Employment of Armour in Future Conflicts
Will the armoured fighting vehicle or a tank as it is generally called, be able to survive such an environment in the future? This question is bothering military professionals and military analysts because threats to armour are becoming more and more soph
Will the armoured fighting vehicle or a tank as it is generally called, be able to survive such an environment in the future?
THE EFFECTIVENESS OF US air power in destroying Iraqi armour that manoeuvred during a sandstorm in order to meet the coalition forces is often cited as the type of threat that will immobilise armoured forces in future wars. In the above situation as the coalition forces closed in on Baghdad, Iraq’s Medina, Baghdad and Hammurabi Divisions, counting on the cover provided by the sand storm, repositioned themselves to meet the coalition forces. JSTARS and long range UAVs detected the movement and guided B-1 and fighter-bombers to intercept them. Using infrared targeting devices that could penetrate the clouds of sand, the aircraft inflicted severe damage on Iraqi armour.
Future Threats – Air-to-Ground Anti-Armour Weapons
Threats to armour are becoming more and more sophisticated and dangerous. For example Lockheed Martin’s Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser (WCMD) has added precision to imprecise sub-munitions dispensers or cluster bombs. The WCMD has added a new tail unit with pop-out fins and inertial guidance to existing Tactical Munitions Dispensers. This enables the system to correct for winds, launch transients, and ballistic errors, thereby allowing accurate high-altitude releases (to within an accuracy of around 50 ft) for what were supposed to be low-altitude weapons. Currently the WMCD can be fielded on US aircraft such as the B-1B, B-52, F-15E and F-16, F-117, A-10 and F-35. They were first used in combat during Operation Iraqi Freedom when they demonstrated that they could glide effectively to the right target area from safer stand-off distances.
In parallel is the Sensor Fused Weapon (SFW), a 1,000 lb Tactical Munitions Dispenser containing 10 sub-munitions each with four projectiles. When dispensed these projectiles cover a 1,460 ft x 700 ft footprint; and any scattered projectiles that fail to detonate are programmed to selfdestruct. SFW was proven in Iraq in 2003 when US Marines were held up at the Falluja Bridge. An advancing Iraqi column was engaged by a forward air controller who knew that there was a B-52 aloft with SFW on board. An air drop was requested; nothing happened for around four minutes and then a third of the Iraq armoured column suddenly disappeared in smoke. After witnessing the impact of SFW on their colleagues, the rest of the Iraq armour surrendered. SFW is now operational on the F-16, F-15E, A-10, B-52, B-1B and B-2.
Will the armoured fighting vehicle (AFV) be able to survive such an environment in the future? This question is bothering military professionals and military analysts because threats to armour are becoming more and more sophisticated and dangerous.
What do the Armour Experts Say?
Armour experts feel that there is a danger in overplaying the threat to the AFV at present. The current analysis does not take into account the opponents creative thinking and the fact that “a strong desire is the mother of all inventions”. Experience with technology also warns us against adopting any simple equation of military superiority based on superior sensors and communications. Technology will, sooner or later, provide counters to the types of sensors being used currently. Some analysts point out that unmanned sensors can be blinded by lasers, while artillery and multiple rocket batteries used for deep attack can themselves be attacked by tactical ballistic missiles and precision munitions. Attack helicopters can be countered by well laid air defence ambushes and by air defence weapons suitably grouped with all arms combat groups. The enemy air power can be countered by our own air power by achieving air dominance in the concerned area of operations.
The older AFVs are being upgraded with better mobility and protection and thus greater survivability is now being designed In any case no matter how good the sensor to shooter technology is, the ability of AFVs grouped together with mechanised infantry and other combat elements to seize and hold ground, to deny its use to the enemy and to secure it for use by own troops is currently indispensable. Moreover manoeuvre to dislocate the enemy, to get behind him, to demoralise him so as to impose our will on him will continue to be an important role for armour. Indirect firepower (from ground or air) alone will not be able to achieve this effect despite the advent of precision munitions. Troops on the ground with AFVs lend power and muscle to an operational mission which cannot be fulfilled by stand-off engagements alone. Even a militarily powerful nation like the US has learnt this lesson the hard way in Afghanistan and Iraq where operations continued for many years after the initial military campaign was won virtually against no opposition.
Parameters Affecting Employment
There is a need to discuss and debate the issue of employment of armour in the future, in conceptual terms, in the Indian context, so as to enable professionals to assess their employment in view of the challenges posed by future battlefield developments which in turn influence the introduction of new technologies to design the new AFVs.
In order to examine the effectiveness and employment of armour in future conflicts it will also be prudent, in the first instance, to understand the basic characteristics of an AFV. Currently, in open terrain (plains and deserts) armour predominant combat forces are employed to lead the advance of offensive formations, to cut off enemy lines of communication, to link up with airborne or helicopter borne operations or special forces inserted in the depth areas of enemy defences, or to occupy key terrain in enemy held area in order to dislocate the enemy, physically and psychologically, and destroy him at a time and place of own choosing. Presently there is no method by which an all arms force can surprise, paralyse and cause dislocation on the ground without the use of armour (tanks). Mere use of greater firepower against strong enemy defences will not suffice.
The latest AFVs have integrated fire control systems. Such systems have a ballistic computer and a laser range-finder. They have radio equipment capable of digital communications and of receiving/ transmitting GPS data. Tanks are fitted with digital computers which are connected into C4I2 (command, control, communications, and computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) battlefield networks. These tanks integrate known information on enemy targets and friendly units to greatly improve the tank commander’s situational awareness. In addition to easing the reporting burden, these systems also allow for orders to be given complete with graphics and overlays, via the network. The trend is that each tank is becoming a sophisticated and independent fighting machine capable of unleashing far greater and more accurate firepower.
The versatilility and uniqueness of this weapon system, through innovative employment, can achieve a lethal effect on the battlefield called “shock action” which can help in attaining strategic objectives most economically. This results from a combination of mobility, armour protection, accurate and direct firepower and excellent communica- tions, which constitute the basic characteristics of an AFV. This quality of armour also fulfills an important tenet of Operational Art called “Operational Shock”, a term adopted from Russian word “Udar”. Manoeuvre theory seeks to defeat enemy without destroying all his forces. “Operational Shock” is the Soviet term for a state of disintegration of resolve which results from depriving commanders the ability to sense their environment or exercise control over their tactical elements or both. Both physical and cognitive means are used to achieve it and armour is indispensable in the land battle in this regard.
A new battlefield environment is emerging due to the advent of stand-off, multispectral sensors with real-time communications that give situational awareness so that targets can be acquired, prioritised and destroyed, by day or by night, in all weathers, throughout the battlefield, with stand off weapon systems firing precision attack munitions. This threat extends throughout the area of operations. Hence it is being pointed out by analysts that indirect and stand-off engagements from aircraft, unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) and long range artillery can relieve armour from the role of destroying enemy combat elements at close quarters. Moreover due to the high threat posed by the above systems armoured forces may find it difficult to close in with their intended objectives without neutralising the opponents deep attack systems.
In view of the above rationale many experts on tank designs are predicting that the prime characteristic of future AFVs may well be “survivability” to be able to transit through the battle zone unscathed. Thus the focus currently is on armour protection and stealth.
Armour protection has been substantially improved in the recent years. Tanks, earlier made of steel plates, are now protected by more complex composite armour, a sandwich of various alloys and ceramics. Composite and hybrid armour systems have been adopted for tanks by improving their protection against kinetic and shaped-charge threats. Armour suites include Britain’s Chobham, Germany’s Modular Expandable Armour Systems (Mexas), developed by IBD and hybrid armour from Israeli Military Industries (IMI) which is utilised in the Merkava tank and various Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs).
IMI’s “ballistic plus counter road side” protection defeats various types of advanced roadside bombs. This “add on” armour uses modules combining ceramic and composite materials and weighs approximately 68 kgs (150 lb) per sq metre. Ceramics and Nano materials have the capability to create composites with stopping power and durability unmatched by current armour suites. An Israeli company, Ap Nano, has tested one of the most shock resistant compositions known. It is modelled after a metallic based Nano-material called IF Nanosphere. This material is five times stronger than steel and at least twice as strong as any impact resistant material. In trials they have withstood shocks of 250 tonnes per sq cm. Progress has also been made with insensitive reac-
tive armour (IRA) which utilises insensitive explosives. IRA tiles react as regular explosive reactive armour when hit by a shaped charge but less violently reducing collateral damage.
Clara armour from German companies Verseidag Indutex and Dynamite Nobel behaves like reactive armour. It is however contained in a lightweight, metal free module made of layers of sheet explosive and composites. It engages shaped charge plasma jet of a projectile but creates no fragments. When combined with Verseidag’s Ultrax composite base armour, it protects against RPG attacks, as well as kinetic energy threats. A form of Chobham armour is encased in depleted uranium on the M1A1 Abrams MBT of the US Army. The Israeli Merkava tank takes the design of protection systems to an extreme, using the engine and fuel tanks as secondary armour. India’s MBT Arjun also uses composite armour called “Kanchan Armour” developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) of India.
IBD has unveiled its new advanced modular armour protection (AMAP) composite armor concept as a follow-on to their combat proven modular expandable armour system (MEXAS) protection. AMAP, utilises ultra-fine powders made from nano-particle ceramics to create thinner, lighter but tougher ceramic modules. AMAP is already utilised for a number of new applications including the protection kits for the Italian Army’s MLV, the Norwegian CV-9030 and Swedish CV-9040 armoured vehicles.
Passive countermeasures, like the Russian Shtora system, attempts to jam the guidance systems of incoming guided missiles. Explosive reactive armour, or ERA, is another major type of protection against high explosive anti-tank weapons, in which sections of armour explode to dissipate the focused explosive force of a shaped charge warhead fired by an anti-tank weapon or a tank. Reactive armour is attached to the outside of an MBT in small, replaceable bricks. Active protection systems (APS) go one step further than reactive armour. An APS uses radar or other sensing technology to automatically react to incoming projectiles. When the system detects hostile fire, it calculates a firing resolution and directs an explosive-launched counter-projectile to intercept or disrupt the incoming fire a few metres from the target.
Many professionals who have a fetish for attritional aspects of warfare generally fail to appreciate the unique qualities of AFVs which endow a commander with the ability to win battles against many odds but AFVs cannot function in isolation. Any system whether it operates on land, sea or air must be integrated with other systems within a service and with the weapon systems of the other two services in order to achieve operational synergy against an opponent in the future. Failure to realise this important wider context will result in sub-optimisation of our fighting capabilities.
India is likely to face more complex threats and challenges in the future than ever before and the circumstances are also likely to be different and this is where the military dilemma arises – where, when, for what purpose and how will future wars be fought? In the absence of concrete information the answer lies in building capabilities and skills which can endow us with the potential of achieving effects that we wish to impose on the opponent on future battlefields. Suitably designed AFVs, as a part of the combined arms formations, will continue to play a dominant role in integrated air-land operations by virtue of their survivability, speed and shock effect even in the future, in terrain which favours their employment. In this regard it may be noted that apart from the plains, riverine terrain
India is likely to face more complex threats and challenges in the future than ever before and the circumstances are also likely to be different and this is where the military dilemma arises – where, when, for what purpose and how will future wars be fought?
in the Northeast and desert terrain, even in the mountainous regions of our northern and western borders there is some scope for employing AFVs innovatively and skillfully both along the line of control (LoC) against Pakistan and the line of actual control (LAC) against China. Employment of AFVs as part of combined arms combat teams and groups here could result in obtaining advantages which are disproportionately higher as compared to the effort employed. This requires out of the box thinking.
The next important issue with regard to employment of armour is that of new technology. There is no doubt that technology will play a pre-dominant role in designing the conduct of wars and should be combined with innovative Operational Art, to win future wars. India is facing an entirely new technology era and needs to integrate new technologies as warfighting systems for which the requirement is to first decide upon a new joint warfighting doctrine and then evolve weapons and other systems to suit the former. Large sized holding and strike formations of the Indian Army, whose roles are a product of an environment which is fading away, will have to give way to smaller, more agile, more responsive and rapidly deployable formations in which armour will play a very significant role. Employment of fully integrated brigade and divisional sized task forces in the future would require, introduction of three key technologies which are: ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) system that will keep track of enemy and own forces movements through advanced sensors and platforms like aircraft, UAVs, and satellites assisted by global positioning systems (GPS) for an up to date situational awareness; an integrated C4I2 System to view the entire battle space as one composite whole so as to deal with targets in a coordinated and coherent manner; and long-range precision firepower by the most appropriate means (ground/air/ naval) or a combination thereof. Integration of the fire power resources of the three services will ensure optimum effect on the target while the choice is left to the integrated force commander to use the most appropriate and the most effective weapons. India lacks such technology and such capability currently. India has to acquire and develop these technologies with assistance from its strategic partners. She would do well to invest in these technologies at the earliest so that we are ready for future wars when we are required to fight them.
By virtue of their unique characteristics, AFVs will remain the pivot around which battle groups are formed and arranged on ground. The focus of future tank designers may shift to protection and survivability as compared to firepower and mobility and this may be achieved through a combination of technologies. While signature reduction to avoid detection is one possible area to explore, once detected the AFV will have to be equipped with active and passive means, including the destruction of the threat, to avoid acquisition. If acquired, the AFV would have to have a higher degree of responsiveness by resorting to hard and soft kill mechanisms built into the vehicular system. There is also a school of thought which advocates survivability of an AFV being achieved through a collective system rather than being platform based, which could be activated as per requirement. This could include unmanned platforms for high risk functions such as reconnaissance. In conclusion it can be stated that the AFVs will endure the changes in the nature of future wars however they must not be seen in isolation as stand-alone weapon systems but as a part of an all arms group enabling and sustaining decisive manoeuvre and high intensity battle at close quarters through superior survivability against precision attacks and dumb munitions.
There has been rapid and extensive urbanisation at a global level. Forty-eight per cent of the world’s population lived in urban areas in 2003. It is projected to exceed the 50 per cent mark by 2007 and expected to rise to 61 per cent by 2030. In the Indian context the so-called semi-desert and desert terrain, with a growing network of canals and irrigation channels, is fast becoming urbanised with population centres close to the border which are becoming bigger and bigger every year with a good network of roads and motorable tracks. Thus the geography of desert and semi desert is undergoing a change which will impact upon the military operations in such areas.
It is interesting to read that in a review of armoured forces in Operation Iraq Freedom, four reasons were given for highly successful armoured operations in urban sectors (built up area operations): Firstly, tanks are highly resistant to fire - In Iraq, the British claimed that one Challenger MBT near Basra absorbed 15 RPG hits without suffering penetration. American tanks and IFVs repeatedly sustained volleys of RPG and IED hits that dismounted soldiers and other light skinned vehicles would not have sustained. Secondly, tanks and IFVs are the logical choice for leading the advance. Armoured vehicles are essential because situational awareness (SA) regarding enemy forces is generally poor below the brigade level. In insurgent areas it is not possible to maintain full real-time intelligence on the insurgent forces. There is the added complexity of the insurgency inter-mingling with the civilian population. Hence tanks are the weapons of choice for “advance to contact”. It is observed that an inverse relationship between force protection and situational awareness exists. Where SA is poor, strong armour protection is needed and tanks are ideal for this purpose. Moreover tanks are capable of unleashing accurate and high volume of firepower to kill an opponent hidden in the built- up area. Thirdly, unlike artillery and aircraft which require a longer response time to engage the enemy, tanks and infantry combat vehicles can respond immediately to enemy fire. Lastly, in urban operations tanks can adopt a variety of tactics and mission oriented groups to effectively deal with changing conditions. Purely dismounted infantry or even infantry combat vehicles cannot match firepower, shock effect, tracked mobility and protection of tanks.
Urban Modification Kits
Urban modification kits can be developed to adapt existing tank for urban operations. Innovations in protection, classified as active protection systems (APS) can be fitted onto existing tanks and infantry combat vehicles. One such system is the Israeli Trophy APS, which was specifically designed for safe operation in an urban environment, where armoured vehicles work in close proximity to dismounted infantry. This system is able to detect and launch directed and focused countermeasures to intercept the incoming threat with low collateral damage, and relatively low risk to nearby troops.
Tanks and IFVs can also be fitted with RF-jamming devices. One such device is Warlock, which is designed to send out a broad-spectrum signal that will prematurely detonate, delay or prevent detonation of the trigger/firing mechanism of IEDs. These devices have been found to be fairly effective in Iraq and Israel.
Panoramic video camera systems can also be mounted on vehicles. 360-degree omni-directional panoramic cameras, being tested on French Leclerc “Azur” MBTs, enable the driver to drive in reverse without additional guidance. Automatic motion detection capabilities are also built into these video systems, detecting and alerting the crew to potential threats as they emerge.
Unique modification kits have also been added to the Israeli Merkava Mk3 and Mk4 MBTs, whereby a firing hatch and observation window is fitted in the rear access door, for a sniper or sharpshooter to cover the rear from within the tank. Selected models have their turrets replaced with armoured boxes with bullet-proof glass. This modification allows vehicle commanders to roll into hostile neighbourhoods and yet have 360-degree visibility without exposing themselves to enemy fire.
Battlefield Management System
The battlefield management system (BMS) can dramatically improve the situational awareness of tank and infantry combat vehicles crew’s especially when operating closed down i.e. when hatches are closed. BMS also reduces the possibility of fratricide and allows for more efficient command and control. Such systems are already in place in modern armies of the world.
In the Indian Army, the BMS (planned at battalion/regiment and below level for all arms and services of the Army) will comprise of a tactical hand-held computer with individual soldiers and tactical computers at battle group headquarters and combat vehicles. Computers will be integrated employing application and database servers connected on a data enabled communication network. The system will enable generation of common operational picture by integrating inputs from all relevant sources within a battle group by integrated use of GIS and GPS. The BMS will be a highly mobile system which is able to network itself by integration of components and provide a high data rate. However currently in the Indian context this is only a concept. It will take many years before it translates into a capability.
Historically the death knell of armour has been sounded from time to time with the discovery of new types of anti-tank weapons, however armour has always adapted itself to meet the new threats through design changes, innovative organisations and tactical reforms. This trend is continuing and now employment in even urban operations, with urban modification kits, have shown positive results. Trends indicate that the likelihood of urban operations is increasing in the future. Evidence has shown that, with simple modifications, armoured forces can still excel in urban operations, as part of a combined arms team that includes infantry, engineers, artillery, signals, air support, civil affairs (CA) and psychological operations (PSYOPS).
In our case the Directorate General of Mechanised Forces should take an institutional look at the future employment of tanks and infantry combat vehicles to decide on the design aspects of future tanks and ICVs.
Swedish CV90 fighting vehicle