Borgundy Challenge Response: Anti-Tank Weapons

While Borgundy agrees with the Russian view that the best weapon to combat a tank is another tank, and combined arms with plenty of tank-infantry cooperation are the keys to success, this does not mean that the infantry should not have weapons for killing tanks. It’s all the more important since most modern western IFVs don’t mount anti-tank missiles. While Fishbreath’s challenge isn’t strictly accurate structure-wise for mechanized infantry, the general point holds. We’ll need two weapons: a man portable anti-tank guided missile (henceforth ATGM), and something unguided that can defeat tanks up close with the secondary purpose of battlefield demolition. We can’t really do away with the rocket launcher requirement, because the rounds are cheap and useful for blowing up bunkers and the like, plus if a tank gets in close, they don’t require any guidance preparation. Guidance is clearly required for longer-range shots.

We’ll start with the relatively simple unguided case. With a general trend towards western suppliers, and the unfortunate demise of much of the French arms industry, our choices are rather limited. We first must answer a simple question: how much tank should we be able to kill with a rocket? Requiring penetration of heavy front armor, with likely ERA kits will drive up the weight (also the cost, but not by much–these are unguided weapons after all). The Panzerfaust 3T is probably the most powerful available rocket, should be reasonably capable of dealing with most modern frontal armor, even if ERA equipped, and comes with a computerized sight to aid in making long range shots. However, it weighs 33.5 lbs (15.2 kg). If we accept side penetration only, we have choices. The standard one-use only rocket is the Saab AT4, which weighs 14.8 lbs. Alternatively, for a somewhat heavier (20 lbs or so) reusable weapon, we could go with the Carl Gustav with it’s wide variety of available rounds. That said, we do really want the properly tank-killing potential of the Panzerfaust 3T. Since our army is heavily mechanized, we have an infantry fighting vehicle to help carry the load most of the time. We also have the IFVs gun, which provides a useful volume of high explosive support. However, the 35mm Bushmaster III chain gun on our IFVs isn’t really capable of killing tanks from the front, but it is reasonably capable of engaging them from the side. The Panzerfaust 3T at least adds an additional capability to the squad. Plus, there are large stocks of T-72 and T-80 tanks that could be pressed into service that can shrug off frontal hits from either AT4s or Charlie Gustav rounds.

On to the guided weapons. This is a little harder, because there are lots of similar systems available. First, taking stock of the threat, we should look at enemy armor. Again, we see the same problem as before of getting stuck in the race between armor and shaped charge warheads, made worse by the range requirements. For this reason, some modern missiles have attempted to get around the problem by attacking the top armor, which is thinner. The Milan missile doesn’t use top attack at all, but it’s basically obsolescent. Other missiles have better range, tank-killing power, and fire-and-forget options. The heavy hitters in the competition are the Israeli Spike and the American Javelin, both of which have better guidance and bigger warheads than the Swedish BILL 2, which uses an overflight top-attack rather than a diving top attack flight profile. Javelin and Spike are similar missiles at similar price points, but the Spike has a longer-range man-portable version, and it has the option to keep the gunner in the loop with a fiber optic cable. Javelin can only do a fire and forget launch mode, but it has a better seeker, and both the Javelin missile itself and it’s reusable command launch unit are lighter. Cost is roughly comparable. We’ll take lighter and more effective within the range that ATGM shots are likely to be taken, so we’ll take the Javelin.

So, that should settle the challenge. That said, given our heavy and heavier options above and recent experiences in Iraq, there’s a need for a light rocket for demolition work, especially in urban settings and for bunker busting. It is also a useful squad capability, as it can be used to maximize shock effects in the initial moments of contact. For these uses, we want something light and cheap. Issues of carrying capacity can be handily resolved by our IFV, because it can carry what isn’t needed. This can be considered a bit of an “arms room” for the squad, provided we don’t go too overboard. For weapon choice, we can actually go even lighter than the AT4 with the older, Vietnam-era M72A7 LAW. It’s rated for about a third of the armor penetration of the Panzerfaust 3, but it only weighs five and a half pounds. It’s a perfectly adequate demolition rocket, and the light weight means it’s easy to add to the squad’s loadout even when there are no tanks around. It’s not a fancy warhead, but it’s cheap, light, and cheerful, and compliments the big panzerfaust 3 well. Plus, lest you think I’m cheating by buying more types of weapons than originally called for, the US army still buys old M72A7 LAWs plus the newer, more formidable AT4s, and Javelin missiles. And the Germans supplement their Panzerfaust 3 with Matador rockets.

One thought on “Borgundy Challenge Response: Anti-Tank Weapons

  1. Pingback: Light Reloadable Antitank Shootout: RPG-7 vs. Carl Gustav - The Soapbox

Comments are closed.