Army Wants 'Air Droppable' Light Tank & Ultra-Light Vehicles

riggerrob

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Is the age of the tank over, is now the real question after watching the war in the Ukraine?
Tanks without APS are almost sitting ducks waiting to be picked off one by one...
I would go for a recon tank-drone with a UAV overhead, and a mortar-unit somewhere far enough away as alternative for a tank. The tankdrone is there for getting enemy combatants out of hiding, the UAV for spotting them, and the mortar for shelling them.

That debate has been raging for more than a century.
It is a predictable arms race between armor and anti-tank weapons. Every time some one invents a new type of armor, opponents invent a new type of armor-penetrating weapon. The race started during World War 1 - the week after Britain introduced the first tanks - when Mauser introduced the large-caliber tank gewehr (tank rifle).
Then we saw thicker armor countered by higher-velocity and larger caliber guns, HEAT, HESH, APDS, rinse and repeat.
The most recent anti-tank missile is the top-attack Javelin missile, so Russian tankers added overhead slat armor to the roofs of their existing fleet of tanks.

The only thing predictable is that current-production tanks will face a new generation of anti-tank weapons before they retire. This is where bolted on armor upgrades come in handy. They also allow delivering light-weight tanks during the first round of an assault, then bolting on the armor that arrives during the second wave of the assault. This is why I suggested an armored boat hull (proof against current production land mines) with various bolt-on kits for side and top armor.

As for depending upon mortars or artillery ... it all depends upon where defenders are hiding. If they are hiding in basements and shooting out of ground floor windows, you will need thousands of rounds of mortar or artillery ammo to collapse a multi-story concrete building on top of them. OTOH 1 or 2 rounds of flat trajectory high explosive will kill all the defenders in a concrete room.

High-velocity, flat trajectory tank guns are also handy for hitting fast-moving targets. For example, during the Korean War, RCN ships took turns shooting North Korean supply trains sprinting from one tunnel to the next tunnel.

And keep the gross weight with in the 10 or 15 tons that a C-130 or heavy-lift helicopter can handle. Remember that most purchasers will barely be able to afford a handful of transport aircraft. And this light-weight tank will be the heaviest vehicle they can afford.
 
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timmymagic

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So my end game was something along the lines of a scorpion/stormer combination with shared components.
  • A Scorpion in one version with a turret like the Bradley for general purpose work and like the Scorpion 90 for fire support, used for cavalry type tasks and internal carry air assault
  • A heavier, Stormer like, version with multiple variants to cover air drop and helicopter sling load scenarios
Might want to have a look at this article in Think Defence..

 

Colonial-Marine

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Anyone think the US might re-consider given the Russian VDV's experience with the BMD series in Ukraine at present? They're taking terrible casualties...admittedly they're being used appallingly, but when armour is that light is it not a good idea to ditch it and go with mobility and speed?
I'd have to go with the reasoning that some armor however light is better than no armor at all. Would the VDV's air assault have been as disastrous as it was if the Russian Air Force was able to provide around-the-clock air support and bring in reinforcements? Like so many other aspects of the general offensive the planning and coordination of that assault seems to be very poor.
 

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Is the age of the tank over, is now the real question after watching the war in the Ukraine?
Tanks without APS are almost sitting ducks waiting to be picked off one by one...
I would go for a recon tank-drone with a UAV overhead, and a mortar-unit somewhere far enough away as alternative for a tank. The tankdrone is there for getting enemy combatants out of hiding, the UAV for spotting them, and the mortar for shelling them.

That debate has been raging for more than a century.
It is a predictable arms race between armor and anti-tank weapons. Every time some one invents a new type of armor, opponents invent a new type of armor-penetrating weapon. The race started during World War 1 - the week after Britain introduced the first tanks - when Mauser introduced the large-caliber tank gewehr (tank rifle).
Then we saw thicker armor countered by higher-velocity and larger caliber guns, HEAT, HESH, APDS, rinse and repeat.
The most recent anti-tank missile is the top-attack Javelin missile, so Russian tankers added overhead slat armor to the roofs of their existing fleet of tanks.

The only thing predictable is that current-production tanks will face a new generation of anti-tank weapons before they retire. This is where bolted on armor upgrades come in handy. They also allow delivering light-weight tanks during the first round of an assault, then bolting on the armor that arrives during the second wave of the assault. This is why I suggested an armored boat hull (proof against current production land mines) with various bolt-on kits for side and top armor.

As for depending upon mortars or artillery ... it all depends upon where defenders are hiding. If they are hiding in basements and shooting out of ground floor windows, you will thousands of rounds of mortar or artillery ammo to collapse a multi-story concrete building on top of them. OTOH 1 or 2 rounds of flat trajectory high explosive will kill all the defenders in a concrete room.

High-velocity, flat trajectory tank guns are also handy for hitting fast-moving targets. For example, during the Korean War, RCN ships took turns shooting North Korean supply trains sprinting from one tunnel to the next tunnel.

And keep the gross weight with in the 10 or 15 tons that a C-130 or heavy-lift helicopter can handle. Remember that most purchasers will barely be able to afford a handful of transport aircraft. And this light-weight tank will be the heaviest vehicle they can afford.
These could all be book long debates/arguments.

If I was an invading army I’d let it be known that if your army and citizenry partake in, let’s call it unlimited irregular warfare, then the full weight of combined arms operations will be in effect.

Someone fires an ATGM from an apartment complex we flatten the city.
 

uk 75

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Returning to the core theme I recall that the width of the Scorpion family was originally dictated by rubber tree plantations in Malaya and it was intended to journey aboard the AW681 transport.
Sadly the air portable infantry of the UK Strategic Reserve never got the AW681 but the C130K was pretty good.
The British also looked at anti tank solutions based on the Contentious lightweight chassis but Striker with Swingfire offered a simpler solution to dealing with hostile armour.
The US looked at a similar family based on the M551 which matched the BMD in variety and options. They are still worth a look 60 years later.
 

riggerrob

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Is the age of the tank over, is now the real question after watching the war in the Ukraine?
Tanks without APS are almost sitting ducks waiting to be picked off one by one...
I would go for a recon tank-drone with a UAV overhead, and a mortar-unit somewhere far enough away as alternative for a tank. The tankdrone is there for getting enemy combatants out of hiding, the UAV for spotting them, and the mortar for shelling them.

That debate has been raging for more than a century.
It is a predictable arms race between armor and anti-tank weapons. Every time some one invents a new type of armor, opponents invent a new type of armor-penetrating weapon. The race started during World War 1 - the week after Britain introduced the first tanks - when Mauser introduced the large-caliber tank gewehr (tank rifle).
Then we saw thicker armor countered by higher-velocity and larger caliber guns, HEAT, HESH, APDS, rinse and repeat.
The most recent anti-tank missile is the top-attack Javelin missile, so Russian tankers added overhead slat armor to the roofs of their existing fleet of tanks.

The only thing predictable is that current-production tanks will face a new generation of anti-tank weapons before they retire. This is where bolted on armor upgrades come in handy. They also allow delivering light-weight tanks during the first round of an assault, then bolting on the armor that arrives during the second wave of the assault. This is why I suggested an armored boat hull (proof against current production land mines) with various bolt-on kits for side and top armor.

As for depending upon mortars or artillery ... it all depends upon where defenders are hiding. If they are hiding in basements and shooting out of ground floor windows, you will thousands of rounds of mortar or artillery ammo to collapse a multi-story concrete building on top of them. OTOH 1 or 2 rounds of flat trajectory high explosive will kill all the defenders in a concrete room.

High-velocity, flat trajectory tank guns are also handy for hitting fast-moving targets. For example, during the Korean War, RCN ships took turns shooting North Korean supply trains sprinting from one tunnel to the next tunnel.

And keep the gross weight with in the 10 or 15 tons that a C-130 or heavy-lift helicopter can handle. Remember that most purchasers will barely be able to afford a handful of transport aircraft. And this light-weight tank will be the heaviest vehicle they can afford.
These could all be book long debates/arguments.

If I was an invading army I’d let it be known that if your army and citizenry partake in, let’s call it unlimited irregular warfare, then the full weight of combined arms operations will be in effect.

Someone fires an ATGM from an apartment complex we flatten the city.


a quick way to conquer, but makes the conquered country difficult to govern in the long run.
Many centuries ago, the Mongols, Moors, Seljic Turks, etc. learned that if they treated peasants lightly, they were easier to rule in the long run. In many countries conquered by Moors, etc. minorities (e.g. Jews) still had to pay tithes to the local mosque, but they were free to worship any god they wanted.
OTOH Stalin, Hitler, etc. exterminated many thousands of Ukrainians. Now look at how difficult it is to govern Ukraine.
 

Pioneer

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The M8 AGS seemed like a successful design that was more-or-less killed by the budgetary situation of the time.

Since the Sheridan it seems like there has been no shortage of promising vehicles and components to fill the "light tank" role but the plans keep getting changed, or there isn't room in the budget, or some bureaucrats make questionable decisions like this one.
I think one also really has to consider the fact that the U.S. hasn't really faced a peer adversary since WWII. They haven't had to face seriously opposed landing zones, let alone deploy such airborne tanks directly into combat as envisaged.... Because of these facts, I don't know if the US Army really knows what it wants vs what it likes in a modern airborne tank/gun fire support vehicle.


Regards
Pioneer
 

riggerrob

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Amusing how this thread went quiet during the current Russian invasion of Ukraine. News feeds include video footage of dozens of burnt out BMP light armored vehicles beside dozens of burnt out T-72 main battle tanks.
Perhaps we need to wait until the end of this war and give operations research scientists time to assemble statistics on kill rates of light-weight armored vehicles.
 

UpForce

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Amusing how this thread went quiet during the current Russian invasion of Ukraine. News feeds include video footage of dozens of burnt out BMP light armored vehicles beside dozens of burnt out T-72 main battle tanks.
Perhaps we need to wait until the end of this war and give operations research scientists time to assemble statistics on kill rates of light-weight armored vehicles.

While I don't want to dissect VDV's failures in Ukraine in any detail (not too keen to prevent them from repeating their blunders in the future), it has to be said that Javelins, NLAWs, Stugnas etc. seem to be disabling and disassembling Russian main battle tanks and lighter armored vehicles alike in not at all dissimilar rates so far. Equally there's actually a fair bit of experience now in Ukrainian APCs armed with 30 mm cannons only successfully taking on T-72s from the rear, at least in built environments.

In this sense, to me, if there's a discussion to be had about the merits of "mobility vs protection" then thus far (on a single contact, somewhat legacy Soviet equipment level) it's a draw. The reasoning behind Russia's attack and aggression being as nonsensical (to put it as neutrally as possible) as it is, the strategies and tactics that follow are of course inevitably affected (i.e. corrupted) thus perhaps also complicating solely technological conclusions about the utility, costs and benefits of "armor". The expectation seems to be that now, as the enemy has at least for the time been beaten back from northern Ukraine (Kadyrov's recent belligerent musings aside), more "traditional" massed formations will be trying to move deeper in from the east. It remains to be seen to what extent these aggressor forces can be gathered but for all the confusion Russia's leadership seems to be trying, still.

As for gathering data for studies the cost of acquiring it in practice is very high so I hope for a prompt, definite enough resolution enabling Ukraine to secure a better future for itself and being able to convincingly deter such catastrophes going forward.
 

BB1984

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Amusing how this thread went quiet during the current Russian invasion of Ukraine. News feeds include video footage of dozens of burnt out BMP light armored vehicles beside dozens of burnt out T-72 main battle tanks.
Perhaps we need to wait until the end of this war and give operations research scientists time to assemble statistics on kill rates of light-weight armored vehicles.
I think it will be interesting to see how discussions of tactics, modern anti-tank weapons, and AFV go after we get some real analysis (if that ever happens). As UpForce points out, we may just be seeing that all AFV (light all the way up to MBT) are more vulnerable than in the past, at least until things like tactics, APS, and anti-drone tech catch up.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that regardless of actual loss rates of light AFV, we may not have any competing approach to compare it with: for instance, if the VDV suffered heavy casualties with BMDs, that's not proof their casualties wouldn't have been even higher without them. Infantry without transport has huge mobility problems, while infantry with transport, but without armor, is horribly vulnerable to artillery and ambush with light infantry weapons or IED, so some sort of vehicles are going to be in play.
 

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One thing to keep in mind, however, is that regardless of actual loss rates of light AFV, we may not have any competing approach to compare it with: for instance, if the VDV suffered heavy casualties with BMDs, that's not proof their casualties wouldn't have been even higher without them. Infantry without transport has huge mobility problems, while infantry with transport, but without armor, is horribly vulnerable to artillery and ambush with light infantry weapons or IED, so some sort of vehicles are going to be in play.
You fight the war you can fight, not the war you want to fight.

If the force structure can not successfully execute a rapid offensive, than one may elect not to do that. Slow offensives with broad front advances backed by massive artillery capability directed via aerial ISR may be the correct way of war given the forces available. Forcing an war of maneuver with horses on the west front was a bad idea. For extremely wealthy forces, inefficient use of material to fulfill objectives is feasible. For poor forces, only economical means can be effectively pursued, secondary political objectives like timelines set by parades be damned.
---------------
I think all the discussions about vehicles is excessively focused on fire power and protection, when all combat experience have shown that superior intelligence wins. The side the spots the opponent first simply have a huge advantage as it can either effectively attack first or maneuver to decline combat.

I think MMW radar with attached C-RAM combined with a very large smoke load will be the ace in the hole for next gen armored light combat vehicles. All the cheap and light EO/IR munitions and attacks can be neutralized, while the vehicle can still attack. Combine with high power laser with LIDAR capability and acoustic sensors for a full picture.

As for depending upon mortars or artillery ... it all depends upon where defenders are hiding. If they are hiding in basements and shooting out of ground floor windows, you will thousands of rounds of mortar or artillery ammo to collapse a multi-story concrete building on top of them. OTOH 1 or 2 rounds of flat trajectory high explosive will kill all the defenders in a concrete room.
"Infantry" launchers have improved greatly. Nowadays there are guidance packages down to 40mm grenades. air burst is more available than ever, and thermobaric warheads for increased destructive power. Recoilless rifle weight have also improved due to material advancements. ATGM launchers itself often translates to 150mm class thermobaric warheads, and anti-structure rounds can be cheap since you don't need all the systems to defeat APS or complicated armor schemes. Things like flying grenade drones with capability to fly into windows can defeat many defenders.

A short range "flat" trajectory HE weapon also do not take a 10ton let alone 50ton platform, one can throw a 106mm RR on a bunch of small ground drones and call it a day. Being infantry support it is just a self propelled crew controlled weapon via reliable short range LOS control

Now a proper tank with gun stabilization and powerful organic sensors will have the advantage in response time and effects of highly penetrating HE may be hard to replicate, but it is questionable whether it is worthwhile when one is budget and logistically constrained. You can move a lot of ammo and launchers for the weight of a light tank.
 
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riggerrob

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" ... I think MMW radar with attached C-RAM combined with a very large smoke load will be the ace in the hole for next gen armored light combat vehicles. All the cheap and light EO/IR munitions and attacks can be neutralized, while the vehicle can still attack. Combine with high power laser with LIDAR capability and acoustic sensors for a full picture. ... "
Fancy smoke launchers can be defensive if their smoke is opaque to sensors on enemy missiles or launcher optics. Currently they are probably only protection against the second missile in a slavo.
Perhaps the next generation of defensive smoke launchers will think fast enough to mask the target vehicle while the first missile is still inbound.

The next challenge is the driver switching to fancy X-ray, see-through-your-own-smoke goggles in the few seconds remaining before he wrecks the vehicle in a ditch or against a concrete wall.
 

shin_getter

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Only can fit smoke penetrating sensors on a vehicle better than a cost and weight constrained munition. It also helps the land vehicle move a lot slower than a flying munition that is trying to survive interception attempts.

I'd probably plan future armored maneuver formation as such:

1. Enough C-RAM capability to defeat PGM harassing fire to enable maneuver
2. Long Range Masted and Aerial Sensors: Early Warning against long range saturation attack via EO/IR guidance: counter by Smoke.
3. Enough Laser, Microwave and DEW capability to both kill sensors and penetrate smoke, and win sensing war against lower weight class opponents.
4. Recon and prudent tactical maneuver to avoid close range saturation attack or close range attacks by large, high performance platforms (tanks) (unless one intends to fight a pitched battle)
5. Air power reserves to contest the air
6. Artillery reserves to counter battery and defeat observed land threats

The opponent can counter via:
1. Mounting smoke penetrating sensors on munitions: brimstone class munitions are much more expensive and not man portable, also has to get through C-RAM/EWar/etc.
2. Use standoff smoke penetrating sensors with command guided munitions: large aircraft with ground observation radar is a much bigger commitment than cheap EO/IR Drones and can be cost effectively countered by SAM
3. Unguided Saturation attack: take huge amount of munitions, counter battery also limits effectiveness
4. Use loitering munitions with cheap EO/IR to stall/out last smoke cover: your own air cover should defeat this over time (you should not conduct field maneuvers if you can not ensure local air superiority)
5. Use LOS weapons platforms (Gunfire, INS guided munitions, Kinetic kill missiles): should be difficult to setup against mast and aerial observation. If opponent succeed in an ambush, after the leading elements are engaged the rest can smoke up and find terrain to hide while calling artillery support and throwing mines to cover retreat if necessary, and avoid destruction except of screening elements.
6. Launch saturation attack of cheap EO/IR munitions at close range (within smoke/CRAM/APS deployment cycle): should be difficult to setup against various sensors
7. Mine warfare: well you'll need armor for this.
 
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BB1984

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Couple additional thoughts on this topic:
  • As top attack becomes "normal", we may see a radical shift in vehicle protection, moving away from the "front towards enemy" schemes, that deprioritize roof armor, to a more balanced approach where roof armor is as thick as, for instance, side armor. This may mean abandoning the idea that frontal armor can be made proof against tank or anti-tank weapons, since there just won't be enough weight available.

  • Seems like a short hop to make APS systems work vs. loitering munitions: maybe more hemispherical coverage and some software changes.

  • The Israeli experience has been putting some emphasis on not only avoiding hits but also on quick reaction to being shot at, e.g., Spotlite M (
    View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ye27ClvNu84
    )

  • We may see a shift towards screens of remotely operated to robotic small vehicles with sensor packages in both the offense and the defense, making the sensing/target-identification remote as well as the follow up indirect drone/missile/artillery attack. Here there will be tension between making these platforms cheap enough to be expendable and the desire for highly capable, and hence very expensive, sensor fits.

  • It's not an original idea, but anti-drone capability will become ubiquitous, much as anti-tank capability has. Vehicles will use AHEAD or programmed HE, fire control systems will be developed/adjusted to handle "low and slow" drones and loitering munitions, and will see more anti-drone/aircraft missiles, possibly leveraging the existing infrastructure of ATGM launchers. I'm also wondering if we'll see a resurgence in sound detection systems as a cheap and passive detection system against "slow movers" (drones, loitering munitions, and helicopters) and for shot detection; Thales already has a multi-purpose product in this space.
 

riggerrob

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Couple additional thoughts on this topic:
  • As top attack becomes "normal", we may see a radical shift in vehicle protection, moving away from the "front towards enemy" schemes, that deprioritize roof armor, to a more balanced approach where roof armor is as thick as, for instance, side armor. This may mean abandoning the idea that frontal armor can be made proof against tank or anti-tank weapons, since there just won't be enough weight available.

  • Seems like a short hop to make APS systems work vs. loitering munitions: maybe more hemispherical coverage and some software changes.

  • The Israeli experience has been putting some emphasis on not only avoiding hits but also on quick reaction to being shot at, e.g., Spotlite M (
    View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ye27ClvNu84
    )

  • We may see a shift towards screens of remotely operated to robotic small vehicles with sensor packages in both the offense and the defense, making the sensing/target-identification remote as well as the follow up indirect drone/missile/artillery attack. Here there will be tension between making these platforms cheap enough to be expendable and the desire for highly capable, and hence very expensive, sensor fits.

  • It's not an original idea, but anti-drone capability will become ubiquitous, much as anti-tank capability has. Vehicles will use AHEAD or programmed HE, fire control systems will be developed/adjusted to handle "low and slow" drones and loitering munitions, and will see more anti-drone/aircraft missiles, possibly leveraging the existing infrastructure of ATGM launchers. I'm also wondering if we'll see a resurgence in sound detection systems as a cheap and passive detection system against "slow movers" (drones, loitering munitions, and helicopters) and for shot detection; Thales already has a multi-purpose product in this space.

Will anti-drone networks be programmed to ignore slow-flying birds and bats?
Next year, will they introduce slow-flying drones to confuse the anti-drone networks?
 

BB1984

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Will anti-drone networks be programmed to ignore slow-flying birds and bats?
Next year, will they introduce slow-flying drones to confuse the anti-drone networks?

"Bird or Drone" seems like a problem where AI could legitimately help out, though I suspect future war will be a dangerous place to be a bird.
 

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Something of interest (To me at any rate) in the discussion of weapons size versus the likely opposing tatgets is this. Tiger 181 in Bovington was 'disabled' by a lucky shot from a two pounder armed Churchill tank. Once they could not maneuvre the turret/gun, the crew scarpered double quicktime. German tank crews in MK 3's learned to get around their gun limitations by using their greater situational awareness for flank and rear attacks.

One of the reasons for for having the three principles of armour.
 

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Something of interest (To me at any rate) in the discussion of weapons size versus the likely opposing tatgets is this. Tiger 181 in Bovington was 'disabled' by a lucky shot from a two pounder armed Churchill tank. Once they could not maneuvre the turret/gun, the crew scarpered double quicktime. German tank crews in MK 3's learned to get around their gun limitations by using their greater situational awareness for flank and rear attacks.

One of the reasons for for having the three principles of armour.
Which takes us to the previously mentioned more even spread of armour on the vehicle.

I'm also thinking about drones carrying armour, so the armour is in the right place. But then the infantry would get fancy, and link 2-4 launchers together, from different directions. Where are we with forcefields, and deflectors? Cryogenics and or lasers/microwave beams to cook an incoming missile. Just a thought, but high pressure water jet?

I'd suggest 'movement' in future conflicts is going to be a risky affair. Closely followed by 'sitting tight'. Maybe pistols at dawn, or national champions will make a comeback.
 

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One possible solution is just going unmanned on the ground as well as the air. The US army is already experimenting with light and medium vehicles with minimal armoring that are still capable of mounting their own anti armor weapons. But even then, when every several kilo drone can be a missile in its own right and every artillery piece can fire a guided projectile, I have to wonder if maneuver warfare won't be largely eclipsed by attrition warfare that is more of a super long ranged artillery duel rather than a combined arms effort.
 

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A lot of the tactics we thought were reasonable and long term are being forced into the support role, more so in the Ukraine situation. The use of smart munitions, even without drones or persistent munitions is changing the balance more than many thought in a short space of time. Intelligence is going to be the key for any kind of conflict and I doubt that will enable too much in the way of long term plan until this playing field stabilises a bit.

I can see more than a few national defence budgets increasing to cover the inteligence and remote aspects of the maneuvre war to be much more important which will mean we have to think smart and work smart to make up for the wasteful years of ignorance and indecision. Our kids in the future will depend on this.
 

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