Monday, April 26, 2021

A Glimpse at Warfare in the Future

 via Interesting

Death Knell of the Tank


For many decades, the mainstay of the modern battlefield was the Main Battle Tank (MBT). Since the end of the Cold War, however, the MBT has faced many challenges that suggest its heyday could be coming to an end. By 2050, the ongoing process of one-upmanship between the tank and anti-tank systems may finally result in them becoming obsolete.


The Main Battle Tank became a mainstay during the 1970s when every advanced nation adopted a single model that would gradually replace all other variants. Different nations produced their own versions, including the US M1 Abrams, the Soviet-Russian T-80/T-90, the German Leopard II, the French Leclerc, the Chinese ZTZ80/88the Israeli Merkava, the British Challenger 2, and others.


In all cases, these tanks incorporated advances like composite armor, advanced optics (including night vision), stabilization systems, reactive armor, and high-tech munitions. Simultaneously, anti-tank systems rapidly advanced to keep up, ranging from rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and guided missiles, to laser-guided missiles.


The situation worsened as anti-tank systems became more sophisticated and asymmetric warfare more common in the post-Cold War era. During the First Chechen War (1994-1996), the Iraq War (2003-2011), and the War in Afghanistan (2001 - 2021), armored units were either not well-suited to the local geography or suffered heavy casualties in close-quarters urban combat.


To address this, tank designers have been experimenting with active protection systems, integrated fire control, networking, radar decoys, and other counter-measures. However, it appears that in the long run, tanks are destined to go the way of the dinosaur, because it is too expensive to adapt them rapidly enough for changing conditions.


The fact that most combat engagements in the modern era have not included battles between tanks has also shown that their importance may be on the wane. Between the high cost of maintaining armored units and their diminishing role on the battlefield, armies worldwide are considering replacing the tank with more flexible combat systems.


For example, in 2014, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launched the Ground X-Vehicle Technologies (GXV-T) program to investigate possible alternatives. In 2016, Major Christopher Orlowski (the GXV-T program manager) summarized the purpose of the program as follows:


"We're exploring a variety of potentially groundbreaking technologies, all of which are designed to improve vehicle mobility, vehicle survivability, and crew safety and performance without piling on armor. DARPA's performers for GXV-T are helping defy the 'more armor equals better protection' axiom that has constrained armored ground vehicle design for the past 100 years and are paving the way toward innovative, disruptive vehicles for the 21st century and beyond."


By 2050, this could result in the complete abandonment of the MBT in favor of lighter vehicles that have swapped out their treads in favor of wheels, adjustable tracks, or even legs. Rather than heavy armor, these vehicles are likely to rely on radar, AI-driven situational awareness software, and active countermeasures that sense incoming threats and neutralize them in advance.


Other layers of defense could come from deployable hunter-killer drones and active camouflage (similar to the "invisibility cloak."). Gasoline engines will no doubt be replaced by high-capacity batteries or hydrogen fuel cells. And rather than crews of three or four, a combat vehicle could have one driver, be remotely operated, fully autonomous, or all of the above.


In terms of armaments, the more traditional cannon could be swapped for an electromagnetic induction gun (aka. a railgun) or a directed energy weapon (aka. a laser). Some robotic point-defense machine guns would also be helpful, and less-lethal measures like EMP charges, high-pitched sonic blasts, and other crowd-control measures could also be effective.



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