The threat from attack aircraft, attack helicopters, and precision-guided artillery munitions have made the idea of armored task forces nearly obsolete. Even if one assumes total air superiority, small scout helicopters may sneak up and snipe at tanks from afar, or they may mass for a swarm attack. The variety of top-attack munitions is great. 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 infrared anti-tank mortar rounds, and the British are selling a similar 81mm Merlin mortar round. The Bofors/GIAT 155mm BONUS projectiles that release two infrared seeking submunitions (below) are now for sale worldwide. Finally, Video-Guided Missiles and larger EFOGMs will appear.
In addition, 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 that float downward until an infrared sensor acquires a target, and the Brilliant Anti-Tank (BAT) munitions seek out loud engines. Radio Frequency (RF) seeking mortar rounds are also a threat. Some tankers dismiss top-attack threats because these munitions usually miss their targets. However, a few hundred top-attack munitions fired at an armored battalion will cause much devastation, even if only 10% hit a target.
While a Steel Canopy can save armored vehicles, they will suffer damage and tank commanders will die if their hatch is open. As a result, tank designers need to copy the towed decoy idea used by attack aircraft. A simple decoy system may consist of a ten foot pole that folds out from the rear of an armored vehicle and is inclined slightly upward, or extends from its steel canopy if so equipped. It will have a coiled base like large whip antennas so it can bend if necessary. This will make the vehicle will look like it has an animal tail.
The end of this pole will include an antenna for the vehicle's RF transmissions. As a result, enemy RF seeking munitions will explode several feet behind the vehicle. Near the end of the pole will be a heating coil that produces a hotter infrared signature than the vehicle's engine, especially if the engine is shielded by a steel canopy. However, a steel canopy only protects from top-attack munitions, infrared seeking missiles will attack from the side, and will choose the hot heating coil decoy instead of the tank. In addition, an enemy gunner using a thermal imaging device may only have a faint glow to target because his thermal sights are less sophisticated, or he is firing at long-range or in bad weather. As a result, that gunner will aim at the glowing tail. Finally, fast moving night attack aircraft haven't time to study targets, so they are likely to fire at the hottest spots below, which may be a decoy tail several feet behind each tank.
A Guiding Light
A final addition is an upward facing visible floodlight on the tail. This can be turned on at night if a tank column finds itself under surprise attack from helicopters or enemy forces on its flanks. Anti-tank gunners will naturally fire at a moving light knowing that is a vehicle. Enemy gunners with infrared imagers are also likely to choose a moving light instead. If ambushed by insurgents armed with RPGs at night, drivers may turn on their tails to entice the RPG gunners to aim at those, because a moving light must be a moving vehicle. A final advantage is that an armored column caught in an ambush suffers from great confusion; the visible tail lights prevent friendly fire.
The United States has developed a sophisticated Identify Friend or Foe (IFF) system for armored vehicles. This is based on the system used by aircraft and anti-aircraft systems so they can distinguish friends from foes. However, allies are unlikely to have such a system, or an enemy may learn to duplicate the system by pulling it off destroyed or captured US military equipment. In addition, the system may be damaged or not working. These IFF systems are sometimes dangerous because it becomes easy for pilots or tank gunners to assume that any armored vehicles that do not provide a response to IFF must be an enemy vehicle.
A light system is a very simple backup. Colored plastic floodlight inserts allow crews to easily change colors. Prior to an operation, units can establish a simple color code, which may be changed at times if an enemy learns them. The color green may be used for the first week to indicate a friendly vehicle, then the color blue the next week, and so on. It may become standard for attack pilots to confirm the location of his forward air controller with: "Request you flash your guide light twice." If units are engaged in combat at night, it may become common for an attack aircraft to request "guide lights on" as he begins a strafing run so he is provided with a very accurate look at the exact location of friendly combat vehicles before he delivers ordnance.
In addition, trucks and other non-combat equipment have no IFF system. All military vehicles must be equipped with a simple roof mounted floodlight that they can switch on if needed. Convoys on their way forward may leave their roof lights on the entire time to discourage strafing attacks from friendly aircraft or gunfire from nervous troops at checkpoints or confused friendly combat units. Of course such lights may help an enemy, but it is an option if warranted. Certainly, if a column is suddenly strafed by a friendly aircraft, all drivers will immediately turn on their roof light.
Recall that 25% of American casualties in all wars have been caused by friendly fire. There may be occasions when large units become dangerously intermingled at night, as occurred several times during the 1991 Gulf war. In such cases, a Corps commander may order all vehicles to turn on their guide lights until things are sorted out. This will enable a commander flying overhead to instantly view the situation below, especially if different units use different colored lights. This concept of using "guide lights" is simple, yet it isn't used today.
Armored units need notice if deadly precision-guided munitions are inbound. The only warning they have today is a shrieking sound just before impact. The first step is to add a counterbattery radar system, like the "Firefinder" (below), on a tracked countermeasures vehicle. This will provide several seconds warning of incoming artillery, mortars, and high-flying missiles. This system must be able to operate on the move. This may not allow it to pinpoint the origin of projectiles, but it should be able to detect them airborne so that it can stop and take reading to determine if they are a threat. This may be difficult with traditional radar, but not with newer AESA radar.
If projectiles threaten their unit the alarm can be sounded so that vehicles close hatches and take actions depending on the type of munitions they have encountered in previous attacks. If infrared sensor munitions are expected, they may shut down engines, pop flare decoys, and drop canopy curtains. If video-guided munitions are a threat, they may seek cover under trees to hide from human gunners or they may pop smoke, although that may only help the enemy video gunners. Finally, if RF sensor munitions have been used, they don't use RF communications until all clear is sounded. Perhaps an infrared communications system should be installed on armored vehicles to evade RF sensor munitions and prevent targeting by distant RF directional finding equipment.
Depending on the distance of those who fired these munitions, counterbattery fires may be requested. A message may be sent providing a grid to supporting artillery for counterfires. On the other hand, if the fire is coming from just a couple thousand meters ahead, lead tanks may charge forth at top speed to overrun the threat. Another option is use 40mm autocannons for counterfires. Given a grid, a computerized fire control system would allow them to quickly unleash a barrage of a few hundred 40mm shells indirectly at targets several thousand meters away.
This mobile counterbattery radar vehicle should include armament in the form of a blinding laser mounted on a turret. Such lasers have already been developed for aircraft to blind small anti-aircraft missiles guided by infrared sensors. They will be much more effective in this role when fired from a stable ground vehicle and the beam can be guided by the radar, all on a turret. This laser will "paint" incoming missiles and projectiles to damage their infrared sensor. In the case of video-guided missiles, they will attempt to damage optics or at least blind the distant video gunners for a critical few seconds.
Lasers can also be used against helicopters and aircraft, targeting pilots, their fire control optics, and incoming sensor missiles. The British used ship-based lasers to disrupt the aim of Argentine attack pilots during the 1983 Falklands war. Ideally, this will be a visible laser, like those seen at light shows. This will help tank and APC commanders see targets to engage, or at least fire where the laser is aiming. If a visible laser points at a distant hillside where a helicopter is lurking and a company's heavy machine guns open fire, it will not fly much longer. The US Army has developed a much larger mobile laser to destroy incoming targets that may become useful.
It would be nice if this countermeasures vehicle can mount its own anti-aircraft gun. However, this requires much more weight and is impractical since the pounding recoil of the gun will interfere with the large radar. In contrast, solid state lasers are small and produce no recoil. This doesn't mean this vehicle must be defenseless. A basic 40mm automatic grenade launcher will be mounted on the top of this vehicle. This can provide general purpose firepower for self-defense, but the gunner will have the option of firing mixed belts of unusual countermeasures ammunition. The rounds in this mixed belt may alternate between aluminum chaff (to confuse radar), flares (to confuse infrared), starburst like fireworks (to confuse infrared and gun sights), and proximity fuze rounds (to threaten helicopters). Of course the gunner will take care not to engage the same target area as his vehicle's laser system, lest he confuse its own radar resulting in a hard punch to his leg from the radar operator below.
While firing mixed belts of 40mm grenades is a crude method of jamming, it may be required if the radar or laser or turret is not working. It can also be employed instantly should a unit be ambushed while on the move. It will take several seconds for this vehicle to stop and employ its radar and laser system. Meanwhile, the 40mm gunner can fire a couple dozen rounds from his mixed belt. This will confuse and frighten the enemy with an assortment of "fireworks". The next time you see the grand finale at a fireworks demonstration, imagine how that might confuse sensor guided munitions.
One problem is that radar may attract radar-guided missiles like HARMs or other RF-guided munitions. In such cases, the radar must shut down a few seconds prior to impact while the vehicle dashes forward and the gunner throws up fireworks. If these threats are extremely serious, tanks may replace their tank commander's .50 caliber machine gun with a 40mm grenade launcher so each tank can fire mixed belts. The best countermeasure techniques will quickly become known. While the lasers will be effective at blinding pilots and spotlighting them with a visible laser, it may be impractical to blind small incoming munitions, in which case the 40mm firing mixed belts is more effective. In addition, laser effectiveness greatly diminishes in poor weather.
This second gunner in the second turret hatch could operate a shoulder-fired Stinger anti-aircraft missile system. This employment method is more effective than the costly $1 million turret system developed for the Avenger and Bradley. A man standing in a hatch has far better situational awareness than one inside a turret. Moreover, he can turn and aim in any direction in two seconds, while a turret requires several seconds to turn. A Stinger gunner has only around four seconds to aim and fire at a low-flying jet attack aircraft. A man with a shoulder-fired system can pivot and usually get an infrared lock and fire in that time. Those in a turret will only be able to engage if the aircraft happens to fly directly in front of their sight.
A third countermeasures device this vehicle may include is a version of the "Shortstop" proximity fuze countermeasure system, (left) which causes artillery, mortar, and missile proximity fuses to detonate prematurely. These may be mounted on every vehicle's canopy, unless it produces signals that may attract RF munitions. A final device for this vehicle is a millimeter radar detector, ideally one that can point out the direction of the emission. The technology for all these countermeasure ideas exist, they just need to be integrated into a dedicated munitions countermeasures vehicle, and tactics devised to coordinate counterfires and jamming. Flights of strike aircraft are always accompanied by a dedicated jammer aircraft like the EF-18G. Given the vulnerability of armored forces to precision-guided munitions, each maneuver battalion should have several countermeasures vehicles, and more if they expect to fight without air superiority.