This page has two main functions. First, it will suggest a new design of Tank Commander's cupola. Secondly it will suggest some features that may be desirable on upgraded M60s. Some of these features may be applicable to other vehicles, including the Abrams. Many of the ideas that will be covered here have come directly from Armoured Warfare expert Ralph Zumbro. Anyone who has read his book "Tank Sergeant" will know that Mr. Zumbro speaks from considerable personal experience.
The New Cupola. Many articles on future AFV design suggest that the next generation of vehicles will have much more effective sensor systems. One very intriguing idea is that of Virtual Transparent Armour. Information from external sensors, many of them mounted on the vehicles skin is processed so that crewmen wearing VR googles have the illusion that the vehicle hull is transparent. Some authors have even gone as far to suggest that future vehicles will no longer need such features as vision blocks or overhead hatches. Virtual Transparent Armour would be a very useful system, but as Ralph comments:-
In combat enough impacts from small arms fire would tend to eat the sensors away, and sooner or later, the commander will have to stick his pointy little head out, but the concept is workable. See the modern NetCam, which has enough sensors to almost equal the chemical nodes on camera film. It IS possible. What we need is both the electronic vision AND a vision ring.
In the past tanks have been blinded by such mundane devices as blankets, dirt and paint and the sensors above would be no less vulnerable. Weapons such as the adhesive smoke rounds that I have discussed will also have an unwelcome effect.
There is only so much information that you can gather from vision blocks and sensors. As my friend Larry Altersitz points out.
Some things need to be seen in the larger context and in 3 dimensions.
Obviously a commander who raises his head out of a tank is vulnerable to snipers, machinegun fire and shell fragments. I've pondered several ideas to reduce the risk.
One idea was for Tank Commanders (TCs) to use a variant of the heavy body armour used by helicopter crews in Vietnam. Since the commander's legs would remain in the tank this would look a bit like the half-suits of armour used in the 15th and 16th centuries. The modern version would include a helmet with a transparent visor and an armoured bevor. See my body armour article for details of the latter device.
Another idea was to create an robot commander's head. A set of sensors mounted on a joined arm that could move around like a TC. This would probably include a modified Firing Port weapon with a C-mag and would duck down into an armoured box to give it more protection when not in use. This device doesn't provide three-dimensional vision.
The most practical and useful solution is a device that I briefly mention in my comments on Carlton Meyer's articles on the M1A3. Some Israeli tanks have a commander's hatch that either hinges normally or can be lifted straight up like a manhole cover. This always reminds me of the opening titles of the cartoon Top Cat. The Urdan Cupolas(right) used on many Israeli tanks include the option of being opened with the hatch kept horizontal to produce a 70mm gap between the hatch and hull. The deep bowl of the hatch protects the TC's head above the eyes. Note that this model of cupola includes periscopes that can be retracted when not required. This design gives the commander some overhead protection as he has a look around. A transparent armored screen could be fitted beneath this. This would be opaque to infra-red so the commander can operate heads up and enjoy good visibility while not giving away the tank's position to Thermal Imagers. Some provision for the TC to use his own TI and NVG will be needed.
This was the basic idea, but some of the details needed work. For example, I was worried that the retracted "lookaround tube" would get in the way of the vision blocks. I came up with the solution while discussing the idea with my friend Bernie Forde. Ralph has commented that
"The M-60 turret and its cupola were one of the best designs we ever had, but the vision ring needs to be periscopic so that when something lethal penetrates the glass, the top of the TCs helmet serves to protect him from the spall."
I've based the sketch below on the M-60 cupola, but using a ring of periscopes instead of the direct vision slots.
As you can see, the vision block problem has been solved by simply raising them up with the hatch. This has the added advantage that the blocks can be used in conjunction with Thermal Imagers. I've not show the hydralic pistons that will probably raise the hatch. The commander's gun does not raise up with hatch and ring. I see no practical advantages to lifting an extra 38-50kg+ and several very real objections to doing this. Its been suggested to me that the tube could be tinted so that it is not obvious if the commander is using it. This might cut down vision and the fact that the tube is raises would tend to indicate that the TC is using it. When not in use the Look-around tube is retracted down into the turret, where sunlight cannot reflect from it and where it is protected from dust. When down the tube will help protect the TCs upper body from spalling caused by hits to other parts of the turret. The commander therefore has three options :-
He can travel with the tube lowered and rely on his sensors, VR or periscopes.
He can raise his Look-around tube and use his own eyes.
He can open his hatch and travel unbuttoned. This is obviously for low risk areas. The hatch of the M-60 cupola made a pretty good seat when opened, if I recall correctly.
I've shown the cupola with a .50 BHMG. I would have suggested upgrading to a .50 Gatling but Ralph is certain that he would want a 30mm ASP cannon. Several manufactures are now testing 30mm cannon rounds with Programmable Priming (PP) allowing shells to be airburst in the manner of the OCSW. Given that 30mm cannon rounds have a higher velocity, greater explosive capacity and can use a liner in its hollow charge it can be seen that the ASP would be a very lethal system. Such a cupola would also prove useful on vehicles such as the Abrams and M113 and could be retrofitted to vehicles already in service.
Alternately some Italian vehicles are fitted with TPT Mk4 folding gunshields(right). These are angled so that the side-pieces defend the gunner from both frontal and lateral fire. Such gunshields could be modified with bullet-proof windows to improve visibility and allow them to be used in conjunction with an Urdan-type cupola. Clear gunshields for the M113 are already available and being used in Iraq.
The Upgraded M60. Elsewhere I've discussed that in addition to the Abrams the army needs medium tanks that can work in close co-operation with infantry. There are several versions of upgraded M60 in service with various armies.
The idea of creating a medium tank from the Bradley IFV hull is discussed here.
The form of M60 I suggest would use a Abrams type turret but retain the 105mm rifled gun. If the main gun is capable of high elevation for indirect or high-trajectory direct fire this will be an advantage.
Dick Hunnicutt's book PATTON, has two intriguing references. One is the existence of a sensor for firing fender mounted charges to deflect incoming missiles. The other concerns the "SWIFTY" which was a 105mm version of the Shelleigh missile and could be fired from ANY 105mm bore, including the light howitzer.
If you get the book, look also at the Hunter turret, which used twin 105mm closed breech rocket launchers and had a 4000fps velocity at 4000 yards.
When I was researching for TANK ACES, I quickly found out that everything we had to learn in Vietnam about jungle tanking was learnt in Bataan and Guadalcanal in 42....And in Panama in 1926. The problem is institutional memory. The ONLY source available to modern soldiers is personal memiores. "Tank Sergeant" has been carried in tankers' pockets in Mogadishu, etc.
There has GOT to be a better way
The dual purpose ERA/Claymore has other potential uses. They could be fired automatically by a sensor system to act as a sort of anti-RPG/ATGW shotgun that detonates/damages projectiles while they are still several metres away. I'd like to see at least one BLVGL on the M60Z.
The dual co-axial armament of a .50 HMG and a 5.56mm minigun is interesting. One for close range suppressive fire and the other to "reach out and touch" light vehicles and other targets. A 30mm ASP or Chain gun would be one of the co-axial weapons of vehicles like the Tankita, and could be used instead of the .50.
Having a coincidence rangefinder in addition to a laser a sound idea. If nothing else it provides a backup if something happens to the laser.
You've mentioned close infantry support. Obviously there will be times that APCs are not available or you want the infantry close to the tank. If moving at any speed that means infantry riding on the tank and provision should be made so that troopers are not cooked by the engine heat, poisoned by exhaust fumes and don't fall off when moving cross country. I'd considered handles and foot rails, but then it occurred to me that if racks of Bar armour was fitted to the sides the infantry could hang onto them just like a ladder or the wall bars in a gym. Bar armour was used on rivercraft in Vietnam and proved very effective against RPG and RR rounds.
As another close defence system Sven Ortman has suggested AFVs fitted with a high pressure CS gas dispenser- think along the lines of a CO2 fire extinguisher. No use if the infantry are wearing masks, but most troops won't wear these unless a chemical attack is in progress.
A good proportion of M60Zs should have dozer blades in other words frontal shields. Tanks can push cars and trucks out of the way but rubble and other materials need a dozer blade.
So far the M60Z has a 105mm gun, 30mm cannon, 5.56mm minigun and co-axial .50, plus various grenade launchers, ERA-Claymores and other defensive systems. I'd also like to add a Mk-19 loaded with WP rounds, maybe for the Loader's hatch. Ideally this would be a dual feed weapon so you can rapidly switch to HE/HEDP or Beehive. Such a Mk-19 doesn't exist, but this may be possible for an adapted OCSW this can already feed from the left or right. The OCSW would be a nice weapon for the Loader's hatch. Since the OCSW uses "cans" rather than a belt feed it should be possible to more easily reload a OCSW with WP grenades when needed. If a Mk-19 is fitted then some form of machine gun may also be needed. Taken to a logical conclusion this suggested the loader's hatch mounts a turret like that of USMC LTVP-7 AAVs and other vehicles.
Unlike many proposed AFVs the M60Z will retain its human loader, and this is no bad thing. The number of sensors and other high-tech devices being proposed for digitalization may make an extra pair of hands and eyes very welcome. The loader also has the function of operating some of the defensive systems.
Another feature I'd like to see on the M60Z is provision on the turret for mounting ATGWs, FFAR, Stingers or "Soft-launch" missiles. The latter use captive piston systems and light weight countershot to produce a weapon that has very little muzzle or backblast. The muzzle blast of tank guns and even some light cannon such as the 25mm Bushmaster can be very dangerous to friendly infantry operating close to the vehicle. A pod of "soft launch" rockets or missiles mounted on the side of a turret gives the vehicle gunner an alternate option for destroying buildings or vehicles when support infantry are in close proximity.
FEEDBACK Emery Nelson writes:- On subject of tankers "scratching each others backs"; I was in an armor bn in the old FRG in 1973 when the Egyptians handed Israel an early ass kicking in the "Yom Kippur War". Just to give everyone a brief reminder, the Israelis lost hundreds of tanks to wire guided missiles. Many, in and out of the military, were saying that the tank was dead because these missiles would dominate the battlefield. Seemingly unknown to the army at the time, we had faced Saggers and Sappers in Vietnam. Through the efforts of experienced NCOs and junior officers we were able to put together some "facts" about the limitations and strengths of wire guided missiles and developed TTPs to counter them. These were practiced and taught throughout the bn for the rest of my time there. I don't think anyone in our bn was particularly worried about ATGMs because we'd been informed. Surprise and fear of the unknown are great determiners of a soldiers actions on the battlefield. These weapons were completely demystified in my unit. Other bns actually sent officers around to see what we're doing but there was never anything official done at div, Corps, army or DofA that I ever heard about. I took "Armor Mag" into the early 1980s and I continually heard about the danger of ATGMs but never saw anything like the TTPs that we worked on in the mid 70s. At some point we have to preserve the knowledge within the plt, company and bn. Knowledge can't reside with TRADOC it must be decentralized. We lose to much institutional knowledge with the turnover of personnel and that's got to stop.
In the age of the Internet it's unbelievable that we don't have some kind of company information system where we can store lessons learned from every officer and NCO in the unit.
The Scrapboard has tried to address this issue here