Direct fire observers

A 1950's book about the campaign in Russia 1941-1945 mentioned a specific tank tactic of Russian T-34s that was most annoying, and most difficult to counter: A single tank would appear, shoot, disappear, rinse and repeat using different shooting positions. 
I don't consider it  a widespread tactic because it takes skill, a good gearbox condition and I would have read about it in much more sources if it was widespread.

Quite the same tactic was also mentioned in an American publication a couple months ago; apparently a MBT crew appeared, shot, disappeared, rinse and repeat during an exercise while never using any firing position a second time. The American author was flabbergasted - he had never before seen such a feat.

So I suppose it's safe to say that this is still far from a common skill, but a most desirable and very effective one. The Leo2 and indeed many Western MBTs were actually designed with this in mind; that's why they have good backward acceleration and speed: They can quickly leave a firing position to seek the next one - ideal for ambush and delaying actions. Russian/Soviet tanks lack this (though I'm not sure about the T-14), their backwards speed is walking pace. This (not their poor maximum gun elevation) is the basis for the claim that they are tanks for attack, not defence.

Some popular computer games that more or less simulate tank combat use an interesting feature in the least realistic mode (or just in general): A target is visible as an icon or outline if only an allied player within a certain radius can see said target. This is super-unrealistic so far, and hugely beneficial. You can literally shoot armour-piercing shots through dense foliage without being seen, or appear at a corner with the gun already aimed at the target, shoot and disappear.

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Now let's connect the dots: Is such a marker of a target's position with distance info really unrealistic or is it merely a so far not implemented feature?*
Couldn't one vehicle raise a tiny sensor on a mast, detect a target, determine its coordinates, transmit the target info to other vehicles by radio and one other vehicle could be a tank that loads the correct round, orients main gun correctly, drives just around a corner and shoots before it withdraws to cover before the dust settles? Couldn't said tank even shoot one APFSDS round through concealment such as 20 m of bushes instead of ever leaving concealment?

We're used to the idea that forward observers help indirect fires. Maybe we should think of forward observers as helpful to flat trajectory (quasi-direct) fires, too?

A software update for such a feature could be worth more than an active protection system that stops both APFSDS and diving top attack missiles. The value would be greater on the defence or in slow offensive actions than in rapid or brutish offensive manoeuvres, of course.
Such an innovation would strengthen the case for a light tank with very capable gun and great "situational awareness" at least for the purpose of defensive actions.


*: I know about blue force tracker and similar systems (and their slow update process). That's not what I mean. I'm really thinking of markers shown in (digital) thermal weapon sights and on the soon-to-be-standard all-round vision monitors.


  1. Interesting observation. This would seem like the sort of marginal technological advantage that could decide a major battle early in a war. That said, I am not sure how effective it would be in the face of full-spectrum jamming, which you also believe is likely to occur in future wars between major powers.

    What are your thoughts on countering this sort of target marking (as an aside, this game feature is also seen in Shooters, such as Rainbow 6 Siege, in which players can mark locations) and on making such a technology resistant to countermeasures.

    I would imagine that, in addition to full-spectrum jamming, I might try to:
    - create false positive targets: this might be especially possible against drones whose video feeds are being monitored by image recognition AI, which is known to be extremely vulnerable to trickery
    - do the same thing already done against artillery and aircraft: move often and unpredictably and apply multispectral smoke if necessary
    - one might engage in mimicry: make low-priority and high-priority targets look alike. Recall that image you once posted of a Crusader Tank in the African Theater of WWII disguised as a truck. One could attach dummy parts made of cheap and lightweight materials to make low-priority targets appear more menacing (and more like high-priority targets) and vice versa. This would likely benefit from the use of camo and lights (as you have previously discusses) to make recognition harder and more time consuming. Even a small number of false positives could waste valuable munitions, while false negatives would create the sort of phantom threats that hindered the German response to D-Day (WWII disinfo is a fascinating topic) and made McClellan in the Peninsula Campaign of the US Civil War think he was outnumbered when he had a 2-1 or greater advantage.

  2. I get the sense that some tankers are trained to fighter pilot standards, others barely more than a haulier.

    The technical solution for the hauliers relies on network centric warfare, which as many have said is fragile.

    Its interesting to see that runners are returning to battlegroup exercises. There is also the expressed need for armoured cars again to probe the fog of war.

    Off topic, apologies.

    Any idea what the current panic about combat in cities is? Megacities for the yanks, everything always has to be bigger for them. I cant see that being an issue in a defensive scenario in Europe. On the counter attack, bypass and isolate our own occupied cities and arrange surrender or allow passage out.

    So is this just an attempt by the yanks to make sure we're good little poodles ready to follow them into their next offensive, preemptive war?

    1. Europe is *not* the only concern for the USA, take a look at the sizes of cities in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan (the western side of the island), the Philippines where we have defense alliances - these countries have huge urban areas.

      Fighting in cities is stupid: it has also proven necessary.

      Asian culture is distinct, and far older than Western civilization.


  3. The simplest countermeasure is to not be seen for long. That's valuable regardless of such technology.

    I read that Bundeswehr thesis paper on future land war and among many rather obvious things they repeated the still fashionable claim that future land warfare will be much about urban warfare. It sounded like lip service, but I still wondered what region they were thinking about. The only million people city in the region that matters is imo Warsaw, and that's an issue for the Polish Territorial Defence Force, not the Heer.

  4. The soviets/russians worked on an similar idea for infantry units (especially to coordinate the atgm fire and other heavier support weapons) but actually i did not find the information in the net. I read about this years ago. As far is i remember the effort was to high in comparison to the real achievable benefits.

    Such a local network, perhaps even with direct line connection between the units (laser, infrared etc) which are then difficult to jam could also coordinate the fire in a way that all the munitions hit the target at the same time. In that case even the most sophisticated hardkill systems would be worthless.

    Perhaps we should think such a system therefore not only for tanks, but for infantry too, especially as an counter to hardkill.

    For tanks imo the future is more fighting in the nlos area, and to use munitions like the KSTAM (Korean Smart Top Attack Munition). With such an ammunition you only need conventional forward observers in form of JFST (Joint Fire Support Teams) and integrate the MBT into their network. Then the tanks can fight nlos against other tanks (and other ground targets) which is imo much more advantagous than said direct fire network.

  5. I believe the Japanese Type 10 MBT may already have the cooperative engagement capability you describe.

    In Steel Beasts (a mechanised warfare simulator used by various armies in its Professional format), I set up several scenarios set in Finland where Leo2s and CV9030s enfiladed a road lined by woodland. They could work out where the Russian vehicles were - particularly if stopped by obstacles and/or mines, and pour fire into them from the flanks whereas the Russian vehicles could not see them to engage. The tactic worked very well. Another old favourite is the keyhole ambush vs enemy advancing up a road. Only the one enemy vehicle could engage down the forest track down which your tank or AT weapon was waiting and you would almost always get to fire first. This apparently happened a lot to British Army advancing toward Arnhem in WW2.