If the Russian Army was tactically skilled, then the Javelin and other ATGMs would be suppressed by artillery or air support and their surviving crews would be swept up by Russian infantry

Wednesday, April 20th, 2022

The question before us now is whether the tank is the modern equivalent of the battleship or the horse:

The U.S. Navy was able to accommodate both the battleship and aircraft carrier in World War II, although the battleship mostly was relied upon to provide fire support, rather than crossing the T against an enemy battleline. The horse, however, was a different kind of problem for the Army. Herr was an obstacle to modernizing the Army with tanks, insisting that he would accept no increase in armor at the expense of horse-cavalry strength. There could be no accommodation. Accordingly, Army chief of staff Gen. George C. Marshall used his executive-order authority, given after Pearl Harbor, to get rid of all the horses in the Army — and Herr.

What is the point to these anecdotes? There are two. In the case of the battleship, the platform may change, but not the function. The last U.S. Navy battleships were in active service until 1990, when the costs to maintain them clearly outweighed their utility. The naval gunfire mission persisted, however, albeit from smaller vessels. In the case of the horse cavalry, the role has ended. And the weapon needs to be retired, perhaps to a nice stud farm where it can recall the glories of the past.


What the officers of the German General Staff eventually realized was that man and animal power could not negotiate the distances required for strategic victory before France, Britain, and the United States, blessed with interior lines, could bolster their defenses and thwart the strategic objectives of the German plans. Quite simply, an army cannot walk to Paris fast enough to keep the enemy off balance.

The solution to this mobility-at-distance problem was the internal combustion engine. Tanks would provide lethal and protected mobility that would give the German army longer reach. To solve the problem of fire support to support the blitzkrieg, Germany looked to the airplane. To connect the two weapons, it employed new radio technology. Although history has frequently credited this innovation to Gen. Heinz Guderian, in reality, the blitzkrieg was an institutional response to solving the strategic problems encountered during World War I.

Only Germany took this approach of combining the tank and the airplane into a combined arms force between the two world wars, even though all the combatants on the Western Front had direct experience with these technologies. This provided Germany with an elegant potential solution to the vexing problem Germany had faced since unification: how to avoid a two-front war in the west and in the east? Rapidly defeating the adversary in the west, before turning east had always been the objective. The blitzkrieg, enabled by mechanization and motorization, provided the means to achieve the strategy. Others (the U.S. and French armies) continued to view the tank largely as an infantry support weapon or alienated their militaries with demands for ascendancy (British Army).


The 1967 Arab-Israeli War was the first conflict since World War II that saw the large-scale employment of tank formations on a mobile battlefield. The resounding Israeli victory in this conflict solidified the view in most state militaries that the tank was the dominant force on the battlefield.


In less than ten years, the same battlefields in the Middle East that had validated the main battle tank as the dominant force in modern combat betrayed the tank’s first major vulnerabilities. Between 1967 and the 1973 Yom Kippur War, two technologies appeared that seemingly changed everything. The development of the Sagger and other anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) gave infantry the capability to destroy a tank at long range for the first time. Similarly, the other key component of the Israeli defense establishment — air power — was put at risk by mobile surface-to-air missiles. For the first time ever, the ascendancy of the air-armor team was in doubt. The two key components that were the basis of the blitzkrieg and combined arms maneuver warfare — tanks and airplanes — had failed dramatically.


The solution was mainly tactical: combined arms operations, with particular attention paid to suppressing these ATGMs. The Israel Defense Forces also made a technical improvement, installing mortars on their tanks, a practice that continues to this day with the Merkava main battle-tank series. Finally, smoke-cannister dischargers were mounted on the combat vehicles in every army to screen them from fire. This was not a new practice, having been used on German tanks during World War II.

In combat, when a tank crew detected a Sagger, it immediately began suppressing it with mortar fire. That fire would soon be joined by larger mortars and field artillery. Furthermore, a practice evolved in the Israel Defense Forces and the U.S. Army where artillery units would have guns laid on potential Sagger locations so they could rapidly engage them with immediate suppression missions. This technique was particularly effective against the Sagger, which required the dismounted gunner to track the missile all the way to the target. Making him flinch — which high explosive rounds near one’s position tend to do — would break his lock on the target and cause the ATGM to miss.

The most important technical improvement in response to ATGMs was, however, the development of improved armor to replace the World War II-era rolled homogenous steel that was used on tanks. The demand was for a new armor that would protect the tank against the shaped warheads of the Sagger and other anti-tank weapons. Here, the British led the way, developing and fielding Chobham armor that protected against both shaped warheads and kinetic energy penetrators. Other solutions soon followed, e.g., explosive reactive armor.

Furthermore, given that the Israel Defense Forces relied heavily on air-ground operations, it had to solve the SAM challenge to air superiority. It learned that suppression by artillery fire was the tactical solution to neutralizing enemy missiles as well.


The next indication that the tank faced a significant, and perhaps mortal, new challenge came during the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Again, the challenge was the ATGM. But, the 9M133 Kornet had a much longer range than the Sagger (5,000 meters vs. 3,000 meters), a tandem warhead that can defeat all known armor, even frontal, and — most importantly — it has a laser-beam guidance system that is simple to operate.

Almost immediately, the end of the tank was proclaimed, but this time at the hands of even sub-state actors.


The technical solution the IDF fielded in response to the new generation of ATGM was the Trophy active protection system. Briefly, the Trophy uses a sophisticated radar-directed weapon, mounted on the tank, to shoot down an incoming ATGM. It also has the benefit of providing the crew and other networked systems with the location of the ATGM launcher.

Trophy soon proved its worth in Israel’s operations against Hamas in Gaza, essentially neutralizing the ATGM and rocket-propelled grenade threats to vehicles equipped with the system. The United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom have all fielded Trophy. Other states have developed both soft- and hard-kill active protections systems, e.g., the Russian Arena and Afghanit and the German MUSS.

Most active protection systems were designed to defeat ATGMs attacking the front or sides of a vehicle. This was the plane in which ATGMS like the Sagger, Kornet, and the U.S. TOW were employed because the front and sides are the most heavily armored areas of a tank, given that is generally where enemy weapons hit. Top-attack weapons aim at the much more lightly armored tops of vehicles. These include ATGMs, e.g., the U.S. FGM-148 Javelin, an increasingly wide variety of artillery projectiles, and drones. These weapons have all complicated the active defense challenge that Trophy originally addressed.


The Russian Army has shown that it is not competent in combined arms fire and maneuver. Where is the accompanying infantry with the tank formations, who are supposed to bust the ambushes executed by Ukrainian forces? Where are the suppressive mortar, artillery, and close air support fires? If the Russian Army was tactically skilled, then the Javelin and other ATGMs would be suppressed by artillery or air support and their surviving crews would be swept up by Russian infantry.


Is there a continued role for mobile, protected lethality on the battlefields of the future? If the answer is yes, or even maybe, then the next act in the ongoing drama of how to protect the tank is to enable it to do what only it can do.


  1. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Do people even read what they write anymore?

    “Quite simply, an army cannot walk to Paris fast enough to keep the enemy off balance.”

    “The Russian Army has shown that it is not competent in combined arms fire and maneuver. Where is the accompanying infantry with the tank formations”

    Presumably the Russian infantry lacks the ability of Western soldiers to keep up with the fast-moving tanks by running at 30+ miles per hour while carrying heavy weapons?

    It is distinctly possible that the Russian Army is not competent in combined arms fire and maneuver. It is also distinctly possible that what Western observers see as lack of competence is in reality simply a different approach to the military challenge of killing the enemy. Which approach is more effective? Let’s hope that the idiots running the US and EU don’t ever get us into a position where we find out.

  2. Bob Sykes says:

    “The Russian Army has shown that it is not competent in combined arms fire and maneuver.”

    This is the army that invented combined arms warfare. This kind of lunacy is widespread among the US Ruling Class and its minions. It is extremely dangerous, because our Rulers are inclined to take very aggressive actions against countries they perceive as weak.

    The war in Ukraine is an example. The US started this war in 2014, because they thought they could use Ukraine to partition the Russian Federation, which is a long-standing neocon goal, almost achieved under Yeltsin.

    The US Army used to practice combined arms warfare itself, and would regularly cycle its armored and mechanized infantry brigades through large-scale war games. Not so much anymore.

    The neocons may well get the wars with Russia, China, and Iran they so much desire, and the US will become a smoking ruin.

  3. Adar says:

    It is also distinctly possible that what Western observers see as lack of competence is in reality simply a different approach to the military challenge of killing the enemy.

    Russians artillery-centric. Those BTG have a battalion of artillery usually of the heavy 152 mm size organic.

    One BTG = One company of tanks. One company of mech infantry. One company of air defense. One battery of anti-tank. Three batteries of artillery.

  4. VXXC says:

    When you read the word “blitzkrieg” reach for your pistol.

    The Germans maneuvered and called it maneuver. Hitler called the word «Blitzkrieg» an idiotic term, and he was right.

    The rare German use of the word Blitzkrieg was in a German military magazine of 1935, which discussed the logistical difficulties Germany would face, using it literally to mean lightening war, or just a very fast, short war — a war over so fast that the enemy could not muster their superior resources and exhaust German logistics. It had nothing to do with the tank and the aircraft restoring maneuver to the battlefield, which, you know, had already been done with tanks and aircraft by the Allies in 1918.

    The Russian army isn’t competent? Oh, God.

    The Russian army is maneuvering at leisure and shaping the battlefield also at a leisurely pace because they don’t have you know race for the channel. No need to Blitz you know. The Russians are basically running a larger scale version of the same war they fought in Syria where they are sparing with their [vast] superiority in artillery to try as they did in Syria to minimize civilian causalities.
    Force on Force they have crushing superiority and ABILITY in artillery including over the US Army [which knows this...].

    There’s a reason the DOD isn’t all on fire for war unlike all our tweeter heroes. Or war on the rocks.

    As for the never ending ever tiresome 1967 Sagger sigh the Israelis violated their own doctrine and common military sense by sending the tanks in charging without infantry or artillery and got spanked. Anti-Tank weapons have been around 5 mins after the tank arrived and it’s common practice.

    As for the never ending back and forth between armor and missile or weapon that is eternal.

    Since we’re talking about the Merkava the enduring lesson the Israelis learned long ago is light skinned light armored vehicles are deathtraps for the infantry within which is why the Merkava exists. The Merkava is also a heavily armored troop carrier.

    This lesson has been relearned in Ukraine. It shall shortly be relearned by the American Army. Infantry vehicles need armor as thick as the tanks.

    The enduring lesson of the Ukraine for years is that infantry fighting vehicles need the same armor as the tanks or the troops ride on top – Ride Desant – so they aren’t caught in the lightly armored coffin. Still. In Ukraine. The APC as protection is useless, it can keep up with the tanks however and the troops dismount on contact.

  5. VXXC says:

    I’m waiting for Schwerpunkt to infiltrate the media blob mind next. They’ll no doubt confuse it with massing for a frontal attack on one axis. Or perhaps something sexual.

    My fave of this whole imbroglio was the wag who wrote that by attacking on multiple axes the Russians were violating the principle of war called mass.

    Make it stop. Peace now, surrender now, nuclear holocaust now. Anything, just stop the press.

  6. Lucklucky says:

    VXXC, if they had done that, they would not have this level of losses.

  7. vxxc says:

    LuckLucky – I think you just confirmed one of my points which were several..

    When you say ‘if they had done that..” what that do you mean? Honest question.

    Prep with artillery or use fully armored infantry carriers like the Merkava [to my knowledge only the Israelis have applied the lesson].

    Honest question..what is ‘that’ ?

  8. lucklucky says:

    If Russians were waging a battle with care giving priority to careful advance, artillery they wouldn’t had this kind of losses.

  9. vxxc says:

    Thank you lucklucky, that is true.

    They aren’t using their artillery doctrinally undoubtedly because of choice.
    That we cannot doubt. Motives we can only speculate but the choice is certain.

    Why? I think – The Russian is actually playing the same game he just played in Syria with the same leaders and with ultimate success. Sparing use of firepower and artillery, constant negotiations at all levels, corridors of safety, etc. This has been a pattern through the entire conflict they apparently want to do minimum damage and take what they mean to keep intact. The USA used more airstrikes on the first day of Iraqi Freedom than the Russians used the entire month of march.

    There’s nothing new to this style of war, most wars of history have constant diplomacy and offers of safe conduct, defection, golden bridges and the like to spare the cost of men on both sides [men who will later fight for you or at least not against you] and to maximize the material gains of war. Even the Mongols – totally formative in the Russian way of war and indeed governance – preferred diplomacy to slaughter.

  10. Pseudo-Chrysostom says:

    >This has been a pattern through the entire conflict they apparently want to do minimum damage and take what they mean to keep intact. The USA used more airstrikes on the first day of Iraqi Freedom than the Russians used the entire month of march.

    Observe how much easier it was for the USM there to roll over their sparring partner than the AFR here.

    Desire for something does not necessarily lead to a reality of something; a desire for something leads to behaviors, depending on the person, which behaviors may or may not actually serve towards accomplishing the reality of something.

    The sentiment of ‘i wish for minimum damage’ so often translates into behavior in reality that does not lead to minimum damage, but greatly expanded and protracted damage, as the war drags on, and you end up having to escalate to what you should have been doing in the first place, anyways.

  11. VXXC says:

    Pseudo-Chrysostom, you may be proven right.

    Then again the Russians were successful with this approach in Syria and to an extent earlier in the Second Chechen War. First a deal is offered even at a tactical level before force is resorted to. This is ancient. The Russian may also take into consideration they don’t want atrocity porn widening the conflict.

  12. Pseudo-Chrysostom says:

    The conflict is already wide open, globohomo and its menagerie of cutouts and useful idiots is going to all lengths it can get away with or merely assumes it can get away with. Ukrainian folk are already getting slaughtered, Russian disinclination to slaughter is troublesome for whippinh up a nice harry potter comic book narrative for conflict palatable to atomized urbanite bluechecks, so the Kiev puppet regime is Doing The Jobs Russians Won’t Do by doing the slaughtering themselves, and simply bold-facedly describing any and all sectarian killings as Russian doing, even while standing next to the smoking wreckage of their own artillery rockets strewn about the bodies, and the GAE media preachers are totally willing to Listen and Believe, to be complicit in promoting the potemkin reality; there is no outrage too outrageous for them to swallow, a feedback loop of behavior-validation-behavior that has egged every party involved on the atlantic empire side into complete departure from anything resembling gruntles or hinges.

    They are never going to stop; they want the conflict, chaos, and calamity to last for years, decades, forever, and are perfectly willing to suck the blood out of the folk imprisoned in their own lands to keep the tempest propped up indefinitely; anarchic conditions where they neither declare war nor seek peace; a chaos of not-war they would like to see spread all the way to Moscow, much like the ‘arab spring’, the colour revolutions, the dead hand of Der Ewige Whig at work in all times and places throughout history, seeking always to create it’s natural habitat, the nihilistic negation of an ordered cosmos as such; and the only treatment is explicit recognition of this dynamic, and termination of the forever-not-war it entails with extreme prejudice; broadly in terms of strategic sinews of an organized society whose logistical capacity they parasitically depend on to instantiate their efforts, but more especially in terms of targeted strikes of the men and or gender-fluid blobs responsible for their organization.

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