Effective and Cheap Drones Should Force Tank Evolution

Turkey’s TB2 drone is getting a lot of attention for destroying Russian tanks in the Russia-Ukraine war. Combat drones have been used extensively by the USA in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Turkish TB2 drone only costs about $2 million versus over $20 million for similar US combat drones.

The US Army is developing anti-drone and anti-missile combat lasers.

There have been effective tank missile protection systems like the Israeli Trophy system. The Trophy “Heavy” system costs around US$900,000 to mount on a Merkava tank. Germany is buying 23 Trophy sets and 586 interceptors sought by Germany come with a price tag of $48 million. Those will be installed by 2025. Leopard-maker KMW stands to get roughly double that for the integration work. Germany will be spending about $4 million for each tank trophy system with about 25 interceptors per tank.

I think the Trophy system would only be able to deal with two simultaneous attacks and may only be able to deal with one attack at a time.

Future Scenario

The US Army anti-missile and anti-drone combat lasers will not be cheap but theoretically could be effective. However, if the battlefield is flooded with $1 million or less costing drones with anti-tank missiles in the $25,000 to $50,000 range then the tank becomes like the Navy Battleship of WW2. The Battleship could be effective on offense but was too vulnerable to military aircraft. It became costly and ineffective keeping Navy Battleships.

We can go over the decline of Battleships and the shift from heavily armored knights after the Middle Ages.

Between World War I and World War II, the big, fast, thickly-armored and heavily-armed Battleships dominated the world’s oceans.

Battleships were great at shore-bombardment, anti-aircraft defense and action against other battleships. During World War II and beyond, new technology reduced advantages and increased disadvantages.

In 1918, there were 118 Battleships in the World’s Navies. Eight were sunk in WW1. In 1939, there were Sixty-three battleships were in service. 24 Battleships were added during WW2. Twenty-three sank in combat.

Shore bombardment was better with aircraft carriers. Anti-aircraft defense was better with smaller ships and then with missiles. Other battleships were vulnerable to planes and submarines.

If a country like the USA is not fighting a military opponent that is truly challenging then military systems can be ten to thirty times more costly and the military truth might not get exposed. The US military would have 1000 times the combat power and would overwhelm challenges that a true peer comptitor could scale to achieve victory. However, a UK versus Argentina scenario where the opponent had cheap missiles to take out expensive system (HMS Sheffield) would force changes for militaries to adapt to vulnerabilities.

Heavily armored knights on armored horses peaked during the middles ages. Gunpowder for muskets and crossbows enabled less trained peasants to defeat mounted knights more easily than training longbowman. Longbows took a lot of training to master.

However, today we do have soldiers with bullet and explosion-resistant protection.

Armor needs to provide cost-effective advantages. Tanks could still exist but perhaps not in the current form. The US army is trying to create optionally manned tank drones. If these systems can be cost-effective, then the volume of armored ground combat systems could match up against the volume of flying drone missile platforms. A ground drone system carry more equipment than a drone that has to fly. Having some personnel in some systems could be needed for close in control of several unmanned ground tanks.

11 thoughts on “Effective and Cheap Drones Should Force Tank Evolution”

  1. Evolution takes strange paths, many of them dead ends…

    Maybe add a wide 'umbrella' electric drone flying 5m above the tank, powered by cable to a generator in the tank? Or a tough hot-air balloon inflated by the tank's exhaust, floating over the tank, also wired-electric-powered for propulsion to keep up with the tank! Streamlined, of course.

    Since a big part of the problem with tanks is that they make great targets, how about splitting it into 6 independent and highly mobile parts, and only when it actually gets someplace it needs to make an attack, they join together to form a tank? If different parts of separate tanks get blown up, just mix and match to make a whole tank! (Got that one from a TV show! OK, yes, it was actually a cartoon.)

  2. The trophy video was so bad at providing any useful information that it should have been uploaded to Instagram.

    "4 countries worldwide". As opposed to?

  3. Similar to the battleship metaphor, active defense that consists of longer range laser (or perhaps microwave?) intercept, and CIWS like close in last ditch defense is what we will see, along with series hybrid vehicles as the power demands start going to stupid.

    Active defense is also evolving in interesting ways, from a pair or quad of defensive turrets equipped with shotgun like rounds, to long strips mounted outboard of the upper periphery that fire downward shooting shotgun shells (though that's mostly for HEAT rounds). There's not a whole lot you can do about APFSDS rods except hope you can get them to tumble before they hit though.

    It might have been interesting to see what further development of DREAD, or Metal Storm, might have contributed to this.

  4. Taking the UGV idea and running with it, it would be similar to atritable missile carriers (so called "missile trucks") that air forces have been pursuing for a long time. Getting bulk weapons hauling offloaded onto unmanned vehicles, and making the vehicles smaller and more numerous to avoid the concentration of weapons and enable better distributed operations is a big goal. Having a small group of manned and unmanned vehicles as a hybrid unit, with several hollowed out APC's storing dozens of drones and missiles that can be called up for use via offboard cueing (some of the thought behind the original NetFires concept), would be a big game changer. Though combat longevity and reloading may favor swarms of small HALE drones circling over the battlefield like a taxi rank, which can be called upon much like current close air support aircraft.

    There are stories of B-1's over Afghanistan just squatting at high altitude and low speed with wings spread out circling the theater of operations, dropping SDB's on request for half a day, then quickly hustling home to refuel and rearm. Same idea, smaller package. Something that can transit quickly but loiter for long periods, maybe boost speed to allow SDB's to glide farther.

  5. That sorta falls into the same debate over 4th/5th gen manned fighter aircraft. Either one is still stupid expensive in terms of software if you want both autonomy and onboard sensor processing/EW.

  6. Let us not forget that the Turkish drone is inferior in performance in every respect to the same category US and Israeli MALE Drones. It may not be the first choice of first class armies.

  7. Putin is not counting rubles. He will throw forth whatever bodies, equipment, and munitions to create the best glory. Like those generals from WW1 who got entire lines of troops to rush out of ditches into german machine guns – sacrificing entire units to take out a pill box, gain a hill, push a line forward 20-feet…

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