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MBT in modern land warfare

The evolution of multidimensional new age battlefield has rendered the modern MBTs insignificant and vulnerable to attack from air and hence the future battlefield will have an entirely different scenario.

To make them play an effective role, the Indian Army recently conducted a multidimensional exercise Drad Sankalp involving the deployment of T-90 MBTs.

The MBT’s are used only in cross border offensive missions and defensive role in land warfare. But land warfare in modern battlefield is not conducted in total isolation.

Modern land warfare will always be supported by air assets, which has rendered the tank a sitting duck.

Either an attack helicopter equipped with latest anti-tank missiles which are used to provide air cover to moving tanks can knock down the enemy MBTs or a fighter aircraft with the laser rockets can easily penetrate the tank armor and the entire tank formation can be turned into grave yard of tanks within minutes.

Hence, if tank warfare has to be successful the defending army must be accompanied by a superior air cover.

That means if an army has a superior air cover like the well networked fighter support, the tanks will be well defended and survive.

However, if the soldiers of the defending army has got the shoulder-fired anti- tank missile, it also can stop the advance of the enemy tank formations.

Vulnerability

Is this the reason that the US army is no longer asking the modern armor companies to develop a better version of the Abrams tank, which were originally developed in seventies?

The US army would probably not require their deployment across the borders and would not also need to take them over distant lands. Remember, the US army did not take its Abrams tanks to Afghanistan against the well equipped Taliban militia.

One of the disadvantages a Main Battle Tank has that it cannot be employed in all terrain, especially mountainous or hilly terrain.

In fact, modern warfare requires light and easy mobile units. A heavy MBT weighs around 60-70 tonne. Most of the modern armies have changed their land war doctrine and hence the specific use of tanks in the battle field has reduced.

The tanks can be challenged by modern attack helicopters and fighters. It is also said that a thousand dollar anti-tank missile can take on the 5-7 million dollar tank easily.

Gone are the days, when the Asal Uttar battlefield in the Khemkaran sector in the 1965 war was turned into graveyard of Pakistani Patton tanks.

In the future Indo-Pak war, whoever decides to move with the tank formations, will have to first ensure two-layered air cover.

Besides, the first level of attack helicopters equipped with antitank missiles, these helicopters also need to be provided with second level superior air cover like the Sukhoi-30s or similar fighters equipped with long range air to ground weapons and be able to provide full cover to the helicopters from the enemy air attack.

In fact, these fighters also need to be assisted by AWACS or similar air surveillance to prevent the enemy fighters from approaching the battlefield with a long distance, say of two to three hundred kilometres.

However, on the other hand, if a force has air supremacy from the very beginning of the battle, the enemy MBTs will be ineffective and own MBTs will be able to march ahead and use them as a valuable pawn on the Chess board.

Even if the enemy has superior air cover, the enemy tank formations can be obstructed by a well equipped infantry with anti tank missiles.

In this scenario, it would be worth examining the real tactical value of Main Battle Tanks in the India-Pakistan context or India-China context.

Since India- China land battle can be fought only with an infantry or the artillery soldiers on the back of light howitzer guns, MBTs in India-China war cannot be deployed because of the mountainous terrain.

Limited option


However, India-Pakistan border areas from Rajasthan to Punjab still present an ideal battlefield for tank warfare.

In this warfare, Indian army in the first week of December tested its efficacy in the war exercise named Drad Sankalp in which the MBTs were used in synergy with other modern elements of warfare.

The training exercise was conducted by the Indian Army’s Southern Command during which battle tanks were used in a swift offensive in the desert terrain in a network centric environment in close coordination with long range artillery and air force.

The focus of the exercise has been on validation of operational preparedness of the formations and units to the evolving doctrine of the Indian Army to launch swift offensive.

The exercise has presented an excellent opportunity to the formations and units to gauge their operational preparedness while operating in a highly intense, dynamic and fluid operational environment.

Participation included entire spectrum of ground forces to include fighting arms, combat support arms duly supported by services and logistics, force multipliers like Army Aviation, Special Forces and Electronic Warfare System in conjunction with Indian Air Force were also used.

The exercise presented integrated operational manoeuvres of the formations, the aspect of synergy between Army and Air Force in launching coordinated air-land battle and the ability to orchestrate battle in network centric environment.

The Drad Sankalp exercise has shown that in today’s battlefield the MBTs can only be used in a highly multidimensional and integrated environment.

This exercise has emphasized the importance of technology and innovation in the fast changing battlefield scenario.

Modern battle field requires combined arms of infantry and mechanized forces in coordination with airborne troops.

Networked radars, UAVs and aerial surveillance platforms ensure continuous flow of information resulting in battlefield transparency which enables the commanders to assess and modify their operational plans to meet the emerging challenges.

However, in view of the fast tracked mobility, modern armies are switching to Light Armoured Vehicles (LAV) and Future Armored Vehicle System (FAVS).

Since the Main Battle Tanks are designed to face enemy tanks and fortified positions, they are meant mainly for conventional warfare and in order to engage it in effective combat they need outside support as infantry of Air Defence.