I have seen the Highway of Death in Kuwait and southern Iraq, it’s sobering to see first-hand how easily heavy armored formations can be converted into mortal scrap. I thought then, and I think now, that I would never want to be a tanker. Viewing all those destroyed vehicles probably led to my first trilogy, where a new brand of infantry rules the battlefield- the armored infantry.
Now, this is not a new idea. Heinlein in Starship Troopers was the first to describe this type of future battlefield, where soldiers in powered suits led the fight. Then came Haldeman’s The Forever War, a deliberate ideological answer to Heinlein’s book.
I extrapolated the concept in my books, and one of my overriding thoughts was that tanks are ultimately vulnerable. Yes, they are big, heavily armored and uniquely threatening, but they are simply too vulnerable to infantry with advanced weaponry, or air power in all of its forms.
We got a taste of this in the Gulf, a steaming cup of bitterness in Armenia, and now a blaring large-screen TV full of death in the Ukraine.
Friends, the age of the tank is drawing to a close. The cycle of action/countermeasures really has reached its zenith, and the range of anti-armor weapons has finally eclipsed the ability of tank manufacturers to overcome them.
What do I mean.
Well, in the Ukraine we are seeing heavy armored formations being smashed and stopped by infantry employing sophisticated disposable anti-tank weapons, along with loitering drones that do the same thing.
Some would say that the Russians are using lousy Soviet designed tanks that blow apart at the slightest provocation. This is true, but the wider point is that these same weapons would be effective on good Western designs as well. Do you seriously think that potential adversaries aren’t taking notes about the Ukraine? That they aren’t making their own versions of the Javelin or the Switchblade?
I am never one to underestimate an enemy. Yes, the M1 Abrams is an extremely well-designed and hard to kill beast. No, it does not come apart at the seams like a T-80. But it is still vulnerable to a top-hit or a mobility kill. A destroyed tank is a destroyed tank, period.
What will be needed on the future battlefield will be maneuver forces that are small, fast and hardened. That will operate seamlessly with AI, that have the range and endurance to cope with any threat. Forces that have their own organic drone swarms, forces that are dispersed yet can deliver mass at will.
What am I describing? I am talking about true armored infantry, people inside of armored, powered suits matched to their own artificial intelligences.
The present battlefield is already awash with drones, cyber threats, massed artillery, air power in all forms, mines, the works. The ingredients are there to make a very impermissible environment for maneuver forces, especially the tank.
Imagine if the Ukrainian light infantry (who have done a tremendous job) had powered suits, such as described by Heinlein? Or Haldeman? Or me?
The massed artillery wouldn’t mean shit. Neither would the tank. Or land mines. Obstacles. Drones.
What do I mean.
A scenario. Alright, imagine an artillery battery servicing their weapon some ten klicks to the rear. They are pouring shells into some town.
An armored infantry squad, some twelve soldiers in powered suits, avoids the attacker’s concentrations and obstacles via real-time drone intel and they bound past the forward trace of the bad guys. They do not need to mass for the assault, each soldier is separated by a kilometer or so, they communicate via encrypted text on their helmet’s HUD. They simply have an objective and a time.
They make their own way to the battery, the squad leader’s AI helps him/her to manage the attack plan as his troopers converge upon the Objective Rally Point from every direction, helpfully randomized by each suit’s AI. They arrive and mass for the final assault. Their accuracy and precision is literally inhuman, but the killing will be of their own accord.
The squad assaults. Each trooper is assigned a target, their onboard computers helpfully designate fires and targeting priorities. They fall upon the battery like fire ants, within seconds the guns fall silent, their operators butchered, the tubes blackened and bent. As they attack, their AIs record everything for later BDA and intel. There is no need for a leader to scratch his/her head about Actions on the Objective, his AI gives him a checklist and sees to it that he completes it within seconds.
The battery destroyed, the team exfils to all points of the compass. They are hopeless to track and hard to kill.
Once back at FOB X, the squad downloads the data and they recharge their powered suits. They do an After Action Review, aided by AI, and they plan the next assault. Rinse, wash, repeat.
This. This is what future warfare will look like. Lighting attacks by rapier-like forces against logistics and combat formations.
Where does the tank fit in?
It doesn’t. A squad of armored infantry, each equipped with smart munitions and drones, could bring a tank battalion to a screeching halt.
Regular light infantry is doing this right now in the Ukraine. Imagine giving them powered suits, such as described in my books.
Heavy armored formations no longer make sense in peer-on-peer conflicts.
The death of the tank is upon us.