A two-sided game reopens

Sunday, July 23rd, 2023

The exponential growth in electronic computational power has, Azar Gat (War in Human Civilization) notes, transformed naval and air warfare:

At sea, the heavily armored, big-gun capital ships have vacated the scene, and warfare is waged offensively by electronic guided missiles and defensively by electronic disruption and interception systems. Similarly, air warfare, once based on the kinetic capabilities of planes and their armament, now relies primarily on electronically guided weapons and electronic defensive systems. Both at sea and in the air, victory now depends on who is one step ahead of its rivals in these crucial techno-tactical spheres.

The medium in which land warfare takes place is immeasurably more complex than those of sea and air warfare, because of both the numbers of combatants involved and land’s complex topographical features. But at least since the early 1980s the direction has been clear to those who grasped the broader context. The revolution that land warfare is undergoing is no less profound and far reaching than that generated by the mechanization revolution and the introduction of the tank and other AFVs. It was J. F. C. Fuller, the leading pioneering theorist of mechanized warfare, who firmly placed the mechanization revolution in war within the context of the second industrial revolution and thereby helped people understand its full significance and scope. Incredibly, as early as 1928, he looked further ahead, predicting that the third revolutionary wave of the future — which would shape war, as well as all other fields of life — would be “electric and robotic” (the word electronic did not yet exist).

Let us focus on the tank, a product of the second mechanization revolution and the backbone of land warfare for about a hundred years. Ever since World War II, tanks have been optimized, primarily to fight other tanks, and second, to withstand hollow charges. Their main armament is a high velocity gun firing kinetic projectiles. Half of their 60-70-ton weight in most armies consists of heavy armor, which in turn requires a 1500 horsepower engine.

However, tanks will no longer come within kinetic firing range of each other, and will be discovered and attacked at much longer ranges. This is no different than with the mighty battleships of WWII’s Pacific theater, which never came within firing range of each other.


The wholesale destruction of the hapless Armenian army in the 2020 war against Azerbaijan, like the stranded and harassed Russian convoy en route to Kiev and the image of the Russian armored battalion massacred during its attempted river crossing in the Donbas, with the shattered bridge in the middle, starkly demonstrates the current reality. The same can be said of the rash retreat from the Saluki wadi by the Israeli army’s 401st Brigade Merkava Mark 4 tanks during the Second Lebanon War (2006) when faced with second-generation Russian Kornet anti-tank missiles fired by Hezbollah.


This does not mean that the tank and other fighting vehicles are history. But the answer is not to be found in further reinforcing the heavy armor or in improved tactical practices, clumsy as Russian tactics proved to be. Rather, the answer lies in a full-scale adjustment of land fighting vehicles to the ongoing electronic revolution — above all, in adopting active defense systems, such as the Israeli Trophy and Iron Fist, now purchased and installed by the US, German, and British armies. Active defense means electronic detection, disruption, and interception of incoming projectiles, launched from land or from the air — the same revolution that sea and air warfare have already undergone.


The current reality, in which being detected on the modern battlefield means almost assured destruction, will no longer hold. A two-sided game reopens. Thus, battlefield survival and success will depend on the question of which side possesses the last word in terms of offensive and defensive electronic systems and counter-systems for detection, attack, and disruption. As in air and sea warfare during the electronic age, it can also be expected that when one side holds a decisive advantage in these systems, we shall see crushing, almost one-sided victories in regular conventional land warfare.


While electronically guided projectiles are already widely and effectively used in the Ukraine War, electronic interception and disruption system are largely absent. The trench warfare stalemate that has attracted so much attention — as if we were back one hundred years to World War I — may be a function of this imbalance, as armored fighting vehicles are paralyzed by the lack of effective active defense.


Indeed, relying on electronic detection and interception systems enables a drastic reduction in the armor of fighting vehicles for what is necessary against small arms, shrapnel, and blasts. Thus there is an expected reduction in their weight to about 10 to 25 tons; a parallel reduction in engine size and weight; and design re-orientation to electronically guided defensive and offensive systems. This, I believe, is the direction in which land warfare and land weapon systems is heading in the electronic-computerized age.


  1. Bob Sykes says:

    The usual pro forma denigration of Russian abilities, but no mention of the American designed counter offensive in the Donbas. That turned out to be a pre-Fuller, Somme-like attack across open, flat country, fully mined, without air support or defense or effective artillery support. The Ukrainians never got out of the mine fields, and lost some 25,000 to 30,000 killed plus hundreds of armored vehicles and artillery pieces.

    The Russians did that with a suite of very sophisticated electronic warfare measures, long-range missiles and armed and surveillance drones. The battle was an example of what Gat is writing about, but he seems unaware of it, a victim of his own bigotry and Ukrainian/NATO propaganda.

  2. Pseudo-Chrysostom says:

    “Similarly, air warfare, once based on the kinetic capabilities of planes and their armament, now relies primarily on electronically guided weapons and electronic defensive systems.”

    Which is true, but many talking heads stop there and fail to carry the logic on to its natural conclusion. If an aeroplane is in essence a reusable boost phase for a munition or set of munitions, then improvements in the boost phase’s performance are improvements to the munition’s performance.

    The funny thing about BVR [Beyond Visual Range] combat is that it actually makes launch platform performance metrics even more important, not less. Even in terms of simple kinematics; take two otherwise equivalent platforms using the same munitions, the platform that can fly faster or higher or both will have a larger kill radius than its counterpart. It can sooner reach a point where it can fire on and reliably hit its target, while if the target tries to fire back at that same point, it can merely turn and burn away.

    Additionally, there is the matter of maneuverability. Most people’s ideas of missile evasion usually center around the idea of last minute dodges, but in many respects this is actually the least important part. The most important part is ‘wagging the tail’. Every change in direction involves an expenditure of energy. When a target object changes heading, the intercepting object must make a proportional maneuver in order to reach a heading that intersects with the new heading; and the longer the distance, the larger this effect. There are different navigational algorithms, some which can be designed to ‘smooth out’ approach vectors like this at long distance; but these all have different tradeoffs, and the closer to the edge of the energy envelope you try to engage at, the less leeway you have.

    A rocket can be designed to go very fast, for a moment. And it can be designed to pull a lot of Gs, for a moment. It is sustaining these maneuvers that is a problem. In many AA missiles most of the delta-v is burned up in the first few seconds of flight, and it is basically coasting ballistically the rest of the way, relying on air stream interactions to change heading. A low profile cigar shaped fuselage has high ballistic efficiency, but low aerodynamic efficiency. The more Gs a target platform can sustain in maneuvers without losing velocity, especially at supercruise/mach speeds, the more it can cause an intercepting munition to bleed off its energy before it can arrive, to the point where it drops below sufficient kinematic performance to make a final interception vs a snap maneuver, or to the point where it drops short altogether.

  3. Jim says:

    I endorse this unusually insightful post by Pseudo-Chrysostom.

  4. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Completely agree with Bob Sykes that Gat sacrifices his credibility by denigrating Russian performance in the US/NATO proxy war on the former territory of the Ukraine. Never ever underestimate the other guy!

    Gat also fails to recognize the implications of his own emphasis on electronics. Why would any smart military build an expensive (albeit lighter) manned tank instead of building a flock of cheap smart robot vehicles for the same total cost?

    And Gat completely ignores the central point — which is why would a belligerent choose to fight on the front lines instead of simply cutting off the head of the snake by precision bombing or nuking the opponents Political Class?

    In the current US/NATO proxy war, Russia’s rulers seem to have decided to let the Ukrainians keep on beating their faces into the Russian fist instead of risking global thermonuclear war by attacking Kiev, London, and the DC Swamp. But it is by no means certain that other rulers or other countries would observe the same restrictions on their actions.

  5. Stefan says:

    I also agree with Bob Sykes that Gat underestimates Russian capabilities.

    And how does decreasing armor thickness affect tank crew morale? Knowing that you are in a tin can that has say 50% chance of NOT intercepting a projectile… hm. Projectile effectiveness depends to a large extent on which part of the tank it hits, so the chances of survival will likely be much lower in the 10-25 ton vehicles.

    The suggested attempt to “optimize” tanks will lead to more casualties – higher speed of lighter vehicles will not help against modern guided systems. All this in order to reduce the production and transportation costs, a nasty trade-off.

    I’m not sure this would work the same way as it does for the Navy (smaller rocket boats instead of carriers). More likely, it will make recruitment harder and vehicles more dependent on other army units – for example, you will need large radars that need lots of power for counter electronic measures.

    Certainly, an army needs light vehicles, but having a big guns is also a huge boost to troop morale, and being in a big tin can is more secure in most cases, which includes artillery protection and hits on the thick armor parts.

  6. Lucklucky says:

    You should be aware that the a super/fast aircraft will have giant turn radius that will put it in range of enemy.

    There are missiles with pif paf propulsion for high manueverability at large % of its range.

  7. Michael van der Riet says:

    The concept of turning an attacker’s projectiles (codename ACME) back on them was pioneered by Warner Bros in 1949 with the launch of the Road Runner Show.

  8. Michael van der Riet says:

    The 1998 movie The Pentagon Wars starring Kelsey Grammer also predicted this line of thinking.

  9. McChuck says:

    To take the thinking further than most, high performance guided weapons systems (which include drones of all types) are extremely vulnerable to electronic jamming and spoofing. That’s why Russia has EW units at the regimental (brigade) level, with a high-powered jammer situated about every 10 miles along the front.

    China even has EW capabilities built into some of their newer missiles. They apparently got the idea from reading the “Honor Harrington” space-navy novels.

  10. Harry Jones says:

    The counter to electronic jamming and spoofing is sophisticated autonomous AI onboard.

    The next step to Skynet.

  11. VXXC says:

    Buy Trophy and Iron Fist, on sale now at idf.llc.com.gov.il, which is ok. At least he served. His mandatory bigotry skews his analysis a lot worse than being on the make.

    For those who are interested in history the contest between shield and missile has been going back and forth since the copper and then bronze age that we know of and undoubtedly since rocks and wicker shields.

    For those of you who remember snowball fights, anyone remember dousing snowballs in water then making them iceballs, putting them in the freezer to increase their kinetic lethality?

    Anyone remember snowball fights and snow forts?

    Maybe AI can make a better snowball….

  12. Lucklucky says:

    The most important aspect is not what he says.

    It is the increase in the lethality of, to simplify, the explosive charge.

    A battleship would still be somewhat viable today if the explosive was black powder from before the 20th Century.

    But since 2 Fritz X 1400kg guided bombs sunk battleship Roma, you can’t have a battleship with 500mm steel armor all around the citadel and still be able to float.

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