#33 - The Future of Armor - A Vermilion Tactical Outlook
坦克 - Tan3 Ke4 - Tank
Co-Authors: Tank Diary, The Heavy Company, Dirty Stinky Tanker
Future of the Main Battle Tank (MBT)
During World War II, combatant nations manufactured a plethora of tank types. This included tankettes, reconnaissance tanks, tank destroyers, as well as different classes of light, medium, heavy, and super heavy tanks. Post WWII, Soviet and American tank designers (preparing to fight another ground war in Europe) converged on the idea of the main battle tank (MBT), which remains the dominant philosophy of tank design in the field of armor today. The MBT roughly occupies the design middle ground between the medium and heavy/super heavy tank designs of WWII.
The United States alone is capable of fielding a large number of the world’s most advanced MBTs. The American Abrams series tanks maintain their cutting edge technology through an upgrade program called System Enhanced Package (SEP). The M1A2 SEPv4 (M1A2D) Abrams may be fielded by 2027, which will further cement American dominance in armored warfare.
Russia has developed the T-14 Армата / T-14 Armata, an advanced main battle tank and possibly a near-peer to the Abrams. However, widespread trade sanctions, a byzantine economic system, endemic domestic corruption, and a poorly trained army have all conspired so far to prevent the T-14 from being effectively deployed to the Ukraine battlefield. Even before the Ukraine War, the Russian defense industrial base (DIB) was likely not capable of producing T-14 vehicles en masse, let alone the less advanced T-90.
China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) upgraded the 99式主战坦克 / Type 99 Main Battle Tank to the Type 99A baseline in the early 2000’s. The Type 99A has delivered the PLA armored corps a tank that gets it roughly on par with Russian and American baseline MBT technology. On paper, the Type 99A is a capable vehicle with a stabilized fire control system, panoramic thermal sights, laser range finder, and a ballistic computer. With this equipment, the Type 99 can shoot on the move accurately in all weather conditions. This is a major tactical advantage over legacy tank systems which must stop in order to fire an accurate round.
The Type 99 also makes use of composite armor as well as Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA) able to defeat incoming anti-tank rounds. Somewhat surprisingly, the PLA has also fielded an active protection system (APS) likely capable of defeating contemporary Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGMs). The Type 99A can communicate with other vehicles by utilizing a short range (< 3 mile) encrypted laser. This laser allows Chinese tanks to share voice and other data.
While the Type 99A has certainly advanced PLA tank design, it is likely that the bulk of the PLA tank fleet is still composed of less capable Type 96 platforms. Beijing may also face the same fielding and manufacturing problems with the Type 99A that Moscow is currently experiencing with the T-14.
The Type 99 and T-14 Armata are almost certainly very good tank designs, but the Abrams is likely more capable in terms of armor protection, ERA design, APS effectiveness (Trophy baseline), and optics/display quality. Hardware aside, Abrams' two crucial advantages are higher quality and proficiency of US tank crews compared to PLA/Russian crews as well as US research, development, test, evaluation, acquisition, and fielding capabilities able to translate design ideas into real-world functional combat vehicles.
All three of these top tanks may represent the last of the MBT design lineage. Similar to battleships immediately preceding WWII, it is likely that tank designs are in dire need of a rethink. The battlefield continues to be a dangerous place, especially for large armored vehicles contending with missiles. Russia alone has potentially lost between 2,000 to 3,000 tanks during the Ukraine War.
In an era of widespread drone employment, precision guided munition networks, large arsenals of missiles, high bandwidth data and communications links, powerful and small computers, and higher fidelity surveillance equipment, tank designs must adapt.
Vermilion proposes the new term Multi-Role Battle Tank (MRBT) to identify an adaptable mix of capabilities integrated into a single tracked platform utilizing main battle tank levels of armor and protection. As national populations level off or decline, military manpower requirements will become more acute. Tank crews require a high level of training and unit cohesion to be effective. Military planners will likely decide to place the tank crew one step back from the front line in order to increase force protection. Simultaneously, advances in drone technology allow this step back from the front line to have minimal impact on armored vehicle’s value to the ground fight.
Key capabilities for a Multi-Role Battle Tank (MRBT)
1. 360 degree all-weather battlefield awareness. Optics have advanced far enough that tanks can now mount multiple sensors to watch the battlefield constantly. It is somewhat like mounting a Ground-Based Operational Surveillance System (GBOSS) on top of a tank. This gives the crew cameras that can see during the day, zoom in, and see infrared heat at night. Regardless of weather conditions, the optics will function and the crewman will be sheltered inside the vehicle. Software can be included that automatically identifies and tracks possible enemy units, alerting the crew to their presence.
To increase awareness even further, an organic suite of air, ground, and possibly water/amphibious drones should be added to the MRBT’s equipment. Being able to tap into these drone feeds will provide the ground force with increased intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) which is immediately on-hand and actionable.
Vermilion assesses that battlefield awareness may be the most important of all characteristics for future tanks. Persistent awareness leads to better collection against enemy forces, leading to superior targeting and tactical decision-making. The large vehicular platform of a tank not only allows it to carry heavy sensors and computers, but also to power them.
The Abrams has some of these capabilities already. Of note are the Abrams’ excellent sensors and optics. However, bringing jet fighter design philosophy to the tank world could significantly increase sensor effectiveness. For decades, a key aspect of the design philosophy behind American jet fighters has been shaping the entire fighter platform around the pilot’s situational awareness. This was the impetus behind the original bubble canopy. Armored vehicles also need to start taking situational awareness as a key driver of design.
An example of this is Elbit Systems IronVision. This system mounts cameras around the tank, merges the video output into one picture, and pipes this into a headset. IronVision allows a tank crewman to see straight through his own vehicle (check out the link). Ultimately, nothing will replace fighting unbuttoned from outside the hatch, but every layer of sensors and displays increases accuracy, detection, and crew protection.
Further enhancements to sensors can also be pursued, such as a collapsible/raisable sensor-on-a-stick capability to increase the elevation of the sensor’s vantage point. Upgrades should also focus on drone utilization. In this vein, the Abrams X technology demonstrator included switchblade UAV launchers.
The Abrams will need to pursue these next-generation capabilities while Russia and China still need to play catch up in terms of equipping their armored vehicles with a more robust situational awareness baseline.
2. Robust communications and data equipment. All of the battlefield surveillance in the world is worth nothing if the MRBT cannot communicate to friendly units what it sees. The tank, because of its above mentioned carrying capacity and power generation, is a logical platform to carry heavy long range radios and computers. With strong comms links, the MRBT will be able to send the information it collects to adjacent ground units or supporting air, sea, and space platforms. Just as important, strong data links will allow the MRBT to download sensor information from other platforms as well as intelligence units, allowing the crew to better utilize intelligence on the battlefield.
The major caveat to increasing communications is that this opens up armored vehicles to potential vulnerabilities. Communicating generally emits signatures which enemy electronic warfare capabilities can detect, potentially jam, and sometimes collect on. New technology to increase the security and reduce the detectability of communications and data will have to be incorporated into MRBT systems. Laser communications offer much future potential.
3. Incrementally improve the MBT baseline armored platform for the MRBT. The basic concept of a tank platform, consisting of engine, chassis, armor, suspension, and treads should be maintained and updated. The MRBT still needs the mobility and weight carrying capacity of treads while being armored enough to withstand multiple enemy shots. This basic maneuverability and protection platform can serve as the foundation for all kinds of armored vehicles and is a fundamental capability for any world-class ground fighting force. Continued small improvements in weight reduction, service life, fuel efficiency, armor protection, maintenance simplification, dimension reduction, ergonomics, and other categories deliver small edges which add up.
Moving to the MRBT concept, more empty space must be added to the tank platform in order to make room for future modular capabilities. In this sense, designing a future tank will be somewhat similar to designing a navy ship. Ship construction is often bound by how much space and power a ship can provide to future capabilities. The Boxer armored fighting vehicle has already embraced extreme modularity. According to a UK defence spokesman, the Boxer can be swapped in the field in roughly an hour from one module to another. This means that an individual armored platform can be changed from an infantry fighting vehicle to an assault gun, armored personnel carrier, command and control vehicle, or any number of other available modules.
Finally, research should be done into scalable armor packages. Based on likely threat scenarios, the baseline armor package should be survivable up to 40mm. In a scalable design, additional armor packages should be quickly and easily installable onto the 40mm baseline to provide greater and greater protection. This allows a future MRBT to deploy to a low intensity/counter-insurgency/peace-keeping operation as a much lighter and more logistically sustainable vehicle. However, the capability to deploy the same MRBT to a high intensity combat operation is retained with the scalable armor packages.
4. Upgrade the baseline armored platform with advances in active protection systems (APS) and reactive armor (RA). The baseline platform must be upgraded with APS and ERA. APS systems are the first line of defense. They use independent small radars linked to special firing units designed to shoot down incoming munitions or disrupt them by creating an explosive wall. These systems are generally quite heavy, and can weigh over 2 tons with all subsystems installed. However, they are able to defend the vehicular platform in 360 degrees from anti-tank guided missiles and assorted rockets including rocket propelled grenades (RPGs). APS also has some effectiveness against HEAT and APFSDS rounds.
The second line of defense is reactive armor. There are three main types, including explosive, non-explosive and electric. The first two types are attached to armored vehicles in the form of multiple bricks, protecting the vehicle either through detonating small explosions to disrupt incoming munitions, or using absorptive materials to deflect and redirect the incoming munition. The third type of reactive armor is an experimental British design that electrifies the surface of the vehicle and vaporizes any munition that touches the electrified outer layer. The US DoD must actively continue developing these systems and integrating them into an optimal defense package.
5. The main weapon includes both tank rounds and missiles. In the future there may certainly still be tanks with humans inside utilizing high-tech sensors and remote crew stations to place tank rounds precisely on target. However, external missiles have more capability and standoff versus both traditional tank munitions as well current generation gun-launched anti-tank missiles (GLATGMs).
A missile pack such as the vertical launch system (VLS) would be an excellent solution, perhaps attached to the rear of the vehicle (or resident in an entirely different vehicle). Missiles have many advantages over a traditional gun/GLATGM system. First, missiles have much greater range and accuracy. This is because missiles can be constructed that are larger than what would fit down a main battle tank gun barrel. This larger body allows for more room to fit larger seekers and other electronics.
Second, Lock-On After Launch (LOAL) capability could be incorporated into MRBT missiles. With LOAL missiles, the tank crew is able to launch missiles into the general area of enemy tanks without knowing their locations. In flight, the missile’s onboard seeker activates and begins scanning to find the enemy tanks from a better vantage point and then is able to lock-on for terminal guidance. Currently, LOAL capability is only available on large format missiles such as the Hellfire, which is almost 6 feet tall and weighs nearly 49 kilograms. A tank crew is unable to keep a large Hellfire within the tank to load as a gun-launched ATGM (GLATGM), but an external VLS cell has the space.
Third, most missiles can be manufactured as inert munitions. This means that if an enemy were to shoot the missiles attached to the MRBT, the missiles will not explode. Hitting tank ammo however, will cause a sympathetic detonation in addition to the enemy munition detonation. This is a classic problem with traditional tank rounds, which are usually packed together in a magazine. US tank designers have dealt with this problem by constructing an armored bustle mounted to the turret to hold rounds, so that the sympathetic detonation is directed away from the crew.
Fourth, missiles are more versatile than tank rounds. Traditional tank rounds are generally limited to anti-tank, anti-infantry, and anti-bunker employment, with some rounds having the capability to target rotary wing aircraft (helicopters). In contrast, there are missiles that can reliably engage fixed wing aircraft, drones, and deep targets which cannot be observed by the firing unit.
While missiles have many advantages, tanks are likely to retain the main gun in some capacity, even if it is placed in a separate unmanned ground system. Modern tank rounds like the Abrams AMP combine anti-tank, anti-infantry, and anti-bunker effects into a single all-purpose round with increased effectiveness over traditional tank rounds.
6. Organic anti-drone capability. The MRBT will be a prime target for enemy drones in the future. A robust organic vehicle-board drone defense system will likely be mandatory. The Russian BMPT (Terminator 2) is armed with twin 30mm cannons, potentially great anti-drone weapons. However, a small radar fine-tuned for finding drones linked to anti-drone weapons will likely be required to detect, track, and engage enemy drones before they can damage the MRBT. Such capabilities already exist in the US X-MADIS system, but need to be further miniaturized.
Alternatively, a completely separate vehicle or unmanned ground system could follow the MRBT and provide counter-drone jamming or kill capability. Solutions like the Leonidas already exist.
7. Supply, Logistics, & Maintenance. Tank designers will ultimately fail if the attempt is made to incorporate armor and defense packages, sensors, missiles, radars, and new capabilities without thinking of the footprint such changes bring about. A serious and long term effort to make maintenance more intuitive, less costly, and less time intensive will yield major benefits in combat vehicle availability. Adding unmanned systems will create serious challenges in both maintenance and logistics.
Currently, installing armor packages or extra systems is a burdensome ordeal. The scalable armor concept would have to account for this reality. Improvements in this area will likely require a long term continuous product improvement process.
8. Reduce or increase personnel? The trend for Russian tank designs since the introduction of the T-64 and the autoloader has been to decrease the size of the tank crew to three (commander, gunner, driver). The Chinese have followed this concept since the fielding of the late model Type 85/88C. Since 1952, with the fielding of the M48 Patton, the US Army has made the intentional decision to keep the size of the US tank crew at 4 (commander, gunner, driver, loader).
The MRBT concept may challenge both the 3 and 4 man employment doctrines. A future MRBT would still require a commander, driver, and weapons operator. However, an additional one or even two crewmen may be valuable to increase situational awareness, communicate with adjacent units, and fully utilize the lethality of off-board unmanned systems. The US M4 Sherman, the main American tank of WWII, provides the historical precedent for effective 5 man crews.
The Future Heavy Armored Brigade
It is likely that future armored formations will be assisted by large numbers of unmanned ground systems with a myriad of different functions. The US is developing just such a concept through the Robotic Combat Vehicle (RCV) family of systems.
The Russian Army has also been crawling towards this concept by developing the T-14 not only as a main battle tank, but as a universal combat platform which is modular enough to host all kinds of different types of vehicles. One of these variants is the Terminator 3 Tank Support Fighting Vehicle. The Terminator series tanks utilize anti-tank missiles as one of the vehicle’s main armaments. Russian engineers have commented that the Terminator 3 could be 100% unmanned/robotic in the future.
Russia seems to have already developed such a system. During the first week of February 2023, Russian officials claim to have deployed four unmanned tanks to Ukraine in a type of experimentation under fire. The data from such a deployment of unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs), whether successful or not, is highly valuable.
These actions clearly show that Moscow’s military planners are also thinking about what a future armored brigade looks like. In Vermilion’s assessment, the below types of UGVs are highly likely to be manufactured by the US, Russia, and China within the next five years.
Main Battle Tank-Unmanned (MBT-U): The MBT may actually become a smaller drone controlled by the new MRBT platform. This is advantageous, because tank killers have always sought to minimize their silhouette with shorter platform height to avoid being spotted by the enemy. The dangerous job of armor hunting may be better done by a relatively small MBT drone loaded with missiles and a traditional main gun. This platform would rove the battlefield hunting for enemy vehicles and notify the MRBT operators once an enemy signature was detected, allowing for a man-in-the-loop decision before engaging a target. In the mid to far future, AI could aid in the operation of this vehicle by downloading maps of the operations area and making independent assessments of areas where enemy vehicles would most likely be found/have the best mobility.
Short Range Air Defense-Unmanned (SHORAD-U): Air defense is a complex capability. The MRBT would highly benefit from organic accompanied air defense. The MRBT and adjacent blue forces of the future will be vulnerable to red air. While APS and ERA are able to defend against smaller anti-tank munitions, they likely cannot defend against large GPS-guided bombs and cruise missiles. APS is also likely not effective against artillery shells, rocket salvos, or concentrated mortar fire. SHORAD-U would integrate two solutions onto a single platform to deal with this range of threats. First, some type of land-based close-in weapons system and second, some type of PATRIOT or Iron Dome capability.
Reconnaissance Tankette (RT): a cheap, disposable, all-terrain vehicle with a modular sensor suite. The sensors should be packed onto a turret for 360 degree coverage. The turret should then be mounted to an extendable mast in order to raise the sensor to ten, twenty, or even thirty feet to capture superior views of the battlefield. Infrared heat sensors would be key for this platform to be able to operate during the night.
A single precision weapons system should be integrated into the platform to engage high value enemy targets or conduct harassing fires to delay red operations. A precise long range 30mm airbursting cannon or perhaps a missile system would be effective. The US Army is experimenting with such a vehicle termed the Robotic Combat Vehicle Light (RCV Light).
Infantry Support Robo-Mule: A squad or platoon-based small all-terrain vehicle able to carry heavy loads and establish a reliable communications link with the MRBT. This vehicle would carry supplies for the infantry and act as an infantry-armor coordination interface, much like an advanced version of the traditional grunt phone. Combined with the communications link should be a data link, so that tank crew and infantry can tag objectives and send simple messages through the tanks computers and the infantry’s soon to be fielded XM157 scope computers. The Army is already purchasing a suitable vehicle for this purpose, the Multi-Utility Tactical Transport (MUTT). The uses for MUTT could be many, including acting as a supply point, rally point, carrying large weapons or munitions normally not possible with infantry, acting as a known GPS-enabled point for air casualty evacuation, carrying a large optic for overwatch, acting as an autonomous stretcher-bearer for casualties, and many other functions.
Self-Propelled Independent Indirect Firepower (SPIIF): An unmanned vehicle detailed to the MRBT equipped with a large mortar system capable of firing and reloading unmanned. By utilizing this platform, the MRBT would be able to provide fire support against targets in defilade. For example, if an enemy infantry unit is on the other side of a hill, a traditional MBT, the MRBT, and most infantry are unable to fire against it. Air strikes or indirect weapons like mortars or artillery would be required to drop shots down onto the enemy. SPIIF gives the MRBT its own organic mortar system to take indirect shots.
More ambitiously, an artillery cannon could be modified to fit within the space constraints of a truck-sized vehicle to provide indirect fires. At the heaviest end of the spectrum, a full self-propelled artillery piece could be transformed into an unmanned system.
Even more effective could be a simple truck carrying large numbers of missiles in vertical launch system (VLS) boxes. This would be similar to an unmanned HIMARS.
Mobile Engineering Assistance Platform (MEAP): In the countermobility and defensive works domain, this engineering platform would be capable of internally carrying, deploying, and recovering stacks of infantry and anti-tank mines. This is less dangerous for a drone and each mine can be tagged by GPS automatically. The platform should also pack a rocket able to instantly dispense mine-like submunitions during time sensitive operations.
The MEAP should also assist in digging trenches and building strongpoints. Perhaps a small excavator arm could be equipped by folding onto the top of the vehicle, while a backhoe could be mounted on the rear of the vehicle to move piles of spoil. Ideally, this auto trenching machine would be attached or made into its own autonomous sub-vehicle.
In terms of enabling mobility, Top-mounted bins each carrying a Mine-Clearing Line Charge (MICLIC) would be capable of blowing substantial movement corridors across enemy obstacles. A heavy drop-down mineroller with chains can be mounted on the front of the vehicle. If heavy demining operations are expected, the MEAP should be able to deploy with several small sub-vehicles equipped with both lighter minerollers and mine detectors to conduct autonomous clearing of mine fields.
The US Army already fields a small-scale autonomous mine-clearing vehicle, the M160 Anti-personnel Mine Clearing System Remote Control (AMCS-RC). This program needs to be scaled up and continued.
Trucked Autonomous Resupply (TAR): Unfortunately, the resupply of these platforms will be difficult in terms of fuel, spare parts, munitions, and batteries, not to mention the human elements. To ameliorate this, an autonomous truck can be fielded that independently navigates or follows waypoints between logistics bases and the MRBT’s position. While this is unlikely to alleviate the need for traditional logistics units, the TAR will be able to travel continuously without resting. This fact alone means unmanned resupply can deliver huge amounts of supply over time, as the US Marine Corps discovered with its KMAX unmanned resupply helicopters. The autonomous land-based logistics industry will highly likely develop a fielded capability in less than ten years.
Autonomous Recovery/Wrecker (ARW): An optionally manned vehicle able to recover the MRBT or any of the ground drones from tricky off-road situations where platforms may get stuck. The option to place a man in the vehicle is key because off-road recovery can be quite difficult and an autonomous drone may not be the best at this task.
Future Scenario - Armor to Armor Engagement
Imagine a future ground operation where a US regiment/brigade is in a firefight with an enemy brigade in rolling foothills. A single MRBT uses its long range sensors to identify a platoon of four enemy tanks. The crew geo-tags the enemy position with their computer and ranges it with the laser range finder integrated into the sensor mast. Now the crew knows the enemy are 15km away, well within missile range. With external ATGMs always ready to fire, the crew launches a salvo of two lock-on after launch (LOAL) missiles on the move towards the general direction of the enemy platoon. The MRBT then begins sprinting to cover. Onboard software systems record that a missile was launched and when connectivity allows, that message is automatically sent to logistics troops who now know what supplies to send forward.
The enemy tank platoon identifies the incoming missiles and their onboard active protection systems go to the ready and then fire, taking down one missile as the second missile gets through and crashes into an enemy tank, destroying it. The enemy believes they are dealing with a long range vehicle threat, so are forced to unload the anti-personnel or anti-tank rounds in their chambers and reload gun-launched ATGMs. These ATGMs are designed to fire from a tank barrel, so they are limited in size and therefore range, unlike the externally carried MRBT missiles which have no such limitation. The enemy tank platoon disperses, pops smoke, and begins scanning for the MRBT.
Once the MRBT crew is done with shooting and scooting, an aerial reconnaissance drone is launched from the vehicle. While the drone gains altitude, the crew communicates to all friendly units in range the geo-tagged location of the enemy armor. This data goes to pilots in the area as well as all infantry. When the infantry raise their XM157 scopes to their eye, a small geo-tagged marker shows them the location and distance to the point where the enemy armor was spotted. Once the drone is at altitude, the MRBT crew can clearly see the smoke and begin tracking the enemy armor positions closely while waiting for the smoke to dissipate. The MRBT is hidden behind cover the whole time and sends updated information out to adjacent friendly units.
The enemy platoon launches its own aerial drones to discover blue units in the area. As the red drones begin conducting a search track, forward blue infantry elements identify these small drones and communicate that information to adjacent units.
Once the MRBT receives this information, it turns on its X-MADIS radar and searches for red drones. The radar identifies multiple drones and the onboard 30mm guns automatically slew to engage and destroy them with bursts of automatic fire. The cannon fire has a relatively large signature, so the MRBT stops emitting its radar and begins repositioning after firing.
Knowing that red armor is still a threat, the MRBT crew (while on the move) activates their Main Battle Tank-Unmanned (MBT-U) ground drone and sets a waypoint for the front line. The MRBT crew continues communicating with adjacent blue units from behind cover while the MBT-U trundles past the MRBT up to a forward ridgeline to the flank of the red armor.
As soon as the MBT-U is positioned on the reverse military crest of the ridge, an MRBT crewman takes direct control of the MBT-U drone, able to see what the drone sees by sharing the sensor picture in his terminal. The crewman maneuvers the MBT-U up to the topographical crest while also watching the aerial drone feed to know where the enemy targets are oriented. In this way, the MRBT crewman can maneuver the MBT-U into position for a side armor shot.
The red platoon is aware of vehicle threats in the area and is searching for them. The red armor and the MBT-U identify each other within the same minute. Since the MBT-U is positioned on the enemy’s flank, it is firing at the side armor of the red tanks, while red is firing at the MBT-U’s front armor. This results in a closer range gun fight where the MBT-U knocks out a second red tank, while the remaining two red tanks knock out the MBT-U.
At this point the red commander decides to withdraw with 50% of his armor and most of his aerial recon drones lost. Blue infantry forces, fed by the situational awareness of the MRBT have maneuvered forward but not quite reached the red positions by the time the red commander decides to disengage. However, the infantry are able to identify red forces in retrograde and radio that information back while calling for airstrikes.
Upon receipt of this information, the MRBT crew launches another aerial recon drone and begins identifying retreating red units. As blue air comes on station to target red forces, the MRBT is able to share the data it has collected on red with blue air. Utilizing the drone feeds, the MRBT crew is able to walk blue air onto their targets and give them updated GPS coordinates, resulting in increased airstrike effectiveness.
Blue commander decides to continue pursuit, so the MRBT crew sets a waypoint for the autonomous recovery/wrecker (ARW) drone to link up with the knocked out MBT-U. Simultaneously, both aerial drones are recalled to the same location along with the MRBT’s trucked autonomous resupply (TAR), an unmanned 7-ton truck which carries supplies.
As the MRBT arrives at the MBT-U’s location, the crew leaves the vehicle to inspect the damage and ensure a good tow for the ARW. The ARW then begins towing the MBT-U to a logistics base in the rear, while the TAR arrives to resupply gas, ammo, batteries, and a hard drive of data from the brigade’s intelligence unit. The aerial drones return, land, and are reset. The TAR leaves, also heading to a rearward base.
As the MRBT crew is prepping for movement, a call comes over the radio. Troops in contact, a forward company of pursuing blue troops is heavily engaged by what appears to be an enemy battalion. The MRBT is too far away for ATGMs or the autocannons to be of use. To make matters worse, blue air has expended ordnance and is already returning to base. The MRBT crew turns to their vertical launch system (VLS) missiles mounted on a simple truck well to the rear of their current position. The forward blue company is taking cover under heavy fire and has already identified enemy positions with GPS using their XM157 scope computers. The MRBT crew notifies the forward company of incoming rounds and with the list of GPS targets, the crew launches 2 missiles per target, firing a total of 6 missiles to silence the red positions.
Consequences for Strategic Competition:
1. The influence of missile technology will reshape armored warfare in the same way it has reshaped combat at sea and in the air. New doctrine for tanks may draw more inspiration from platforms like the F-35 than traditional heavy armor experience. For example, the F-35 is able to employ large sensors to launch missile strikes beyond visual range or even to pass those targets along to a more appropriate shooter. In this way, the F-35 plays an important orchestrator role in combat, similar to what an MRBT could possibly execute.
2. The US military must conduct a 21st century Louisiana Maneuvers involving hundreds of thousands of military, civilian, and contractor personnel across all services to determine the equipment and doctrine of the future ground fighting force. Washington should invite key allies such as the Five Eyes, Japan, Taiwan, and Ukraine.
3. The manufacture of these manned and unmanned ground systems will require a mature defense industrial base (DIB) able to produce large volumes of equipment with embedded advanced semiconductor chips / integrated circuits. These chips will not be easy to produce in large numbers.
The talent required to mesh all of the sensors, data links, and communications capabilities into one seamless picture for the end-user will also be difficult to train and retain.
4. The ability to field this type of manned/unmanned armored unit will be critical to restoring maneuver to the future battlefield. The current Ukraine War has bogged down into a war of attrition for many reasons. One of those reasons is that neither side is able to field a force capable of conducting effective high tempo breakthrough operations against the enemy line. The nation that cannot field the armored brigade of the future may be doomed to fight wars featuring high casualties and stagnant front lines.