Do I actually believe this? - well sort of. The point of the title is to provoke some interesting discussion.
Why do I say this?
The concept of the tank came about to break the deadlock of WW1 caused by entrenched positions covered with machine gun fire. Protect the infantry from machine guns.
People may argue that this is not the case citing the German advances of Kaiserslacht which without tank support also managed to break the stalemate by employing the use of Stormtroopers etc. but fundamentally they were still unprotected infantry, just faster and better deployed and it was a failed gamble so this example fails. Had the Germans had tanks in numbers they would have used them.
The 'tank' itself was spawned from this trench warfare and started designed for this purpose in mind. Sponson mounted guns enabling the majority of firepower to be directed sideways along enemy defensive lines, the shape of tanks with tadpole tails and tracks designed for crossing trenches. A slow speed to allow infantry to keep up with the tanks because there was an early realization that tanks could not operate without infantry and that infantry were getting mowed down without effective armoured support.
So originally there were no light, medium or heavy tanks, just a ‘tank’.
Very quickly it was realized that the lumbering Male, Female or Hermaphrodite tanks lacked the ability to perform all of the roles the army required of them. Reconnaissance was still needed and although cavalry was still around the writing was on the wall for it, cars could not cross the rough terrain so ‘fast’ tanks were needed. Sometimes called ‘cavalry’ tanks these were meant to be the eyes of the army on the ground and these light tanks were scouts.
Subsequently anti-armour weapons and anti-tank tactics improve to counter tanks and so we have infantry support tanks having to have more armour and get slower and heavier as automotive technology struggles to keep up so there becomes a gap for a ‘medium tank’. A tank faster than a heavy infantry support tank but with slightly better armour than a light tank but not as well armed as a heavy tank.
Prior to WW2 we then have a situation where like the French army have heavy infantry support tanks like the B1, very heavily armed and armoured but outmaneuvered by lighter faster and better deployed medium German tanks.
The need for lots of tanks in a production war of WW2 where large numbers of reasonably reliable vehicles were more important than a few heavy tanks meant tanks like the Sherman and T-34 which could be produced in massive numbers had an automatic preference to armies and politicians over heavier vehicles. The problem was that they lacked protection.
Crews knew that if they met an enemy tank their weaker armour and weaker gun would mean they were at a disadvantage and their casualty rates were dreadful. For some armies though men’s lives were cheaper than vehicles. The apparent success of the medium tank in WW2 then comes due to:
1) an unnecessary cost in human lives – ‘we have a huge manpower pool, they do not so we can use it to our advantage’
2) the need for mass production- ‘we can produce 10 tanks for each one they make’ and standardization of a poor design makes repairs easier
3) they won the war-well in fairness the Germans were pretty screwed from the start and the overproduction of medium tanks did not necessarily make their defeat any more inevitable.
Medium tanks were pretty much hated anyway. Crews want protection so for example when the Pershings come to theater they are typed as ‘heavies’ as much for the benefit of their crews morale as anything to do with reality of their envisaged deployment or role.
Look at the ‘famous’ or ‘successful’ medium tanks of WW2:
The Sherman: generally hated for a lack of protection- scorned by the Germans for the ease with which the ammunition could be set on fire. Cue ‘tommy cooker’ or ‘ronson’ moniker. Made in huge numbers and lost in large quantities too.
The T-34: a badly made, crude tank with relatively poor armour benefitting from the surprise that it even existed but quickly knocked out. Made in enormous numbers and burned in equally large numbers too.
The Panther: when it worked it was a powerful design but with seriously poor side armour so when it is flanked was knocked out easily. So mechanically unreliable it was never able to be used to its full potential. Made in modest numbers and neither reliable enough to be useful or armoured enough to survive a coordinated enemy.
Were any of them really successful as a tank design? Or was their success in the case of the Sherman or T-34 not just due to the numbers used?
The mythos of the medium tank is that it won WW2. Yes, Germany was beaten but it was beaten by its own corruption, incompentance and the enormnous produciton capability of the allies. Not by some flimsy and substandard tanks.
So what about now?
Well we don’t bother with making light or medium tanks now because we type tanks as Main Battle Tanks (MBT). The MBT is essentially viewed by many as the evolution of the medium tank. The prevailing theory being that heavy tanks were a dead-end-defeated by anti-armour technology and poor reliability. But this is a false dichotomy.
A modern MBT weighs as much if not more than a WW2 heavy tanks and carries significantly more armour. So the reality is that all we have are heavy tanks. Those mediums are what died out due to the lack of armour protection. The lights are a dead-end too replaced by wheeled vehicles with excellent mobility as automotive technology has improved to allow wheeled vehicles to have phenomenal off-road capability.
The size and power of weapons tech means that virtually all infantry anti-armour weapons and those mounted on AFV’s and other vehicles can take out anything other than an MBT. If anything MBTs are getting bigger and heavier.
There are not going to be any 100+ tank on tank mass engagements likely to ever be seen again. The ability to annihilate mass armour movements from the air and have accurate satellite intell. of such movements makes their impact and surprise less and less probably. The trend for tank warfare is for smaller numbers of tanks going back to their original role of infantry support, taking positions and removing enemy strongpoints and tanks.
The Abrams (braces self for incessant whining from fanboys) looks like a case in point to me although all modern MBTs suffer to an extent. Originally designed as X it then gets update after update to maintain its ability to deal with expanding threats. Rather than just admit that it is not heavily armoured enough in the first place to survive threats.
How does this influence my thoughts for the next generation of tank?
Currently we have tanks in service for example like the Challenger 2 or Abrams which we are told ‘service life is due until 2030’ or some such nonsense. Far too long have systems and vehicles which should have been replaced stayed in service for a lack of replacement rather than because they were capable. In 2030 one can imagine a political decision such as 'we have extended the service life to 2050' simply due to cost cutting measures. As if the military or politicians have a clue as to the development of a future threat to these vehicles.
Should we not just be honest about it and say we don’t need X thousand MBTs (pseuo Mediums, but really which are heavies in disguise) but fewer more heavily armoured vehicles?
The military just want a tank which is good enough to do the job and will sacrifice the tanks other attributes in favour of mobility thinking they are some kind of modern day Rommel or that some kind of headlong charge akin in their minds to a Blitzkreig-esque attack is serving some useful purpose and the faster my tank can go the better.
Instead of starting the process by saying ‘we want a tank in the 60 tonne weight class’ which automatically means significant compromise and a tank which cannot survive without serious upgrades over a life of 30 years as front line vehicle should we not say we need a vehicle capable of withstanding not just the current threat but expecting that that threat will increase and prepare for say a 50% increase in the power of anti-armour technology over the projected life-span of the weapons system and design accordingly. The asymmetric nature of modern warfare and the prevalence of more and more powerful anti-armour weapons means we need tanks not limited by a design weigh class but a protection class.
So what if we follow your theory and end up with a 120 tonne or heavier tank?
Firstly modern MBT’s are pretty much restricted land and sea haulage anyway. Any vehicle light enough to be air mobile is not heavily armoured enough to fulfill the tank role.
You can solve this by separating the air-haulage anyway hauling armour, body and if necessary the engine separately and combining them at your location.
Oh a bridge can’t take the weight!
Bullcrap. Modern road bridges can easily take hundreds of tones of load and unless you sit your tank on it for a period of time it will be a temporary loading only. Railbridges takes thousands of tones of trains without issue. Engineers and intell. should be sufficiently capable of actually planning an attack to take these crossings into account. If they aren’t then you have a problem beyond tanks. We do have maps you know.
But we fight in countries with poor infrastructure and poor roads, a heavy tank will just sink into the mud!
Rubbish. My Kia weighs about a tonne and will get stuck in a marsh if I stupid enough to drive it into it. The ground pressure from a vehicle is a design issue and overcome by a bigger track usually. If the tanks gets bigger and heavier it only makes sense that the track would get bigger. As for roads, so what if they are poor quality. Is a poor quality road worse than a field to drive over?
But they’ll be too big to fit in a city!
Any streets which are too narrow to fit the tank into should have never been considered to be a suitable tank environment anyway. Tanks and cities are dangerous bedfellows and even at 120 tonnes the tank itself would only be 20-50% bigger in physical than what we have currently.
But you’re just an armour fanboy aren’t you!
No. But if you are going to have tanks which by definition are supposed to have armour they may as well have the amount they need to survive.
So the Germans were right in WW2 then? (subtext-you’re a closet Nazi)
No. An interest in German tanks does not someone a Nazi anymore than an interest in Swimming makes me a fish.
Their [Germans] production and desire for increasingly big machines would have been fine if they had the automotive technology to ensure that they could actually reach the battle. A King Tiger reliable enough to drive 200 miles and fight would have been truly awesome as a weapon. In the absence of such a system they should have just stuck to what they had the capability of making and concentrated their other resources elsewhere. We do not have such time constraints and limitations and should use the example of German failures as a hindrance to our thought process.
It would be such an easy target!
Modern laser fire control systems mean a modern MBT can basically shoot a round through a window 3km away so why bother trying to pretend we can be small and they’ll miss?
But that size it will be so slow!
Do you need a tank capable of doing 60mph?
For fire support they only need be able at most to be able to keep up with infantry. Rapid advances cause nightmare logistic problems and advancing at 40mph should be plenty sufficient. Action in Iraq seems to show that the majority of tank action was not at 60mph but when the vehicles were stationary or moving slowly anyway.
The idea that bigger means slower is also false. That’s an automotive issue not a tank issue. There are plenty of diesel engines out there powerful enough to haul hundreds or even thousands of tones of equipment around.
Can you outrun a shell? No, the extra speed of the Abrams over its contemporaries is pointless and comes at a huge logistics price. Speed does not equal or trump armour in way shape of form.
But we don’t need tanks at all!
Name another weapon system capable of taking a beating from multiple RPG hits and sitting in the line of fire and providing adequate sustained fire-support and the shock of ‘oh shit there’s a tank outside!’ factor. Until you can the tank will be with us.
Well even if we keep tanks they don’t need big guns; airpower takes out tanks not other tanks.
The lesson from Kosovo showed NATO with the high tech laser guided bombs and a sustained air-campaign with total air supremacy was utterly incapable of taking out more than the occasional vehicle.
Missiles are being more and more capably knocked out by a multitude of measures from lasers to blind the designators on the missiles to active armour systems. Missiles are larger and travel more slowly than a shell. A tank or other vehicle can carry 40-60 or more shells but only a few missiles. A shell is far harder to intercept than a missile.
Well Vollketten, your logic is flawed then, if missiles are easily stopped and the main threat is RPG’s then a light vehicle with an active armour system would work.
Again No. This is false reasoning.
Active armour systems only work within a certain range, get close enough (like in a city) and fire your RPG and it won’t activate in time. They are also hideously dangerous to your own men and civilians. They are also limited by the number of times they can activate. 40 RPG’s are going to get past any active array. They have uses but are not the be-all and end-all of protection.
Well now you're being unreasonable.
No, this is reality. 20 plus RPG’s launched at a single vehicle has not been unknown and some tanks have already survived this.
It’s pointless, an IED could still knock one out.
No vehicle should ever be designed or thought of as indestructible any more than a ship is unsinkable. But that said; it’s not like IEDs should be a surprise to vehicle designers any more than landmines were in WW2.
Protection from mines and IEDs in a design issue to overcome. Instead of just designing tanks constrained by the ‘weigh class’ and ‘must do X speed’ and ‘can take out enemy tanks’ we need to say that if your tank design is 30cm more off the ground with a ‘V’ shaped hull to overcome an obvious, common and more and more threat then so be it.
So what you are suggesting is that the concept of maneuverability is redundant and we should just change the ‘tank triangle’ of a balance between firepower, mobility and protection to be just a two-facetted consideration of firepower and armour?
Absolutely not. I am suggesting that in the current and in all probability the future (next 50 years) of armed conflict the role of tank will not go away and will be more and more an infantry support role. The mobility required to deploy against Soviet massed advances across Europe of the 1980’s is no longer required.
Modest mobility combined with a significant increase in armour is my point. The medium tank concept was fundamentally flawed as it believes that mobility is more important than either of the other two factors. I say no.
We must stop thinking in terms of WW2 scale battles and of tanks we can trot out to arms fairs which can leap of little ramps to please the self-congratulatory crowds (‘we have the best tank in the world because it can jump and shoot’ - whoopy do) and create machines capable of doing what they need to and keep the crews alive at the same time.
If this means we have to accept a future tank which still has a turret but is say also bigger, heavier, uglier and slower than we have then so what? War is not about looking good.
But if for the sake of keeping our fighting men alive; and fighting more efficiently that Americans may have to drop their bizarre love of gas turbines and adopt diesel or the British might have to drop their beloved rifled guns and HESH rounds then so be it.
The modern MBT concept is fudge. They are enormous medium tanks pretending to be a different animal and are neither. Let’s just build tanks to be what they need to be and not have to constantly fudge and fiddle when the enemy does something unimaginable like shoot at your sides or rear.
The armour comes first, then firepower, then mobility. Why?
Because the lives of the men inside the vehicle are paramount.
If as a result we end up with a fugly tank weighing 120 tonnes, so be it.
Edited by Vollketten, Dec 26 2012 - 18:09.