enough will make it through, supported by fresh reserves, to achieve the objective.

Perfect? No.

Good enough? You hope.

I must plug this book about once every 3 months, but I’ll do it again for giggles. Hit up Amazon and find Wolfgang Schneiders “Panzer Tactics; German small unit armor tactics in world war two”, which is a slightly misleading title because he does go into some detail about matters beyond just the tank platoon and company.

It’s the perfect primer.

November 1, 2012 12:34 pm

I do agree that the solution to a tank is no longer another tank, but that doesn’t mean MBTs can now “only do infantry support”. The main gun is still lethal and a good crew would have been trained to know the counter to different threats, for example, the vid/thermal directed SPIKE can be countered by obscurants like WP smoke dischargers, similar to laser directed munitions like JDAMs and some GBUs. Israeli tanks used to pour heavy fire onto Sagger positions to kill the operators before they could properly guide the wire guided missile to the tank.

There is no perfect weapon system that cannot be countered, and a smart enemy will be adapting and finding weakness or even creating them. This isn’t even considering the point Martin made that an army is an orchestra, not a solo act, and that there are counter units to counter other units to counter-counter other units ad infinitum.

Re: Artillery, I’m not sure if most people realise this, but field artilley is actually quite short ranged, even MLRS. Most have the misconception of ballistic missile ranges, but it’s more like 80/40/20/8 (MLRS/155 Excal/Spike NLOS/120mm motar). Along a warfront that can stretch for hundreds of kilometers, coverage is actually pretty low, which is why quick response air is still one of the best reaction forces. Much better engagement range, wider front coverage.

In the case of a large engagement though, it’s usually more shoot and scoot before someone redirects either a pair of F/As or AHs to their location or gets a counterbattery unit into range.

In short, I don’t really see any scenario that turns tanks useless overnight. (You may focus on MBTs, but if that’s the case, even 40 ton recon tanks are useless then as they suffer from the same deficiencies or even worse.)

November 1, 2012 12:45 pm

Wait a sec, thought the son of Swingfire was the Javelin, the UK doesn’t use Spikes.

November 1, 2012 1:16 pm

Javelin is son of Milan. Swingfire is the overgrown second cousin only soldiers and military anoraks know about.

Jeremy M H
November 1, 2012 1:27 pm

Honestly I think all the hand-wringing about the role of tanks is overblown. They have a role on the battlefield of the future that is valuable but is part of a combined arms team. Just as they have since roughly 1941-42 when everyone learned to stop pooping their pants at the first sight of the things.

Tanks are highly mobile and are still the best tool for aggressive advances on the ground. There is nothing else that can really replace them in that role. For them to be successful they need to be supported by anti-infantry forces and you need to have control of the air (particularly if you are opposing Western forces).

I would say the best way to describe the current situation for armies is that it is a combination of two old scenarios. I think that we have realized what many thought the Yom Kippur War represented in regards to infantry based weapons being a huge impediment to advancing armor. This will be countered by active defense systems on tanks (probably pretty well to) and the beat will go on as defense and offense race to best one another. I see nothing like the machine gun as it existed in WWI that would deny tactical mobility long-term at this point though.

I think operationally (brigade and division level) we are looking a situation not unlike that faced by commanders when they expected nukes to be dropped on large formations. Technology has enabled us to achieve all the delightful destruction of targets without the gooey radioactive mess. Weapons like the CBU-105 are terrifying to deal with if you are trying to move large formations around the battlefield. Even if they can’t kill a tank (and by all reports it can disable and often do that) it will wreck any soft vehicle you need to support that movement. If you don’t control the air over the battlefield you can forget about concentrating large forces.

This is interesting because while it may seem to diminish the value of the tank in some respects it really makes even a reasonable force of tanks (say a brigades worth) in the hands of the power that controls the air very dangerous. The other side can’t concentrate its armor for fear of having it wiped out by advanced weaponry (CBU-105, AH-64D’s ect) so it gets very hard to conduct a counter stroke against even a reasonably sized armored formation that is free from threat of those kind of attacks.

In short I think the tanks role will change but it (or something very similar to it) will always have a spot on the modern battlefield.

November 1, 2012 1:38 pm


According to recent RUSI estimates, there are about 108,000 main battle tanks currently in service across the globe. Of these, 10,000 are M1 Abrams belonging to the US Army, USMC, Australia and various ‘friendly’ Arab nations. There are about 4,800 Leopard 2s in service with the armies of Germany, Switzerland, Canada, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Spain, Greece, Turkey, Singapore and Chile. (Holland is presently trying to sell all 400 of its Leopard 2s). Saudi Arabia and Qatar are trying to buy 1,000 brand new Leopard 2s, which is fine so long as they remain allies. Japan has 1,000 tanks consisting of Type 74s and Type 90s plus 200 of the newer Type 10s. South Korea has more than 1,000 K1 tanks. Israel can muster around 1,000 Merkavas of various marks. France has 400 Leclercs, Italy has 200 Arietes and Britain has a mere 227 Challenger 2s (albeit with a further 200 in mothballs). In total, NATO and its allies could mobilise around 18,000 tanks.

That leaves more than 90,000 tanks that could potentially be ranged against us. The vast majority of these are older T-55, T-62, T-64 and T-72 models belonging to Russia, China, North Korea and various Arab states including Iran (which has a mixed fleet of 2,000 tanks including old American M-60s and British Chieftains). In addition to substantial fleets of older tank models, China has recently deployed its new Type 99, adding to a formidable line-up of Type 96s. The former-Soviet Union and its satellites have the newer T-80/ T-84 and T-90 at their disposal. Of the total, it is estimated that Russia, China, North Korea and Iran have around 40,000 thrid-generation battle tanks. Approximately 20,000 are capable of matching the West’s best. It isn’t clear how many potential enemy vehicles are fully serviceable, but allowing some adjustment for inaccuracies and unknown factors, the large number of tanks that could potentially be used to attack NATO and its allies cannot be ignored.

It is highly unlikely that the old Cold War scenario of massed armoured divisions roaring across the north German plains will ever become a likely future risk again. But who could have predicted the Falklands Campaign or Gulf War 1? If a massive armoured thrust were to be directed at a NATO member, the most effective response might be the use of tactical nuclear weapons as was envisioned in the 1980s. What was true then remains true now: we would want to delay the attacking enemy for as long as possible if only to buy negotiating time before unleashing our nuclear arsenals. That requires us to have tanks in our inventories. In any event, what kind of future tank versus tank scenario is realistic? China invading Taiwan? A Middle East war involving several Arab states and Israel? Pakistan attacking India? China making a land grab into Russia? It doesn’t matter, the tanks remains a major engine of war. We need to have tanks if only because our enemies have them too.

If the ongoing need to neutralise enemy tanks has been established, our future tank destroying requirements cannot only be met with dismounted troops operating hand-held ATGWs such as NLAW and JAVELIN, because any armoured assault would also be accompanied with mobile infantry. Our own infantry will be busy fighting enemy infantry so wouldn’t have the bandwidth to perform a substantial anti-tank role. Nor will long-range vehicle mounted ATGW systems be sufficient either. The attack helicopter is likely to become an increasingly important battlefield asset, but since they cost around 5-10 times as much as battle tanks, the economic case for their indiscriminate use might not stack up in a protracted conflict against an enemy who could down our choppers with relative ease. Similarly, as suggested elsewhere, strike aircraft cannot be expected to operate with impunity. Air superiority is one of the few strategic luxuries in counter-insurgency operations, but only until insurgent forces acquire sophisticated hand-held air-to-air missile systems. Besides which, as we all know, aircraft cannot hold ground. In other words, we will need vehicles that combine firepower, mobility and protection. That sounds very much like a tank to me. Moreover, as has been proven by countless campaigns since World War 2, the best weapon to take out a tank is another tank. We will therefore continue to need highly mobile, well-protected platforms that can traverse all terrain and armed with appropriate weapons. If tanks are the future, the question is how should they evolve?

At the end of World War 2, tank firepower was considerably greater than tank protection or mobility. With Leopard 1, the German Bundeswehr acknowledged the fact that, since even the most well-protected tank of the immediate postwar period could be pierced by modern 90 mm or 105 mm tank guns, they needed to be agile. If a tank was fast it could avoid being hit – a better solution than trying to make a tank withstand a hit. With the advent of Chobbham armour, design parameters shifted again. The Challenger concept gave birth to the modern 60 tonne leviathan. It could go anywhere, do anything and it didn’t matter how fast or slow it was. Chobbham armour-equipped tanks are well protected against direct cannon fire, light anti-tank weapons, IEDs and indirect artillery. However, modern 125 mm Russian and Chinese tank guns are capable of neutralising the likes of Challenger 2, Abrams and Leopard 2. Sophisticated bombs and rockets delivered by strike aircraft would also be able to stop them. They’re big targets and likely to become the focus of any enemy counter-attack wherever they are used.

Most existing NATO tank models are more modern if not superior to those of the former Warsaw Pact, PLA, KLA and Iran, so are likely to remain in service until they literally fall apart. Sooner or later, however, we will need to replace our tank inventories. But, if the question of whether we replace them has been answered, the issue of what we replace them is far from clear. The Israelis are arguably the only people who have really considered the problem in any depth. The Merkava is interesting because it represents a genuine evolution of the species. By moving the engine forward, the Merkava provides increased protection across the frontal arc. In the event of a hit, it allows the crew to exit through a rear hull door which is much safer than baling out through the turret. Its rear compartment facilitates more efficient stowage and reloading of ammunition. The only downside is an increased thermal signature, since all tanks already have massive thermal signatures this isn’t too much of a worry.

Another interesting development is active anti-missile defence systems. The israelis have introduced a range of sophisticated sensors mounted to the exterior of a vehicle and which is capable of detecting incoming missiles. When a missile is identified the system triggers the firing of a ring of defensive ball bearings that detonate an ATGW before it strikes the armour. Impressive as anti-missile systems are, they won’t protect the vehicle in the event of multiple missile strikes. A further development is reactive armour, which has also been proven to reduce the effectiveness of ATGWs. Anti-missile systems and reactive armour add expense, complexity and weight. They increase maintenance requirements to ensure their integrity. Despite their benefits, they will not stop high energy kinetic APFSDS penetrators. In fact, the traditional tank gun appears to have considerable life left in it asserting tanks versus tank relevance in future conflicts.

Top attack missiles which pierce the thinner turret roofs of tanks, e.g. JAVELIN, have become popular. Even if they hit the engine decking instead of the turret, the resulting fire can ignite the ammunition stored in the base of the turret or turret bustle.

Despite new technology, most armoured vehicles can still be destroyed without too much trouble. In many ways, we’ve returned to the same situation that existed after World War 2: if tanks can’t withstand being hit, the best form of defence is to avoid being hit. Therefore, mobility is once again taking precedence. Whether this is true or not, tanks are likely to become smaller, lighter and faster. The 120 mm smoothbore has become a standard NATO tank calibre. There is no reason why it cannot incorporate any ammunition type required. Autoloaders are becoming simpler, lighter and more reliable . They reduce crew requirements from 4 to 3. This enables the crew to be located centrally in a highly protected central armoured cell. This reduces the overall armour requirement, lightening the vehicle. The main gun can be mounted in a remote turret with an armoured magazine directly behind it feeding it. Situational awareness would be provided by multiple cameras mounted around the vehicle. It is entirely possible with existing technology to increase the overall level of protection for the crew while reducing overall vehicle weight to around 35 tonnes. The UK’s new Scout SV for reconnaissance units, while far from ideal, shows the way ahead. Like the Merkava, it has much better frontal protection than its predecessor. Its 40 mm CTA cannon can neutralise more than 50% of the tanks and other AFVs scattered across the planet. The same vehicle with a 105 mm gun and an autoloader would only be around 5 tonnes heavier. It costs about ¼ the price of a Leopard 2 (€1.5 million versus €5.5 million).

The other really interesting future development is the development of the armoured equivalent of the airborne drone. This is a kind of remote controlled mobile mine. Tracked or with multiple wheels, it is small, light and fast. You would drive one right under the belly of a tank and then detonate it. With a large shaped charge, it would be every bit as lethal as an IED. A battalion of dug-in infantry operating hundred or so armoured drones against a tank regiment could stop a tank regiment of 50 tanks in its tracks. The same kind of weapon, but with ball bearings instead of a shaped charge could be used to repel advancing infantry.

The need deploy troops nationally and internationally, has given birth to a new breed of armoured vehicle: the 8×8 wheeled armoured infantry carrier. Designed to deliver troops to wherever they are needed, they offer good protection from IEDs, light cannons and indirect artillery fire. They are big and carry offensive weapons. That makes them an armoured target in their own right. So when we deploy 8×8 infantry formations, they will need to be supported by 8x8s that can neutralise other 8x8s as well as tanks. So we’re likely to see more 8x8s that look like the Italian Centauro, which is best described as a wheeled tank destroyer and which is equipped with a 105 mm or 120 mm gun.

In a typical future conflict scenario, airborne forces in helicopters would be used to seize strategic targets such as airports, roads and bridges. 8×8 infantry formations would be despatched to interdict them and cut them them off. And then full-on armoured units will be used to conduct set-piece attacks to eliminate them. Combat helicopters and strike aircraft would be used as the situation dictates, making local anti-aircraft weapon systems vital. Achieving success in a fast moving, rapidly evolving tactical situation will require clever tactics as much as superior weapons and troops. I can see a situation where an entire infantry battalion deploys by using every available private car, expressly commandeered for the purpose. The need for vehicles to get from A to B, whatever types of vehicles are used, will create a corresponding requirement to destroy them. This will necessitate light tanks as well as heavy ones. The tank as we know it is dead, but the tank as a concept lives on.

November 1, 2012 2:05 pm

On a more interesting note, I actually wonder if the traditional layout of the tank needs to be changed for greater efficiency.

Most western tanks are conventional layout with rear mounted engine. The Merkava system of moving the engine to the front leaves the back free for a mission bay which I can see the potential to be very useful, maybe as an infantry bay, a NLOS missile bay, ADS, mobile CP, UAV control, motar, air defence or even a simply resupply carrier. Lots of flexibility.

Another possible change would be a centralised driver position, having the driver in the middle like some of the GD proposed designs takes the driver away from the left and protects him better.

November 1, 2012 2:39 pm

Oh my gawd! The Curse of the Module strikes again……

November 1, 2012 3:11 pm

@ Monty
“It is highly unlikely that the old Cold War scenario of massed armoured divisions roaring across the north German plains will ever become a likely future risk again. But who could have predicted the Falklands Campaign or Gulf War 1?”
It’s hardly the same thing. It would take advisory decades to build up a sufficient military force to strike at NATO in this way. China is the only conceivable nation with the potential economic might to do so and it would have to go a long way to reach NATO’s boarders. Would it even be theoretically possible to supply such a massive force from China to Europe without the use of the sea because you could be dammed sure they would not get a ship past Singapore with NATO’s vast over whelming naval superiority.
@ Jeremy M H
“Honestly I think all the hand-wringing about the role of tanks is overblown. They have a role on the battlefield of the future that is valuable but is part of a combined arms team. Just as they have since roughly 1941-42 when everyone learned to stop pooping their pants at the first sight of the things.”

I have to agree with you Jeremy, I think tanks do have a place on the modern battlefield. The big question is whether or not that place is sufficient enough to sacrifice other assets.
Lots of apparently obsolete weapons could have remained very useful after they were taken away. Battleships would have been useful in several instances since the 1950’s. Wellington is said to have asked if it was possible to have longbow’s deployed in the Napoleonic war.
We know there is virtually zero chance of us ever being committed to a major war in the defence of the UK or Western Europe. Any threat we face will come from far away and will inevitably see us as the aggressors invading someone else’s turf. NATO has some 18,000 tanks so does it make any difference how many we have.
What NATO does lack is high mobile expeditionary forces and it has required these far more often than massed armoured divisions.
I don’t think the UK should get rid of its armour yet. Challenger II is still and excellent vehicle and it has a lot of life left in it. Force 2020 with some 200+ tanks seems about right to me. It would also seem reasonable to pass more of the armour over to the reserves in the longer term. The regulars could stay in the tank game but perhaps on a reduced footing something like the USMC deploying smaller numbers of tanks in combined arm’s group’s rather than on mass in a Brigade. If we ever do have to do a GW1 style battle then this is a much better job for reservists than say a protracted COIN conflict which is probably far better done by the regular’s.

November 1, 2012 3:15 pm

@ X

“Oh my gawd! The Curse of the Module strikes again……”

How about a tank with no armour and only a 7.62 gun fitted that can travel at 200 mph and can deploy terminator style robot’s with either death ray’s or humanitarian aid packages out of the back.

Kind of the LCS on land concept :-)

November 1, 2012 3:20 pm

lol X, I’m not stupid enough to believe the “swap in 24hrs” crap, I’m more of a “build it and leave the F-ing thing alone you itchy fingered %^&*#”. If by some mischance you need a remodule, it’s best to send it back to the factory for a month or so, no “in the field” crap. It’s the added systems that I want, not the modular design.

November 1, 2012 3:35 pm

“deploy terminator style robot’s with either death ray’s or humanitarian aid packages out of the back.”

To the Americans, both are the same thing. :P

November 1, 2012 4:23 pm

We should be careful about saying only China has the potential to threaten us. Germany went from flat broke to global super power (albeit not for long) in not much more than a decade. I’m not Tom Clancyesque fetishist for unlikely and convoluted scenario’s but history shows these happen and they can happen very fast indeed.


November 1, 2012 4:46 pm

@ Observer

I know you are not. That’s why I said it! :)

@ Martin

To be honest that is what will do for the tank as we know it. Remote crews communicating with their vehicle over frequency hopping battle field networks. Smaller vehicles. Vehicles that walk. But that is 50 years away…..

@ Phil

There difference is the Germans had the intellectual where with all.

The shift will come when the Chinese start to move AFV all types to Africa to protect their mines, farms, etc. etc. (and planes and other stuff.)

November 1, 2012 4:49 pm


I am not suggesting that we could suddenly be surprised by a massive Cold War scenario armoured attack. But it is not inconceivable that we could be involved in a conflict where large scale conventional tank versus tank battles might occur. For example, a European ally could get involved in a dispute with a former Soviet Union satellite state that could turn ugly. In such a situation, we might well deploy armour to repulse an incursion.


Yes, absolutely. You expressed exactly what i meant.

November 1, 2012 5:07 pm

@ Phil – True Germany was flat broke but still had awesome industrial potential and it kept its hand in the R&D game while Britain and France abandoned much of what they had in the 1920’s. Taking on NATO would be an awesome challenge especially in its enlarged configuration. Even the USSR would likely have found that an insurmountable challenge and Russia at 140 million is not in the same ball park as NATO will 700 million or so of the richest most technologically advanced people on the planet. I just could not conceive of another country or group of countries that would have a hope this side of the 22nd century.

November 1, 2012 6:05 pm

“NATO has some 18,000 tanks so does it make any difference how many we have.” –

well yes it does matter, because 10K of them belong to the Yanks, so if we cut ours from 400 to 200 (approx), NL get rid completely, Germany reduce heavily, and France and Italy have small enough numbers already, what happens when every other Euro-NATO member state does the same for economic reasons – 8,000 and dropping, rapidly……

“What NATO does lack is high mobile expeditionary forces and it has required these far more often than massed armoured divisions”

NATO is a defensive treaty alliance for collective defense, not selected foreign policy offense – so as far as I know the ARRC’s deployment to Afghanistan is NATO’s one and only expeditionary deployment – which technically was a late response to the 9/11 attacks which were considered an attack on NATO due to all the different NATO member national casualties. (I dont consider the Balkans to be “expeditionary” IMHO)

Monty – loved your comment. Active Defense systems come in many and varied forms already, some which use active interceptors (i.e. mini-rockets) and the manufacturers say they can also take out APFSDS “long rods” as well as ATGW / RPG – and some can’t.

As for little tracked robots – self guided ? Then tanks need appropriate sensor and weapon to shoot them on the way in. Wireless remote control – Jamming. Wire guided, call down artillery to kill guiders, cut wires etc

As for Centauro style 8 x 8 – good god man, dont start the wheels versus tracks debate, again…. :-)

I say we take all the money for DfID, buy all the NL Leo 2, and replace all 400 Chally 2 main guns with 120mm breach loading smooth bore launchers, so we can have “NATO standard MBT” and a “Heavy Infantry Support Tank” too……. !!

Peter Elliott
November 1, 2012 6:14 pm

For me: keep Ch2 going until 2030 with suitable mods and updates to keep it useful in CCCCC battle spaces.

In the meantime prepare a British design similar to the Merkava with engine forward and a rear comparment.

Then use it for a family of AFV to replace both C2 and Warrior: one version with a turret and big gun and one with more hull space for troops.

Gun calibre to be common with whatever Arty piece we have in service by then. Assuming heavy Arty is still covered by GMLRS it would either be 105mm to match the Light Gun, or replace the Light guns with a compatible 120mm piece.

Should be able to afford a production run for UK forces of about 500 (200 ‘Tank’ variants and 300 ‘AFV’ variants) and also be pretty good for export.

Job done.

[Hope this has not spoiled Articles 4 and 5 of TD’s thread]

November 1, 2012 6:19 pm

“I just could not conceive of another country or group of countries that would have a hope this side of the 22nd century.”

No need. Events, dear boy, will conceive for us.

Air and land components are able to be expanded the fastest and with the least investment in R&D and without long lead times.

Like I said, I’m not a fantasist, but you won’t find any serious thinker on the subject whose responsibility it is to worry about these things being so dismissive.

Germany in her new organisation retains some degree of home defence regeneration, we retain at least lip service to regeneration, France the same, home defence structures are retained in Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands and Belgium to some degree or other.

Not one single country in Europe has wholesale eliminated all aspects of home defence. Poland is another example.

John Hartley
John Hartley
November 1, 2012 7:23 pm

A scenario.
With all the defence cuts in Europe(countries selling off their tanks), + all the hardware & turmoil in the Middle East, is their a risk of a mass unified invasion of Europe by the Middle East countries?

November 1, 2012 7:31 pm

Actually if you were looking for a cheap way to boost Home Defence, you could try an “on paper” design for a way to convert civilian vehicles to “technicals”. Nothing fancy, bolt on rolled steel armour (to a limit), firing ports, maybe roof mounted MG or small AT rocket or just a simple hatch cut into the roof to fire weapons from. A way to quickly boost motorised firepower by requisitioning civilian vehicles. When you need it, just do a quick low rate armour production run, and start bolting on the stuff, similar to quicky weapons manufacturing during WWII.

No vehicle storage issues, no maintainance, just plans stored somewhere ready for use.

November 1, 2012 7:32 pm


You have to convince them to stop pounding on each other first. :)

Peter Elliott
November 1, 2012 7:35 pm

Ah, the Islamic caliphate straw man…

Also includes a ready made domestic fifth column threat…

Seriously probably not: the Arabs, Turks, Sunnis, Shias, Africans, Persians etc etc all mistrust each other too much after several centuries of mutual back stabbing.

As much chance of the Eurozone getting it together sufficiently to re-conquor the Holy Land.

But fun for a bit of straw man based fantasy Army planning…

November 1, 2012 7:42 pm

Damn got distracted.

Most bots I’ve seen can simply be dealt with by an infantryman booting them over onto their side/back and stomping hard on their optics/weapons mounts. And infantrymen are everywhere. :)

There was an old STK designed remote vehicle that carried a MATADOR for AT use, no need to roll under the tank and self destruct, just get within 100m and shoot his tracks off. I’ll try to find the pic. It never really took off. Phil, yes, MATADOR’s name of the ASM.

November 1, 2012 7:55 pm

@ Peter Elliot

The trouble won’t be an invasion more having a huge region of instability on our doorstep that will require military like “policing” to keep the southern shores of Europe safe. And as that article points there is problem of distant disputes being fought on our streets.

November 1, 2012 7:59 pm

While the engine-front design has a number of advantages, it is also suffers drawbacks that are not commonly acknowledged.

Weight distribution – if you have your two single heaviest components in the same place (frontal armour and engine) then you have to displace other components rearwards which impacts on fields of fire, gun depression, silhouette and related issues.
Survivability – Having the engine in the front means that you also need to put your air vents in the front. These are always going to be a weak point. It also puts your drive sprockets at the front where they are more vulnerable.

If we are looking for a post-2030 time-frame, then a distributed hybrid system would seem, to me, to be more of a step forward.

Peter Elliott
November 1, 2012 8:01 pm


Agreed. But if we are dealing with a complex bubbling shit-storm rather than big scary caliphate then our needs are subtly different. We need:

Ships, ships, planes, ships, Royal Marines, heicopters, planes and ships to exert influence without invading anyones homeland.

We need troops at home not-equipped-as-armoured-divisions to support the police in case it all kicks off at home.

Peter Elliott
November 1, 2012 8:05 pm

@Mr fred

You answer your own question. Diesel-electric is actually here now. Running around the streets of London, Oxford and Reading in BAE powered buses.

Still needs vents at the front for the diesel engine. But it is a smaller unit and doesn’t need a direct connection to the driven wheels so can be shunted around the front end of the hull to acheive the optimum position.

November 1, 2012 8:08 pm

X, that still doesn’t mean they’re going to push into Europe, nor is it a wise idea to go poking into a region for “external policing” that is as unstable as he claims, though the “Jerusalem Times” might be a bit on the biased side, heaven forfend.

I honestly believe India might be a more likely flashpoint than as PE described it, the Islamic strawman. If Pakistan kicks off against them again, they might call for help, especially if they’re worried they might get pincered between Pakistan and an opportunistic China.

Bad colour pic, but you can see the AT launcher. Just didn’t take off in a big way. More like crashed and burned. Interesting possibilities though.

Peter Elliott
November 1, 2012 8:17 pm


Agree with the India / Pakistan scenario.

Imagine if both China and New-Taliban Afghanistan came in on the Pakistani side and you might also get various East African clients stirring it up. Not that E African dictators, pirates and militias are a serious military threat, but enough to disrupt the Indian Ocean sea lanes in a pretty awkward way if they all pitched in together.

In that scenario India could use some help. Whether they would be prepared to ask for it is another question. Proud nationalists you Indians. And not exactly keen on the ex-colonial power.

November 1, 2012 8:31 pm

PE, that’s my read on them too. If they do call for help, I suspect a change of government next elections. They would have to be in a really tight spot to start squealing. Which getting hammered by one country while suspecting another might be looking for a right time to plant one in your back might qualify. :)

Not really likely though.

November 1, 2012 8:34 pm

Peter Elliot,
I didn’t realise I was posing a question. I am aware of the current state-of-the-art regarding hybrids.
If the powerplant is not at the front then you don’t need the vents there. The engines need not be so big and can be accommodated in multiple locations, such as down the sides at the rear, retaining a central or offset path out the back and improving weight distribution.

November 1, 2012 8:35 pm

Jed: “Monty – loved your comment. Active Defense systems come in many and varied forms already, some which use active interceptors (i.e. mini-rockets) and the manufacturers say they can also take out APFSDS “long rods” as well as ATGW / RPG – and some can’t.”

The key phrase is “the manufacturers say”. No ADS system has been proven in combat (to my knowledge), let alone against a useful range of threats and situations. All will have counter-measures developed for them. All have significant monetary, weight, training, and support costs.

To date, are there any top-attack ATGMs or guided, anti-armor artillery rounds (e.g. BONUS, SADARM) in widespread use by any likely NATO or US enemy? I can’t think of any.

November 1, 2012 8:40 pm

@ Observer

I said “The trouble won’t be an invasion more having a huge region of instability on our doorstep that will require military like “policing” to keep the southern shores of Europe safe.”

We Europeans have already been policing the other side of the Mediterranean, or did you sleep through Libya?

If their is piracy, drug smuggling, Europeans held hostage, movements of refugees (read economic migrants), terrorism, or whatever there may need to be military action. States have armed forces for defence. Further I said “policing” which is good way from Europe invading the Middle East…

As for Israeli bias, well the Israelis seem to know what is happening on the ground in the Middle East to a greater extent than most Middle Eastern governments. I don’t subscribe to the rather simplistic, false, and engineered Leftist view of Israel and how she interacts with its neighbours and the rest of the world. Prima-facie evidence, undisputed facts about the Middle Eastern states’ economics, politics, religious divides, and demographics, and even the most cursory understanding of the region’s history would put the region as staying, despite all this Arab Spring rhubarb, to use a very technical term, a bit of a shit hole.

Peter Elliot said “But if we are dealing with a complex bubbling shit-storm rather than big scary caliphate then our needs are subtly different.”

The Italians and Spanish are already feeling the strain. If things get worse they could reach breaking point.

As for ” Ships, ships, planes, ships, Royal Marines, heicopters, planes and ships to exert influence without invading anyone’s homeland.”

Invasion and going ashore for a limited foray are different things. If amphibious assaults can’t be used against a failing state who can they be safely used against? Hasn’t the post-Cold War period for the West’s military been a litany of more than policing, less than war actions? Hezabollah etc. are scary dudes. If we have an organisation like that in one state why not another? Look at the criminal organisations in Nigeria or the likes of Janjaweed in Sudan. If you know your history you will know about the First and Second Barbary Wars, to the shores of Tripoli as the US Marines’ Hymn goes….

Peter Elliott
November 1, 2012 8:49 pm

…but not to Missisipili (Tom Lehrer)

@X I agree, which is why I included RM in my list. Going back a few hundred comments someone proposed a massed tank invasion of Europe by the armoured arabic hordes, which was what I was disagreeing with.

Peter Elliott
November 1, 2012 8:52 pm

November 1, 2012 9:00 pm

“To date, are there any top-attack ATGMs or guided, anti-armor artillery rounds (e.g. BONUS, SADARM) in widespread use by any likely NATO or US enemy? I can’t think of any.”

Smitty, there are no likely NATO or US enemies.

There are only small power NATO or US might choose to get in a brawl with.

November 1, 2012 9:12 pm

@ Peter E


November 1, 2012 9:26 pm

Smithy, the only ADS I can confirm that have been tested in combat is the Trophy, though there are reports that the Soviet Drozd was used in Afganistan.


Israel may be my allies (well, “defence partners”. Allies imply a mutual defence pact), but I’m not so naive to believe everything out from them is the gospel truth, everyone has bias, and sometimes, you just got to know what topics your friend is a bit rabid on, if not for fact checking, then at least to avoid the topic to save your ears. Arabs are one topic best to avoid around Israelis. Not to say the ME isn’t a mess, it’s probably not going to meltdown as bad as the report says. Israel tends to assume the worst of them.

” Further I said “policing” which is good way from Europe invading the Middle East.”

The distinction can be very slight. Any nationalist will call any foreign soldier an invader.

Either way I’m still with PE that it’s not really the prime potential flashpoint, and even if they do start butchering each other in job lots, what can you do? Step in between them and get both sides hacked off at you like NATO did in the Balkans? Best course would be to let them get it out of their system by mass bloodletting while keeping out of the line of fire.

November 1, 2012 9:32 pm

@ Observer

I don’t believe everything either. :) You have to take a balanced view. Israel (democracy, highest GDP in the region, etc. etc.) or well anywhere else in the ME. (Turkey is too much of crossroads state to be included with the ME..)

If they start butchering each other that’s fine as long as they do it on their side of the Med and their violence doesn’t spread on to the streets of Europe.

November 1, 2012 10:19 pm

This 90,000 tanks that could potentially attack NATO. Do the owners of them have 90,000 rough terrain low loaders and enough good heavy diesel mechanics to get from Korea or Khorramshahr to the start-line? Please.

November 1, 2012 10:23 pm

@ Observer

What happens if they start butchering each other in Bradford or Burnley?

Two weeks ago, BBC Wales’s version of Panorama, Week in, Week Out, commenced its new run. The first episode showed an Undercover Reporter’s results in infiltrating a Welsh based ultra Islamic cell, radicalizing young Muslims! Very disturbing and worrying. It showed how he was drawn in and drip fed information! When the reporter then asked about how he should spread the message of Jihad. He was told not to speak of it to anyone, as he would soon be arrested.

It should still be on the BBC’s I-Player.

John Hartley
John Hartley
November 1, 2012 11:21 pm

Agreed the Mid East spends most time fighting each other, but a weak Europe might tempt them to put differences to one side & unite to exploit the opportunity.

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
November 1, 2012 11:43 pm

Europe’s near neighbours to the south and east:
> Hold a considerable arsenal of heavy military equipment and vast numbers of personal AK47s.
> Are ready to form more or less organised militias pretty much at the drop of a hat, and in big numbers.
> Celebrate the idea of charismatic leaders appearing as if from nowhere, uniting the Ummah across tribal and national boundaries and leading conquering armies against those who do not share their world-view…
>…and really, really don’t like us at all
In the circumstances, keeping a good few MBTs handy to even the odds as we get organised seems a pretty reasonable insurance policy.

November 2, 2012 12:27 am

They won’t unite. It would be like having one long Somali coast from Gib to the Turkish border with the obvious exception.

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
November 2, 2012 1:30 am

Not sure we can be confident of that – one of the most compelling images in Islam is of the charismatic leader who unites the Ummah across tribal and national lines and leads a victorious war of conquest against their enemies – granted, Salah Ed Din was the last man to really pull this off; the Turkish Sultans were as much heirs of the Khans as the Caliphs, and the Mahdi was a more or less local phenomenon – but as we all know s**t happens. The world according to AQ is not obviously more bonkers now than the one laid out in Mein Kampf was on publication – and that proved to be a winning election manifesto by 1933!

November 2, 2012 1:36 am

@ Martin

“NATO has some 18,000 tanks so does it make any difference how many we have?”
— Yes.

18,000 tanks, of which how many are actually available for deployment at any one time?

And while Germany may have a healthy number of tanks, as does France, neither opted to participate in the ground war in 2003. Nor did many nations.

The US, and perhaps Canada and Australia, are about the only nations we can rely on to have similar aims to us, and even that is not always the case.

It’s the reason we retain an amphibious capability of our own, despite the US having a Marine Corps the same size as our regular army.

November 2, 2012 3:10 am

@ Jeremy H
A scenario.
With all the defence cuts in Europe(countries selling off their tanks), + all the hardware & turmoil in the Middle East, is their a risk of a mass unified invasion of Europe by the Middle East countries?

Given that tiny little Israel has given a combined middle eastern force a drubbing on several occasion’s I seriously doubt Europe has to worry about a new Moorish style invasion.
Let’s not forget that Arab countries tend to hate each other far more than they hate us as well. I am also damed sure Israel would nuke the entire region if it thought they had such grand plans.
The Arab countries also lack the industrial and technological capability to mount any kind of offensive against Europe. I am sure eve the Chinese would flinch if the suddenly got an order for 15,000 tanks to mount an invasion of Europe.

Brian Black
Brian Black
November 2, 2012 7:42 am

So instead of dismantling the British forces on the continent, we should have swung them around to meet the threat of Arab invasion. There’d be quite a bottle-neck though, for the massed arab army heading into Europe; presumably through Spain or Greece, with Spain probably providing a better terrain for those thousands of tanks. Italy would be handier for Egypt to shift its Abrams in an amphibious assault without the long trek east or west, but it was a bit of a pain in WWII. Without the broad front, across which we faced the Soviets, it will be easier to defend Europe in this new cold war – and it should be easier to see the arabs coming.

November 2, 2012 8:43 am

For the time being it’s more reasonable for them to fear us and to emigrate to us for economic reasons than for us to fear them.

They need at the very least an alliance and very good relations with a potent arms manufacturer such as Russia, India or China in order to be a conventional threat.

November 2, 2012 9:36 am


5th columnists are fine and dandy, but on a scale of total war, small cells are really small potatoes, you would have the advantage in numbers and local support. If even a reporter can get in, I’m not impressed with their internal security.

Gloomy, agree on the Shah El Udin number 2. Ironically though, everyone there wants to be Saladin number 2, no one wants to be “follower of Saladin number 2” :) Which ensures none of them ever will be. Culturally, it’s probably also why they’re more tolerent of dictators. Or at least used to be.

November 2, 2012 9:48 am

An Arab Army? They hate each other almost as much as they hate us. There’s a reason why there hasn’t been a caliphate for some time. And when the oil runs out we can expect the wretches to go out with some drama and then silence.

As for influencing people with the Royal Marines. Hmmmmm. The USMC fetish is back I see.

November 2, 2012 10:14 am

Phil, when did gunboat diplomacy ever go out of style? :P

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
November 2, 2012 10:23 am

I take Observer’s point, but being Gloomy never say never on the possibility that the 2nd Saladin might eventually arise. With respect to Phil I am not sure I envisage a full on Arab Army in the first instance; my worst nightmares feature large numbers of jihadists in technicals on rusting car ferries pulling up at Harbours across the Dodecanese – and growing emboldened because we Europeans wring our hands rather than responding effectively and the authorities in their home ports can’t or won’t intervene to contain them at source. Granted, tanks would be of limited value at the beginning of that scenario – although they would have some – but they are important as an expression of will; and would be essential if in the end we needed to act collectively in North Africa and the Near East to bring matters to a satisfactory conclusion.

November 2, 2012 10:30 am

Arabia has a death sentence. Once it’s only natural resource is gone there’s nothing going for it. I know some economies are diversifying but I can’t see them surviving the end of Arabian oil era very well. It also has the unpleasant distinction of being in the Middle of the World astride some important water ways which means it will probably get fought over. And being a largely arid hopeless desert I would bet people wouldn’t feel so bad about dropping some nukes.

November 2, 2012 10:56 am

@ Phil re influence and marines

There is a bit, just a bit, of difference between being able to mount limited excursions (destroying pirate bases, protecting evacuees) ashore in failing states or states without centralised authority (civil war etc.) and “influence”.

November 2, 2012 11:05 am

Yes I agree. We shouldn’t confuse the two. I’m all for MEU style capabilities and the ability to regenerate very quickly a Commando Brigade landing force but I think people sometimes go too far. Yes the USMC is quite the organisation but it hasn’t won any wars on its tod and the largest opposed amphibious landing in history involved 5 Army divisions and 3 airborne ones. The invasion of Japan was also going to be overwhelmingly Army.

November 2, 2012 11:08 am

This is an excellent post and makes one think.

“…final resolution of conflict will involve people and where they live, strategic success will often, but not exclusively, be achieved through the results of actions on the ground…”

Thank you. That is something I’ve needed to understand for a while and have simply overlooked or not truly appreciated.

However, I see the gist of this post being to do with cost…

The cost of neutralising some of these cheap weapon systems is simply too high.

1. Hellfire to take out a car with a GPMG?
2. AMRAAM to take out a Cessna with a dumb bomb strapped below?
3. Aster to take out this mini-armoured quad-copter?

–> larger numbers of “lesser” assets matter.

For example, someone talked about intercepting a salvo of 200+ Cruise Missiles launched from an amassed fleet of enemy subs. I’d counter with every Hawk trainer armed with sidewinder rather than Typhoon QRA.

November 2, 2012 11:19 am

@ Phil

What this discussion is showing (as we all know if you come here) is that things aren’t getting any safer are they? Good thing we are cutting back on military spending isn’t it? :)

Further I think we have to divorce the terms “amphibious” and “marine”. A variation on you separating “army” and “airborne”.

It is sobering to think how much it took to button down Ulster during the Troubles too……