Few machines of modern warfare command such awe and fear as the tank on the modern battlefield. From its massive firepower, size, and speed, modern warfare gained a platform to wage combat at a lighting pace, and changed warfare, especially in the deserts. While tanks are believed to be a 20th century invention, the idea of a mobile gun platform originated with da Vinci around 1485 with his turtle-like armored car with cannons at 360 degrees, but reached reality during those hellish years of the First World War when the internal combustion engine became standard technology leading to a variety of military personnel began theorizing on mobile gun platforms that would combine field artillery and the horse cavalry. While the concept was proven during that hellish war, it took World War II to give the tank its primary purpose, and become a bedrock of modern land warfare. From the 2nd World War onto modern day MBTs, tank develop and design has been a balancing between armor, speed, crew comfort, and firepower. Today, the main battle tank is at a critical point in their relevancy in an era of low-intensity conflicts and urban warfare. What will the future hold for the tank? Will it be among the stars, waging armored battles in the red sands of Mars? Abandoning the tracks for wheels or legs? Or will the tank disappear entirely? Settle in for another massive blogpost (this took a month to write) on the development, technology, future, and science fiction take on the tank. I normally would have included the history of the tank...but, there so much information scattered across nearly a hundred years and different military organizations that I just could not do the topic justice.
The Combat Role of the Tank
Classifications of Tanks
The Main Battle Tank (MBT)
The 'Cruiser' Tank
The Light Tank
The Medium Tank
The Heavy Tank
The Super Heavy Tank
The Infantry Tank
The Tank Destroyer
The Urban Combat Tank
The Flamethrower Tanks
The Male and Female Tanks? WTF?
During World War One, the British 'Mark' series of original military tank were classified in two different models: the Male and the Female. The Male variant was fitted with two side-mounted 6 lbs (57mm) guns and three .303 (7.7mm Hotchkiss machine guns and weight in at 28 tons. The Female was armed with a machine guns only, normally six .303 machine guns and weighted in at 27 tons. The British Army officer and writer, Ernest Dunlop Swinton originated these terms and only were used for this era of tanks.
Examples of Modern Main Battle Tanks
The Israeli IDF Merkava
71 tons, 120mm main gun, 40mphs, 100% Israeli tank know-how, and my favorite main battle tank in the world, equals the Merkava (Chariot in Hebrew). The Merkava could be one of the most unique MBTs in the world, from design, conception, and deployment. The IDF armored corps is one of the most experienced modern armies with use of tanks in the latter 20th century, leading that experience to filter down into tank design. Also, the team designing the MBT consulted tank crew veterans for their firsthand combat input on how to design the tank.
This hard-won battlefield information caused the Merkava to mount the 1500bhp diesel engine forward for crew comfort and survivability.
The Swedish Stridsvagn 103 'S'
During the First World War, there were some wacky tank designs. Most were born from the simple lack of experience, and that ended during the Cold War years...however, there was wacky/unique/cool/badass design that roamed the dark woods of Sweden during the Cold War: the Stridsvagn 103 (STRV 103), better known as the S tank. The most unique feature was instead of turret, the STRV 103 mounts its 105mm gun at the forward section of the tank, lower the tank's profile, but the gun cannot be turned or altered in position. However, the S tank does possess a unique suspension system that allows for increased frontal elevation,and alters the gun's firing arch. The S tank's tactics from typical MBTs.
The French AMX-56 Leclerc
The German Leopard II
The American M1 Abrams
The Russian T-90
The British Challenger II
From 1982 to the present, the MBT of the British Army is the Challenger II, and it has been both wars in Iraq, and not a single one was lost in the Second Gulf War, despite one of these British beast was hit 14 fucking times by anti-tank infantry weaponry! There are less than 400 in service, and this is a heavy tank and slower than the M1 Abrams. There are some that regard that the Challenger II has the best MBT in the world today.
The Relationship Between Tanks and the Infantry
Tanks vs. Tanks Combat
Tanks in Urban Combat
The job of a tank commander is to watch, worry, plan, delegate, and wait. He watches for the enemy tanks, worries about the next miles ahead, if their could be enemy armor waiting, can their intelligence be depended on, and if they have enough food, water, ammo, and fuel to make to the object? He plans the course using land navigation, the briefing for his superiors, maps, and the powerful mobile computers, plans for combat using tactics. He must delegate three other soldiers' jobs in the tank, and outside of the tank. When combat comes, he must identify the target, confirm the target, select the round type, order engagement of these target, and wait for success...or failure. His job holds the fate of the tank and her operators in his decisions.
According to the official US Army manual, the Loader's role in the M1 Abrams is to stow, and care for the ammunition, loads the main gun, and the tank's various machine guns. Also,the Loader preforms radio checks, pulls rear security for the blind spot of the tank, and assists the rest of the tank crew as needed. Another role that I've read that the Loader has in the tank crew is maintenance of the small arms of the tank. These used to include M9 9mm pistols for each member, some old WWII-era M3 Grease Gun submachine guns, and one M16 assault rifle. This changes during the War in the Iraq, the US began issuing more M4 carbines along with pistols. Added to these duties, the Loader is in-charge of the radio equipment.
One of the great advantages of being the Driver of the MBT, is they have the most comfortable seat in the entire armored vehicle! The angle that Driver lays in is similar to dentist's chair, and he must look through three block-like windows when the vehicle is buttoned up. According to a PA in my hospital that was in M1 Abrams tank crew in Desert Storm, he said the only block window that works is the center, the side views are obsured by the tank's fenders. He also told me of the headache driving an Abrams at night, you basically drive via a night vision parascope In some situations, the driver can open the porthole access point, and drive al fresco style. Given the tank's dimensions and abilities, a Driver most know his surrounds, depend on his commander's orders, and understand the fine art of off-roading. Another duty of the driver is to be in-house mechanic for the vehicle
To Auto-Load or Not to Auto-Load...That is the Question
The Big Guns: The Tank Cannon
The main cannon of any tank is the focus of attention for the entire vehicle, and gives it the offensive punch to be the king of the battlefield that it is.When the tank first came onto the battlefields of WWI, they were armed with various smaller caliber cannons, like the 57mm and 37mm and litters of machine guns of the day for anti-material and anti-infantry work. The progress of armored vehicles allowed to mount proper mobile cannons that ranged from the Sherman 75mm, to the Russian T-34 76mm, all the way to the big boy, the fear German 88mm cannon that shattered Allied tanks.
The Little Guns: Machine Guns
Railguns or Gauss Cannons?
In the arms race between the weapons and armor of the tank, the development of the HEAT round created the reactive 'counter-explosive' armor plates. These explosive plates use a counter explosive to blow the jet of molten cooper away from the tank. These technology is nothing new, reactive plate armor has been around for decades, but now, a new of reactive armor is on the horizon: electric reactor armor. It is still experimental, but it uses a closed circuit between two plates to dump a powerful electrical charge, vaporizing the threat. Little is known about this electric armor, and has never been tested battle. Another type of reactive armor is called smart armor that used microchips and microsensors embedded in the armor to gauge the threat and customize the response in explosive output or even projectile.
Laser Warning Receivers
The Trophy Active Countermeasure System
The next evolution for tank defensive systems is the active protection system that automatically senses an incoming threat from rockets and HEAT rounds, and launches a blast of metal pellets to intercept and eliminate the threat. The IDF was the first to mount the "Windbreaker"system that were developed and build by the Israeli company Rafeal Advanced Defense System. The IDF armored corps would mount these on their fourth generation of their Merkava MBT around 2009/2010 and the system costs $600,000 per tank. Since the installment of the Trophy system, there have been three combat uses, and each time the system worked. At the moment, the United States is looking at their own homemade active countermeasure system, but could buy the system from Rafeal. Form their excellent combat record, it seems that these types of active countermeasure systems are the future of tanks.
The Enemies of the Tanks
Infantry Based Anti-Tank Weapon Systems
Anti-Tank Missile Systems
Mines and IEDs
The Future of the Tank
Tanks and Sci-Fi
The enemy's monsters were dubious patches of darkness upon the dark, and then no longer dubious, and so they crept out into distinctness." The story, which you can read for free, is interesting describing the horror of tanks (he didn't call them 'tanks') on the World War One battle fields. Because of H.G. Wells' popularity, some of the early supporters of the tank cited his story has an influence, although Mr. Wells took no credit, and distant himself, given the horror of World War One.Given the power and awe that tanks generated in the First and Second World Wars, it was easy element for sci-fi writers to add into their future war stories. However, it was not until the 1960's and 70's, that the tank was fully integrated into science fiction with works like Soldier, Ask Not (1967) Bolo (1976) and Hammer's Slammers (1979). Tanks would receive more attention from sci-fi in the 1980's with the popularity of military pen-and-paper RPGs, and in the pages of manga (Grey) and in anime (Mobile Suit Gumdam), and in more video games than I can count. However, the one area that Science fiction tanks are much more rare is in live-action sci-fi works, and this could be due to the heavy expense of the special effect associated with getting a sci-fi tank correct. The Hunter-Killer tanks from Terminator, all manner of armored vehicles from Star Wars, and the CGI Chig T77 tank from Space:Above and Beyond were rare exception. I can only hope that with the amazing level of CGI SFX today that more futuristic tanks will be seen.
The Laser Lunar Tank from Space: 1999
In the season one episode 'the infernal machine' of the 1970's space TV show, Space: 1999, the lost and wandering lunar base, Alpha, deploys automated lunar rovers armed with lasers to dealt with a hostile, sentient computer. These three laser tanks operated in conjunction with armed Eagle transports in a off-world combination arms strike...rarely seen in early sci-fi. Three designs were used for the laser lunar tanks, but all used the Tamiya British Chieftain tank model kits as their foundation by Martin Bower in 12 days, and were seen in the background of some shots later in the series, but never used again to the same extent.
Various American Tanks from ALIENS: The Colonial Marines Technical Manual
Armies of the Southern Cross/REF Veritech 'Spartas' Hover-Tank from the ROBOTECH Universe
The M2 'Ursa' Hover-Tank from the Hammer's Slammers Universe
Undoubtedly, one of the celebrated military science fiction properties that involves tanks is David Drake's Hammer's Slammers. The basic tank, the Icarus Industries M2 'Ursa' uses a fusion powerplant coupled with inducted fans and air-cushions for movement. The top speed of the M2 hover-tank is about 75 MPH on a good surface, but base speeds are around 40 MPH (similar to most MBTs of today), and have a maximum hover height of three feet. Much like all tanks, the M2 Ursa has a main gun for armored engagements, but, instead of conventional shells, the Hammer's Slammers universe uses the power-gun.
The Tachikomas, Think Tanks, and Fuchikomas from the Ghost in the Shell Universe
Any reader of FWS knows how much I enjoy the work of Masamune Shirow, and it maybe an odd fit to include these three types of futuristic military robotics into a discussion of tanks, but I believe Shirow could be showing us the future. All three of the combat mecha are single pilot robotic vehicles designed for warfare in a crowned urbanized future, and could be the future of armored vehicles. The Fuchikomas seen in the pages of the original manga and PSOne video game, blur the lines between power armor, mecha, and a personal urban mobile weapons platform that just happens to be an AI. Due to copyright issues, the Fuchikomas could not appear in the TV series nor the 1995 film, and were replaced by the Tachikomas developed by Shirow.
'Bonaparte' from Dominion Tank Police
Anyone who reads FWS, knows of my love for Masamune Shirow and his creations. One of the more wacky manga he penned was Dominion Tank Police, where Tokyo (Newport) police are forced to use micro-tanks for patrol work in a future were environmental damage has created the need for those fashionable gas masks outdoors. One of those tank police vehicle is 'Bonaparte' under the loving care of Officer Leona Ozaki and together they figth crime in the haze of the future. Bonaparte is similar in shape and size to the World War One Renault FT tank.
UNSC M-808 'Scorpion' Tank from HALO Universe
For thirty years, the primary tank of the UNSC has been the M808 'Scorpion' MBT. Firing a 90mm high-velocity shell feed from an auto-loader, and supported by a 7.62mm GPMG for anti-infantry work. The M808B Scorpion could be operated with a crew of two or one with a neural interface (like a SPARTAN), and the 7.62mm machine gun was co-axial, instead of the central turret mounted of the M808 that required a dedicated gunner. Unlike tanks from the 20th century, the M808 moves on four track-pods that also dual for risky infantry transport. Adding to its tactical flexible on the battlefield, the Scorpion can be ferried between ship and shore via the Pelican tactical transport vehicles, allowing to this tank to be rapid deployed to a changing battlefield. These tanks are seen through the Covenant/Earth War, and in every HALO game with some modifications along the way.
I love HALO...it's no secret, and one of the highlights, for me, of any HALO game was killing aliens and Flood with the M808. However, I've also had a major bitch about this Terran tank, the lack of anti-infantry weaponry. Sure, you get a 7.62mm MG, but the human gunner has to survive, which seems impossible on certain levels of the games, and the very useful co-axial MG was deleted, causing the main gun being the only source of offensive/defensive armament. Having to use a tank's main gun,with anti-armor shells for anti-infantry, even in the 20th century, is bullshit, and having enemies stand up to the blast. In the HALO novels, there is mention of anti-infantry shell, similar to the 'mega-shotgun' shell used by the M1 Abrams...where is that, 343? We need that in HALO 5! Given the extreme popularity of the HALO games, the Scorpion could be one of the most identifiable and used sci-fi tanks
The Trade Federation AAT Repulsor Tank from the Star Wars Universe
In the awful Star Wars prequel films, the Trade Federation Droid Army ground forces uses the Armored Assault Tank (AAT). This heavily armored, robotic controlled hover-tank is heavily armed with six forward mounted launch tubes that could fire different types of ammunition, a heavy blaster turret-mounted cannon, and twin anti-infantry rapid-fire blasters. While this is a rather well-designed hover-tank, the odd thing is the AAT is actually crewed by three special battle-droids, that have traditional tank crew roles...but why? Do the Skynet Ground Hunter-Killer tanks have Terminator crews? No. So, why does the AAT?
The COG 'Centaur' Wheeled Light Tank from the Gears of War Universe
This light wheeled tank of the COG has served since the Pendulum Wars, and has proved itself useful in the hell that is the Locust Wars. Given it's small size, and magazine-fed main gun, it was easily adopted for urban combat, and infantry support missions. Despite being a light tank, the Centaur can hold several fully-armored COG soldiers, and operate with a crew of two. Like all things in the COG universe, this is bold, heavy design that looks like more monster truck than tank...but that is the COG universe for you.
The AI 'Bolo' Supertanks from the Bolo UniverseOkay...I'll level with you, I've never read any of the Bolo stories all the way through, but I am putting on the extensive FWS reading list, and the concept has always been an odd one of me. AI controlled superheavy (32,000+ tons!) sci-fi tanks seems logically, especially when considering the Ghost in the Shell universe. The Bolo tank, made by General Motors was the key element in dirtside planetary defense of the Terran colonies against aliens in the 30th century. Due their advance AI, Bolo tanks had specific personality, and were very intelligence, allowing for their survival on the battlefield. With their AI and combat abilities, Bolo tanks could be used for sentry duty on colonial worlds, even without human oversight. Most later Bolo tanks are armed with plasma cannons or railguns, and missiles, along with point-defense rotary cannons. Much the massive tanks in ORGE, later Bolo tanks could survive a direct nuclear strike...yep...direct nuclear strike and I call bullshit on that. The stories about the Bolo tanks have become one of the key MSF tanks.
The RDF/REF VBT-1 'Centaur' Hover-Tank from ROBOTECH II: Sentients
The majority of technology used in the Centaur MBT is very similar to the M1A1 Abrams, in armor, weaponry (120mm smoothbore gun), engine, design, and function. However, the Centaur has a crew of two and can transform into a GERWALK mode...for some reason. There were several variants manufactured over the course of the Robotech Wars, and fought in the 2013 Malcontent Uprisings, the 2nd Robotech War and Invid Invasion with the Southern Cross. When the 10,000 member REF left Terra in 2022, they carried a small number of the Centaur tanks with them. I personally think that artists for Eternity Comics lifted the design for the Centaur tank from the Renegade Legions anti-gravity MBTs.
The Cyber-Tanks of the OGRE and G.E.V Universe
The original OGRE was a micro-game developed by Steve Jackson of Metagaming Concepts in 1977, and gained popularity in the paper-and-pen RPG crazy of the early 1980's. Micro-games were the Gameboy/PSP of the RPG world, where you stash one of these in your pack, and break with some friends for some quick hexgraph RPG fun. These were cheaper than the TSR boxsets and sold at hobby and comic stores back in childhood (I can remember them at Starbase 21 in Tulsa). OGRE was set in a dark post-nuclear world after the Last War in 2080, where these massive computer-controlled floating fortress roaming the post-fallout landscape with domination, and it seems that these OGRE were remnants of the governments that died out in the nuclear exchange, but these things are still roaming around, and infantry in NBC suits and armored vehicles attempt to stop these beasts.The reason for the OGRE cyber-tank supremacy was its ability to survive direct nuclear strikes, and shower its targets with independent nuclear warheards via the SATNUC weapon system. It You have guessed that If you want to know more about teh OGRE/GEV universe, than here is the best site on the internet:
The 'Crucio' Terran Siege Tank from the Starcraft Universe
In the world of Starcraft, the Terran Siege Tanks operates both has an main battle tank and mobile field artillery and operate with a crew of 1-to-2. Given this ability to fulfill both combat roles, these siege tanks have two modes that alter their chassis. In 'tank' mode, the Crucio armored vehicle uses conventional treads to move about, and twin 90mm main plasma guns to attack heavily armored targets. When long-range artillery mode is needed, the Crucio transforms, and puts down its stabilization legs to counter recoil of the single barrel 180mm shock-cannon that uses super-heated tungsten to burn its victims.
The 'Hammerhead' Tau Anti-Gravity MBT from Warhammer 40K Universe
In the Warhammer 40k Tau Codex, this anti-gravity MBT of the Tau race is listed as a 'gunship'...odd, but it used like a tank and cannot achieve the altitude of a typical gunship. The primary armament of the Hammerhead is a devastating railgun, that can counter the Imperial armor, and as a host of other secondary armaments, like AI-controlled gun drones, ion cannons, and fusion cannons, but can be modified per the tactical condition. Three control the Hammerhead, and there is little room for nothing. During the Taros Campaging, the Hammerhead reaped a heavily toll on the Imperium Leman Russ tanks.
The Tanks from the Battletech Universe
The Covenant Type-26 'Wraith' Assault Gun Carrier from the HALO Universe
One of the better designed and common alien tanks in sci-fi is the Type-26 'Wraith' from the HALO universe, and this organic-shaped hover-tank has evolved over the course of the games. Much like the UNSC M808 Scorpion tank, the Wraith can be air-lifted to the battlefield by the common tactical transports of both armies, allowing for the Wraith to be delivered to combat zone when the situation warrants it. Its primary armament is a plasma mortar that lobs massive plasma bolts against armored and infantry targets with crushing results...if they connect. To deal with pesky SPARTANs and ODSTs, the Wraiths are fitted with either auto-firing defensive plasma repeater cannons, or a gunner-operated anti-infantry cannon mounted in the front-center of the vehicle. This has been the only tank seen in use with the Covenant military.
The Imperial 'Leman Russ' Battle Tank from the Warhammer 40k Universe
The Grav-Tanks from the FASA Renegade Legion Universe
This FASA military sci-fi universe takes place in the 69th century, when the Terran Overlord Government (TOG) rules over the vast majority (80%) of the Milky Way, and her many races. The Commonwealth is the organized resistance force composed of humans and aliens against the TOG. Planetary combat is waged between anti-gravity tanks slimming on 'maneuver foils'. One of the interesting things that Renegade Legion explored was the nature of anti-gravity armor and how the armored vehicle would have to be designed around being anti-gravity to achieve lift. Slugfest tank battles are waged using the more array of sci-fi weaponry: plasma, particle, Gauss, and missiles. However, the cool weapon was micro-anti-matter charge launchers that could create fighting positions for the mechanized infantry in the APCs. FWS will be presenting more on the Renegade Legion in a Forgotten Classics blogpost sometime in the near future.
The Tanks from Babylon 5 Wars GROPOS RPG
The Light-Tank from TRON