Author Topic: Your Tanks Cannot Hide  (Read 2001 times)

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Offline daftandbarmy

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Your Tanks Cannot Hide
« on: March 10, 2020, 09:26:20 »
Your Tanks Cannot Hide

Massed Turkish drone and artillery strikes against Syrian tanks and armoured vehicles have major implications for the viability of traditional armoured manoeuvre warfare on the modern battlefield

33 Turkish soldiers were killed on the night of 27 February in an airstrike in Idlib, northern Syria. The precision strike was an uncharacteristically competent operation by what Russian and Turkish diplomats insisted were Syrian military aircraft. Whether undertaken by Moscow or Damascus, the intent was clearly to suppress Turkish forces, allowing the Syrian government to occupy the final rebel redoubt. It was a calculation that backfired spectacularly.

Over the following 48 hours Ankara unleashed UAV and artillery strikes across Idlib against Syrian regime forces. Footage released by the Turkish military clearly shows that they destroyed dozens of Syrian Army armoured vehicles and killed over a hundred soldiers. The diplomatic repercussions remain to be seen, but the military lessons of Turkey’s onslaught pose serious questions for future concepts of operation. In short, armoured vehicles on the modern battlefield cannot hide.

Ever since their invention in the First World War, the armoured vehicle has enabled protected mobility around the battlefield by being impervious to most weapons systems. By the Second World War it usually took a competing tank or anti-tank gun to knock out armour, and except against the most heavily armoured tanks, the gunner that saw, fired, and hit first was likely to prevail. Indirect fire, and particularly airpower, if queued against static or exposed vehicles, could be devastating, but for the most part tanks were primarily threatened in the direct fire zone. The periodic nature of the threat from airpower – assuming that the airspace was still to some extent contested – could be mitigated by effective camouflage.

Today, these dynamics do not hold. The ubiquitous availability of highly attritable and high-fidelity surveillance and reconnaissance assets, from electronic and multispectral sensing, to video feeds from UAVs, leaves little room to hide. Modern camouflage designed to reduce the electromagnetic signature beyond the visible spectrum can render armored vehicles less obvious to passive surveillance, but generally fall short of concealing vehicles from more determined observation. Turkey’s domestically produced Bayraktar and Anka UAVs had little difficulty in picking out Syrian armour amidst Idlib’s sparse terrain, and then following their movements. Once found, vehicles can also be targeted by increasingly precise and tailored munitions, whether delivered by the UAV, or from afar.

It is fair to say that Western armies have to a large extent been in denial about the impact of these capabilities. Awaiting a revolution in swarm technology and AI, Western forces have largely overlooked the fact that it is the density of sensors that is decisively reshaping the battlefield. Of course, much criticism can be leveled at the Syrian forces for their poor vehicle handling, lack of camouflage, and tendency to bunch up in targetable laagers. However extensive testing in the US and UK has consistently shown that Western vehicles are not much harder to find. The deep and unmistakable tracks that armoured vehicles cut in the ground leave a trail that UAVs can follow, and the fishhook turn leaves little doubt as to which woodblock the vehicle has entered, even if it has subsequently set up multi-spectral screens and camouflage.

Given the range and endurance of modern ISR capabilities, and the distance that armoured forces must traverse under threat before actually coming into the direct fire zone, it must be doubted whether existing concepts of armoured manoeuvre will remain viable, as armoured units face persistent attrition before ever they reach an adversary ground formation. As the weight of most armoured units – with a correspondingly limited operational reach – restricts long marches, the distance from a safe start line to an objective may render the logistics and break down rate prohibitive for established norms of operation. Little solace should be taken from the small number of Turkish strikes in which Syrian tanks survived the hit. Turkey’s MAM-L and MAM-C munitions are not ideally suited for knocking out main battle tanks (MBTs), but MBTs are of little value if they have no supporting infantry to take and hold their objectives, and armoured personnel carriers are significantly more vulnerable.

The lessons from Idlib are stark. While armored vehicles still have a great deal of utility, if units lack effective layers of defensive capabilities they will not reach the fight while remaining combat effective. These critical capabilities include electronic warfare units, radar-warning systems, ground based air defence (GBAD), and in particular short-ranged air defence systems (SHORAD) that can cheaply and quickly engage less sophisticated air threats and ISR platforms. They also require the ability to integrate, analyse and disseminate information sufficiently to track threats in a congested battlespace and bring these defensive capabilities to bear in an effective and coordinated manner. When working together these capabilities create a protected node within which forces can manoeuvre.

A second question is whether Western forces need to rethink camouflage. While concealment will remain a key skill in warfare, it may become subordinate to deception, whether through generating a myriad of false positives in the electromagnetic spectrum, or a plethora of dummy targets. The ability to overwhelm an opponent’s analytical capacity, and thereby prevent the prioritisation of targets for what must ultimately be a finite number of expensive munitions, is likely to be critical.

A further implication is a renewed emphasis on attrition, albeit of equipment, rather than people. In short, we may envisage the early stage of an engagement comprising a mutual attempt by both parties to tear down one another’s ISR networks, and protective capabilities. In both instances numbers matter, and if attritability is a key requirement for both seekers and deception, then the cheapness and capacity to mass-produce those platforms becomes a critical enabler for power projection. Western forces remain dazzled by exquisite ISR platforms. It seems increasingly clear that the most important question is what fidelity of sensors is sufficient to deliver effects?

The trends outlined above are primarily relevant today in state-on-state warfare. As key technologies become ubiquitous, however, and especially as states engage in intensified proxy warfare, these threats may become increasingly present when confronting non-state actors. The Islamic State had a substantial indigenous UAV construction programme. Their drones – while crude – were effective. The Houthis have not managed to field UAVs on the same scale, but have built sophisticated ‘loitering munition-style’ strike drones, based on Iranian designs, and have used them to deliver precise effects at reach.

In the context of the UK’s Integrated Review, Idlib throws up troubling questions. Major land force procurement programmes, including the Challenger II Life Extension Programme, and Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme, represent commitments that deliver a force just as susceptible to emerging threats as it is today. By contrast, British forces lack GBAD in any density, and SHORAD of any kind. Ground forces risk replicating the familiar at the expense of the effective. Mechanised and armored manoeuvre has a theoretical pathway to future viability. The electronic warfare and air defence capabilities exist and are most versatile when they have mobility through being vehicle-mounted. However, the changes required in terms of the design of manoeuvre units, what capabilities they include organically, and how they are protected by assets held at higher echelons indicate that the concept of operations for these forces is in desperate need of updating when the current threat environment is taken into consideration.

https://rusi.org/publication/rusi-defence-systems/your-tanks-cannot-hide
"The most important qualification of a soldier is fortitude under fatigue and privation. Courage is only second; hardship, poverty and want are the best school for a soldier." Napoleon

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Re: Your Tanks Cannot Hide
« Reply #1 on: March 10, 2020, 19:28:25 »
I really can't see the move away from heavily armoured forces anytime soon because they are still the sine quo non of offensive operations of any consequence.

It clearly is a lesson for the fact that there needs to be a whole new generation of automated active protective weaponry for vehicles and a massively improved/integrated GBAD/SHORAD capability.

Lesson two is we need to have a reinforcement/re-equipment sustainment system to make up battle losses and a much bigger supply of ammo stockpiling and replenishment.

Full-spectrum war is not going to be cheap in either people or stuff. Like most countries - we're not ready.

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Offline GR66

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Re: Your Tanks Cannot Hide
« Reply #2 on: March 10, 2020, 21:39:13 »
I really can't see the move away from heavily armoured forces anytime soon because they are still the sine quo non of offensive operations of any consequence.

It clearly is a lesson for the fact that there needs to be a whole new generation of automated active protective weaponry for vehicles and a massively improved/integrated GBAD/SHORAD capability.

Lesson two is we need to have a reinforcement/re-equipment sustainment system to make up battle losses and a much bigger supply of ammo stockpiling and replenishment.

Full-spectrum war is not going to be cheap in either people or stuff. Like most countries - we're not ready.

 :cheers:

But what is the correct course of action for a country (not naming any names... :cdn: ) that is unwilling to invest in all of the enablers that will allow for effective/safe use of armoured forces on a modern battlefield? 

Is it better to go half-arsed and have the appearance of a mechanized force only to risk having it destroyed because it doesn't have the necessary GBAD, EW, active protection systems, logistics, artillery counter-battery, drones/counter-drones, decoys, high-tech cammo systems, etc?  Or are you better off going another direction?  Some have suggested that more, lighter, faster, more easily hidden and less tempting targets for expensive enemy smart munitions as one possible option.  Are there others?

Offline E.R. Campbell

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Re: Your Tanks Cannot Hide
« Reply #3 on: March 11, 2020, 05:33:43 »
But what is the correct course of action for a country (not naming any names... :cdn: ) that is unwilling to invest in all of the enablers that will allow for effective/safe use of armoured forces on a modern battlefield? 

Is it better to go half-arsed and have the appearance of a mechanized force only to risk having it destroyed because it doesn't have the necessary GBAD, EW, active protection systems, logistics, artillery counter-battery, drones/counter-drones, decoys, high-tech cammo systems, etc?  Or are you better off going another direction?  Some have suggested that more, lighter, faster, more easily hidden and less tempting targets for expensive enemy smart munitions as one possible option.  Are there others?


I would suggest that it is the enemy that decides what we need, not the other way 'round.

Are we most likely to have to face an enemy who can be defeated with "more, lighter, faster, more easily hidden" forces that are, also "less tempting targets"? If that's our best estimate then, yes, that's the better answer. If, on the other hand, our analyses suggest that we need more main battle tank type systems that can engage and win in the "direct fire zone" then we need to find tools to enable our troops to get there, fight there, stay there and win there.

It is a political choice ... but it is one for which we will pay, again, in blood and treasure. Almost certainly, again, in more blood and more treasure than would have been necessary had we been better prepared in the first place. 
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as to have neither strength nor courage to contend for anything; to have nothing left worth defending and to give the name of peace to desolation.
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Offline daftandbarmy

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Re: Your Tanks Cannot Hide
« Reply #4 on: March 11, 2020, 09:48:00 »

I would suggest that it is the enemy that decides what we need, not the other way 'round.

Are we most likely to have to face an enemy who can be defeated with "more, lighter, faster, more easily hidden" forces that are, also "less tempting targets"? If that's our best estimate then, yes, that's the better answer. If, on the other hand, our analyses suggest that we need more main battle tank type systems that can engage and win in the "direct fire zone" then we need to find tools to enable our troops to get there, fight there, stay there and win there.

It is a political choice ... but it is one for which we will pay, again, in blood and treasure. Almost certainly, again, in more blood and more treasure than would have been necessary had we been better prepared in the first place.

I would say it's less a 'political choice' than a choice we can make as a CAF, and bring to the politicians through our procurement packages.

"The most important qualification of a soldier is fortitude under fatigue and privation. Courage is only second; hardship, poverty and want are the best school for a soldier." Napoleon

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Re: Your Tanks Cannot Hide
« Reply #5 on: March 11, 2020, 11:48:21 »
I would say it's less a 'political choice' than a choice we can make as a CAF, and bring to the politicians through our procurement packages.

That's actually what frightens me. I'm not sure if this is what brings you to your conclusion but I've always believed that politicians simply do not know enough about defence issues, to make decisions of that degree of detail. Sure, from time to time, when given the choice of whether to support or reject a procurement package that meets or fails to meet some economic or political objective, they do get involved.

On the other hand, such decisions as the one the Army made in the late nineties/early oughts, to get out of mechanized Europe-centric warfare because of the fall of the Soviet Union and the resultant "peace dividend" budget cuts, our leadership decided that we needed to go medium weight and cut our heavy stuff up for scrap. Maybe there's a bit of twenty-twenty hindsight here but that struck me as Pollyannaish at the time. IMHO at least a part of our force (a brigade) should have stayed or become a heavy tracked one so that we had the ability to maintain and fall back on the skill set if and when needed.

More than anything else what truly frightens me is how many good defence dollars we blow on an ever expanding bureaucracy in Ottawa. Personnel costs for full-timers our biggest expenditure and our leadership spends like drunken sailors when it comes to creating more GOFOs, executives their staffs and the little empires they manage. Leslie's report made that clear and that was a report that wasn't even allowed to look at the civilian side of DND, only the CAF.

Personally, I think that the CAF is in a death spiral that we'll never get out of because DND/CAF refuses to reform itself. Seriously, how long would any business line allow its core capabilities to deteriorate, be unfunded, cobbled together from bits and pieces, be completely cut when anyone with half a brain would be able to tell you that our people would decimated in anything close to a full-spectrum conflict. Instead we pretend that we are agile, scalable and responsive. What does that even mean when we have managed readiness cycles that take a year to "reconstitute" and another year to "prepare" before a force is ready for deployment overseas. That's not a politician thing. It's a leader thing. Here's the solution -- fire about 10-15,000 full-time hangers on in headquarters around the country--executives, military, civilian, contractors, Class Bs and use their collective rice bowls to buy equipment and fund operations and maintenance.

Rant Off!

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Offline Rifleman62

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Re: Your Tanks Cannot Hide
« Reply #6 on: March 11, 2020, 12:53:06 »
In jest, the world ends, according to the UN and it supporters (Trudeau) in 10/12 years (global warming), and if it doesn't, the Liberals are net zero by 2050, thus there will be no carbon emitting fuel for the military, so why purchase equipment. Goes with willfully long, long procurement process.
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Re: Your Tanks Cannot Hide
« Reply #7 on: March 11, 2020, 13:51:12 »
At some point we will have to let go the "Can do" attitude and basically refuse to deploy without the proper equipment.

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Re: Your Tanks Cannot Hide
« Reply #8 on: March 12, 2020, 20:08:18 »
At some point we will have to let go the "Can do" attitude and basically refuse to deploy without the proper equipment.

I fear that you are exactly right. We have gotten a few steps from that, now and again, in the past. I remember when (in 1991) Vice Admiral Chuck Thomas, then the VCDS resigned, publicly, after blasting the CDS and MND for allowing the CF to rust out and then cutting people rather than closing redundant bases. He was right, of course, but it was less than a 'one-day-wonder.' The media lost interest before the end of the afternoon because the issue was too complex for them.
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Re: Your Tanks Cannot Hide
« Reply #9 on: March 12, 2020, 21:49:50 »
At some point we will have to let go the "Can do" attitude and basically refuse to deploy without the proper equipment.

And then there's this:

https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2013/jun/19/iraq-soldiers-families-sue-ministry-of-defence

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Offline daftandbarmy

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Re: Your Tanks Cannot Hide
« Reply #10 on: March 12, 2020, 22:07:49 »
And then there's this:

https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2013/jun/19/iraq-soldiers-families-sue-ministry-of-defence

 :cheers:

Wow. If that goes through there will be a few thousand people, mainly family members, of the hundreds of soldiers killed and wounded by IEDs in Northern Ireland who will have a bone to pick with the MoD.

Unless a 'not so covert covert transit van' is considered adequate protection against 1000 lbs of ANFO  :nod:
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Offline Hamish Seggie

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Re: Your Tanks Cannot Hide
« Reply #11 on: March 12, 2020, 22:37:35 »
At some point we will have to let go the "Can do" attitude and basically refuse to deploy without the proper equipment.

I’m well past deployment age but I agree. The Iltis was deployed to several theatres with nothing but a ballistic blanket as added protection.
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Re: Your Tanks Cannot Hide
« Reply #12 on: March 12, 2020, 22:41:39 »
Wow. If that goes through there will be a few thousand people, mainly family members, of the hundreds of soldiers killed and wounded by IEDs in Northern Ireland who will have a bone to pick with the MoD.

Unless a 'not so covert covert transit van' is considered adequate protection against 1000 lbs of ANFO  :nod:

It did get resolved with a settlement and apology.

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-40958686

 :cheers:
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Offline Thucydides

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Re: Your Tanks Cannot Hide
« Reply #13 on: March 12, 2020, 22:51:16 »
At some point we will have to let go the "Can do" attitude and basically refuse to deploy without the proper equipment.

While in principle I agree totally, the little voice in the back of my head is asking "what is the proper equipment, anyway"? There are lots of theoretical countermeasures that one might take, but who's to say which one is the correct one? Or what do we say if it turns out the wonder kit we chose is obsolete because of a new development in offensive capabilities, or we ended up fighting the Donovians rather than the Arianians, or are carrying around all this extra kit even though the enemy is using one of the lower end tools of Hybrid Warfare or Unrestricted Warfare which does not engage heavy forces but preys on the civil economy and political will of the enemy?

We do need to look at modernizing our forces to operate in the 21rst century environment, and developing the doctrines to do so (of course we haven't really developed the doctrines needed to operate in the 1990's yet...), so maybe that is the actual starting point for telling the government and people : "sorry, but we are not capable of doing the task you want us to do".
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