The modern battlefield is rapidly changing and old assumptions about the use of tanks and other armor are in doubt. This means that some adversaries who lack the latest up-to-date systems may find themselves in big trouble. Especially North Korea.
In 1975, on the last leg of a Middle East trip, I visited the US Embassy in Tel Aviv. One of the defense attachés there told me Israel was well along on developing its own battle tank, but that the embassy didn’t know much about it. Early the next morning I met with Israel’s Defense Minister, Shimon Peres.
He made the error of asking what he could do for me. I responded by saying I wanted to see the new tank. Surprisingly, he immediately agreed and later that morning I was bundled off to the Israel tank center at Tel HaShomer in south Tel Aviv, near Ramat Gan. There I got a stiff lecture on security meted out by an unhappy colonel. But after the lecture, I met up with General Israel Tal (1924-2010), known by his nickname Talik. He was probably the world’s leading tank expert and he had set out on a mission to improve Israeli tanks in light of the beating they took in the 1973 war. Himself a very-left-leaning Labor party member, when it came to the security of his troops he was quite ferocious. And he was a great expert on tank warfare and an admirer of Rommel.
Tal took me in hand and explained the multiple tragedies of 1973, including the heavy losses of tanks – especially American M-60 Patton tanks, which suffered the biggest losses against a new generation of Russian anti-tank weapons, including the Sagger, that had shown up on the battlefield. Unlike the British Centurion tanks, which were able to survive hits, the M60s were not so lucky.
Some think armor warfare is a thing of the past – but take a look at China, or North Korea, or Russia, or the United States, and you get a different impression. North Korea in particular has a very heavy armored force, if not the newest one.
The United States armor force is also aging, with America’s main battle tank being the M-1 Abrams. The Abrams has plenty of advantages: very strong composite armor and a big, German-origin Rheinmetall 120mm gun, plus the latest electronics. But as ISIS has demonstrated, Abrams tanks can still be destroyed.
The Abrams was the first big improvement in American tanks: it offered a much better fighting silhouette, a super-powerful turbine engine (although it’s also a gas guzzler), an excellent suspension and other significant upgrades over previous models. But the Abrams tank has seldom been used in high intensity combat against a professional military, still leaving questions about its performance either against foreign tanks such as Russia’s T-90 or emerging Armata, or against the latest generation of Russian anti-tank weapons, including the Kornet (the 9M133). The improved version of the Kornet model EM is claimed to be able to defeat reactive armor added to tanks for additional protection.
Hezbollah, operating in Lebanon in 2006, claimed to have destroyed four Merkava tanks and hit others. This led Israel to put active protection systems on some of its tanks using an Israeli-designed solution called Trophy. In 2014, in fighting in Gaza, Israeli tanks with equipped with Trophy intercepted 15 anti-tank missiles fired at them, destroying all of them. Most were Kornets. Trophy also directed the tank guns to be able to locate and destroy a number of the launchers.
Russian has developed three different active protection systems, although one of them (Drozd) is obsolete. One called Arena is designed to counter rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and anti-tank missiles. Manufactured by the Kolomna Machine Building Design Bureau (KB Mashinostroyenia, or KBM) near Moscow, the Arena-E has been exported to South Korea and is being used on South Korea’s K2 tanks. (The South Koreans also say they have developed their own active protection system.)
The most advanced active protection system produced by Russia is known as the Afghanit, also produced by KBM. What makes it special is that it is supposed to be capable of defeating projectiles with depleted uranium cores. The Russians see the Afghanit as an answer to US “DU” (depleted uranium) tank shells. While DU is controversial, because of its latent radioactivity and potential long-term health effects, the US continues to use it, including in Syria. The Russians also have DU, so both sides are fully cognizant of the risks but want DU because it is the best armor penetrator available, far ahead of tungsten carbide, the nearest competitor.
The US does not currently have an active protection on its Abrams tanks and armored vehicles (namely the Stryker combat vehicle and the Bradley fighting vehicle). There has been some considerable controversy as to why not. The US Army stubbornly pursued its own active defense system in a project that stretched for some twenty years. However the system never was qualified.
Cheap anti-tank weapons could turn Kim’s tanks on the battlefield into nothing more than junkyard wrecks
Recently the Army decided to buy some off the shelf systems from three suppliers, two of them Israeli. These included the Trophy, made by Rafael, Iron First from IMI and Artis’s (Virginia-based) Iron Curtain. Of these, Trophy is being installed on a tank brigade and is being deployed in Europe. The first 100 units are under delivery. The Artis system has run into technical problems and may or may not end up being fully tested.
The decision to upgrade the Abrams, plus the Bradley and Stryker, comes from recent experience in Iraq and Syria. ISIS has released footage of an Abrams tank being hit and destroyed, and this was not the only Abrams destroyed. Clearly Russian improvements in anti-tank systems, as evidenced by Kornet, demonstrate the challenge facing armor systems.
It would make a lot of sense to get active protection on US tanks in South Korea, sooner rather than later. The US Army has not impressed anyone by its lethargy in modernizing tanks and fighting vehicles.
If proof is needed, look what happened to the Leopard II, a greatly admired tank. The Turkish Army, in its attacks on the Kurds in Iraq and Syria, has been experiencing significant tank losses against a poorly equipped adversary. In particular, Leopard II tanks from Germany –often well thought-of as superbly designed tanks – have been blown up by the underequipped Kurds, who do not have any armor of their own. The two losers are the Turks, because the Leopard is performing far below the standard expected of it, and the Germans, because their tank is not so great and the promise they allegedly extracted from the Turks not to use the Leopard against the Kurds isn’t worth the paper it was written on.
The Leopard II, like the Abrams, does not have active protection.
In regard to Korea, where a clash of armor could be most likely, Kim Jong-un is at a big disadvantage as he lacks upgraded systems and has no active protection capability. Cheap anti-tank weapons could turn his tanks on the battlefield into nothing more than junkyard wrecks.
Isn’t the Korea peninsula not conductive to tank warfare as it was during Desert Storm 1 and 2. Wouldn’t they be regulated to infantry support?
From DU, depleted uranium, to DUS, depleted united states, to dust
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just copy and past this…..
Tank warfare in the Korea’s especially North Korea is a no-go as I’m well aware that the auther of this junk artical is well aware of too simply due to the terraine we found that out in 50’s,well unless they have a flying tank that is…
This author gets it all wrong. The next war between USA and Korea will be fought in USA, not in Korea.
It is a mess created by these anti people war lords.
Weapons are made to kill disguise as to protect!
HOW MANY TIMES WILL. A CANON……… BEFORE IT…. BE BANNED!
Don’t take people for granted. Mr. Kim Jong is smarter than Trump. As it is now, his adversaries are spending billions of dollars for nothing. Americans are paying taxes through their noses and their government are happily feeding their fat weapons manufacturers!!
Can’t wait to see Israhell vaporized and that heinous illegal bunch of paid squatters, Terrorists and PARASITES are shoved into the dustbin of history. Their military is build/made with massive US taxpayer funds ~ soon we’ll not have to give them a dime as they will be dust.
amen my good friend, amen to that
Presume you do not know that you and everyone else here already ingests, drinks in or breathes in a fraction of a microgram of Uranium-238 (aka DU) every single day of their life – not only that, but every human being who has ever trod this Earth has done so and all who follow us will as well
You require Crude Wood Man and Machines and certainly North Korea is lagging behind in alaspects of morden warfare.
Just dream on…
Way to miss the point…
On Saturday, February 3 the Kurds destroyed another tank, almost certainly a Leopard II, Five crew members in the tank were killed.
Tell that to Kim! Ask him why he continues to amass armor which he couldn’t use in the first place.
Don’t hold your breath waiting…
"Israelhell" as you call it isn’t going anywhere now, or ever. They’ve a fully indigenous military industry that develops and manufactures some of the most sophisticated weapons ever. And they are the only ones who sell to America! Israel doesn’t play in the same league as those camel herders.
Michael Chan how will NK fight US in USA?? Can you explain? Where is NK’s massive Navy boats n planes??? Another dreamer. Get real guys.
Michael Chan. Explain in simple facts how the next war between Korea and the US will be fought in the US! O ly way they could the the war to US soil short of trying to send ICBM is using terrorist infiltrators or a trade war. Putting ‘sleepers’ into the US easiest as thousands of North Koreans are trying to get out of NK anyway so easy to slip a few through asylum seeking immigrant route. But trade war doubtful as NK can’t produce anything worth buying.
why the freaking hell is this posted into my fb page as a sponsored add? sponsored by what war mongerer? sheesh, it’s like saying get em while the getting’s good. fb people can you stop it please. if you gotta sponsor something try peace instead. no really just try it.
Time to go back redesigning the infantry. Who needs a multimillion dollar tank that can be blown up by a grunt? Put more protection and speed on the grunt instead
Jn Githinji these camel herders use Land cruisers (herding camels) . Maybe they will be using Abrams soon. One day, everything will balance itself. They were catching up in 1973. There will be a reckoning
Roger Helbig Tell that to the 6’2′ Cherokee who was subjected to that in Desert Storm, and now lives on bottles of medications never to work again, for his employer which was an electrical company said he was not only a danger to himself but also his fellow workers…
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