Who says tank days are over?

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Mirza Aslam Beg

THERE are two recent encounters, where the air to ground anti-tank weapons played havoc with tanks, giving the impression that “tank days are over”, so much so, that some tank detractors are reporting: “The Dutch have decided to disband their entire tank force; the US Marines are planning to disband their tank units and the British may soon get rid of their tanks as proof that tanks days are over.” Ridiculous! These are conjectures, because a dispassionate look at the two recent encounters will give the true picture: • During the 1991 Gulf War the Iraqi Imperial Guard while returning from Kuwait, was mowed down by the US air force. The F-16s carrying several pods of guided bomblets, homing-on to designated targets, within a matter of minutes, destroyed the entire fleet of tanks, armoured vehicles, supporting guns and ammunition carrying vehicles. This happened because the Imperial Guards didn’t have the integral air defence units to provide the security umbrella. Their tanks also didn’t have armour protection such as composite armour, explosive reactive armour plates and active protective systems to detect and destroy incoming anti tank weapons, which modern tanks possess, such as: our Al-Khalid tanks, Chinese Type 15 light tanks, US M1A2 tanks and Russian T-14 Armadas. In addition, anti air and anti drone projects for immediate anti-air needs and jamming and laser systems also provide the needed security. Our powerful air force, also, will not let the drones come near our tank formations.
• The recent encounter, called ‘Azeri victory in Nagorno-Karabakh’, as narrated by our defence analyst, indicates superior combination of system of forces to achieve decisive results: “Militarily, the Azeri operational strategy entailed effective deployment of precision killer drones, much superior to the American ones, besides employment of sensors, long-range heavy artillery and missile strikes. Israeli and the Turkish-supplied drones were an indispensable force multiplier. Azeri highly skilful use of drones and sensors has been described as a “new, more affordable type of air power” making future low-level conflicts potentially more deadly. The employment of tactical drones helped it acquire better intelligence about Armenian troop-positions and weapon locations. Azeri military used notably the Bayraktar TB2 and Turkish-made STM Kargu drones for reconnaissance and precision strikes; whereas close air support was provided by specialized suicide drones, such as IAI Harop.
Azeri President Ilham Aliyev claimed, his forces destroyed 252 tanks and 50 armoured personnel carriers. Armoured units suffered catastrophic losses, forcing the Armenians sign the surrender document of the land captured by the Azeri’s. Cognizant of such challenges our armed forces have continued to upgrade weapon systems and the concepts to enhance the capability to face such challenges. In this context, there is the example of the “two significant developments” of weapon system for successful results that we also need to develops/acquire, in support of our Offensive Defense capability of launching multiple break-out maneuvers, under a strong security cover: • First. The Azeri operational strategy employing drones, sensors, long range artillery and precision guided missiles provided deadly for the Armenian ground forces. The new weapons “drones and loitering munitions”, unmanned aerial vehicles, the “kamikaze” drones – all are a major new phenomenon. These are within our technological reach. • Second. The key to success of our maneuvers is the ability to protect it from enemy’s counter moves, with long range precision guided missiles, which Iranians employed to deter aggression by Israel, as described by the American analyst:
“In the early hours of 14 September 2019, when the Iranian Air Force launched 20 drones and precision-guided cruise missiles at Abqaiq, one of Saudi Arabia’s most important oil fields and processing centres, causing huge damage. It was a seminal event. The Iranian drones and cruise missiles flew so low and with such stealth that neither their takeoff nor their impending attack was detected in time by Saudi or US radar. Israeli military analysts, who were stunned by the capabilities the Iranians displayed.” These are very significant developments which we can also acquire in support of our offensive manoeuvres that would also provide protection to the combat zone, because of their operational mobility and reach. Truly speaking, this is a phenomenon of ‘defence and diplomacy’, to achieve our purpose.
— The writer, a retired 4-star General, is former COAS, Pakistan Army.