Future Tanks: 30-Tons, Artificial Intel, Commanding Attack Robots

Warrior Maven

"A future manned node is more than likely to never operate without a phalanx of unmanned or supporting platforms - from drones for sensors, mine / booby trap hunters, long range / reach weapons like missiles, or traditional “air cover” or traditional infantry support"

By Danny Lam - New Senior Contributor to Warrior Maven

The idea of armored fighting vehicles dates from before da Vinci and is the latest iteration of the mounted heavy Cavalry and war
elephants. The advent of the internal combustion engine made possible vast increases in energy, which in turn, made practical vehicles with more protection and offensive armament.

Balancing off tradeoffs between firepower, mobility, and protection within the confines of a mass limitation of roughly 70 tonnes (the amount most roads and bridges can carry); a form factor that can be readily transported by rail, road, and ship; that adequately protect the occupants is the task of an AFV designer.

Deriving from these basic limitations are definition of purpose and mission, which in turn, dictate the execution of particular
architectures. World War I’s primary problem was the stalemate of trench warfare. From that need, a mission for a heavy tank is to crush barbed wire obstacles and cross trenches, and either defeat infantry with machine gun fire, or fortifications with light cannons. British Mark I-IXs, German Mk IVs, are example of this design.

Armored cars, meanwhile, evolved into light tanks that is typified by the Renault FT’s revolutionary design with a rotating turret for the main armament, engine compartment in rear and driver forward. Renault FT became the dominant design for all light and heavy tanks to this day.

Alternative architectures, like the assault gun, was an expediency that evolved to become mobile artillery with little protection. Lighter AFVs like Bradley M2/3 took over the task of reconnaissance formerly done by light tanks and tankettes. Infantry carriers like the M1126 Stryker variant provided protection and transported infantry.

--- To Read Warrior Maven's Report on Future Bradleys CLICK HERE ---

The problem with extant architectures is their misfit in the world of network centric warfare that is already upon us. A central premise of network centric warfare is that the functions of firepower, protection, and mobility did not have to be
optimized on one platform. A network node can “tap” resources in theory from any other platform in the network.

A major divide between network nodes will be between manned vs. unmanned platforms. Unmanned nodes have the advantage of
performance not limited by support for a crew. A firepower node can be a stationary device with little mobility or
protection (i.e. a remotely triggered mine). An unmanned sensor node (UAV) is optimized for mobility but may have no
protection or firepower.

Why are manned nodes necessary? Manned nodes are necessary because of the inertia of mankind, who is far from ready to
completely hand over to control to autonomous machines for taking a human life. In the interim period between the age of the autonomous machines and today, manned notes will remain.

Manned nodes will always be limited by and prioritize the sustainment and protection of the fragile human body of the crew. It must emphasize protection first, then mobility, and also have some “last ditch” means of protection that functions like a bayonet.

A future manned node is more than likely to never operate without a phalanx of unmanned or supporting platforms (e.g. from drones for sensors, mine / booby trap hunters, long range / reach weapons like missiles, or traditional “air cover” or traditional infantry support). This, in turn, put a high priority on resilient, secure, and redundant communications with the network that is a new
essential requirement added to the traditional equation of firepower, mobility and protection.

The mission of a manned node is likely to not be a front line sensor (i.e. scout), or a primary means of offense or defense firepower
(which can be distributed onto other nearby platforms), but is a primary command and control node that directs resources from the network and make use of the unique capabilities of a crew (i.e. liaison and organize aid to civilians or aid casualties).

Applying these principles reveal that the heavy main battle tank is an anachronism. All but the tanks
with the latest armor and active protection systems are vulnerable to state-of-the-art anti-tank, particularly top attack missiles. Massive mines have likewise, destroyed, or at least mission-killed state-of-the-art main battle tanks. The day when one lugs around a 120mm cannon in a 70 tonne armored box is nearly over, like the days of armored mounted knights when gunfire readily penetrated the heaviest metal armor that can be worn.

--- To Read Warrior Maven's Special Report on the US Army's Future Tank - Next-Gen Combat Vehicle CLICK HERE --

Dispensing with the heavy cannon, munitions and turret alone removes about 20 tonnes from a modern MBT, and as the other components are made lighter, a ripple effect can cut weight of a very well protected vehicle from 70 to about 40 tonnes. That is still
twice the weight of a Stryker. The lighter weight can be used to improve survivability and mobility with state of the art countermeasures.

The maturation of directed energy weapons will require that manned nodes have significant exportable power and energy storage, which are not present requirements. On board defenses against heavy armor or air attack will likely require some type multipurpose missile that presently do not exist that can handle anti-armor, personnel, airborne and other threats in one
package. Only a small number will likely be carried to reduce hazards as the node will rely on other systems.

Emphasis on protection of crew is essential because light formations are ill equipped to survive in the high intensity warfare environment that has appeared in battlefields like the Ukraine. The ideal manned node of the future will combine and improve on the survivability of the best current generation main battle tanks, but with the mobility of a Stryker, and more usable interior room. Light armor is not survivable in these environments.

A key design feature will be modular field upgradeable hardware that enable new features and functions to be rapidly added or deleted at will as required by mission. Modules from powerpacks, communications, protection, sensors, electronic warfare, etc.
to specific mission support equipment need to be rapidly swappable, reconfigurable and updateable as opposed to traditional “swiss knife” designs. Self driving vehicle technology’s maturation, fully or semi-automated defenses will make it possible for such a vehicle can be optionally manned, making for smaller crews.

--- To Read Warrior Maven's Report on New Armored Vehicle Targeting Sensor Prototypes CLICK HERE --

The armored manned command node vehicle is not known to be on any major military’s drawing board. Ideally, such a program need to be part of an overall navy, air, and army program to transition to autonomous unmanned platforms. It is a fundamentally different architecture that obsoletes the main battle tank and armored cavalry vehicles in inventory.

The defense buildup planned for 2020 may be the ideal time to put forward a new architecture and transition to a new, tightly integrated capabilities across and within services.

--- Danny Lam Senior Contributor to Warrior Maven ---

Lam is an aerospace and defense analyst. Many of his stories appear in Second Line of Defense

Lam is a technologist with 3 decades of experience; He holds an MASc. in Engineering from University of Waterloo.


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Comments (7)
No. 1-7

Would suggest you look at the Sheridan(M551) used in Vietnam, 152mm gun with turret and weighing 15 tons. Stryker with the 30mm cannon is also closer to 30 tons, at least one report I read.

Douglas Proudfoot
Douglas Proudfoot

The problem with your idea is that the manned tank is going to stand out from the unmanned tanks, making it a priority target for every enemy weapon. This isn't a position I would want to be in as an occupant of the manned tank. Situational awareness is a major problem in armored vehicles. This is why most armored vehicles operate unbuttoned most of the time, so the driver and tank commander can get a better feel for what's going on.

Douglas Proudfoot
Douglas Proudfoot

The M-551 had a notoriously bad maintenance record. The gun literally shook the tank to pieces whenever it was fired.

Douglas Proudfoot
Douglas Proudfoot

Situational awareness for the pilots of drone tanks will be even worse than that of crew in buttoned up tanks. I find it hard to believe they would be effective without a lot of money spent on sensor technology to give the drone pilots better awareness of what's going on. Remember, friendly fire is deadly, not friendly. Also, Russian electronic and cyber warfare is quite advanced. Your swarm of drone tanks can become very hostile if they get hacked. Paradoxically, flying drones have fewer variables to manage. I believe the problem with US weapons development is massive scope creep. We should not try to force the envelope with every system on the tank and expect to get a reasonably priced working vehicle. Unless there is something wrong with the automotive components of Abrams tanks, we should continue to develop around them. They are already in the supply pipeline. We have already trained the mechanics. Using the the existing automotive components limits the scope of the development to just protection and weapons. That should help prevent flights of fancy in the requirements driving development. Perfection is the enemy of significant improvement.


Greetings Gentleman, I am brand new here and glad to have found you. If I may, I would correct a few errors in facts about the AR/AAV M551. The Sheridan weighs 17 tons. It was not a maintenance nightmare except for the Shillelagh Missile System which brought a whole new technology to a mobile armored vehicle. The Multiple systems electronics hardware had never been properly designed for the rigors of high powered canon recoil. When operating just in conventional mode the 152mm gun was reliable but slow to reload. In Vietnam, that 152mm Gun firing Flechettes was one of the most feared munitions of the enemy, and the light weight Sheridan could traverse jungle that the M60's could not.

Warrior  Maven
Warrior Maven


Hello to you - thanks for connecting with Warrior Maven - appreciate the input - we will check with the writer - and of course make corrections if needed. Regards WM


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