Introduction to the Abrams X Tank
General Dynamics presented the AbramsX a few weeks back to showcase what it thinks is the future of tanks. The concept takes crew layout the T-14 Armata and M1 TTB fielded, plus a hybrid powerpack but based on the M1 Abrams design to give us the AbramsX. Thus, the crew is in the hull beside the driver, leaving the turret unmanned. The turret is now entirely fighting gear but with panoramic sights mounted on top to improve the situational awareness. Hybrid gear has batteries and a diesel engine in parallel to reduce dependence on fuel and improve efficiency. Do I agree with the concept? uuhhhmmm, its a complicated question to answer so read me out.
To answer my question, we need to first discuss what a tank is? A tank is a gun wielding heavy armored fighting vehicle used for offensive and defensive maneuvers, right! My question is, does it need to have a gun? Let us go over where I am drawing parallels from.
Pic 1: M1 TTB
Pic 2: Russian T14 Armata, Article HERE
Pic 3: Polish M1A2 SEPv2
Pic 4: M1 AbramsX Tech Demonstrator
What is a Naval Destroyer?
Being someone who loves naval history, also a branch of the military that dumped guns quickly, let us first answer what a “Destroyer” is. A Destroyer was a ship originally envisioned to destroy Torpedo Boats, and was actually called Torpedo Boat Destroyer. It was then shortened to just Destroyer and everyone kinda forgot the Torpedo Boat part.
World War 2 saw Destroyers drop the Torpedo Boat moniker and its role expanded to more than just hunting puny but dangerous torpedo boats, they did the following in WW2.
- They escorted Atlantic convoys against German U-Boats, thus Anti-Submarine Warfare
- The Fletcher class Destroyers USS Johnston and company sank a few cruisers, thus Anti-Surface Warfare
- Few more Destroyers served as radar pickets near Japan and helped hunt Kamikaze fighters, thus Area Air Defense
- Destroyers took part in shore bombardment and provided fire support to troops on land, thus Fire Support.
Hence, Destroyer moniker was expanded and generalized from the Torpedo Boat Destroyer days to being the bulk of the naval fleets we see today. What helped them become way better at their roles was dropping their guns for missiles. The navies accepted missiles with open hands. Missiles made hitting anything and everything a cakewalk over aiming your guns by compensating for your speed, direction and the constant bobbing off the waves. So we now have DDGs, Guided Missile Destroyers that carry missiles to kill everything, including submarines and guns only as a backup or for niche roles.
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The Gun vs Missile debate: Inaccurate Hammer vs Precise Scalpel
When does a missile make sense over a gun? It all comes down to the cost to kill value. Look at aircraft, they accepted missiles aggressively, realised they werent fool proof, came back to guns and waited for them to mature. Ask a fighter jock, a 30mm gun or an AIM-120D?, the fighter jock would love to just kill the target without ever seeing it. The fighter jocks of WW2 had to line their aircraft behind their enemy trying desparately to shake them off, create a proper lead on the nose so the rounds hit the enemy instead of falling behind and then shoot. Then to, they had only 21-30 seconds of ammo to fire on a P-51 with very low probability of kill or pK.
The pilots thus relied on skill more than instrumentation and tools to execute the mission and today, the thumb rule of automation is to take out skill from the kill and make it repeatable with high accuracy and high precision. The AIM-120 does that at upto 160km and it can course correct with onboard active guidance while on the way to the target. This is a monstrous improvement compared to when guns ruled the skies.
Thats a few million USD worth of rockets and trucks in a single picture.
Artillery still relies on guns because like the cost comparison I did in HIMARS vs Fighter Jets, a gun barrel and a 155mm shell is way cheaper than the guided HIMARS round. Plus, with artillery you need volume to take care of large formations, large structures or an open swathe of land where you want to create artifical cover for friendly troops. Artillery is thus still a hammer and not a scalpel and missiles make sense as a scalpel and not a hammer (with the caveat being nukes).
HERE is my HIMARS analysis.
HERE are my MBT and other Armor articles.
So, what is a Tank I ask again?
Thus, a tank is only a heavy armored fighting vehicle and it doesnt need to have a gun. The AbramsX and T-14 all rely on guns even though the tech is there to justify the higher pK of missiles versus a tank gun. Modern FCS is not a 100% accurate system , especially given weather, terrain and movement of the tank. It has a hard time firing towards Non-Line of Sight, because at that time its just artillery without the elevation advantages of an SPH.
Just like Destroyers and also Fighter Aircraft, the cost per kill analysis makes sense. Tanks are a tactical weapon that need a scalpel to takeout enemy tanks, enemy positions and infantry with accuracy and precision. The current guns are heavily dependent on environmental factors for both high accuracy and high precision, missiles take those out of the picture.
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Tank crews would love to kill enemy tanks without being in their line of sight, as the other tank wont be able to hit them accurately. They can provide precise fire support support to infantry with missiles. And, above all the need to carry 30-40 rounds is reduced as the higher pK means fewer missiles can do what you want to do. This reduces explosive material carried which makes a tank safer.
Are the AbramsX and T-14 the future of Tanks?
I like to think of these two as a miss-step on the way to the future. The Israeli Pereh, a modified M60 hull with 16 Spike NLOS missiles with ranges upto 16 km is the concept where tank designers should be aiming now. The Pereh beats all of the current tanks when it comes to detection using drones, accuracy of its missiles versus guns and the sheer advantage of having 2x range advantage over the longest tank-tank kill. If the current Ukrainian claim is not considered, then 3x advantage of range, side note the Ukrainian T-64BV needed 20 rounds to kill the abandoned target. The KF-51 Panther with a gun but armed with Loitering Munitions makes sense only when you are upgrading existing tanks but want to retain massive ammo stockpiles.
Pereh with its missile silo deployed.
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