The first part of this article is reproduced with the kind prermission of Carlton Meyer. Visit his website for the full article and his on-line book on related aspects of Future Warfare.
Advanced munitions have made top attack the favorite option for modern anti-tank weaponry, especially since it presents a larger target area. New TOW-2B, MPIM/SRAW Predator, Bofors BILL and Javelin anti-tank missiles, as well as advanced anti-tank gun rounds, are designed to over-fly a tank and fire a submunition downward. US Army 155mm SADARM munitions deploy a parachute and use an infrared sensor to fire an anti-tank charge downward. Bofors of Sweden is selling 120mm Strix anti-tank mortar rounds and 155mm BONUS projectiles with an infrared sensor in the nose. Long-range missiles can explode overhead and litter an area with anti-armor submunitions that try to explode through whatever they fall upon. High-flying aircraft can drop munitions which float downward until an infrared sensor acquires a target. Finally, a simple shoulder launched grenades can be fired downward from tall buildings or cliffs.
The ideal solution is to use armor spacing in a major way by adding a steel canopy over tank turrets. A large plate of steel about a half inch thick can be mounted 3-feet above the top of the tank turret, like a canopy. A simple design may resemble a large four-leg kitchen table welded to the turret. The one drawback that the rear area becomes exposed as the turret turns.
If the canopy extends two feet past the rear, it can better shield the infra-red signature of the engine, so infra-red guided munitions from above strike at the hot exhaust flowing out behind a moving tank. Another advantage is that the canopy serves as a roll bar to protect crewmen in hatches should the tank roll over.
A tank canopy also allows for tank curtains. These will be mounted on the sides and rear of the canopy and can instantly drop down or pulled up by the tank commander, much like drop curtains used in some theaters. These will be used by tanks dug into defensive positions wishing to hide from aircraft, helicopters, UAVs, and satellites. They will also be dropped if under attack from sensor guided munitions since the canopy only hides the engine heat directly above, while tank curtains will hide it completely, along with its road wheels that heat up from use. Of course tank curtains restrict the tank commanders visibility and use of this .50 caliber machine gun, and they are likely to catch on things and become ripped over time, but they will prove valuable.
Tank curtains will also confuse pilots using millimeter wave radar or infrared imagers as a faint tank image can no longer be recognized. The curtains may be furry to absorb laser light. Fur coats absorb around 80% of laser light as it is bounced around the fibers. Try this at home with a laser pointer. Furry curtains may cause incoming laser spot guided munitions like Hellfire to lose sight of their reflection. Tank canopies will also help hide tanks from satellites and aircraft. Even if an engine is cool, the sun quickly heats up a steel tank making it visible to infra-red sensors, especially after dusk. A tank canopy shades the tank and hides other infra-red sources underneath. It will also break up the distinctive shape of a tank turret, especially if the canopy has irregular curved edges. This is important because millimeter radar and lasers can map the surface in any weather looking for tank shapes, even under camouflage. Most likely, the canopy will be covered with brush and other camouflage. A steel canopy for a tank is an inexpensive and simple modification necessary to protect tanks on the modern battlefield.
Further thoughts on Tank roofs.
To allow as much traverse as possible the tank roof should be supported by a single pillar, or failing that, pillars on the same line.
The top of a roof should be rounded and/or sloped to help deflect hits and cause weapons such as molotovs and thermite grenades to roll off.
The roof also offers the opportunity for mounting other equipment. The underside of the roof can mount projectors for smoke and anti-personnel grenades. Downward looking fibre optic cameras could improve close range visibility. The roof can also mount more extensive radio antennae or provide a high vantage point for long range cameras and other sensory equipment. The vehicle exhausts should be taken up to roof level to aid fording ability.
In certain types of terrain the roof will prevent the turret top weapons responding to threats at a high elevation. Some means of folding the roof or swiveling it out of position or just ejecting it may be needed. Alternately, the roof can be constructed not from solid plate but from a grid of bars, which would stop large calibre missiles but still allow small arms to be fired through to suppress attackers.
And APCs too!
Current patrolling docrine has the rear hatch of vehicles like the M113 open with an infantryman watching each quadrant. While this improves situational awareness the open hatch is still a tempting target to grenades and molotovs.
The solution is a lighter version of the tank roof-effectively a sloped awning of chicken wire supported by four posts. Hole size is small enough to stop 30mm grenades while still allowing the infantrymen to fire at targets at high elevation. An alternate structure would be two arches with horizontal bars between them, and a covering of chicken wire. The bars stop larger projectiles such as RPGs and also provide support for the infantry's weapons.