On protection of armoured vehicles


The protection of tanks was always driven by assumptions, especially assumptions about threats. Such assumptions can be off at times, of course.

The typical armour protection up to 1938 was a mere bulletproofing. A 7.92x57 mm bullet fired from 100 m and from a position of same height should not penetrate, even if it has a core made of simple carbon steel. Such an ambition could easily be met with 15 mm normal rolled homogeneous armour steel.

An even slightly lower ambition was used for half-tracked armoured vehicles and wheeled armoured vehicles throughout the Second World War and also by many wheeled armoured vehicles in the post-WW2 period. NATO STANAG 4569 levels 1 to 3 are approximately at this protection level (level 3 is higher).

German early WW2 light tank armour layout: bulletproofing

This light and unambitious level of protection was very successful: The classic early Blitzkrieg campaigns of 1939...1941 used mostly this level of protection on German tanks, albeit at least frontal armour plates were usually increased to 30 mm to provide protection against anti-tank rifles as well. The German tanks that invaded and overran France in 1940 were really just bulletproofed, not shellproofed. All opposing forces' anti-tank guns (then of 25...47 mm calibre) easily penetrated these German tanks, and so did the ubiquitous 75 mm field guns (equivalent to a 37 mm anti-tank gun in penetration) and all other artillery pieces of the day.

The downside was that tanks were often abandoned by their crews in battle when the crew noticed 25 mm shells penetrating. The morale was good enough for the crew to usually return soon if the tank did not catch fire. 

The much more extended campaign in Russia clearly called for shellproofing, considering the gazillion of Soviet artillery pieces, tanks (in 1941 mostly with 45 mm guns) and (mostly weak 45 mm) anti-tank guns faced by the German army. Shellproofing was required (first introduced briefly before the war by the British and French in heavy and not very mobile tanks), but the issue of surface area was a tough one. The more areas you shellproof, the more the tank weighs. The problem is that tanks are also supposed to drive over soft ground without sinking in too much and getting stuck. So thick, heavy steel armour could only be applied to some surface areas and the rest remained at a high bulletproofing level, proofed against 14.5 mm anti-tank guns only (~STANAG 4569 level 4).

Halftracks and wheeled armoured vehicles were never shellproofed because their smaller groudnd contact area supported less weight than tracks and they strongly tend to have larger surface areas than a tracked vehicle of equivalent payload.

The shellproofing of the turret front and upper glacis (upper side of hull front) or simply vertical hull front grew in some medium and heavy tanks to thicknesses (and angles) that could defeat 85 mm tank gun shots (with outliers protecting against 107 or 122 mm cannons on some areas) by the end of WW2.

Late WW2 German Tiger 2 armour layout: extreme shellproofing of the front

This kind of compromise was kept in the post-WW2 period: The tank would be protected against powerful shots from the front (up to frontal 60°, which includes the sides of the crew compartment) and the rest would be protected poorly, some areas not even protected against light anti-armour weapons weighing less than 3 kg such as RPG-26.

The assumption was that the tank crew could turn its turret towards powerful threats and largely avoid surprise shots from its flanks. Moreover, the hull had to be oriented at the powerful threat as well, so all that shooting on the move was super risky against powerful threats if one did something else than moving (in shallow s-lines) towards or backwards away from said threat.

So the assumptions were among others

  • a need to protect against a single known severe threat direction (roughly 60° wide)
  • a need to have all-round protection for the crew against even lightweight anti-tank weapons
  • both kinetic energy (APDS, APFSDS) and chemical energy (shaped charge, to a lesser extent HESH/HEP) threats needed to be defeated
  • both hull and turret require approximately the same protection, maybe the turret a bit more

This is not a nature's law. Different opinions about land warfare could lead to different perceived needs, different compromises.

For example, you might assume that a tank front does rarely face another tank and its 100...125 mm gun, then you could drastically reduce your requirement to defeat kinetic threats. The armour layout would be very different with a dedicated anti-chemical energy armour scheme. Such an anti-HEAT protection could defeat a 105 mm tandem shaped charge and still provide protection against a 40 and maybe even 57 mm gun kinetic threat as a side effect. Likewise, a dedicated anti-kinetic threat armour layout would be much less effective against shaped charges than a versatile layout.

Another expectation could be that you never face threats with your side armour. Vehicles fighting only in a desert could have this expectation built in. We might see such an armour layout if the United Arab Emirates commissioned the development of a tank just for themselves.

The opposite would be the assumption that almost all shots at a tank would be surprise attacks, and maybe even shots from the front would be rather unlikely because the tank crew could react with its own firepower quickly. Then we would see an almost even all-round protection. The turret could be protected all-round against a 120 mm tank gun if the hull was armoured lightly only, but this would only fit a doctrine that assumes tanks fight in a hull down position.

top image: turret down position, lower images: hull down position

To protect the entire tank's crew compartment all-round would restrict the protection level to protection against autocannons and moderately powerful shaped charges (calibre ~80 mm) unless active hard kill defences were employed (but those are unlikely to last for long when hit much with bullets and fragments).

So the threat assumption is two part; the technical nature of the threat and the tactical situations the tank crew will be shot at in. 

The Russian war of aggression and failed conquest against Ukraine appears to very largely ignore the old assumptions about and doctrines for land warfare in Europe. It's more reminiscent of the Bosnian Civil War than the common 1980's World War Three scenarios despite being fought with almost exactly the latter's equipment.

Tanks do not appear to attack in company or battalion strength together. They fight at most in platoon strength. Tank vs tank combat is rare, and images of tanks that survived frontal large calibre hits are almost non-existing. Anti-tank missile shot videos are widely distributed and almost exclusively show shots at unaware tank crews, typically from the side (if you get to see the tank at all, as with the Stugna-P videos showing the suitcase-style user interface). The frontal armour does not protect against top attack munitions.

All in all, the Cold War era's fixation on protection against tank guns looks foolish and inappropriate AND the fixation on the forward about 60° looks foolish as well. Moreover, secondary explosion hazards inside the crew compartment such as munitions stored in Soviet era autoloaders (but also 120 mm cartridges stored in the hull of Western tanks) looks like an intolerable design flaw.

This is all about assumptions, the layout of a T-72 makes sense within the assumptions of its designers half a century ago, and the layout of a Leopard 2 makes sense within the assumptions of its designers half a century ago. It's just that the assumptions were maybe always wrong, and certainly do not describe what's going on in Ukraine. They don't describe what went on in Syria or Yemen, either. Soviet assumptions and layouts also did not prove appropriate for Iraq, either.

Soviet-style tanks are better-protected in hull down position than NATO tanks

The West has fought many small wars in the past decades, facing extremely poorly-equipped and low-skilled opposition. This did not put to full test and did not expose flaws in Western tank designs, albeit it was obvious that the assumptions from the Cold War did not describe the Iraq occupation war situation, either.

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Is it possible to quickly adapt tank design? Yes and no. The likely path is that hard kill active defence systems will be added at great costs, but their vulnerability to bullets and fragments means that they would be of little use in sustained combat. You might win a tank battle with such systems, but could not so much protect a tank through dozens of combat days with it. So again, only certain assumptions make a certain protection look like a good idea.

The addition or change of existing add-on protection is another option, but tanks have little removable armour mass (some armour inserts, some added external armour modules). To change add-on armour allows only for a slight reorientation of the protection layout.

A radical approach would be to remember that steel is fairly cheap and you could simply design a new steel hull for a different protection layout (all-round for the crew, 600 mm RHAeq CE and 200 mm RHAeq KE, all 120 mm munitions in a replaceable turret bustle under blast doors). It's just some RHA or HHA armour plates that need to be cut and welded, after all. All the other already existing equipment such as wheels, powerpacks, sensors, electronics, tank gun, user interfaces, seats and radio could be 'plugged in' to this new steel shell. This might cost less than € 3 million for such a full tank makeover.

This option is extremely unlikely. It would be a major investment in a prestige object, but without adding quantity. Some quality would be added, some quality would be lost, there would be an admission that the armed bureaucracy was in error before. It's MUCH more likely that an army would instead call for funding for an all-new tank design that would become effective for deterrence and defence only after the 2030's. Most likely is the addition of hard kill APS, unofficial removal of 120 mm munitions from the hull and some added side protection in the meantime; costs € 1+ million per tank, about a ton of added weight.

Abrams tank with Trophy hard kill APS installed.
It appears to have more gadgets outside of its armour than behind it!

Likewise, we won't hear or see admissions that the IFV concept is stupid only because it fails once again in Ukraine. The Bundeswehr's Heer in particular will simply point out that it simply stores no anti-tank guided missiles inside the Puma IFV and both 30 mm APFSDS and 30 mm AHEAD (electronic times kinda shrapnel round) have no or negligible explosives in the warhead. The 30 mm propellants will be described as insensitive and maybe the next batches of them will have less sensitive propellants and then the Bundeswehr will claim that the Puma IFV won't blow up all the time like BMPs. That will be true, but it's nowhere near as cheap per dismount seat, either.

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And then there's the issue of artillery fires. 1980's NATO's experts believed that DPICM (bomblet) munitions would be the most serious artillery threat to tanks on a battlefield. Turret roof bomblet protection had been added to some tanks (Swedish Stridsvagn 122, for example) and also to few other AFVs (PzH 2000 SPG ad Puma IFV use the 'hedgehog' protection that sabotages specifically bomblets).

'hedgehog' add-on armour against bomblets

This old blog post /2010/08/who-says-dumb-artillery-rounds-cant.html already covered the issue that this assumption was a poor one. 152/155 mm high explosive shells are a serious threat to tanks, even without penetrations into the crew compartment. The open source intelligence on the war in Ukraine shows that armoured vehicles of all kinds get ruined by nearby explosions of such shells. A quick look at the STANAG 4569 link shows that this was to be expected for lightly and medium armoured vehicles, but near misses also mess up (up to cook off) main battle tans in Ukraine as well. Students of military history should not be surprised by the accurate targeting of individual tanks by the Ukrainians; I remember a report about how the first few long-barrelled Panzer IV in North Africa 1942 were routinely and quickly targeted by hostile artillery because their new powerful gun was such a grave threat to the Commonwealth forces there.

Bomblet submunitions are extremely rarely shown in action in Ukraine war footage. I remember only one such video, and it appeared to show bomblets from a cluster bomb, not fired by artillery. Neither Russia nor Ukraine signed the cluster munitions ban, but I suspect their Cold War era cluster munitions are degraded to a point that few of those are still effective. To not sign the ban may have been more of a deterrence bluff than anything else.

So tank protection layouts should not obsess about the bomblet threat. There's little you can do against the blast and fragmentation threat though. The tanks' basic armour is already most that you can do about it. The issue is the vulnerability of the many external items; optronics, running gear, antennas and even the main gun barrel (even if its bore evacuator is hardened, it's not hardened much).

Optronics may be protected against bullets with small and where needed movable relatively thin very high quality steel plates, but this does little against the larger fragments of old school 152 mm HE shells. It does likely help more against modern 155 mm pre-formed fragment shells, though.

The best protection against such dumb 155 mm HE shells is probably to be well-camouflaged and easily concealed (behind buildings and maybe in woodland) due to small size. That's not exactly a strong point of the large main battle tanks used by NATO.

source Tankograd

Finally, there is the issue of top protection against powerful anti-tank munitions, as in Ukraine the NLAW and Javelin. I don't see any passive or reactive armour being able to cope with that at acceptable bulk and mass. The overflight top attack of NLAW might be defeated by countermeasures to its fusing, but this is pointless, as other countermeasures would also affect the dive attack of Javelin ATGMs, some Spike ATGM versions, UAV-dropped glide bombs and diving loitering munitions: A multispectral smoke + chaff (or equivalents to chaff) combo would temporarily affect the accuracy of such an attack and a hard kill active protection system would hit the incoming munition and reduce its penetration capability below what the turret roof offers as protection. Both approaches might lead to close explosions and a showering with fragments that would endanger external equipment such as optronics and i case of open hatches also the crew. To avoid being identified as a high value target by camouflage, concealment and deception would be much more helpful.

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I actively disliked for years the fetish about tank vs. tank duels and the assumption that tank crews would fight tank crews that they're aware of as found in Rolf Hilmes' books, for example. By now there's a mountain of evidence that even this German tank tech pope was very much wrong with his assumptions.

It appears that KE protection only needs to be available against calibre up to 57 mm (hypothetical 57×347mmSR APFSDS cartridge), at most up to a hypothetical 85 mm APFSDS cartridge fired from a L/70 smoothbore barrel. Likewise, hard kill active protection systems may be limited to 950 m/s warheads, excluding the >30 mm KE threats of today (which travel at 1,300...1850 m/s). This makes the realisation of an active hard kill protection system much less demanding if not practically feasible today at all.

The Russian T-14 Armata approach (also widely discussed and modelled in the West for a long time) of a small well-protected crew capsule and relatively poorly protected turret and powerpack does not convince me on protection grounds, but it may be necessary to enable enough large calibre munitions be carried without endangering the crew. A secondary explosion would still produce a total vehicle loss, so nothing more than crew survival would be gained. That's great for the crew and its morale, but not necessarily satisfactory from a national&collective deterrence and defence perspective.

Last but not least, we should keep in mind that even the tank hull and armour scheme layout makeover that I described would need a decade in the extremely slow-moving bureaucracies and arms industries of today. This begs the question whether we expect main battle tanks to be worthwhile in the 2030's at all, probably surrounded by ten thousands of drones and loitering munitions. Personally, I would focus on a a rather small tracked armoured personnel carrier (less than 20 tons, more like M113 than like a Boxer) with focus on protecting against bullets and fragments. Such vehicles will likely remain useful the longest. All other new armoured vehicles should be protected versions of soft-skinned wheeled vehicles that are also in use.



A little terrain analysis from Eastern Ukraine

Let's have a look at an arbitrarily selected, quite representative area of Eastern Ukraine:

The first satellite imagery screenshot shows the larger area, the lower ones shows a smaller area from the former's centre. Some measurements of distances are included, and a scale is on bottom right each.

The agricultural areas are divided into rather large sections, as is typical of Eastern Europe where the socialist economies of the Cold War era attempted to run agriculture like factories in kolkhoz and in Soviet Union the even bigger sovkhoz. The fields are divided by treelines as seen well in the lower screenshot and also on many, many war videos from Ukraine. These treelines likely serve to reduce soil erosion by wind.

These treelines provide at least a partial interruption of lines of sight from late spring to late autumn. The biggest single field section in this area was rectangular, 1.6 x 1.0 km large with a measured diagonal of 1.9 km. All those portable ATGMs of (published) 2 km range are thus fully sufficient for line of sight surface-to-surface engagements in this terrain. Helicopters could in theory make use of longer-ranged ATGMs, provided they survive over the battlefield.

The terrain is similar to the bocage type of terrain in Normandy '44 (link), but without the feature of built-in ramparts in the hedgerows.

Such terrain can be considered advantageous to defenders, but it can also be very advantageous to a well-equipped attacker. The line of sight interruptions isolate the battlefield into cells, and an attacker can presumably focus on a few cells (not just one, for else artillery would focus on too tightly packed attackers) at a time and overwhelm the isolated defenders there.

Defenders cannot survive on the open fields if the attackers have a bird's view of the battlefield. All defenders in the fields could easily be targeted by indirect fires, depending on vegetation even by snipers. So defenders have to hide in the treelines, and in hope of surviving artillery they might dig in. Such prepared positions could be found rather easily and would then allow an accurate bombardment provided the attacker has this in his repertoire. Other treeline sections might be sprayed with fragments by artillery just in case there are hidden but not dug-in defenders. You only need multispectral smoke to conceal an attack route to the left and right flank if the treelines are not concealing enough after being shredded by some HE shelling. Any defenders who temporarily leave their position to dodge the shelling would have to be detected by the bird's view asset and be subjected to accurate responsive fires, for else they might be back to their dug-in positions before the ground assault arrives. The alternative is a longer-lasting suppressive fires shelling to prevent the defenders from returning in time.

And then you can push with tracked armoured vehicles through one field section to the next treeline, followed by another artillery-supported push through the next section, then another artillery-supported push to break into a village, followed by dismounted action. Use multiple axes of advance to encircle defenders.

So given some AFVs (tracked APCs should suffice), plenty artillery HE shells, ability to accurately shoot with artillery on short notice, a bird's view asset with real-time communication and some capable infantry you should be able to advance fairly well in such a terrain IF you can "synchronise" what you have in a way to gain combined arms benefits. And this is where you need a lot of training - training that you won't get in the typical Western army training areas, either.

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The terrain also offers opportunities for a very low force density elastic defence. You just need some small infantry teams with scoped rifles, light machineguns, radios, thermal vision and possibly 2 km laser rangefinders to defend most of those field sections. They could make good use of some sensors (including simple tin can-connected tripwires) for security along the tree lines.

The attackers might overcome them, but the defender's losses would be small due to the small team sizes and the attacker could be hit with area artillery fires on the section even if the attacked team fails to give targeting information for accurate artillery fires. Some non-line of sight missiles and loitering munitions could be used to engage AFVs in a large radius.

Any lost section could be regained by either the described systematic synchronised kind of (counter)attack or by trying to sneak with infantry sections along the treelines. An advance through (multispectral) smoke clouds would also be possible, but hardly anyone has that much multispectral smoke to spare.

Two capable but not very capable opposing forces might be locked into an attack-counterattack mess in such a terrain. Whether attackers or defenders suffer more depends in my opinion on how they attack and with what, and how they defend and with what. It's about training (especially for the attackers), but also about hardware.

What I saw so far in OSINT does indicate that the typical attack in Eastern Ukraine involves a very small (platoon-sized) assault with overwatch firepower but little smoke and no tight synchronisation of artillery and advance. The Soviets meant to advance 300...400 m behind an artillery barrage. I have not seen any indication that either side uses such tactics, despite improved accuracy of the artillery (which would permit to advance 150...200 m behind the impacts depending on the munition used).






Very serious people

Paul Krugman promoted the phrase "Very Serious People" to describe people who showed a certain behaviour in regard to economics and fiscal policy. He took specifically aim at those who got much attention and were treated by the press as if they had great competence on fiscal policy, but in reality they were just following a pattern of claiming that terrible things would happen (mostly inflation, or collapse of social safety net) if the government did not cut programs that benefit the poor and middle class Americans.
The problem wasn't that such people held such opinions (though some of them were legislators), the problem was that the print and television news media simply pretended that theirs was an obviously correct opinion and treated them as if they were some wise men who had the conviction to say unpopular truths. Another problem was that the "Very Serious People" were wrong.

Simon Wren-Lewis promoted (or created) another, related, term in the UK; mediamacro. Somehow the British media (newspapers and BBC mostly) pretends that the economy works in certain ways, even though the state of economic research is completely different. Again, the media bias just happens to favour the pro-plutocracy, right wing stance over science.

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I suppose there's a similar bias problem in regard to defence and security policy, and in fact this may already have been the origin of "Very serious people".
Outright war porn and jingoism aside, why is it that the news media appears to associate only one move with solving problems in the military; bigger budgets? I have seen dozens if not hundreds of articles pretending so, not once -not even in the wake of scandals- did I see the suggestion that maybe firing and replacing people or changing upper management culture might be a solution. Significant structural changes of armed forces were rarely promoted by the news media and public commentary as well. The few examples that I remember were all about making the armed forces more "expeditionary" - more useful for playing great power games on distant continents (and thus less useful for deterrence & defence for the national benefit).
Similarly, the deployment of armed forces appears to be a standard, unimaginative, concept associated with solving problems abroad.
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I wonder why, for both spending more nor deploying troops abroad have abysmal success records.
To spend more usually doesn't change problems, it just increases the sizes of armed forces. Training quality issues, tiny spare parts inventories and small munition stocks relative to force sizes, poor equipment choices, recruiting and retention issues and poor doctrine remain unaffected by budget growth.
The deployment of troops into conflict areas almost never solves a conflict, and often even fails to at least freeze it. A whole generation of news media people gained experience on the job while observing that the Afghanistan War solved jack shit (and there were loud voices by well-informed people that it was doomed to fail already around 2008). Still, the impressively unimaginative news media people keep talking of troops deployment at the first hint of some crisis abroad that involves armed forces.
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I understand that certain circles have standard answers about the reasons why. For-profit corporations controlling the media, influence by arms industry et cetera. There are also full-blown nutjob answers, of course.
I don't think that's the problem. 
My suspicion is that sociological and psychological research needs to be undertaken to understand where this bias comes from, and how to compensate for it or remove it. Parts of the problem are certainly ignorance and laziness: People presume that a certain belief is true, and fail to test that belief with a little research about the real world and its history.
I'm also positive that limitations of the very model of news media play into this: The typical news media journalist is a universal dilettante. He's horribly incompetent on all topics, and thus only capable of the most obvious and primitive conclusions. There are a couple journalists with great accumulated expertise on certain topics, but a universal dilettante editor-in-chief calling in a military-specialised journalist to report on say, the Ukraine crisis, is already the aforementioned bias at work. News media people also sometimes interview different experts, such as foreign relations experts, political science experts - but then the interviews are unlike other interviews. Such experts actually answer the questions (politicians don't, they "answer" whatever they meant to say anyway), and the questions by the universal dilettante interviewer are already biased.

In all fairness I should mention that I am aware that news media people also pretend that economic sanctions have magic powers. Economic sanctions are being treated as a conjoined twin to military deployments abroad when the perceived troublemaker is a government. That's unimaginative as well, albeit I agree that such sanctions are sometimes legitimate and appropriate.

P.S.: I wrote this briefly before the Russian invasion of Ukraine and deemed this draft ill-timed, pushed it forward several months, but apparently I also did hit the 'publish' button at some point. It wasn't really meant to go live, but here it is, and I have nothing better ready for this Saturday, so I leave it published.


On tanks as part of a unit


This is a drawing of the A1E1 "Independent" heavy tank design. It was a spectacular prototype in the 1920's, back when "heavy" tanks were called so becuase of their relatively weight without expecting thick armour or big guns.
It was heavy not becuase of thick armour (it was merely bulletproofed), but because of its big crew. Four dedicated machinegunners were needed to operate the four small machinegun turrets.The tank was means to be able to fight infantry all-round on its own. This design philosophy was not very successful commercially during the Interwar Years in part becuase it made the machines very expensive, and it was incompatible with the later adoption of shellproofing armour. The area to protect was simply too large with such a large vehicle, any shellproofing (60 mm and more steel plate thickness) armour would make immobilise the tank by breakdowns and sinking into soft soil.

more importantly, the whole idea of what a tank should be was wrong. A tank does NOT need to be able to fight in many directions simultaneously, for a tank is not alone on the battlefield. Infantry to the left or right or in the back can and should be dealt with by allies, such as infantry and other tanks. A tank needs a main weapon (which can even be casemated with limited traverse, but is usually in a 360° traverse turret) and one low effort all-round machinegun, which would actually rarely be used to shoot sidewards. A machinegun coaxial tot he main gun has become customary as well, as it offers much for little effort and can easily be reloaded under armour.

That's the typical main battle tank today; 105...125 mm main gun in 360° traverse turret with coaxial machinegun, one all-round machinegun on top of the turret. The hardware follows reason, but the idea of a tank as a force of one, capable to fight on its own, that one is too enticing. People still fall for it, especially laymen. 

The Russian tanks (which are near-identical to the Ukrainian ones) get destroyed in quantity, even with anti-tank weapons that should not be considered anti-MBT assets. This is possible because a shot from the flank can penetrate without a very powerful warhead and cause a catastrophic detonation of the main gun's munition. 
Yet this is unlike the tank defeats by Javelin and NLAW (which exploit the weakness of the topside) not so much a problem of lacking a hard kill active protection system (=shooting down the incoming warhead) upgrade. Sure, it could be addressed with a hard kill APS, but the vulnerability was already existing in the 1970's, unlike the top attack problem. Even very well-protected tanks of the Second World War were vulnerable to flank shots. 
Panther tank armour thicknesses, image by Valera Potapov
The side armour is rather meant to protect against powerful weapons from the frontal 45...60°, not from the flank itself. The angle of impact adds to the armour's effectiveness.
The forces in the field were and are supposed to mitigate this problem of flank vulnerability, not the tank designers. The tank crew of a lead tan should be able to rely on infantry and/or fellow tank crews to secure its left and right flank, so it itself can focus on the front and orient its best protection forward.
A hard kill active protection system may reduce the need for such cooperative tactics, but only so as long as it works as advertised. Hard kill APS will likely tempt even the professionals to think of a tank as all-round fighting machine, conceptually taking the place of the four machinegun turrets of the "Independent" tank prototype.



[temporary] Blog

No smartassery from me today, I've been too busy the last days, and too distracted.
There's plenty to write about due to the Ukraine War, but many things were easily condensed into such short texts that I wrote on Twitter about it. 
I hope Putin doesn't pull a Goebbels on 9th May Parade.
The most peaceful scenario is he gets a Mariupol/Azov National Guard formation surrender in time and declares a success of his special military operation and seeks a UN-backed ceasefire that freezes the conflict for years to come.