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Thread: Purpose of the MBT?

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    Council Member Chris jM's Avatar
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    Default Purpose of the MBT?

    A question for the more knowledgeable folk out there:

    In 'The Human Face Of War' Jim Storr notes that (page 126):

    ...'the best defence against a tank is a tank' is simply not true. Specialist anti-tank weapons are about 2.5 times better at destroying tanks. Guderin freely admitted it.
    Storr goes on further with some more statistics, but the main thrust of his argument is above. this confuses me as I have always being taught that the tank's reason for being is primarily to kill other tanks. I can agree with Storr, but remain confused as to why MBTs are so predominant in many forces.

    My early, uneducated thoughts (caveated with the fact that I have no experience with armour):

    - MBTs are the most flexible form of armour (as opposed to specialist infantry-support tanks and dedicated missile vehicles), representing the best possible outcome in a trinity of protection, mobility and firepower

    - MBTs are the most suitable capability to accompany infantry into the assault and are able to exploit through contested territory better than any other form of AFV.

    As such, although they are neither the most suited capability for a dedicated infantry-support task or for vehicle-vehicle combat, they remain the most flexible platform around and because of their flexibility are the most suitable capability for the assault and exploitation functions in any army (which, using Storr's paradigm of combat for those who are aware of it, means that the tank is the most suitable capability we have to create widespread shock amongst an enemy force).

    I know some discussion occurred in this thread (http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/...ad.php?t=10546) on the IFV/ AFV concept, however my confusion remains. What is/ where is the utility and value of the MBT?
    Last edited by Chris jM; 09-05-2010 at 05:35 AM.
    '...the gods of war are capricious, and boldness often brings better results than reason would predict.'
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    Council Member 120mm's Avatar
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    Forgive me for not reading through the article, but MBTs exist to exploit penetrations and to provide a mobile "fist" to fight blitzkrieg. The also provide a type of defensive mobility that other platforms lack.

    Specialist anti-tank weapons tend to be inflexible and not very survivable in a conventional battlefield. BTW, in the time it takes a TOW or SAGGER missile to fly to its' target at 3000 m, a well-trained tank crew can hit and kill 2 and possibly 3 targets at the same range.

    Tanks suck at accompanying infantry. It doesn't mean they cannot do it, it's just not a very optimal use of their capabilities and exposes their greatest vulnerabilities. The converse is not true, of course, as infantry accompanying tanks is like peanut butter and jelly.

    BTW, does Storr not even know how to spell Guderian?

    IMO, anyone who concentrates on one system to make a battlefield argument is a naif, an amateur, and should not be taken seriously.
    Last edited by 120mm; 09-05-2010 at 05:51 AM.

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    Council Member Chris jM's Avatar
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    To clarify, that would be me... the misspelling of Guderian was my mistake when I typed up the paragraph.

    Also, in defence of Storr, his argument was not that armour or MBTs are not valid or useful. You are completely right that fixation on one system does not make a valid argument simply by extrapolation. I had simply taken one of his statements as I'm curious as to the subject and placed in on the board in isolation. A few paragraphs earlier Storr had written that "Anti-tank defence illustrates the need to take a systemic view of combat and armed forces." He makes the same point you do - just because scissors trumps paper in a certain situation doesn't mean you decide one is better than the other.

    Thanks for the points, though.
    '...the gods of war are capricious, and boldness often brings better results than reason would predict.'
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    Council Member Fuchs's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris jM View Post
    ... however my confusion remains. What is/ where is the utility and value of the MBT?
    The Main Battle Tank is a vehicle that was developed for intentional use in line-of-sight combat. its crew is capable of justifying the investment into the tank team and the hardware by exploiting the degree of protection offered by the tank for the critical mass of survivability on the battlefield.

    This critical mass does not include invulnerability, but rather vastly reduced or entirely negated effectiveness of most threat weapons. The tank is still vulnerable to few threat weapons - crew training and tank tactics are required to counter these threats for additional survivability on the mission.

    The high survivability in comparison to ""light" forces (especially on open ground) in combination with the internal combustion engine's power offer a high mobility (with a heavyweight weaponry and ammunition) on the battlefield.

    This high practical mobility in face of many threats can be exploited by large unit and formation tactics to great effect.
    Tanks can also be used with assault gun tactics; in this case they serve on the offence as fire support platforms with weapons and ammunitions heavier than practical for dismounted troops.

    The best targets for a tank are those which justify the expenditure of scarce ammunition and the risk involved. Hostile main battle tanks are sometimes in this category, sometimes not. It depends on the other forces' ability to deal with them (does your army have enough effective threats against hostile tanks?).


    (This ability was in doubt since 1940. Anti-tank guns were largely immobile, dedicated tank destroyers/Jagdpanzers were a kind of tank themselves, infantry and engineer anti-tank munitions were very rarely able to withstand concentrated breakthrough attempts.
    The problem continued during the Cold War when shaped charge-based weapons were able to penetrate tanks mostly with unpredictable effect. Their employment either required vicinity (and weighed down the dismounted troops) or depended on missile guidances and long flight times - both offering countermeasure opportunities to the enemy.
    In short; there was little trust in the non-tank-based anti-tank capabilities.)


    edit:
    Lengthened version here:
    About tanks, and why they're a necessity in modern ground forces
    Last edited by Fuchs; 09-05-2010 at 02:10 PM. Reason: added link

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    Default see also...

    The Role of Armour in Urban Combat

    ...an opposing view...

    HEAVY ARMOUR IN SMALL WARS AND INSURGENCIES

    ...and an interesting Israeli monography about the benefits of M1 Ambrams production/acquisition over the Merkava...

    Tank Tops and Heavy Metal: Armour’s Enduring Appeal on the Modern Middle Eastern Battlefield


    Personally I think the combination of Protection, Mobility and Firepower that the MBT brings to the combined arms mix is essential in any kind of operating enviroment be it FIBUA, PSO or World War X.

    In fact, come to think of it, I remember a discussion in Luttwak's, Strategy, (earlier edition, 1987) where he debunked the Cold war myth that the profusion of ATGMs would make MBTs obsolete given the frontages in question, rate of fire and other factors (such as artillery suppression, the fog of war and fog proper, etc.) as well as the MBTs mobility, rate of advance, etc.

    ok, I think I'm done editing now, really must work on my memory.
    Last edited by Tukhachevskii; 09-05-2010 at 02:43 PM. Reason: memory failure...memory failure...memory fail

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    Council Member Infanteer's Avatar
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    Jim Storr's book as an excellent look at a whole gamut of military issues and he attacks a lot of things that military folks/observers take for granted. I'd have to check the reference (I don't have the book available to me now) but the context of Storr's statement is a look at organizing forces for optimal battlefield use. Storr is big on "operational analysis", using data garnished from conflict to inform military debate. Again, I'd have to check the source but I believe he is referencing some form of data (especially from the Mid-East) referencing tank kills to come to his conclusion. IIRC, Storr makes the argument to support his idea of formation level anti-armour organization.

    Gudmunddsson's idea of the "sniper tank" MBT, the current incarnation of the MBT, in On Armor is also interesting. He posits that there is a bit of a dichotomy between "operational mobility" and "tactical capability" (for lack of a better term) and that modern Western MBTs have emphasized the latter at the expense of the former in the last generation of tanks. Almost all development of MBTs has been on targetting systems and, to a lesser extent armour, at the expense of operational mobility. Modern tanks are now "Sniper Tanks", meant to win battles in the first shot (unlike WWII where, usually, tanks would have to smack multiple rounds into eachother to win) but with horrible operational mobility (fuel milage, durability, etc).

    That being said, the average speed of the F echelon of an Armoured Division was the same in 2003 as it was in 1944, so perhaps operational mobility is moot?

    As for an answer to your original question, I've seen two "purposes" for MBTs. In irregular warfare, we use MBTs because insurgents are often unable to really do much to them; we used Leo2s there for a variety of missions when we felt like making a statement. They're essentially moving pillboxes.

    In a more regular setting, there may be validity to the statement that "tanks aren't the best at killing tanks", or at least that they aren't the most efficent method of doing so. In a doctrinal area (static) defence, tanks aren't usually parcelled out in one's defensive area to kill enemy AFVs, but are rather tasked as countermoves/counterattack.
    Last edited by Infanteer; 09-05-2010 at 06:13 PM.

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    Council Member Uboat509's Avatar
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    Clearly the Sagger and the TOW and other 1st and 2nd generation ATGMs are not going to render the MBT obsolete but what effect do some of the newer AT technologies have on this question. 1st and 2nd generation ATGMs had a variety of issues from portability to accuracy and reliability but some of the new technologies seem to be negating many of those issues.

    The fire and forget weapons like the Javelin are one way that these issues are being overcome. With Javelin, the operator no longer needs to remain exposed and immobile while tracking the weapon onto the target and its top-attack mode targets one of the historically weakest areas on the tank.

    The CKEM is another promising technology that seeks to put tank/bunker killing power into a smaller, lighter and (presumably) cheaper package.

    The two technologies (AT and MBTs) seeming to be going in opposite directions. AT technologies seem to be getting smaller, lighter and cheaper while MBTs, in response to these new technologies are getting larger, heavier and more expensive. It reminds me of the problems we were having when I was in Iraq. The IEDs kept getting better and in response we kept adding armor to our HMMWVs, almost to the point of absurdity. It seems to demonstrate that lethality progresses much faster than survivability. At some point I suspect that we will reach a point where simply cannot add anymore armor to the MBT and expect it to move or expect to be able to transport it on any platform other than a ship. AT weapons, on the other hand, will continue to get better. At what point will the lethality of AT outweigh survivability of MBTs to the point of obsolescence?
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    Council Member Fuchs's Avatar
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    CKEM is promising, as has been something called HATM, HVM or similar back around 1980. That technology is apparently a bit like fusion power and battlefield lasers - always a fixed amount of time away.

    Javelin has many issues, as does the conceptionally similar Spike. There are many opportunities for effective countermeasures that could be fitted to legacy tanks. Both systems might end up being obsolete by the time they see a major modern conflict.


    Even vulnerability to these weapons/munitions doesn't change much. A well-used tank force spends little time fighting against battle-ready opponents and much time exploiting.

    edit: HVM. Proof-of-concept missile flew in 1983.
    http://www.designation-systems.net/dusrm/app4/hvm.html
    The proof-of-concept development phase of HVM culminated in a fully successful guided test flight in March 1983. In October 1984, the USAF, U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps agreed to jointly develop the HVM into an operational weapon, which would include a surface-launched variant.
    Last edited by Fuchs; 09-05-2010 at 09:35 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Uboat509 View Post

    The CKEM is another promising technology that seeks to put tank/bunker killing power into a smaller, lighter and (presumably) cheaper package.

    The two technologies (AT and MBTs) seeming to be going in opposite directions. AT technologies seem to be getting smaller, lighter and cheaper while MBTs, in response to these new technologies are getting larger, heavier and more expensive. It reminds me of the problems we were having when I was in Iraq. The IEDs kept getting better and in response we kept adding armor to our HMMWVs, almost to the point of absurdity. It seems to demonstrate that lethality progresses much faster than survivability. At some point I suspect that we will reach a point where simply cannot add anymore armor to the MBT and expect it to move or expect to be able to transport it on any platform other than a ship. AT weapons, on the other hand, will continue to get better. At what point will the lethality of AT outweigh survivability of MBTs to the point of obsolescence?
    Yes, but what is it they say about the defence/offense relationship...defence is always cheaper (i.e., counter-measures). ATGMs were countered by first generation active armour (or re-eactive armour) like the Israeli Blazer system. MBT protection will be vastly improved with the addition of active protection systems like LEDS as well as electric armour (which detonates/prevents detonation/initiates premature detonation[] of the missile warhead section by frying its electrics). Future systems will be capable of engaging hard core penetrators like the HVM or APFSDS penetrators (by knocking them of course rather than destroying them). The real problem are TTPs for the activation of active armour in environments of heavy force density such as FIBUA where infantry will be in intimate support. Will probably necessitate greater dispersion of vehicles in open terrain and the deployment of single vehicles well clear of infantry in urban terrain (sort of like mobile pillboxes). Consequently, I don't see future MBTs weighing as much as the monsters around nowadays (65 tonnes in some cases).
    Last edited by Tukhachevskii; 09-06-2010 at 10:23 AM.

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    Council Member Fuchs's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tukhachevskii View Post
    (...) electric armour (which detonates/prevents detonation/initiates premature detonation[] of the missile warhead section by frying its electrics).(...)

    Electric armour appears to be impractical except probably for niche applications. It's only capable against shaped charges.

    It works very differently as well. The armour plates are effectively two insulated capacitors with a huge voltage. The shaped charge forms outside, its projected metal pierces through the first plate and comes into contact with the second one. Now this copper (or tantalum) from the shaped charge closes the circuit and a huge current flows through it. Some electromagnetic effects disperse the fragile shaped charge metal jet and it is rendered harmless to the main armour behind the second plate.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fuchs View Post
    Electric armour appears to be impractical except probably for niche applications. It's only capable against shaped charges.

    It works very differently as well. The armour plates are effectively two insulated capacitors with a huge voltage. The shaped charge forms outside, its projected metal pierces through the first plate and comes into contact with the second one. Now this copper (or tantalum) from the shaped charge closes the circuit and a huge current flows through it. Some electromagnetic effects disperse the fragile shaped charge metal jet and it is rendered harmless to the main armour behind the second plate.
    Thanks for the clarification, from what I have read the folks designing the stuff aren't too sure about its utility either.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fuchs View Post
    Javelin has many issues
    Can you elaborate on this?

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    Council Member Fuchs's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Granite_State View Post
    Can you elaborate on this?
    - robust lock-on against tanks with good camouflage
    - susceptible to modern countermeasures (specially the active ones)
    - difficulties against targets with same IR profile as their surroundings (the earth bunker problem)
    - sensor in missile drives up the price, thus making the missile less suitable for low chance shots.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fuchs View Post
    - robust lock-on against tanks with good camouflage
    - susceptible to modern countermeasures (specially the active ones)
    - difficulties against targets with same IR profile as their surroundings (the earth bunker problem)
    - sensor in missile drives up the price, thus making the missile less suitable for low chance shots.
    That's not just an issue with the Javelin seeker.

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    Council Member Fuchs's Avatar
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    Javelin has many issues, as does the conceptionally similar Spike.

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    Default A Tank is more then just a gun behind some armor

    Some of the things an MBT can do for you even in small numbers.

    1. Provide stabilized platform with advanced fire control for machine guns.

    2. Provide a range or main gun ammo types to be able to address a wide range of targets and circumstances.

    3. A heavily protected platform from which to rally friendly troops and conduct C2.

    4. A heavy vehicle to use brute force to smash through walls, buildings and obstacles.

    5. A weapon system capable of rapidly firing accurately at point targets at long and very long range.

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    Council Member William F. Owen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TAH View Post
    Some of the things an MBT can do for you even in small numbers.

    1. Provide stabilized platform with advanced fire control for machine guns.

    2. Provide a range or main gun ammo types to be able to address a wide range of targets and circumstances.

    3. A heavily protected platform from which to rally friendly troops and conduct C2.

    4. A heavy vehicle to use brute force to smash through walls, buildings and obstacles.

    5. A weapon system capable of rapidly firing accurately at point targets at long and very long range.
    Yep. All things it did in 1917 or 18. It's an infantry support weapon, and it has never progressed from being "a covered field gun," which is what it does best.
    Infinity Journal "I don't care if this works in practice. I want to see it work in theory!"

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    Quote Originally Posted by William F. Owen View Post
    Yep. All things it did in 1917 or 18. It's an infantry support weapon, and it has never progressed from being "a covered field gun," which is what it does best.
    Uh...not really, at least in terms of "being able to do those things" in 1917 or 1918. I would say that the tank was (at best) in its infancy during WW 1 and didn't attain the majority of the capabilities mentioned by TAH until World War 2.
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    Council Member William F. Owen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Blair View Post
    Uh...not really, at least in terms of "being able to do those things" in 1917 or 1918. I would say that the tank was (at best) in its infancy during WW 1 and didn't attain the majority of the capabilities mentioned by TAH until World War 2.
    The tanks in WW2 were more capable, but there were few "new capabilities," bar the specialist engineer vehicles.
    Infinity Journal "I don't care if this works in practice. I want to see it work in theory!"

    - The job of the British Army out here is to kill or capture Communist Terrorists in Malaya.
    - If we can double the ratio of kills per contact, we will soon put an end to the shooting in Malaya.
    Sir Gerald Templer, foreword to the "Conduct of Anti-Terrorist Operations in Malaya," 1958 Edition

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    Default Some insights...

    ...on armored warfare in WWII: http://www.cgsc.edu/carl/resources/csi/gabel/gabel.asp

    I thought it was an interesting article. I don't know how it applies to small wars.
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