Conflict has a strange way of connecting contradictory issues; the Armenia- Azerbaijan war in the Black Mountains has timed itself with a debate raging in the UK regarding the future of the tank.
Conflict has a strange way of connecting contradictory issues; the Armenia- Azerbaijan war in the Black Mountains has timed itself with a debate raging in the UK regarding the future of the tank. Simultaneously, Indian and Chinese tanks are part of the face-off in Eastern Ladakh, while Pakistan is in the process of modernising its fleet by acquiring the Chinese VT-4 tank, the first 24 of which have recently been received. Across the Atlantic, the US Marines are downsizing their tanks due to the effect of precision strikes. Can these issues be linked? And what are the lessons that can be drawn from the armour attrition taking place in Nagorno- Karabakh?
From the day the tank was introduced in 1916, its utility has been questioned. A platform that is heavy, difficult to design and produce, and needs highly skilled manpower to operate. It has had the unique ability of spurring advancements in weaponry used to defeat it, be it anti-tank weapons, missiles, mines, attack helicopters and aircraft. In addition, technology has developed reliable and robust command and communications which has ushered in a new era of destruction from drones, sensors and EW.
Arguments regarding the ‘sunset’ of the tank range from, the changing characteristics of the battlefield, exorbitant costs of production and maintenance, vulnerabilities, increasing focus on a sub peer enemy, delivery of firepower by aerial means, lack of strategic mobility, complexities of terrain, and its ineffectiveness in mountains and urban built-up areas. Apart from this is the necessity of a high level of integrated training required by the crew manning this destructive predator.
While significant improvements have taken place in firepower; (most guns are now 120mm or 125mm, with advanced fire control systems); breakthroughs in armour protection traditionally focused on the classical frontal arc, appears to have plateaued. An anticipated 360-degree threat has its limitations, as an increase in the weight of the tank, (Challenger 2 is 74.8 tons), has multiple effects apart from increased maintenance requirements. However, new technologies could change this paradigm. Further, upgrades of a tank during its lifespan often leads to an increase in weight often without the commensurate upgrading of the engine and running gear, resulting in a reduction of the power to weight ratio.
Videos are now being uploaded on the internet showing the carnage inflicted on tanks by drones, documenting their hits in the ongoing conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. There have been hyperinflated claims with each side claiming over a hundred tanks of their adversary being destroyed. The Azerbaijani videos show Armenian tanks moving in the open and being attacked from above. This destruction from an unmanned, cheaper form of airpower was earlier witnessed when Turkey launched an offensive in Syria in February.