I would rather be the hammer than the anvil.
— Erwin Rommel
Ever since modern tanks’ first appearance on the twentieth-century battlefield, infantry forces and their armored counterparts have been engaged in a sustained arms race with one another. Improvements in antitank weapons led to armor better able to withstand them and vice versa, with pendulum swings marking the temporary advantage of one or the other. In recent years, the balance rested firmly on the side of well-trained infantry with both advanced guided missiles and unguided rockets. The greatest of these capabilities are fire-and-forget, guided, top-attack missiles—the premier model being the American-made Javelin. This weapon allows a single soldier to target and destroy even the most heavily armored main battle tank with an almost guaranteed kill rate, at great range and with minimal risk.
But infantry’s advantage isn’t permanent. As tanks with new capabilities are fielded, infantry forces will have to respond, and cannot wait for a new generation of capabilities to provide battlefield solutions. Instead, infantry units should begin conceptualizing, refining, and training new tactics, techniques, and procedures.
Tracing the Infantry-Armor Arms Race
For tanks, in the early stages of this arms race, developing thicker armor was the simple way to protect against new weapons. But that was no longer enough to defeat weapons like high-explosive antitank (HEAT) rounds, first deployed by infantry in World War II (to varying degrees of effect), or explosively formed penetrators (EFPs). The first counter to these weapons was spaced armor, which dissipated an incoming round’s penetrating power in open air before it reached the main tank armor. The next development was explosive reactive armor. Since the 1970s, this has been used to defeat HEAT and EFP rounds by exploding small charges outward from the armor, interrupting the penetrating blast. In response, infantry forces began fielding weapons like the modern Javelin and TOW missiles, which have countered explosive reactive armor with tandem warheads that use one penetrating charge to trigger the defensive detonation prior to the second charge detonating, destroying the target.
Global military forces—including those of America’s near-peer rivals—today have deployed systems designed to protect their armored vehicles from the most likely threats from infantry. These systems fall into a category called active protection systems (APS). These systems “electronically sense incoming direct-fire ATGMs [antitank guided missiles] and . . . HEAT munitions, and they defeat the incoming munitions before they impact the vehicle.” APSs change the calculus of war, from an infantry perspective, by greatly reducing the effectiveness of chemical-energy antitank weapon systems without requiring an increase in armor thickness.
Current APS Capabilities
The Israeli Army has perhaps the most widely known APS, called Trophy. First fielded in 2010, it was developed in response to losses suffered in 2006 against Hamas. The system was so successful that the US Army procured it for use within armored brigade combat teams. The Trophy system consists of a radar-detection and control suite and a pair of rotating tubes filled with MEFPs (multiple explosively formed penetrators).
Trophy’s radar sensors detect and categorize incoming projectiles. Based on positive threat identification, the system engages the incoming missile with a pinpoint spread of MEFPs. The system can handle simultaneous threats from multiple directions, and selectively engages only those missiles that are on a course that will threaten the vehicle. The precision of the response allows use on vehicles operating in proximity with infantry, negating a traditional drawback of systems like explosive reactive armor and older APSs. Trophy also provides tank commanders with the origin of incoming projectiles. The system displayed a 100-percent success rate in tests and on the battlefield. It has defeated weapons ranging from the RPG-7 and RPG-29 (similar to the US-fielded M3 MAAWS—a Carl Gustaf recoilless rifle) and the Kornet (similar to the TOW missile). Trophy has successfully defeated dozens of missiles in real combat. This system can defeat recoilless rifles, weapons similar to the US-fielded TOW missile, and top-attack missiles like the Javelin—although the TOW 2B Aero variant with Gen 1, Gen 2, and Gen 3a missiles can deploy countermeasures to prevent Trophy from engaging by jamming the radar.
Russia has developed several APSs. The Russian military has installed two systems on a large number of its modern vehicles, including the upgraded T-80M and the T-90 tanks, as well as the BMP-3M infantry fighting vehicle. One of these systems is a “hard-kill” system, designed to use direct force to destroy incoming projectiles. The other is a “soft-kill” system, intended to prevent the accurate targeting of the vehicle.
The Russian hard-kill system, developed in the 1990s, is called Arena (Арена). It consists of a sensor suite that uses radar to detect incoming projectiles and uses an arsenal of twenty-six small explosives. It is designed to defeat the full range of antitank rockets and missiles—from recoilless rifles to fly-over, shoot-down munitions. Its protection extends over a 310-degree arc, protecting everywhere except for a section on the back on the turret. Infantry can operate outside without becoming casualties of the system. This system can defeat the Carl Gustaf and TOW, except for the TOW 2B Aero with Gen 1, Gen 2 and Gen 3a missiles. The Javelin can defeat Arena while in top-attack mode, due to the missile descending from too steep an angle for the system to engage properly.
The 1980s-era Shtora (Штора) system consists of a laser detection system, a laser decoy system, and aerosol smoke-grenade launchers. The system can detect a laser-based targeting system. Shtora deploys countermeasures, dispersing a cloud of forward-looking infrared–blocking smoke. Shtora also activates laser decoys to disrupt laser targeting by providing false signatures. Finally, it gives the tank commander the ability to automatically slew the turret to face the direction of the threat targeting system. This system reduces TOW effectiveness and increases the risk to antitank platforms utilizing them, and necessitates the use of Gen 1, Gen 2, and Gen 3a missiles. Shtora has no effect on Javelins or recoilless rifles. When targeting a vehicle with Shtora, gunners using the ITAS (improved target acquisition system) should never directly laser the tank with the range finder, instead targeting a patch of ground three vehicle lengths away. This will allow the gunner to avoid being detected by Shtora.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army has also developed an APS, though less is known about it. Called the GL5, it consists of four munition launchers controlled by a central detection suite and computer. It is possible that it does not protect from top-attack strikes, though it would be unwise to assume such a glaring weakness in a modern, untested system. This system would be able to disrupt or destroy recoilless rifle projectiles, but might have difficulty targeting TOW and Javelin missiles.
New Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures
Infantry units will need new TTPs—tactics, techniques, and procedures—to defeat APS-equipped tanks. Development of these TTPs should begin now, and leaders at the small-unit level—commanders of light infantry companies, for example—should take the initiative to do so. Lacking large-caliber kinetic weapons (such as the sabot round delivered from an M1A2 Abrams), it could prove necessary to reduce the effectiveness of the APS before a kill can be guaranteed. The critical weaknesses of an APS are an upper limit on its ability to handle volume of fire, its vulnerability to degradation by external forces, and the arc of its detection system and countermeasures—each of which should be considered as new TTPs are explored.
The following tactical suggestions derive from the broad framework provided by Army doctrine, including the seven steps of engagement area development and the fundamentals of anti-armor unit deployment.
The first possible tactic is to fire a single missile as soon as the target enters the engagement area. The APS is a complicated system and the friction of war can cause malfunctions due to battlefield effects or simple poor maintenance. A vehicle that has an APS might be defeated through the simple malfunctioning of its unit, and targeting it quickly would aim to induce such a malfunction. A keyhole shot from a fire-and-forget system can minimize the risk the commander would assume while potentially destroying the enemy vehicle. In certain environments it may be possible to engage a vulnerable area not covered by the APS, potentially negating its protection.
If this “trial shot” is not successful, a second tactic is to simultaneously overwhelm the system with multiple missiles. Coordinating multiple antitank teams attacking the same target nearly simultaneously and from different angles is not an easy task. To defeat the Arena system, for example, a commander would have to coordinate multiple missiles arriving from different directions simultaneously. A multidirectional attack could also force the vehicle to expose the rear of the system to one of the antitank teams, enabling their missile to bypass the protection. The Arena has this rear vulnerability, but the Trophy and GL5 do not.
A third tactic is to use indirect fire to damage the system or trigger it to fire. Accurate sustained fire from company 60-millimeter mortars or M320 grenade launchers, or calling for fire from higher echelons, could damage the system while preventing enemy direct-fire weapons from engaging. A well-constructed defense could also use preparatory fires to deteriorate APS capabilities before a tank enters the engagement area to such an extent that the “trial shot” can have a high chance of success.
A fourth tactic is to simply use munitions that are not countered by the APS to engage and damage it. A high-caliber machine gun could fired in an effort to destroy the munition casings or damage the sensors. A rocket could also be fired so that it explodes next to the vehicle instead of being directed at it. An APS might not deem this shot a threat, and a skilled shot—aimed at a nearby wall, for example—could potentially produce enough shrapnel to damage sensors or munition casings and be followed up by a shot that then has a higher probability of success. Direct-fire degradation is a more risky option, but could be planned as a fallback tactic if indirect preparatory fires are not sufficient and the unit is unable to engage with enough simultaneous anti-tank munitions to overwhelm the system.
These are, of course, just suggestions. But they represent a starting point for a critical process of TTP development in infantry units. It is vital for any army to prepare in peace for the changing realities they might encounter in the next war. The US Army has not had to engage peer adversaries with modern APSs. Understanding the potential capabilities of our adversaries and developing techniques to defeat them now will allow us to be more agile when we first come up against them in battle.
Capt. Vincent Delany is an infantry officer who commissioned from West Point in 2013. He served as a mechanized infantry platoon leader in 1-72 AR in Korea, an infantry training company executive officer in 1-50 IN BN at Fort Benning, GA. He currently serves as a multinational planner and OCT (observer controller trainer) for the 196th Training Support Brigade out of Fort Shafter, HI.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the United States Military Academy, Department of the Army, or Department of Defense.
Author’s note: I would like to thank Staff Sgt. James Wilson for helping to fill in gaps in my knowledge with information that I could not find through my own research. He was an instructor for the Heavy Weapons Leader Course from 2015 to 2018, where he served as primary instructor for ITAS and Javelin and then as senior inspector and team chief for the course. In his time as an instructor he assisted in the development of the JLTV ITAS carrier, an M-ATV ITAS carrier, and a potential CROW/RWS replacement, and conducted numerous live TOW and Javelin missile ranges with over 150 total missiles fired.
Image credit: Sgt. Liane Hatch, US Army
I feel like it's a stretch to say "the balance rested firmly on the side of well-trained infantry" against armor, because that assumes the tankers aren't competent enough to have infantry support of their own, or to use the myriad of sensor and firepower advantages a modern main battle tank has over infantry.
The discussion of potential tactics appears logically sound, but I'd approach the issue as a platform-agnostic antitank discussion, since every one of those tactics would be at least as lethal–and most much more so–if executed by vehicles with superior sensors, communications, fire control, and weapons.
An infantry-centric discussion should focus infantry's ability to occupy broken ground and constricted areas where vehicles cannot easily operate, using that advantage and improved TTPs to impose risk on enemy armor forces operating in given areas, seeking to channel them away towards an unfair fight with friendly armor/artillery/air support rather than directly destroy them.
The key to getting tank kills in the future will be not to destroy the tank at all but to disable the tank. ( boring device that rips a hole though the engine and bores out the barrel all the way down the pipe so to speak) . At the same time a mini-micro-macro missile penetrates the haul and kills or renders the crew unconscious. The area is then secured and the tank or tanks are retrieved or destroyed. The fate of the crew is decided by either top brass or maybe boots on the ground soldiers. This type of strategy and tactics has many advantages being Intelligence, lighter kit , the revenge factor avoided many times, supply chain flow reduced, recovery of resources…many more
This is a very good article, but it's somewhat incomplete in that it doesn't cover ALL of the advances in U.S.A. Anti-Tank weapons developed over the decades.
* The U.S.A. should start producing the FGM-172 SRAW again which is a lighter and cheaper mini-Javelin with a much shorter range. The U.S. Army never adopted it. It is meant for Urban Warfare and tight quarters with its 600m range. The USMC has some SRAWs.
* No mention was made of the M3 and M4 84mm Carl Gustav and the new rounds, especially the 2,000m laser guided RAP one. The rounds most likely won't penetrate the frontal armor of MBTs, but a lucky hit can severely damage a MBT on the rear, top, and sides.
* No mention was made of the U.S. SOF's new RPG launcher and rounds, a copycat of the RPG-7, but made better. U.S. conventional forces will probably never see this, but SOFs might.
* No mention was made of LOSAT/CKEM hypersonic missiles which the U.S.A. developed and tested since the 1990s and shelved. These Mach 6.5+ AT missiles could have been fielded on HMMWVs for Airborne, but nothing came of it.
* No mention was made of APKWS 2.75" rockets, 30mm Bushmaster II, Javelin, or Hellfire missiles on RiWP turrets and the CROWS-J RWS. Combined, one RiWP turret can take out tanks, IFVs, and infantry aboard a light tactical truck. 30mm against APS is way better than 12.7mm and some RWSs are now mounting 30mm.
* No mention was made of the 25mm XM-109 Anti-Material sniper rifle by Barrett. Yes, only 10 prototypes were produced, and yes, it's a bear of a weight at 34 lbs, but the entire Javelin weighs in at 50 lbs. XM-109 can engage out to 2KM (1.2 miles) against IFVs.
* No mention was made of portable laser dazzlers that might blind optics and sensors.
So, yes, the U.S. Military has a lot more infantry-developed Anti-tank weapons than now in service. It's a shame that these canceled and tested systems were shelved and didn't enter production (in sufficient numbers). To rely on TOW and Javelin, which have been exported (and probably captured by enemy forces by now) is shortsighted and narrow-minded, especially considering APKWS and 30mm cannon can do some serious damage to much older MBTs like the T-55 and T-62 devoid of APS.
So the author's focus on killing tanks with TOW and Javelin is correct, but in real truth, there are more ways for the U.S. Military to kill tanks IF these other weapons were produced in sufficient numbers. Something to consider against peer nation threats (like dusting off the old mothballed storage boxes).
You bring up an excellent point. I focused solely on the weapons currently available to the IBCT because I felt that it would be of greater benefit to highlight the current strengths and weaknesses of the force. There is also the fact that I (and most company grade officers and NCOs) have no experience with the weapons the US Army technically has but doesn't field, so I couldn't give a good analysis of it. It also doesn't do much good to know that a certain SOF weapon will defeat the enemy tank if the 82nd drops into Ukraine without it, for example.
Part of the problem set is knowledge, but part of it is the tools the Army has determined the IBCT will be equipped with. There will need to be some piece of equipment that addresses APS before the next conventional war, or we will have to develop and field in during the next war.
Thanks. The Javelin is placing "too many eggs in one basket" and the answer to APS chould have been the FGM-172 SRAW which is very short ranged and not even 1KM (but gives another option). The 84mm Carl Gustav's laser-guided round out to 2,000m could work as could new Anti-tank laser guided mortar and 155mm rounds. The APKWS is also a winner, especially if used in pods of four to 21 rockets.
That is why the MPF 105mm or 120mm Light Tank is so desperately needed for ICBT and Airborne Forces. MPF, if done properly, will have ERA and APS. I really do like the MPF contenders that I am seeing. Stryker MGS 105mm doesn't compare to MPF.
I also think that the SPIKE ATGM would be a nice future addition if the U.S. Army ever adopts it. SPIKE would complement the TOW and Javelin ATGMs nicely.
This article has so many errors that it is not even funny. Some are minor inaccuracies but some are complete nonsense.
1. 2006 war was against Hezbollah – not Hamas
2. Description of Trophy is wrong – it appears to describe a competing APS system (Iron Fist)
3. The Trophy APS became operational in 2009 (and its first combat use happened in 2011) – not in 2010
4. Trophy still poses some danger to nearby infantry – that risk is reduced, not eliminated (as the author implies)
5. In tests, Trophy has achieved "only" 95+% success rate – not 100% as the author claims
6. The claim that TOW 2B Aero is able to jam APS radar is unsourced and I wasn't able to find anything that would support that claim.
7. When discussing Russian APS, the author falsely claims that 2 such system have been widely deployed and immediately strays away from hard-kill APS and includes soft-kill systems (jammers) which are outside of the scope of this article and which provide much more limited (if any) protection) and claims that Russian military has deployed
8. The second Russian system mentioned by the author is Arena – in its description, the author incorrectly claims that it doesn't pose a danger to nearby infantry and ignored the fact that Arena has not been deployed on operational vehicles beyond few prototypes (and that was 20+ years ago) and never entered service – making it completely irrelevant in real-world combat operations.
9. Some of the suggested TTPs that rely on APS systems being faulty and or target vehicles not having any infantry support are practically suicidal. At the same time, the use of anti-tank mines and EIDs is completely ignored.
IMO, increasing the number of AT weapons carried by US infantry (to improve chances of overwhelming such systems) as a short–term measure and resurrecting kinetic warhead ATGM projects (like LOSAT/CKEM) as a long-term measure would be helpful.
the entire premise of the this write up is wrong "tank hunting " is the work of opposing tank forces artillery and air power
the work of the atgm crews in peer combat is to hold the line or advance on a particular point .
thus allied infantry (except sof) only practice anti tank self defense activity in conventional combat .
in addition your tactics are hard to implement cumbersome and opfor time to find and destroy you with their superior sensors and reach
( if you can afford aps you optics and infrared sensors are top notch ).
Really enjoyed this article and especially the comments. Haven't been a tanker since the late 70s, so this all reads like science fiction to me. Funny…nobody mentioned Malotov Cocktails…