The direct/indirect fires armour battalion - tactics


I realised that I didn't describe the tactics for the armour battalion for the exploitation brigade properly.

That battalion has four companies of tanks that are very good at shooting with high explosive rounds in indirect fire (up to 42° maximum elevation, with sufficient accuracy out to 15 km).

The idea is this:

The companies tend to manoeuvre as such (platoons maybe spread over 3x2 km). A pair of companies is close at all times, so there are two pairs manoeuvring around.

Now one company gets into contact with dangerous hostiles. The nearby other company of the pair moves into flanking position. They might also act as a leapfrogging couple in a delaying mission or during advance.

The other pair can do the very same, and whenever a pair is ion contact the other pair (about 4x3=12 tanks per company) would be available and be at a good distance for giving indirect fire support with good effect (this would be difficult at short distances in many terrain forms).

This is part of the reason why it makes sense to have four tank companies in that battalion, not three. With three you'd have either two companies giving such indirect fire support or one indirect and one direct fires (line of sight) support. That's A LOT less and would not suffice, as the brigade was designed to not require a separate artillery battalion (there are a few mortars in the concept, though).





  1. Hey Mr. Ortmann A.A. here.

    Why even get into contact? Send in cheap disposable ISTAR drones then blast away with mortar and howitzer. What is the 15km range supposed to mean? DF guns go up to 5km, mortars up to 10km, so you mean like howitzer?

    1. Standard 120 mm tank guns are advisable for their anti-tank quality. These guns are smoothbore. Thus their munitions are fin-stabilised, which yield worse long range dispersion (and sensitivity to wind) than spin stabilization does. Their range potential would be somewhere between 20 and 30 km with HE, but I wouldn't expect a good dispersion past 15 km. Moreover, longer ranges would require stronger propellant charges, which wears out the barrel more.

      To go into contact is simply a necessity. You cannot blast away everything from a laptop screen, call it a victory and go home.
      The potential devastation by rapid action exceed what we've seen post-1973 by much. An entire French armour division was overrun at night in 1940 and became combat-ineffective. A rapid tank brigade thrust and spreading rumours can lead to a collapse of an army force of 100,000+ troops.

    2. Sounds like ISTAR failure to me. With modern radar, lidar, infrared, optics, etc how could anything sneak/rush into less than 5km of your forces unharmed?

      Btw have you ever seen anything smaller than ICBMs "silo" launched? You could bury your manpads and atgms and launch on command. Good for defense. Only captor mines come close to this.

    3. Imagine a 1,000 km long front. The enemy army may have 10,000 quality anti-tank systems. The terrain divides everything into boxes smaller than 2x2 km with concealing features such as tree rows and bushes.
      A tank battalion of 40+ tanks would thus face on average (up to) 20 quality AT systems in a breakthrough area. Some of these would not be present because some army formations aren't on line duty, but undergo training or are somewhere held in reserve.
      Some quality AT systems get destroyed by artillery fires, and users of other AT systems get suppressed by arty. Some AT systems fail to engage a tank because they get blinded by multispectral smoke. Some get overrun by infantry. Some quality AT systems fail to live up to their promises.
      The tank battalion with 40+ tanks breaks through with less than five tanks mission-killed (some of which will be recovered and repaired).

      Now there's a brigade with a largely intact tank battalion on a rampage. it overruns supply points, supply trucks on roads, checkpoints, enemy artillery units, bridges, brigade HQs, flanks or rear-attacks other enemy line forces that get also pressured frontally by another force.

      There sure are some nice radars and surveillance drones, but their ability to deliver targeting information is dimensioned for routine times, not for a sudden hyperviolent onslaught that involves a pre-planned arty fires plan and some deceptions. Some of those ISTAR assets get overrun as well. They cannot reach all the linked fires assets anyway, for there's intense RF jamming that leaves only small and changing radio band windows for use of the attackers.

      The tank brigade broke through the first line of defence, and overruns the 2nd and 3rd lines before enemy reserves have arrived and manned (&supplied) them in strength.
      Next day, this tank brigade and other tank brigades are rampaging on deeper raids or are rushing to objectives such as bridges, airfields or the sea. The hyperviolent action lasts for four days. Then a lack of supplies and physical exhaustion of the men defines the culminating point of the offensive unless other, fresh brigades take over and continue it.
      The whole operation caused 5x more POWs than KIA and MIA to the defeated defender. The human side of war matters much, and troops surrender en masse or disperse and become stragglers when they learn that there are enemy tank brigades already 50...400 km behind them.

      The reconnaissance-strike complex is one thing. it works fine in relatively calm phases of war, and the Russo-Ukrainian War had almost exclusively such phases.
      The tank brigade / force of exploitation that I wrote about would be mostly in reserve during calm times. Its tanks might do some indirect fires missions, but there would be no manoeuvre. Forces of the line would dominate.
      But such a drôle de guerre does not decide anything in less than about four years. Wars went on for 4...8 years in that style.

      And then there are forces of exploitation; manoeuvre forces. Such forces overran a medium or large European country in 11 days to six weeks during WW2 with few losses, and could be even quicker today.
      To dig in expensive guided missiles makes no sense considering that you might want to move them and can simply launch them from other kinds of safety. Missiles get vertically launched from 8x8 and 6x6 vehicles that can be parked behind a building, and the vehicle may even hide inside a building at times.

    4. >The enemy army may have 10,000 quality anti-tank systems. The terrain divides everything into boxes smaller than 2x2 km with concealing features such as tree rows and bushes.

      And minefields (+ reserve BM-27/30 with cluster mines).

  2. If you network a force with target information transfers, indirect fires seem a much more likely solution, because it minimizes exposure to counter fire which doing direct fire solution entails. This might mean that direct fire systems might be a lot lighter and cheaper, and rely more on the networked support than on their own firepower.

    1. A football team often has a striker who is the best at shooting at the goal. There are other players, too. Goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders.

      Your idea of land warfare is a football team of 11 strikers.
      You should open your eyes to what else can be done and has been done.

    2. I'm not arguing that there's no division of labour and no specialization. I think that information transfers enable a shift in the approach that results in an overall cheaper and less vulnerable solution by utilizing more indirect fires of less exposed system, and less need to have heavy firepower for direct power in heavily armoured more exposed systems. The tank needed a big gun, because it couldn't radio coordinates with enough accuracy and immediacy of response to an artillery system. That's changing and it might mean a shift in tank design.

    3. A tank that sees a moving target at 1 km can destroy it in less than 10 seconds. Indirect fires need more than that as time of flight alone. They'd likely arrive after 1...2 minute in the quickest armies and 5...15 minutes in others.

      To focus on reconnaissance-strike is not the cheaper way to do war. It's the slower way. Industrialised wars with that focus lasted 4...9 years (examples WWI, Iraq-Iran War). Quite recently Azerbaijan had a clear reconnaissance-strike superiority, but it succeeded in a rather quick war because it relentlessly pressed and tried to advance rather than just plink.

    4. You're not wrong with your traditionalist approach. But let's imagine system we call a tank, which is at the spearpoint of an advance. It sends out drones and infantry with targeting electronics to acquire targets it can't yet see. As soon as these systems relay the information, the tank can eliminate them with indirect fire or call indirect fire backup that takes longer. The tank is still capable of direct fire if something unexpected pops into view, but the preferred mode would be to destroy without exposure. So we have a system capable of direct and indirect fire and a shift to a preference of indirect fire.

    5. We want the enemy troops to run and surrender.
      To just shoot at them directly just makes them dig faster.

      We need to get into line of sight, then the tanks make them despair and the infantry accepts their surrender and handles them.
      That's the ideal, not lots and lots of shooting.

      The lots and lots of shooting part should be the backup plan.

      Besides, I'm already more than average in favour of having tanks that are capable of serious indirect fires.
      My reasoning is rather about versatility and the fact that tanks are most of the time inactive 'fleet in being' rather than in contact or moving. Indirect fires are a tool in the box, but shelling is not preferable to overrunning.

  3. Indirect loitering munitions significantly aid the defenders. If they have ten thousand Kornets the track+gun system out-paces them inside the 2x2km box. If they have the same number of Lancets the tank moving on 40km/h tracks is now outpaced and attackable by a system flying 110km/h, which can reach in anywhere from a 30x30km box.

    1. Lancets are ineffective in the scenario.
      1) They are slow, thus late. Bandtrack tanks can arrive silently. A 2 km assault can be done in few minutes. Whole breakthrough through a 10 km deep defence can be done in an hour, exploiting surprise (at least 3rd line not manned properly yet).
      2) They depend on being able to transmit back a video stream, so only a few can be active in a small area at a time.
      3) That drops to zero when the assault is properly supported by RF jamming or the (emitting) base stations get triangulated and hit.
      4) They're easy targets for SPAAGs and air defence-capable RCWS.

  4. The US, but also other NATO countries seem to face a recruitment problem to fill their ranks and there's discussion of ending the all volunteer force if recruitment falls below a threshold. That would be the worst approach to reinstate conscription of demotivated conscripts. I know you already wrote a little bit on it, but maybe you can tell more about it, because a military with a shortage of recruits is unlikely to be well led and managed, which would explain all the other problems you criticize. If I understand history correctly, using the military for wars like Vietnam led to conscripts voting with their feet, necessitating the all volunteer force.

    1. See the militia series in March 2022.

      A militia as foundation and active service army&air force recruit already-tested volunteers from it.


    2. Thank you.

      Ukraine has conscription, but with around 700,000 in the military, they seem to be already running out of willing recruits. Could this also be the case here, that there's a war and hardly anybody is going there, and especially a high desertion rate among the trained professionals?
      "Stell dir vor, es ist Krieg und keiner geht hin. ..."

    3. Ukraine has a very high support for keeping up the defensive war. They could recruit France 1918-style (10% of population) + women in auxiliary roles without breaking IMO.
      Ukraine under attack is the most patriotic/nationalistic country outside of Asia at the moment IMO.

      They did suffer to some degree from not having trained enough men at basic military service and not enough junior leaders for the army. Too much (bloody) learning on the job for my taste.

      NATO has different issues; we outnumber the Russian Armed Forces without the North Americans and without counting conscripts.
      The countries that are actually threatened (Baltics, Finland, Poland, Romania, Turkey) can justify conscription IMO, but the others cannot justify sexually discriminating forced labour with partial loss of human rights, for they can simply use money to motivate enough citizens to join the forces instead.

  5. I'm not a huge fan of the tank indirect fire idea. Seems like a lot of compromises and they aren't designed for the weight of fire or ammo flexibility a dedicated artillery unit can generate. Might be useful as a niche capability, but I wouldn't want to rely on it.

    I'm also skeptical you can develop a reasonable high velocity tank gun where the propellant increments can be changed by the crew on the fly. Certainly not 120mm, which uses a fixed combustible case.

    A 120mm gun-mortar-launcher turret on the IFV might be more reasonable. DF HE mortar rounds would be useful against bunkers and urban targets. One could develop a light, unguided HEAT round for anti-armor and/or a gun-launched ATGM. Or a tube-launched UAV/loitering munition.

    Short-range, automatically laid, indirect fire, HE mortar rounds can be rather accurate even without guidance, perhaps 15-20m CEP at 1,000m.

    The Nemo mortar turret is tiny, but an IFV variant would need to carry ammunition in the turret, rather than the hull.

    It would obviously be much heavier than an APC, and more costly.

    1. Combustible cases can also be semi-fixed.

    2. I'm not aware of any attempts to make a semi-fixed, combustible, variable charge case, especially one where the projectile fins extend quite a ways down into the case. Maybe it could be done, I don't know.

      Stills seems like an organic fires battalion would be preferable. 15km won't out-range D-30s, let alone provide counter-battery vs 152mm guns.

    3. You don't need to outrange enemy arty if your formation is moving at 10 kph average on ops.

    4. And when enemy artillery drops mines in your path, or their attack helos or an ATGM team knock out your lead elements, or a vehicle breaks down and blocks your route.

      They'll be doing everything in their power to stymie your advance. Once they do, they'll rain artillery down on your formation.

      Plus, as you say in your writeup, "Even a raiding force is standing more than moving, after all."

    5. A rapid advance doesn't face an organised by-the-book resistance. And it's not the norm to allow the enemy one year to fortify front-lines.

      Broken-down vehicles get pushed off the road, it has always been so.

      And the 99% of the time the exploitation brigade is behind a front-line, these tanks can at least conduct indirect fire missions, which ordinary Western MBTs cannot. That's a plus.

      I stick to the opinion that a force for very mobile ops doesn't need to shoot at targets more distant than 4 km distance to its elements. But said elements must not be all bunched-up, so they can rapidly flank whatever resistance they encounter. Such a force of exploitation can destroy distant targets by closing with them before they are battle-ready, and that's usually more decisive than some shelling.

    6. A "rapid advance" faces whatever resistance the enemy can bring to bear. You don't get to chose.

      Artillery delivered mines and attack helos doesn't constitute a "fortified front line". It's what you expect when you break through those front lines.

      You're putting a lot on the tanks: primary VSHORADs, primary indirect fire, primary anti-armor capability, primary anti-bunker. How are they going to carry sufficient quantities and varieties of ammo for all of those tasks?

      Seems like they're going to need a multi-purpose, "Super HE" round that can do VSHORADS, indirect fire (with at least PGK-level guidance and airburst), light anti-armor, and bunker/trench busting. Might even need to be command guided to reach helicopters far enough out. Ka-52s are reportedly plinking Ukrainian vehicles at
      10+km. Are the tanks going to have radars capable of detecting and targeting helicopters and drones at that range?

      Even so, they still probably can't carry enough to deal with the multitude of small drones. You'll have to hope jamming continues to work.

    7. Maybe instead of a tank gun that can engage in indirect fire, flip it on its head and develop an artillery gun/turret that can occasionally engage in direct fire.

      Take the 105mm 52-cal G7 gun. It had an indirect fire range of over 30km with separate MACS-style bag charges. A PzH2000-level autoloading turret could burst fire 3-rnds in 9 seconds, or 10 rounds per minute. That's not any slower than a tank gun.

      The APFSDS design probably would suffer due to the bag charge design, but it's not supposed to engage in DF tank engagements much right?

    8. There's no artillery piece with satisfactory rate of fire for direct fire that reliably penetrates a T-90 glacis and isn't totally oversized.

      Smitty, I think you don't get the point; neither the technical nor the tactical side. I don't think I can explain it much better, though.

    9. You yourself say the need to engage in DF combat with T-90s is low. I agree. So it doesn't seem worthwhile to fixate on DF rate of fire or T-90 glacis penetration.

      Also, I don't really see the point of this unit as a distinct entity in an Army's force structure. Sure, you might want a task-organized "exploitation force" that can operate semi-independently behind enemy lines, but it should come from a more flexible parent organization that has broader utility.

      For example, cav squadrons in US service are much more heavily focused on recc/counter-recc, security and economy of force than pure exploitation of a breach.

      I also haven't seen how you intend an army composed of "line" and "exploitation" formations to create breaches in the first place (perhaps I missed this). Is it the slow grind of line formations? This is essentially what Ukraine is doing.

    10. Smitty, it's important for morale that the crew knows it can destroy enemy MBTs in any situation.

      Breakthroughs would be the result of a quick concentration of forces. Most of the effort would come from forces of the lie (&air power), the actual breakthrough past the first line may be done with forces of exploitation.

    11. In the rare case when they need to, they can kill T-72+ with top attack ATGMs (think LAHAT with IIR seeker and datalink).

      OTOH, they can actually contribute to the breakthrough with close-in indirect fires. Dispersion is a function of range, so moving the tank/arty battalion right behind the breakthrough force lets them fire indirect in support from shorter range, with greater precision without using guided munitions. 105mm also has less bang, so the breakthrough force can "lean on the barrage" for longer, with less risk of fratricide.

    12. So essentially the breakthrough force gets the near equivalent of an artillery _brigade_ in close, direct support.

    13. I don't trust something like Javelin or EuroSpike nearly as much as a 120 mm M8299A4 APFSDS-T.

      Else I'd have proposed using a rifled 105x617 mmR low recoil gun, which would require much less developmental work for the indirect fire role than 120 mm smoothbore.