The portable weapons crisis

Did you notice how little harm was done to armoured combat vehicles with portable anti-tank weapons in Iraq and Afghanistan?
The descendants of the once awe-inspiring Panzerfaust were largely impotent, with occasional (apparently lucky) penetrations of tanks being newsworthy enough to become knowledge of the world-wide armour community and fanbois.
RPG-29 (PG-29V munition) and "Kornet" are among the few which succeeded to penetrate modern MBTs.
The rebels were so very much impotent with conventional anti-tank weaponry that they had to focus on mine warfare. Not the normal conventional AT mines; bigger, artillery munition-derived mines. Eventually, improved mine protection of vehicles forced them to use mines so heavy not even Olympic weightlifters would call them "portable".
One might use more powerful rockets and missiles against tanks, but the tanks could just as well be equipped with active protection systems.
In the end, almost all of today's man-portable and even crew-portable anti-tank weapons can be considered defeated technically or tactically by high-end opponents.

The story is similar with ManPADS, the famous Stinger and similar missiles. Supposedly the nightmare of Soviet Su-25 aircraft and Mi-24 helicopters over Afghanistan during the 80's, by now we know very few Su-25s were actually shot down by Stingers. The Soviets were easily able to adapt to the threat by attacking from higher altitudes, beyond the service ceiling of the missiles.
The more recent conflicts even showed that infrared seeker missiles even of the modern pattern can be defeated with infrared countermeasures, re-opening the lower altitude band for hostile aviation.
The laser beam riding guidance principle appears to be the only reliable one that's left for ManPADS. The Starstreak is the only such true ManPADS (emphasis on man-portable!) weapon in use, and it's unsuitable against slow drones because of its 'three darts' principle. The more conventional alternative development BAC Thunderbolt had been cancelled when the drone issue wasn't pressing yet. The same happened to the similar Stinger competitor Ford Saber.
In the end, almost all of today's ManPADS can be considered defeated technically or tactically by high-end opponents.

Did you notice how modern armoured fighting vehicles are nowadays equipped with night sights and gun stabilization even for mere machineguns? Meanwhile, the infantry's machineguns are rarely equipped with even only a magnifying sight, and rarely with a better night sight than a starlight scope good for about 200 metres. Some machineguns such as the MG3 family aren't even really suitable for sights because of difficult mounting thereof.

Back in 1940, German infantry panicked when 37 mm anti-tank guns proved incapable to stop French B-1bis heavy tanks. They fled into woodland or into buildings.
Their machineguns proved impotent against armoured Il-2 attack aircraft and fast-moving Typhoon fighter-bombers as well.

I suppose we might be at that point again, but the power myths around "Javelin" and "Stinger" keep most of us from seeing it.



  1. Most of the situations we've seen with tank vs. modern AT weaponry are in asymmetric warfare. The tank side typically has air superiority, the ability to move reinforcements and supplies at will, and the luxury of attacking where and when they are ready. In a conflict that was closer to a near-peer situation (no air superiority, supply lines contested by raiders, no easy access to supporting elements), would modern AT weapons have similar poor results? I think they might not get any additional tank kills, but I think they would restrict the number of situations that tanks can be used against infantry.

    That being said, I think the maturing technology of active protection systems heavily favors tanks in the future. They've got the mass to spare for the best anti-missile protection. Maybe infantry will have to try and scrape off the APS sensors with flechette rounds before employing traditional AT methods.

    1. There is apparently an issue with quick follow-on shots.
      Optical sensors are blinded by the dust, smoke, flash of an APS or warhead explosion, obviously.
      But the Russians also indicated that radar-based APS cannot handle two projectiles within less than (IIRC) 0.3 sec or so when they published the RPG-30.

      The range of passive and reactive protection abilities alone is dire news for infantry AT teams.

    2. That weakness will probably not last. I wonder if a counter-APS can be used. Some sort of laser/chaff/smoke/paint(?!) projector to blind the tank momentarily (or just make it worry about defense instead of offense). That makes infantry AT that much harder, obviously, but maybe the blinding job could be done by a much lighter and cheaper weapon than the killing job.

  2. Portable, top attack munitions have worked. Javelin is rather popular.

    Presumably Spike, Bill, and MBT-LAW would be similarly capable.

    1. None of them have proved capable of defeating a modern defence. And Javelin in particular is 80's technology and known to have serious lock-on issues.
      All those overflight top attack munitions use a principle that's known since the 70's and was already countered by Drozd in the 80's.
      Some of them also fuze over the well-protected, ERA-clad front of a T series tank (instead of over the more vulnerable turret or engine compartment) when fired frontally and could even by triggered by a mineclearing set (KMT) in front of a tank.

    2. What serious lock-on issues? There are times of day when thermals don't work well, sure. But I'm unaware of any widespread dissatisfaction with the lock-on rate.

      Does anyone actually field a workable APS yet? Didn't the Russian's trial Drozd but removed it?

    3. I suppose Trophy is one APS that appears to be operational.

  3. Does the portable weapons crisis change your view on auto cannons? If so does the U.S. Army Ground Combat Vehicle concept make sense?


    1. Infantry is part of the combined arms triad because it can go anywhere.

      The demand for infantry in offensive formations isn't related to their ability to defeat tanks or aircraft. It's driven by the need to go into buildings, woodland and other terrains inaccessible to vehicles.

      Ignore the U.S. PR about AFVs. They haven't succeeded in bringing an all-new combat vehicle into service since the mid 80's, and their 70's developments were already dominated by mistakes.
      Poland, Turkey and South Korea are more worthwhile origins for new AFVs.

  4. With current technology, weapon systems, how much does a combat vehicle need to weigh to fight alongside tanks and protect crew/infantry? With indirect fires becoming more and more accurate and decisive is it possible the concept of the GCV replaces the tank?


    1. Ask Ogorkiewicz.
      Some experts' quipping indicated a MBT with very high protection still requires about 50 (metric) tons.
      An HAPC should make some compromises and might end up at 40-50 t for an 8-man squad.

      Tanks are best known for mobility under fire and ability to haul a lot of equipment, so I don't see how indirect fires improvements would be much of a trouble to tanks. They should stay out of LOS most of the time, never stay long in a known position and prefer dashes of few seconds from concealment to concealment. That's the same as during the 80's essentially.

  5. So tanks need to constantly move from concealment to concealment?
    Any terrain without concealment is a problem.
    Sites can be prepared with mines in convenient concealment positions if these are rare.
    If a tank relies on concealment and active sensors for defence measures, how much sense does it make to have them heavily armoured?
    An active defence that takes out incoming dangers might be more convenient.

    1. It's been like that for decades already, even Chobham-generation tanks had much to fear. A tank's acceleration was a more interesting spec than its top speed since the 30's.
      Tanks begun to carry their portable concealment (smoke dischargers) in WW2 because of the challenges.

      Active protection suites typically intercept incoming munitions at very short distances, so a basic armour is needed to stop the remnants. APFSDS long rods may be broken or deflected by APS, but that only means their impact angle is suboptimal - they still need to be stopped by some typically high area density armour.
      APS and reactive armour may be redundant, though.