ISSN 2330-717X

Is The Era Of Tanks And APCs Over? – OpEd

By

“New Anti Tank weapon systems can be used from inside buildings as they have a negligible back blast”

Headlines coming from the Ukraine-Russia War are sending disturbing signals for the tank hey days coming to an end! Unmanned systems and top-attack weapons, UAVs and Anti Tank weapons pose challenges for the military tank’s survival.

Advertisement

While crystal gazing at the 2020 India–China (Eastern Ladakh) standoff gave an opportunity to academics to war-game utility of light tanks vis-à-vis Armored Personnel Carrier (APCs) in high altitude.  These discussions were followed by media reports of importing 350 light tanks from Russia. How can the Queen of the battle Infantry be left out and that too in high altitude mountain warfare?

The academic group arrived at a near consensus conclusion that employment of Hard Hitting Anti Tank Teams (HHATTs) may be a better option in a drone dominating environment for the immediate future. The views expressed were of officers who have served in the area. These HHATTs will not be vehicle mounted but composed of motivated infantry soldiers with handheld missiles or rocket launchers. Some teams will also be capable of managing the immediate battlefield through drones. 

Unmanned Aerial Systems Impact

In the past decade the growing employment of unmanned aerial systems on the battlefield has been on the increase. Be they Predators, Reapers, Switchblades or Turkish TB2s. All existing armored vehicles are vulnerable to top-down attacks. This type of attack can also be delivered by drones. Other uses that have shown great utility include intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; Geo-locating targets; communications relays; and jamming and many more are to come. Armed drones are now armed with Precision Guided Munitions (PGM). The recent victory of Azerbaijan over Armenia can be attributed to the extensive military employment of drones. 

The potential use of unmanned UAV systems is only limited by the imagination and they can be  integrated int any weapon systems  especially with HHATTs. The fact that they are comparatively inexpensive and reduce risks to pilots  etc. Predators have been the success story of  what ever the US achieved in Afghanistan in targeting the Taliban leadership.

Russians ‘Shock and Awe’ And ‘ Blitzkrieg’?

At the onset of the invasion, estimates put the Russians force at approximately  120 Battalion Tactical Groups  each with 10 tanks, 30 APCs and artillery. These forces were further augmented by air, naval, and cyber support. This invasion force is massive with the intent of rapidly sweeping through Ukraine, crushing any opposition. This strategy is not dissimilar from the ‘Shock and Awe’ approach used by Coalition forces in Iraq or the German ‘Blitzkrieg’ technique from World War II.

Advertisement

However, the Russian military never achieved the thrust and momentum possibly they had expected the support of the local Russian speaking people and had not wanted to carry out the American type ‘Shock and Awe’ like that done in Iraq. 

Russian Invasion No Surprise

The Ukrainians in no way  were surprised by the Russian invasion of 24th February. They  had anticipated this invasion and had been preparing n since 2014 . Ukrainian military has limited resources to face a major Russian offensive and had  accordingly been trained by the Western advisers through the NATO Training Centres existing in Ukraine. So it was not overnight that President Zelensky’s patriotic pep talk produced invincible Ukrainians which the western media is projecting 24×7 covering their involvement in preparing the Ukrainians  to fight the Russian Army through an ‘Irregular Unconventional Warfare’.

Annual NATO Joint exercises involving at least 10,000 troops helped the Ukrainians to shift from rigid conventional Warfare.  By the time Russia invaded on Feb. 24, training of Ukrainian forces had become so extensive that  at least eight NATO countries had participated on the hands-on training. 

The Ukrainian Military  Targets

Initially  the formidable stationary Russian tank armada  idling on the highways. Tanks had become a liability to the Russians due to their constant need for diesel fuel. 

Ukrainians  used Bayraktar TB2 drone  to destroy important targets like the  Russian command nodes, which put the Russian forces into somewhat of a disarray and Ukrainians claiming to have killed seven Russian generals hence further stalling the offensive.

Another common target for the Ukrainians were the softer target of resupply convoys. 

Ukraine’s Anti-Tank Weapons   

Massive number of latest-generation anti-tank missiles and Anti-tank Weapons were sent to Ukraine which potentially changed the course of the war  putting pressure on Russia to switch tactics to combat the  urban war.

The UK alone says it has sent 3,615 of its short-range Next generation Light Anti-tank Weapon (NLAW) missiles, with launchers; Germany said it was sending 1,000 anti-tank weapons from its inventory; Norway 2,000; Sweden 5,000 and the US a large number of Javelin missile systems. (According to the Pentagon’s annual budget request, the 10 Javelin launch units and 763 missiles it bought in 2021 cost $190.3 million).

The West has worked quickly to send weaponry to Ukraine since the start of the invasion. The US and NATO supplied Ukraine with more than 17,000 anti-tank weapons, including Javelin missiles by early March.

Ukrainian anti-tank units used javelins and other anti-tank weapons to destroy tanks, further disrupting the assault. By disallowing the Russians from establishing momentum, the Ukrainians were able to establish a strong defensive posture that held the Russians in check.

Ukraine received a variety of anti-tank systems from several countries, which helped it to increase the anti-tank lethal punch against Russian armoured vehicles.

Among the factors shaping the conflict so far has been Ukraine’s ‘Smart Tactical use’ of its anti-tank weapons, alongside poor planning on the part of Russia. Ukraine claims to have destroyed more than 800 tanks and 2,000 other Russian vehicles. Whereas Russia’s general staff states that 1,351 Russian soldiers have been killed so far, though NATO estimated between 7,000 and 15,000 had died.

Success of weapons systems

The shoulder mounted ‘Javelin  in particular has become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance’. Known as a “fire and forget” weapon, the Javelin uses an infrared guidance system to travel toward a target, allowing the gunner to fire and then immediately take cover. The missile system can destroy tanks and other armored vehicles. The shoulder-fired Stinger missiles target low-flying aircraft.

Now NLAW it is in the inventory of Sweden, UK, Finland, Luxembourg, Indonesia, Malaysia and  Saudi Arabia. A ‘cold launch’ system allows the weapon to be used safely from interior spaces without injuring personnel with the rocket’s back blast. A major advantage in fighting in built up areas. NLAW can also use a top-attack mode in which it discharges a shaped charge over the target vehicle enabling targeting of vehicles  concealed behind cover.The British Army had dispatched 30 paratroopers to train Ukrainian forces in operating the NLAW.

The Panzerfaust 3 is light enough to be carried and fired by one person. It can be fired from enclosed spaces since it does not have a significant backblast.

The US has also shipped hundred  ‘Switchblade’ Kamikaze Suicidal drones, which are designed to be sent crashing into enemy targets before exploding. The Pentagon is also giving Ukraine ‘Ghost Drones’ similar in capabilities to the Switchblade. 

In the Ukraine war, Drone warfare combined with anti-tank missiles and rocket launchers used intelligently  in an aggressive manner proved to be the Waterloo for the Russian mech forces. It is therefore imperative that Armed Forces need to update its war-fighting doctrines to meet this new challenge  and be fully capable to counter the joint threat of the combination of integrated Unmanned systems of UAVs and Anti-Tank weapons posing  threat to the military tank’s survival. Future tank battles may only take place in the deserts.

Patial RC

Patial RC is a retired Infantry officer of the Indian Army and possesses unique experience of serving in active CI Ops across the country and in Sri Lanka. Patial RC is a regular writer on military and travel matters in military professional journals. The veteran is a keen mountaineer and a trekker.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.