Why are tanks still sitting ducks in front of the aircraft?

Discussion in 'Weapons, Technology & Equipment' started by vashstampede, Jan 24, 2015.

  1. vashstampede

    vashstampede Active Member

    Tanks have always been sitting ducks when being attacked by aircraft. The situation got worse after the invention of anti-tank missiles which could be fired from both ground attack aircraft such as A-10, Su-25, or from helicopters such as AH-64. In most cases, even the most advanced Main Battle Tanks could do absolutely nothing against an air attack besides trying to hide and lay down smoke screen.

    Why nobody is trying to arm the tanks to deal with the threat from the air?
    I know some tanks can fire small missiles from their main guns, and these missiles are said to be able to bring down choppers, but have you ever heard of a single case of a chopper being downed by a tank? I haven't. Tanks don't even have the radar to track and lock onto an aircraft, let along attack it accurately.

    I mean, how hard is it to install something similar to what's on a mobile AA onto a tank? A Gatling guns, and a few real AA missiles even just short ranged missiles? So tanks won't be sitting ducks but instead can be a threat to low flying aircraft especially choppers? Adding a data link to allow tanks to share the readings from radars nearby could be helpful too.
  2. aghart

    aghart Former Tank Commander Moderator

    A modern tank with a computerised fire control system, thermal imaging sights and using super velocity armour piercing ammunition could easily take out any helicopter, it has not happened yet because the situation has never arisen. If the tank crew can see the helicopter and it either hovers or moves in a straight line for more than a few seconds, then it can be taken out. Super Velocity AP ammo is so fast that a helicopter crew would have no chance of avoiding it.
  3. Interrogator#6

    Interrogator#6 Active Member

    My data base is, alas, limited regarding contemporary weapons systems. I know more, but still not enough, about 'Cold War' systems. The Soviets did have AFVs which addressed AAA, the ZSU23-4. It did have radar as I recall.
  4. vashstampede

    vashstampede Active Member

    The problem is that most attack helicopters can launch anti-tank missiles at a tank before the tank crew can see it coming. It is all about who detects who first and who gets into weapon's range first. Choppers always come out on the top when compare to the tank.

    Not to mention that choppers are more maneuverable even if a tank has fired at it. Good luck for a tank to get out of the way of a guided anti-tank missile.

    That's why I said tanks need data link to share the information of nearby radars in order to see the choppers coming.
    What's more important is I believe the tanks need a smaller version of CIWS as their air defense assets instead of the outdated .50 cal. When was the last time a tank's .5 cal shot down an aircraft?
  5. aghart

    aghart Former Tank Commander Moderator

    Modern armies use combined arms operations, so they have their own dedicated AA defence, the British have the Starstreak missile system fitted to the Stormer APC. This allows for "area" anti-aircraft defence rather than point defence. The infantry also have "stinger" type AA weapons which can be used to protect armour.There has not yet been a situation where a modern combined arms force has had to deal with a modern helicopter threat. I suspect when it happens you may find that the helicopters are not as successful as you think, and that their losses wil be heavy. So many people know of the strengths of helicopters but ignore their high vunerability. The best defence for armour against the air threat (fixed wing & helicopter) is to prevent the attack rather than to respond to the attack. Shoot them down before they get to attack, and that is the job of other people not the tank crews. Tank crews have enough on their plate as it is. They can't do everything.
  6. vashstampede

    vashstampede Active Member

    While I agree that a well balanced military force should have their own choppers and mobile AA units covering their tanks, I still think it is a good idea to install something on the tanks to allow them have a chance against the enemy aircraft on their own.

    Current MBTs have no real effective way against incoming missiles other than pop up some smoke grenades and hope the missile miss or bounce off the armor.

    Even with air support and anti-air support, the tanks are still sitting ducks when being fired upon by an enemy missile. They can really use a CIWS to defend themselves against incoming missiles. With a CIWS, they can defend against any missiles not just the missiles from an aircraft, but also from other ground based vehicles and even the portable AT missiles from infantry.

    Not to mention that it is quite impossible to always have air cover for the tanks 100% of the time. The air support has to return to base for refuel/rearm sometimes. There has to be gap between two sorts.

    Mobile AA could attempt to keep up with the tanks, but they will always tail behind the tanks and thus the possibility of falling behind is always there. These Mobile AA units must have greater weapon's range than the enemy aircraft or the tanks at the front line are still cannon fodders.

    To depend on infantry's shoulder launch AA missiles to cover tanks from aircraft/missile attack is not convincing. Infantry has even less field of vision than the tanks. Shoulder launch missiles require the enemy aircraft being within visual range at least, and we have been through this about aircraft and launch their AT missiles from pretty far away.
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2015
  7. aghart

    aghart Former Tank Commander Moderator

    Quite simply, it's not possible to put a CIWS system on an MBT, there is not the room, inside or out for the radar, the guns, the electronics or the ammunition, the weight increase would be unacceptable, the crew could not cope with the extra workload, and even if it was possible, the cost would be unacceptable. If the idea had any merit at all, don't you think it would have been tried? dedicated AA systems integrated in an all arms battle group work, that is why all modern armies use this system.
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2015
  8. vashstampede

    vashstampede Active Member

    I didn't mean to put a full sized naval CIWS on a MBT. It should be a downsided smaller version of the same weapon. After all, AT missiles are smaller than anti-ship missiles. Thus a smaller version should work just fine.

    MBTs have horsepower of 1,500 or above. A few extra tons of weight shouldn't be a problem.
    Besides, CIWS should be pretty much automatic, it doesn't need manual work from the crew.

    Not to mention that since Mobile AA systems can carry AA missiles just fine, why shouldn't the MBTs? Just reduce the number of missiles since it still needs its primary weapon.
  9. aghart

    aghart Former Tank Commander Moderator

    Where to start? the accepted minimum calibre for an anti-missile system is 20mm, remember .50 cal = 12.7mm so 20mm is a realistic minimum.You can't downsize a 20mm gatling gun, you can't reduce the level of ammunition as these weapons consume a great deal of ordnance, and quite simply it's not possible to downsize a CIWS, if it was every navy in the world would be doing it. There is no spare space on a modern MBT, as for weight? a tank turret is balanced, stick another ton or so on one single place and the you will cause all sorts of problems with traverse motors and stability, as for radar? fine on a ship on the open sea, possibly ok in a wide open desert, but in a European type theatre with woods, forest's, hill, valleys and the like, no radar fitted to a tank would be able to track anything. The dedicated AA systems on armoured hulls ensure they position themselves in locations that will provide the best protection for those they are covering. A tank has to be able to move in dense undergrowth and wooded area's, a great big CIWS sat on top will limit it's ability to move through this terrain. And finally, a single ship is a major military asset, a single tank is not and so does not justify the huge expense such a idea (if it was possible) would create.

    A tank regiment is a major asset, that's why dedicated AA systems exist to protect formations but not individual vehicles. I also suspect that you fail to understand just how difficult it is for an aircraft to spot an AFV in a European style environment. vehicles are very hard to spot. Fixed wing aircraft are simply too important to be used against small numbers of armoured vehicles. Even the A10 Warthog would be held back and only attack armoured formations following up the main assault, which of course would be well protected by dedicated AA units. Helicopters would attack the forward units but again in a European theatre they would only have at best usually have a 3k visual range, and they would be vunerable to all weapons on the battlefield, and at 3k it would take an APFSDS tank round 2 seconds to hit a helicopter, not enough time for the pilot to blink never mind evade!

    Tank crews would still have to load the ammunition, clean and service the CIWS, deal with stoppages and a host of other problems. It is simply not a worthwhile idea.
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2015
  10. Im going to have to agree with aghart. Our current tactics for armored units are quite sound in my opinion. On the modern battleground the layers of interoperability is insane to say the least. I believe armored vehicles are well protected from most air threats covered between CAPs and mobile AA. Recently the biggest threat to armored crew have been IEDs and shoulder carried missiles and protective measures for the crews are constantly being tested. This is how we now have reactive armour on MBTs and other armored vehicles, to lessen if not stop the penetration of these projectiles. Unfortunately until we have unmanned vehicles in the field we will always have losses in our forces and it is almost impossible to protect everyone from everything. Its just a nasty cycle of improvement, you get better armor so we try to get better ammo to penetrate it or vice versa.
  11. aghart

    aghart Former Tank Commander Moderator


    Some photo's showing the inside of a Chieftain MBT. Not a lot of room, now consider trying to find room for some of the electronic's of a CIWS system.

    Attached Files:

  12. vashstampede

    vashstampede Active Member

    It used to be hard to spot ground vehicles from the air back in the old days (ex: WWII), but it is no longer the case today. Tanks generate lots of heat. Their heat signature can be used to spot, track, and target by the aircraft.

    You guys seem to think it is easy for a tank to shoot down a chopper. Please list some real examples of such cases. Choppers will always spot tanks before the tanks spot the choppers. Choppers also have longer weapons' range than tanks. It is why attack helicopters are considered one of the best anti-tank weapons.

    In 1991 the First Gulf war for example, thousands of Iraqi tanks were destroyed by AH64 and A-10. How did the air defense work for them? I don't recall a single chopper was shot down by a tank during that war. Very few were shot down by other weapons (aircraft, AA missiles).
  13. aghart

    aghart Former Tank Commander Moderator

    It is still hard for aircraft to spot concealed stationary vehicles even in the desert, in a wooded European situation it is almost impossible, as for moving vehicles? armoured forces move in numbers and most helicopters can still only engage one target at a time and you are going to have more armoured vehicles in a situation than helicopters.

    It is entirely possible for a modern MBT to spot and destroy a helicopter, I have stated twice in previous post's that it has never happened because helicopter's have never attacked a modern armoured force. On exercise in Germany (in a tank) I often tracked helicopters that were looking for us, I was hidden and stationary, they never spotted us and they were in my sights and could have been shot down in a split second especially when they were hovering. Choppers will always see the tanks first? no they won't. As for long range ATGW? unless you are in a flat desert you are never going to be able use the range advantage, if you can only see out to 2000 meters then having an ATGW with a range of 4000 meters offers no advantage. As a Challenger I hit and destroyed an Iraqi tank at 5100 meters in GW1 the range advantage is questionable. If that Iraqi tank had been a hovering chopper it too would have been destroyed at that range, the actual engagement sequence is the same, no matter what you are shooting at.

    The first Gulf war was a situation where the most modern and advanced weapons were pitted against an enemy with very few modern weapons. The formidible Russian Hind D helicopter gunship in Afghanistan was totally vunerable to men with Stinger AA missiles, The British Army Air Corps in Germany always asked the tank crews to take out the Soviet ZSU 23/4 as a priority if in a hot war we spotted them. why? because they were terrified of them. Dedicated AA platforms defending armoured formations, taking up the best locations , and forming an AA shield actually work. That's why modern armies all over the world use them.
  14. Interrogator#6

    Interrogator#6 Active Member

    On the modern battlefield the battle is no longer AFV verses Helo. It is defensive weapons systems verses offensive weapons systems. The problem is not a lone AFV facing a lone Helo, but an array of sophisticated electronic command and control facing perhaps an equal or superior command and control system. It is the superior technology which today dominates the field, and very often dictates who lives and who dies.

    It is not so much a lone helo anymore, searching and probing for a lone AFV, but the Eyes in the Sky (Drones, Radar-domed aircraft, satalites, etc.) ferreting out the AFV while remaining out of range can send this data to helos while they are remaining out of sight. Then with speed and manuverablity they can hop onto the battlrfield, launch tank-killer weapons and hop back behind protective hills often before AFV crews can react.

    Read the literature on modern sophisticated electronic battlefield. Even the non-classified material paints a dismal picture for AFVs against a superior technology force. This is why the US wins on a head-to-head battlefield and anyone who wishes to have a chance to win doesn't use "conventional" weapons and tactics.
  15. vashstampede

    vashstampede Active Member

    Are you assuming the aircraft won't have the warning system beeping when a tank has locked onto it? They will know before the tank open fire, and since the distance is several thousand meters, it will take a few seconds for the projectile to hit. In those a few seconds, the aircraft can take evasive maneuvers and other countermeasures. Unlike tanks, aircraft can maneuver fast. And if the tank used a missile from its gun instead of a shell, then other countermeasures such as flare and jamming will work too.

    While I can't confirm that all aircraft can only engage a single tank at a time, I am pretty sure A-10 is more than capable of attacking multiple targets in a single formation in a single pass. AH64 is capable of carrying 16 Hellfire anti-tank missiles. It is hard to imagine it can only fire one at a time.

    One of the friendly fire incident during the First Gulf War was an A-10 attacked a British armored formation and destroyed 2 armors.
  16. Banjo

    Banjo Member

  17. aghart

    aghart Former Tank Commander Moderator

    The tank does not lock onto a helicopter, the gunner will track it visually, get the range using his laser rangefinder, the computerised fire control system will create the firing solution all without warning the helicopter, as I said before at a range of 3000m it would take an APFSDS round 2 seconds to hit the target, assuming the pilot actually see's the muzzle flash, he would be dead before his brain could recieve the information from his eyes, never mind do anything about avoiding it. The A10 is designed to attack formations of Tanks, but formations of tanks have dedicated AA defence, again in the dead flat expanse of the desert a fixed wing aircraft or helicopter may have an increased advantage, but in all other terrain the advantage goes to the ground unit.
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2015
  18. vashstampede

    vashstampede Active Member

    I am no expert, but how can a tank not to lock onto a chopper before firing?
    1. Unless the tank is stationary, the gun barrel will move up and down as it goes through rough terrain. It requires the lock on and stabilizer system to keep the tank pointing at the same object.
    2. A chopper is moving, and it is highly maneuverable. Just how can a tank hope to shoot down a moving chopper with manual aiming?
    3. You mentioned laser rangefinder. A lot of tanks and choppers today have warning system against enemy laser rangefinder/aiming systems.

    Ok, once again I don't know the details since I am no military tech expert.
    Choppers and ground attack fixed wing aircraft are known as better tank destroyers than tanks themselves. It is not the other way around. Tanks are obviously better at knocking out other tanks than shooting down aircraft.
  19. Interrogator#6

    Interrogator#6 Active Member

    Imagine if you would a man in a window firing at a moving target. Does he fire at the target? If he does it is likely he will miss, because the target is moving. That gunner should have fired at where the target will be when his bullets reach the target. This is called deflection shooting. It was somethng taught to WWII era gunners by extensive training and skeet-shooting.

    Like skeet helos can be very swift. They can dodger, veer, jig, dance, slow and speed. And they can drop flares. A wise helo pilot knows not to fly straight and level for more than a few seconds when times get dangerous.
  20. aghart

    aghart Former Tank Commander Moderator

    Quite correct, and while a helicopter is jigging and manouvering they will find it difficult to spot targets, and when they do spot a target they have to hover or move in a straight line to aquire, lock onto and engage the target. Every weapon on the battlefield would be aimed at the Helicopter at this point. Very few missiles are "fire and forget" most still have to be guided to the target and this means the helicopter must hover or fly straight. The Hellfire missile is fire and forget but the helicopter if firing blind could be firing into an area that enemy tanks are not present in. Not every conflict is going to be fought in a wide open desert environment. Most tank engagements are still carried out when the tank is stationary.

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