I wrote a blog in November 2020 about the demise of the tank. I said that about every five years a story surfaces that predicts the demise of the tank as an offensive weapon. These stories are usually linked to the arrival of a new weapons system that the manufacturer claims will make the tank so vulnerable that it has no future. Over a hundred years after the tank first appeared in the Somme during World War I, it is still going strong and is still an integral part of most major land battles. However, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has added another element to this story. The power of the people armed with anti-tank weapons.
I watched a video the other evening, taken from a drone, that showed a column of tanks driving down a road towards Kyiv. Suddenly, the lead tank and the rear tank were taken out by shoulder-mounted anti-tank weapons – the classic attack pattern for destroying tank convoys if they are dumb enough to travel “line-ahead” down a straight road. Sorry, if their commanders are dumb enough to use this type of formation in enemy territory.
I understand from the news that the U.K. has supplied 10,000, or more, shoulder-mounted anti-tank weapons to the Ukrainian Army. The army, in turn, has deployed them in ambush situations, often using rapidly-trained civilians. Simplistically, it only requires the operator to point the shoulder-mounted tube and pull the trigger. One person carrying a weapon that costs $30,000 (An Nlaws light-weight anti-tank weapons system), can destroy a tank that costs $4 million (Current price of a Russian T-14 tank), together with its entire crew. Callously, its a pretty good return on investment, and a major nail in the coffin of the demise of tanks.
The comprehensive conquest of land masses has always required “boots on the ground”, and “boots on the ground” have always been more effective if they are supported by tanks. However, the Russian campaign in the Ukraine has called this long-time military philosophy into question. It may be that the demise of the tank is closer than we think.
The main impact of the first tank in the Somme a century ago, was intimidation. They were notoriously unreliable, and had a top speed that barely caused the accompanying troops to break into a trot, but they frightened the enemy to death. Russian tanks lining their borders with Finland, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia continue to intimidate but, as one Lithuanian general recently put it in describing the Russian Air force, “We always thought we were faced with a superior force, we’re not”.
Citizen-armed Nlaws systems have put the entire concept of tank intimidation on notice of possible irrelevance. Tanks are still intimidating, and the demise of the tank is certainly not guaranteed, but they can now be dealt with far easier than anyone could have thought, especially Russian military commanders.
The tank lives, and will probably continue to do so. The current speculation, and the experience of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, on the demise of the tank is not necessarily valid.