Present, Future, Ogre . . .
by Charles R. Bowles
The tank is a viable weapons system now, and will remain so into the indefinite future.
Many sources have recently opined that the tank may be on the way out due to anti-tank technology. Even the designers of simulations about future tank warfare occasionally sound almost apologetic about thinking of tank combat in the future. ["Notes on the Ogre", by Steve Jackson, TSG #9: "Present anti-tank technology (air attacks, laser- and wire-guided missiles, etc...) have made it too cheap and easy to kill those million-dollar tanks."]
The most recent test of the viability of armor was the Arab-Israeli Yom Kippur War. Many consider the Israelis the finest tankers in the world both from a theoretical and a practical point of view, and when the major portion of their early heavy losses in tanks were from the Soviet Sagger infantry anti-tank missile, it seemed the day of the tank might be drawing to a close. However, the Israelis knew that committing the tanks without infantry was poor operational doctrine. The army was not mobilized yet and only a few armored reserves were available to throw into the breach. Later, when sufficient infantry was available, the Israelis went back to a proper operational doctrine of mixed infantry and armor, and achieved very impressive success with acceptable losses. The Israelis, least of all, believe the day of the tank is over. During the fighting, the U.S. tried to replace part of the Israeli losses, as the Soviets did for the Arabs. Both Arabs and Israelis placed high priority on tank replacements.
Any advantage an anti-tank system gains over tanks is to a large extent transitory, lasting only until tank design or operational theory can be changed. Since fin-stabilized shaped charge rounds have become the major ammunition used by Soviet tanks, NATO tanks are being designed with spaced armor plate or composite armor plate, both of which are more effective in stopping penetration by shaped charge rounds. The Israelis now believe they have an operational doctrine which will allow them to defeat the Sagger missile even without friendly infantry support. One overwatch tank fire team observes while the other tank team moves. If a Sagger is fired, the overwatch team will fire at the Sagger launch point and warn the target unit of the direction the Sagger is coming from. The moving tanks will rotate and discharge their guns in the Sagger's general direction. All guns discharge Beehive rounds which release a high-velocity cloud of thousands of dart-shaped projectiles about the size of finishing nails, called flechettes. The Sagger is a relatively slow missile which must be delicately guided to the target by a man observing both the target and the missile from the launch point. The missile must be in flight for a minimum of four seconds, and for best results, six to eight seconds, in order to allow the guidance man to gently stabilize and properly aim it. The Israelis believe that long before the missile can reach target, they can cover both launch point guidance man and missile with clouds of high-velocity flechettes. Even if they fail to hit the missile or guidance man (the odds favor a hit on one or the other), the impact of thousands of flechettes all around the guidance man is certain to cause him to flinch at the critical moment of guidance.
A similar operational defence doctrine against missiles using the Beehive round is used by almost all NATO tanks. All first-generation infantry anti-tank missiles can be countered by this method. However, the Beehive round would be less effective against second- and third-generation infantry anti-tank missiles like those now being deployed by NATO because of their improved guidance and higher speed.
For future missiles a quicker system will be needed. Perhaps twenty or thirty mini-mortar tubes or claymore mines firing Beehive-type rounds spaced around the turret and a heat-seeking or mini-radar unit on top. any fast-moving object coming within 50 meters would automatically trigger a blast of high-velocity flechettes into the path of the missile. Remember that the thousands of flechettes in each round are too small to damage nearby friendly tanks and every missile approaching a tank formation will take Beehive rounds from several tanks. Whatever form the defensive system may take, as missile technology advances, so does anti-missile.
It has been proposed that small nuclear warheads will spell the end of the tank in the future, but nukes are the reason tanks will have to be a major weapon on the battlefields of the future. Tactical nuclear doctrine of the present calls for a small nuke to blow a hole in the line and the attack force to roll over ground zero as soon as possible to exploit the breakthrough. For troops walking, this would not be safe for one to one and a half days. A jeep screens out about 20% of the residual radiation; an Armored Personnel Carrier (APC), about 40%; and a medium tank, about 90%.
The key to creating and sustaining a successful breakthrough is the concentration of force. You must outnumber the defending troops at least two to one. This concentration creates an opportune target and as a result, the breakthrough area is likely to receive a nuke from the enemy as well.
This situation is further complicated by modern communications and artillery techniques. During the Vietnam fighting a 155mm artillery battery could send off the first round against a target of opportunity within 200 seconds of receiving the target coordinates by radio. With new targeting computers, the U.S. 155mm artillery units in Europe can send off the first round against a target of opportunity 55 seconds after receiving target coordinates. The response time for a good 155mm self-propelled howitzer battery firing an immediate suppression mission against a priority target is only 18 seconds.
Any concentration of strength must be capable of rapid movement to survive. With a one-kiloton nuke detonation, infantry in the open are vulnerable only at 300 meters or less. Infantry may be able to defend dug in, but they cannot concentrate in the open for an attack and expect to survive. Hovercraft and space suits powered for flight may be able to maneuver the infantry around the battlefield, but any hit in the general area with moderate-sized nukes will eliminate them. Men need the mobility and heavy armor of a tank or APC to survive the heat, blast, and radiation of a nuclear battle.
While it is true that a direct hit with a nuke warhead would destroy any tank yet conceived, this is also true of most anti-tank warheads fired at tanks today. The limiting factor on anti-tank warheads normally is not the effectiveness of the warhead, but the difficulties in getting the warhead to the target. The missile or aircraft delivering the warhead can be jammed, shot down, etc., and if you are firing it from a gun, you will have to have something about the size of a tank to carry it anyway.
It may be possible very soon to build laser-triggered nukes small enough to be fired by very small weapons, perhaps rifles or machine-guns. Although these super-small nukes would create great dangers for tanks, they would also give the tank its greatest defensive weapon. A radar-controlled nuke-firing machine gun with proximity-fused rounds would provide excellent defence against low-flying aircraft and missiles, any any terrain likely to contain enemy infantry could be sprayed with a quick burst of nukees. The development of the small-caliber nuke would not mean the end of the tank but might mean the end of the close support attack aircraft and helicopter.
Current research on high energy laser weapons centers around the rocket pumped laser. The rocket exhaust supplies both the energy and cooling for the laser. If this laser system develops as expected, it could provide an effective tank weapon. The weapon would be heavy but the 120mm high velocity gun and shock-absorbing mounting on tanks today are in the weight area of two tons already. Will the laser become the tank's major weapon? Quite possibly, but only time will tell.
The question of the use of advanced computers (cybernetic brains) to replace crews is not so much if it will occur as when. The replacement of crewmen by computer will probably not be a sudden dramatic event which brings about a national debate over the moral, social, and psychological ramifications of a computerized terror monster killing people. The number of crewmen will be gradually reduced until only one man controls the tank, and as time goes on, his duties will become fewer and fewer until he becomes more of a burden on the system than a benefit.
The Air Force/Navy joint project cruise missile, which has already undergone several very successful test flights, uses a TERrain and COntour Matching guidance system (TERCOM) which allows the missile to fly a few hundred feet above the ground through valleys, over mountain ranges, picking a pre-selected course for over two thousand miles, and then recognize the target by radar appearance, and plant its nuclear warhead within 30 meters of intended ground zero. The system does this by comparing radar or video scans of the terrain around it with memory stored scans of the correct course on a continuous basis. The system visually finds its way two thousand miles and then recognizes its target. What more would a cybernetic tank need for guidance?
The separation of functioning units into friendly and enemy objects would not be difficult. Since WWII all combat aircraft have carried Identification Friend or Foe (IFF). When an aircraft comes into radar range, an electrical unit within the radar system automatically asks the aircraft by radio signal to identify. If the correct automatic coded radio response is not received, the radar blip is automatically designated by the radar computer as Foe and, if anti-aircraft missiles are available, it is probably fired upon. These IFF radio responder units can be made very small and are light in weight. Even those capable of complex coded responses could easily be carried by individual soldiers and changed in their coded response every few days. In short, the cybernetic tank would shoot up any warm object (body heat or engine heat or visual recognition) which did not give the correct friendly response. Some type of IFF system may be on tanks and with infantry long before the cybernetic tank. It is presently too easy to mistakenly engage friendly units, especially at night.
With terrain matching guidance, Identification Friend or Foe, and target recognition systems already existent, only the decision-making limits of the computer and the cost prevent the deployment of cybernetic tanks. A few years back a computer could not beat a chess master more often than it lost, but in the last couple of years, the computer has had good luck against masters. This is exactly the type of logic it will take for the tank's computer brain to make the proper decisions about when to fight and when to run, when to head for cover and when to stop and shoot, when to take an enemy unit head on and when to try to maneuver for a flank shot.
From the cost point of view, computers of all types are dropping in cost and increasing in capabilities. We are still in the infancy of micro-circuitry and logic circuitry. For the foreseeable future the cost of all military hardware including tanks will go up and the cost of computers will drop. There will come a time when the moderate cost of a computer brain for a tank will be far outweighed by its ability to increase survival probabilities on the very expensive tank.
The first and foremost advantage of the cybernetic tank is the speed of reaction and thought. A cybernetic brain would be able, for instance, to receive and confirm information from video, radar, and infra-red sensors on an incoming anti-tank missile, decide whether to out-maneuver or fire at the missile, and launch the appropriate actions simultaneously in far less than one second. Although lacking in what is commonly known as cunning and unpredictability, the cybernetic tank would make errorless lightning decisions far beyond the capability of the finest human crew. This speed and accuracy would extend to every aspect of tank performance.
All other advantages stem from the fact that no human (or other intelligent life forms) are within the tank. No worry about crew morale or discipline, the unit can choose to expend itself without problems if needed. No worry about food, water, or rest for the crew. The tank can be mothballed indefinitely and still be ready for combat without the need for training or mobilization of reserve crews. Since there is no need for the large crewspace within the tank, the cybernetic tank could have a far lower, compact, and therefore harder-to-hit silhouette. Without a crew the cybernetic tank could be designed to withstand far more in the way of vibration, shock, heat, blast, and radiation. With shielded electronics which are hardened against radiation, the tank could operate far closer to nuclear blasts than one with a human crew. It would be able to roll over ground zero while the radioactive cloud was still boiling upward. This is also true for nukes fired by the tank. The tank could fire a nuke and then roll into or through the radioactive dust cloud and hide from laser beam-guided missiles and heat-seeking missiles.
The cybernetic brain of the tank would be located at the exact center of the tank hull within a lead box. This shielding would allow the small but complex computer to survive tremendous radiation levels. (Strong radiation can affect transistor semi-conductor materials, etc.)
From the brain, circuits would control every device on the tank. Nuke-firing guns would be the primary weapons of the tank. The cybernetic brain would gather target information, make decisions, aim and fire weapons so quickly that the projectile time of flight to target would become the critical time factor, and a high-velocity gun projectile is much faster than the missile. Nuke warhead missiles would be used for close-in defence against infantry and air attack. The entire tank would be designed to withstand a terrific blast effect and even tremendous heat for moderate periods of time. The engine would be a small nuclear power plant which transfers excess and waste heat to the hull of the tank. It can operate without oxygen in a super-hot mushroom cloud or under water.
Tanks normally operate with friendly infantry, but the cybernetic tank would operate most of the time independently due to its unique characteristics and capabilities. The description of the basic Ogre game is one Ogre tank against defending infantry and armor. This scenario would accurately represent one of the key uses of the cybernetic tank. Seconds after a tactical nuke has blown a hole in the enemy line, an Ogre would be sent through the still-rising mushroom cloud to destroy, disrupt, and disorganize the enemy units immediately behind the front line. The Ogre would prevent the enemy from organizing an adequate defence of that sector of the line until friendly manned units could arrive, and then it would press hard into the enemy rear area well ahead of friendly manned units.
One interesting theoretical modification of the Ogre would be the Logre, or Light Ogre. The cross-country performance of today's tanks is limited more by the relatively slow driver reflexes and the ability of the crew to withstand kidney-jarring shocks and vibration than any other factors. With the almost instantaneous reflexes of the cybernetic brain and its ability to withstand shock and vibration, it would be possible to build a lightly armored and lightly armed (small nukes are still potent) tank capable of extremely high cross-country speed. It would move at speeds between fifty and eighty mph across the roughest terrain using every rock, ravine, ridge, clump of bushes, and radioactive mushroom cloud as cover. It would not try to fight front line units, but slip by them and then raise havoc far and wide in rear areas until it was caught. With its speed and ability to fire on the run, it would not take long to do a gread deal of damage. It would also be the ideal guerrilla warfare unit. It could hide by day and strike by night.
If I find fault with Ogre, it is not with the basic concept of the game or its basic scenario, but with the date of 2085. The Ogre is certain to come to the battlefield, and it will be here before 2020.