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.