Saturday, August 08, 2009


The Balance of Power

There has been a constant evolution in tanks, since 1916, regarding the effectiveness of their armor versus the effectiveness of anti-tank weapons. For a while the tank is ascendant, then new technology is developed which gives the edge to the anti-tank weapons. Since the Germans developed the shaped charge on an RPG during WWII, the edge has been creeping towards anti-tank weapons. I recall hearing from an Israeli tanker at Stanford the horror stories from the 1973 Yom Kippur war, where tank after tank was knocked out by Soviet weapons using the Nazi technology. Although Israel has endeavored to improve their tanks, the Merkava I through Merkava IV, the re-invasion of southern Lebanon in 2006 went somewhat poorly because the crew fired anti-tank weapons (like the MILAN, the TOW and Kornet) were knocking out the Merkavas and slowing the IDF advance to a grueling, bloody crawl.

Times have changed. The Israelis have developed, in Trophy and Iron Fist systems, effective anti-anti-tank weapons, which brings the tank (and the APC) back to ascendancy. The systems see anti-tank weapons coming and either shoot them down or otherwise deflect them, making the tank relatively impervious to formerly effective counter-measures.
Real bad news for Hamas and Hezbollah--so real good news for the rest of the world.



I pose the following question: Is it possible that the nature of warfare has changed to a degree where tank warfare is obsolescent, if not obsolete?

It's pretty much a death sentence for the tanker unless he has air superiority above. I'd say obsolenscentm but the new IDF defense system could be a shot in the arm. Tough to ask soldiers to go up against modern weapons if they solders are not in armored vehicles. Good call, T. Call me at work on Monday, if you would.
For open (army vs. army) warfare:

If your opponent has air supremacy, your armor is nearly useless. (This has been true since about 1943.)

If you have air supremacy, your armor is able to execute blitzkrieg/mobile warfare tactics with impunity. Note that doctrinally, armor's proper target is infrastructure and infantry, not other armor. (This is also not new.)

If air superiority is the best you can do, armor is still worthwhile, though not particularly safe.

That is, if you are Armenia, armor is useful against Azerbaijan but not against Russia. If you are the US, armor is useful in any open warfare scenario.

For limited warfare, armor has limited utility, being mostly useful for breaking up insurgent hard points.
Well said, Doug. But back to the IDF going back into Lebanon in 2006 (which seems quite a long time ago for some reason). The ground troops couldn't advance past the "pill boxes" without armor taking them out. The tanks were vulnerable to anti-tank weapons pre-staged around the hard points and it was difficult for the IDF to advance as it was used to from past conflicts. If the new systems are effective (If you fired one missile after another after another, could they still knock each down?) the hard points are toast in the future and Hezbollah might well continue not firing missiles into Israel, which is pretty much all Israel wants from its neighbor to the north. Or so I believe.
Against prepared defenses, combined arms assaults are required. Specifically, infantry should infiltrate with overwatch and support fire from armor and artillery. (For an example of this done well, see the German attack across the Somme in early June, 1940.)

Fighting Arabs can result in overconfidence. The Israelis have a history of trusting armor too much and leading attacks with unsupported tanks. This bit them in the rear in 1973 and again (I suspect) in Lebanon three years ago.
Interesting point, and probably right, Doug. We tend to think of the IDF as the creme de la creme but we could take 'em, not that we'd ever want to.
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