Can we change the paradigms of the modern battle tank?

Since the early 30s, the logic behind the evolution of the battle tank has remained the same, namely thicker armor, a more powerful gun, and a more efficient engine to maintain the mobility of the armor. Thus the 30-ton tanks like the T34 or the Panzer IV at the start of the Second World War, gradually transformed into tanks of over 40 tons like the Panther and the M26 Pershing 2, and even beyond with the German Tigers of 57 tons. At the end of the Second World War, two schools appeared in the world: the Soviet school, with compact, lighter, and more economical tanks like the T54, T64 and T72, and the Western school, with heavier and more expensive tanks, like the M48 and M60 Patton, or the American M1 Abrams, but also the British Chiefs and Challengers. The exception in the West was represented by the French AMX30, and the German Leopard 1, tanks much lighter than their contemporary American counterparts.

As a new generation of battle tanks emerges today, with the T-14 Armata in Russia, and MGCS in Europe, the paradigms that underlie their development seem unchanged, with ever more protection and more firepower, so as to sustain the adversary's fire while destroying it before it itself cannot destroy it. Yet there is a program that radically changes paradigms in this area. The Israeli CARMEL program plans to design a 35-ton armored vehicle, very mobile, highly digitized, served by a crew of only 2 men, initially designed to take over from the Merkava. Can we, therefore, design a new generation combat tank that is actually more efficient than the previous generation, without succumbing to the almost systematic increase in weight, gun caliber, and ultimately, price? The answer to this question requires going into a little more detail in the “tank theory”…

Why and how is a battle tank effective?

Since the First World War, the main battle tank has continued to carry the same priority, namely to create a rupture in the opposing lines. By its firepower, its mobility and its mass, the tank can indeed destroy the enemy's points of resistance, while creating, like the cavalry charges of the Middle Ages, a certain amazement in the adversary. If initially this tool was limited to piercing enemy lines, especially for crossing enemy trenches, progress in terms of tank mobility made it possible to extend this notion of rupture to a more global level, by attacking the lines. supply, depriving him of the means to continue the fight. This strategy was applied by the German armies during the first years of the Second World War, in particular against Poland and France, in the famous “Blitz Krieg”, which was based as much on mobility as on the firepower of the panzers. Germans.

While the battle tank plays a large offensive role, it also remains a centerpiece of defensive devices, especially to prevent opposing tanks from using their firepower and mobility to break through friendly lines.

But the tank was not limited to an offensive role, and during the Second World War, it was also integrated into the defensive devices of the armies, in particular in a new function, that of "tank killer", the tank becoming its own worst enemy. From a defensive point of view, the role of the tank is precisely to prevent rupture, and to counter the astonishment that the opposing tank can generate. In addition, he can quickly change his posture and transform into an offensive weapon, if the opportunity to lead a counterattack arises.

From these missions, and their constraints, it is possible to abstractly model the combat tank according to 3 criteria:

  • la mobility, which depends on the mass of the tank, therefore its armor, and the power of its engine
  • la lethality, which mainly depends on the firepower in the broad sense (caliber, ammunition, precision…), but also, to a lesser extent, on its mobility, as well as on the survivability of the opposing tanks.
  • la survivability, precisely, which depends on the armor, but also on the mobility, as well as the opposing lethality

The combat potential of a tank is a complex nonlinear function based on these 3 criteria, with important notions of thresholds. The same goes for the price of the tank. We understand, if we want to destroy the opponent before being destroyed, the most obvious solution is to increase survivability, therefore armor, therefore mass, and lethality, therefore firepower. , of his own tank. To maintain identical mobility, it is in fact necessary to increase the engine power. The whole results in a tank that is certainly more powerful, but also heavier, and noticeably more expensive. This is how tanks have evolved over the past 70 years.

Paradigm reversal: the role of mobility


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