Anti-tank Guns and Anti-armour battalions
Most Russian Mechanized Infantry (Motor Rifle), Motorized Infantry and Infantry Divisions have an Anti-tank battalion. Often these battalions can also be found down at Brigade level too.
The structure of these battalions is worth studying. They usually include:-
The exact organization can vary. One version is shown here
- Three battlefield surveillance radar systems.
- Four or Five scout cars, usually BRDMs
- An ATGW battery of 9 or 12 vehicles, usually BRDMs mounting AT-5. Each vehicle also has an RPG-7 for close range defence.
- One or two batteries of Anti-tank guns, each with six 100mm or 125mm weapons towed by MT-LBs
The Anti-tank guns are of particular interest since in many modern armies towed anti-tank guns have been entirely replaced by ATGWs and are considered by many to be obsolete.
ATGMs can engage targets at ranges of 3,000m or more but are not without their drawbacks. They are vulnerable to countermeasures and have long flight times. Many models have a minimum range of at least 50m. Long range systems are supposed to be supported by infantry anti-tank weapons but these usually only have an effective range of around 400m. In the Gulf it was found that Long-range missiles were most effective if complemented by the high velocity guns of tanks, especially if the enemy had closed to within 2000m but was beyond Infantry ATW range. The guns of the Russian Anti-tank battalion provide the same capability without the unit relying on expensive MBTs that may be needed elsewhere.
A tank force will often be accompanied by more lightly armoured threats such as Reconnaissance vehicles and Infantry Carriers. An anti-tank gun is a more effective and economical means to destroy such threats and frees missile systems to deal with more heavily armoured tanks. Most anti-tank gun designs can manage a rate of fire of around 8-12 rounds per minute, much higher than ATGW systems.
The Russian Anti-tank battery described is a fairly small formation. Six guns, seven prime movers, a medium truck and a trailer.
Classic anti-tank guns such as the PAK-36 and Six-pounder could be hidden under a small bush and wheeled around the battlefield by a couple of men. Guns of the power needed to kill a modern MBT need to be much larger but the Russians appreciate that such weapons can still be very effective in the defence of a static position. Their Anti-tank gun batteries are often used to guard the flank of a formation.
Modern Russian ATGs are capable of firing their own guided projectiles, extending their range to 5,000m. They can also be used for indirect fire with ranges as long as 8,200m or 12,200m.
The Russian M1944/BS-3 rifled 100mm gun that predates the smooth-bore T-12/MT-12 was designed as both an anti-tank gun and a field piece and differs from the T-12/MT-12 by having an elevation of +45° and a maximum range of 21,000m. The Chinese use a version of this gun in border artillery regiments and the Czechs have a similar weapon, the M53.
The 2A45M uses the same three trail design as the D-30 howitzer, not only giving 360° traverse but also making the weapon a more manageable tow.
Is there a case for anti-tank gun batteries in a modern western army?
The capability to supplement missile systems has already been mentioned. Any position held by infantry will be greatly reinforced by the assignment of just one anti-tank gun. Such guns would also strengthen a position against other forms of attack.
Need to control a crossroads or mountain pass? Need to defend an airfield against ground and air assault? All these are jobs for an Anti-tank gun section.
- Tanks can destroy low flying helicopters with APFSDS and MP-AT rounds so the same capability should be possible with ATGs, which can be expected to have a higher elevation than a tank mounted gun. APERS and Cargo rounds with Aerial Mines may also be used against helicopters.
- When provided with HE or HESH ammo the ATG also has direct and indirect fire capability against infantry and fortifications.
- The accuracy of an anti-tank gun can be used to place smoke and WP rounds to guide attack aircraft.
Anti-tank guns don't just have a defensive role. The German 88mm was a much larger weapon than the current Russian guns but crews often used these is a very aggressive manner. It was once common for such weapons to advance just behind the infantry and armour and quickly deploy to provide supporting fire whenever needed.
What form would a modern Anti-tank gun system take?
There are three likely choices of calibre:-
- Ideally it would be capable of being towed by either an M113 or a HMMWV.
- It should be light enough to be moveable by helicopter. Ideally it should be UH-60 liftable.
- It should have a gunshield for crew protection and be of a low silhouette so that is can be more easily camouflaged. A D-30 or M777 type carriage would be desirable. This would allow the weapon to be easily transported on the flatbed of a truck or M1108 if desired.
- It should incorporate a rangefinder and night vision/ thermal imaging systems.
- A low recoil 90mm gun as used on various armoured cars. Switzerland used to use the 90mm PAK 57 anti-tank gun of only 530kg overall weight. The 1989-92 CFE (Conventional Forces Europe) treaty limits the numbers of weapons of 100mm or greater. Due to this Treaty several nations are already developing 98mm Heavy Mortars. We may see increased re-interest in old artillery weapons such as the Russian 85mm Divisional gun and the Romanian 98mm Mountain Howitzer as well as more modern 90mm designs.
- A high velocity 75-76mm weapon. The GT4 used on the Rooikat is one such weapon and the 75mm ARES weapon was tested on a carriage mount. The 76/90mm weapon proposed for the Tankita is also possible.
- The most likely choice, however, is a 105mm rifled gun. The British designed L7 gun (known in the US as the M68) is still widely used throughout the world and variants are still in use on vehicles such as the M60 and the M8 so this would simplify ammo supply. Updated versions of this weapon have reduced weight and recoil and the ammunition is still a credible threat to MBTs at ranges in excess of 1,800m. The larger calibre would also simplify the creation of guided projectiles. Several nations have developed or are developing these. For example, Israel has developed the LAHAT guided round for various 105mm weapons including the 106mm RCLR. All 105mm howitzer shells can be fired at tank gun velocities, so rounds such as Smoke or Beehive/APERS can easily be created.
A modern Anti-Tank Gun might resemble the French LG105 Mk I.
A firing platform is lowered automatically when the trail legs are opened, so it only takes 30 seconds to bring the weapon in and out of action.
The 105mm ATG will mainly be used with APFSDS, HEAT and HESH (HEP) rounds. The HEAT round may be of MP-AT configuration with a proximity fuse for use against helicopters. HESH rounds are proven vehicle killers and bunker busters and often eliminate the need for separate HE rounds. Rounds such as WP and Smoke may also be needed, and another possibility is for CS filled chemical rounds. The APERS round developed for the M68/L7 contained 5,000 12gr Flechettes. At 300m from the burst point the flechettes covers an arc 94m across. Rounds such as the 105mm TPDS-T may be used in situations where collateral damage is a concern.
The Austrian Experimental ATG N-105 Gun in the 80s mounted a L7 105mm Tank gun on a carriage with a long recoil mechanism. It could be handled by a 6 man crew.
Other than the experimental Austrian N-105 gun (above) I'm not aware of the L7/M68 gun being used in any other applications other than as a vehicle armament so I do not have any data about its range when fired at high elevations. The ranges I have for indirect fire from tanks are for HESH rounds at 732 m/s which is not representative of the full potential of the weapon. Because they are designed to flatten on impact HESH rounds are made with thin walls and this limits the maximum velocity at which they can be fired.
We can gain some impression of how the 105mm L7 might perform by looking at its closest equivalent, the D-10 rifled 100mm gun used on the T-55. The same ammunition is used by the Russian M1944 (BS-3) and Czech M53 100mm guns. Firing the 15.6 kg Frag-HE round at 900 m/s at a maximum elevation of 18º a T-55 has an indirect fire range of 14,600m. The M53 and M1944 have a elevation of 42-45º and have a maximum range of 21,000m with the same round at the same muzzle velocity.
Several nations produce HE rounds for the L7 gun. These range in weight from 16.6-27 kg and are fired at muzzle velocities of up to 850 m/s. It seems reasonable to assume that mounted on a towed carriage capable of high elevations the L7 gun should have a range of at least 20,000m. For comparison the 105mm M119 gun fires the 14.97 kg M760 HE round at 633m/s to 14,500m.
Having a six-gun Anti-Tank Gun battery available will prove useful in many operations other than anti-armour. Such a battery would be part of a divisional or corps controlled Anti-tank battalion which includes its own surveillance and scouting capabilities. A possible structure would be.
Calling this an Anti-tank or Anti-armour battalion is a little deceptive, since systems such as the guns and EFOG-M have far wider applications. If someone comes up with a better name, let me know. My best effort is Gun and Missile Battalion, which can at least be shortened to GamBi.
- Scout/Liaison detachment. Equipped with Wiesel, M1114 HMMWVs or scout cars such as the British army Ferret or ASV. Equipped with systems such as battlefield radar, laser designators and long range thermal imagers. The Scout detachment may also direct the attacks of artillery, aircraft or helicopters.
- Anti-tank gun battery with six 105mm guns and prime movers.
Each gun section has a machine gun team for local defence and the prime mover is also armed with a HMG. The HMG can be dismounted or fired from the vehicle and can also be used for against light vehicles and helicopters.
The battery commander's vehicle doubles as a spare prime mover. The battery also has vehicles and trailers for ammo and other equipment.
Battery will be either M113 or HMMWV based.
- ATGM battery equipped with a dozen TOW, FOTT or Hellfire armed vehicles, either M113 or HMMWV.
Some Russian ATGMs are available with Thermobaric warheads, so have broader applications than anti-tank use.
The Anti-tank battalion is a good candidate for equipping with EFOG-M. This would give the battery a capability of striking at targets in excess of 8-10km range.
The battery would probably have several types of missile based on the same airframe. This would include Fibre optically guided, wire guided, laser guided and even unguided Dumb rockets. There would also be a range of different warhead types.
The M901 Improved TOW vehicle only has two launch tubes, and current TOW armed HMMWVs use a single tube launcher. A better system would be to use four to six tubes like the BRDM. Different types of missile could be held ready to launch or several Fire and Forget missiles fired at once. The HMMWV mounted Hellfire demonstrated a suitable launcher and the XM44 HMMWV used with EFOGM could be modified to work with other types.
The missile platoon also needs some form of cannon armament to destroy vehicles such as trucks and jeeps. This may be done by arming some of the vehicles with 30mm ASP cannon or may involve vehicles mounting 40mm or 57mm guns.
- Mortar section mainly used to provide illumination and smoke. 81mm or 120mm weapons carried by HMMWV.
- MANPADS Stinger platoon. See Update
- The battalion may have its own UAV/RPV reconnaissance squad. Another option is that the unit could operate at least one lightweight scout helicopter from the back of a truck. It's possible that the RPV or Helicopters could also launch ATGMs.
Given the versitility of these weapons it may be more appropriate to call them the Multi-Role Gun-Towed.
There are two options for deploying the Anti-armour battalions. One is to include them as part of the TOE of a Division. The other is to have them as Corps controlled formations and assign them to Divisions or Brigades that face a considerable armoured threat. This latter option would also allow the unit to be assigned to help units that encounter special situations. Both the guns and the EFOG-Ms of the battalion would prove useful in the mountains of Afghanistan.
Emery Nelson has long been an advocate of providing troops with towed gun systems. It was he that made me aware that Anti-tank guns have applications other than destroying tanks and have some advantages over tanks and assault guns. He comments:-
"Phil, liked the AT gun stuff quite a bit. Gives some depth to a largely misunderstood subject. It's an odd paradox that rich western armies are rapidly shrinking and may find the need for cheap and easily deployable towed guns if we are forced on to the defensive in future conflicts. The Whermacht 88s prolonged the war for a considerable time and although not the ideal weapon for offensive action there's nothing better for stopping armor offensives, controling LOCs and protecting flanks during rapidly moving but limited offensives. The idea that a tank is just as good assumes that we have lots of POL and spare parts to keep them going. Although western armies traditionally don't worry much about logistics, if the trend towards light expeditionary units (like those in Afghanistan) continues, we must think about ways to increase firepower with the limited transport available to us. AT Guns may have a place."
The Starstreak ADA missile has recently been demonstrated to be a very effective anti-tank weapon. In this light I suggest that the above ADA platoon be expanded to battery strength and equiped with Starstreak armed vehicles.
The unit would therefore have three main batteries:-
Apache Longbow is planned to make use of a millimetric radar guided version of Hellfire and it is possible that the Hellfire equipped vehicles could have the same capability, rather like this Russian system.
- An Anti-tank Gun Battery
- A Starstreak anti-tank/anti-aircraft battery
- An EFOG battery, possibly with Hellfire launching capability too
The mortar section of the battalion can also utilize guided projectiles for capability against moving targets.
Where towed anti-tank guns do have a place on the modern battlefield, it is unlikely that the US army would be willing to adopt a towed direct-fire system. I have suggested a possible design for a lightweight, low-profile tank destroyer but such a vehicle comes with its own problems. Many commanders will attempt to use Tank destroyers as Tanks, then deride the concept for not performing in a role it was not designed for.
A more prudent idea may be to provide the Anti-armour Battalion/Company with light tanks to serve in the Tank Destroyer role. Vehicles such as the M8 AGS, CV90105, CV90120 and Sprut-SD are possible candidates. Such an approach has several advantages such as having a vehicle platform common to other units, simplified logistics and maintenance.
This suggests an Anti-armour formation that has a passing resemblance to a heavy cavalry troop in structure.
Mixed Detachments of Tank Hunters and Destroyers would be attached to other formations or positions that needed reinforcement. The missiles of the hunters would engage distant, heavily armoured or precision targets while the Destroyers would provide local defence, engage nearer or softer targets and mop up.
- There would be a scout platoon or section that would also serve for liasion and firing site reconnaissance. Likely this will have a mix of M113s and Land Rovers.
- There would be a mortar section or platoon. In addition to providing smoke and illumination for the direct fire systems the mortars could also use HE, DPICM and Area Denial munitions.
- There would be one or more Tank Destroyer Platoons with light tanks such as the M8. In addition to providing fire to supplement the ATGWs they would engage lighter armoured targets, provide local defence and mop up.
- There would be several Tank Hunter platoons. These would use a tracked armoured platform with multiple launch tubes.
- The unit would also have FIST/JUS and ADA assets.