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This article is about armoured fighting vehicles. For other meanings, see Tank (disambiguation).

A tank is a tracked, armoured combat vehicle (armoured fighting vehicle), designed primarily to destroy enemy ground forces by direct fire. A modern main battle tank (MBT) is distinguished by its high level of firepower, mobility and armour protection relative to other vehicles of an era. It can cross comparatively rough terrain at high speeds, but is power-, maintenance-, and ammunition-hungry and is logistically demanding. It has the heaviest armour of any vehicle on the battlefield, and carries what is intended to be an effective anti-tank weapon. It is among the most versatile and fearsome weapons on the battlefield, valued for its shock action against other troops, its ability to engage a wide variety of ground targets, and high survivability. Tanks can be vulnerable if not properly protected from other weapons especially aircraft strikes, mines, and artillery, as well as being swamped by infantry. They are usually employed as part of combined arms warfare, supported by infantry, other fighting vehicles and aircraft.

Tanks were first used in World War I, to break the deadlock of the trenches and they evolved to take the role of cavalry on the battlefield. The name "tank" first arose in British factories making the casings of the first battle tanks: the workmen were given the impression they were constructing tracked water containers for the British Army. Tanks have subsequently undergone many generations of design evolution, many of their traits have matured. However, there is an ongoing arms race between tank armour and anti-tank weapons systems, and between opposing tank designs, causing a continual need for upgrading.



Main article: Tank history

WWI - the first tanks

The first successful prototype tank was tested for the British Army on September 6, 1915. Although initially termed "landships" by The Admiralty, the initial vehicles were referred to as "water-carriers", later shortened to "tanks" to preserve secrecy.

The word "tank" was used to give the workers the impression they were constructing tracked water containers for the British army in Mesopotamia. It was made official on December 24, 1915. Legend has it that after completion the tanks were shipped to France in large wooden crates. For secrecy and not to arouse any curiosity the crates and the tanks themselves were then each labelled with a destination in Russian for Petrograd. In fact the tanks were never shipped in crates: the inscription in Russian was applied on the hull for their transport from the factory to the first training centre at Thetford. This first tank, the Mark I, became operational at the Battle of the Somme on September 15 1916. The French developed the Schneider CA1 working also from Holt caterpillar designs, and first used it on April 16 1917. The first successful use of massed tanks in combat occurred at the Battle of Cambrai on November 20, 1917.

The concept was seen to be sound, and allied tank designs were improved during the war. Later tanks became more reliable, had more powerful engines, and were adapted to the first anti-tank weapons, such as German armour-piercing bullets. Germany mostly fielded a small number of captured tanks during the war, and only made 20 of their native design, the A7V.

The tank would eventually make trench warfare obsolete, and the thousands of tanks fielded by French and British forces made a significant contribution to the war. Initial results with tanks were mixed, with problems in reliability causing considerable attrition rates when getting the tanks into combat and on the move. The WWI no-man land was a very difficult terrain, and only very mobile tanks such as the Mark I and FTs with little or no overhang performed reasonably. The Mark I rhomboid shape could navigate large obstacles, especially long trenches, more easily than many modern AFVs.

The Mark V tank was re-designed with extra space for a small squad of infantry. It was not until after WW2 that dedicated fully-tracked armoured personnel carriers would appear (but see Ram tank conversion).

1920s to the end of Second World War

Between the two world wars, with the tank concept now established, several nations designed and built tanks. The British designs were the most advanced, due largely to their successes in WWI, the state of the other European powers France and Germany, and the detachment of the USA. By the 1930s they had developed the idea of having two main classes of tanks, the heavily-armoured infantry tanks that were designed to work in concert with infantry and produce breaks in the defender's lines, and the much faster cruiser tanks that were intended to dash through the holes and run far into the enemy rear with both intended to fight enemy tanks. Most forces, the British included, continued to think in WWI terms, with defensive lines that needed to be breached and then exploited.

There was thought put into tank-against-tank combat, but the focus was on powerful anti-tank guns and similar weapons, including dedicated anti-tank vehicles. This was put to its fullest expression in the United States, where tanks were expected to run away from enemy armour, and let dedicated tank destroyer units deal with them. In practice these concepts soon proved dangerous. As the amount of armour on the battlefield increased the chance of running into a tank grew to the point where every vehicle had to be an effective anti-tank vehicle as well. This led to a rapid up-armouring and up-gunning of almost all tank designs. Tank shape, previously guided purely by considerations of obstacle clearance, now became a trade-off, with a low profile desirable for stealth and stability.

World War II saw a series of advances in tank design. Germany initially fielded lightly armoured and lightly armed tanks, such as the Panzer I which was originally intended for training use only. These fast-moving tanks and other armoured vehicles were a critical element of the German Blitzkrieg. However they fared poorly in direct combat with British tanks and suffered severely against the Soviet T-34 which was superior in armour and weaponry. By the end of the war all forces had dramatically increased their firepower and armour, for instance the Pz I had two machine guns and the "heaviest" early-war German design, the Pz IV, had a light 75mm design and weighed under 20 tonnes. By the end of the war their standard medium, the Panther, mounted a powerful 75 mm gun and weighed 45 tonnes.

The basic concept of mediums and heavies, cruisers and infantry tanks in British parlance, remained. Both the United States and Germany experimented with very heavy tanks, the T-28 at 95 short tons and the 188 metric ton Maus, respectively. More common designs were the German Tiger tank, and the Soviet IS-1.

By this time all tanks were equipped with radios, vastly improving the direction of units. Tank chassis were adapted to a wide range of military jobs, including mine clearance and engineering tasks. Some of these vehicles remain as other classes of armoured fighting vehicle. All major combatant powers also developed tank destroyers and assault guns - armoured vehicles carrying large calibre guns but often without turrets.

Turrets, which had always been considered but were not previously a universal feature on tanks, were recognised as the way forward. It was appreciated that if the tank's gun was to be used to engage armoured targets then it needed to be as large and powerful as possible, making having one large gun with an all-round field of fire vital. Multiple-turreted vehicles (e.g. the Russian T-35) slowly died out during World War II, but never entirely. Most tanks retained at least one hull machine gun. Even post war, the M60 MBT had a smaller secondary turret for the commander's cupola.

Cold War and beyond

Chinese tanks approaching 's during the
Chinese Type 59 tanks approaching Beijing's Tiananmen Square during the 1989 protests

After WWII, tank development proceeded largely as it had been, with improvements to both the medium and heavy classes. Light tanks were now limited to the reconnaissance role and, in US use, airborne support as well. However the weight limitations of air transport made a practical light tank almost impossible to build, and this class gradually disappeared over time.

In the 1950s improvements in armour and engines led to a new medium class with the same sort of battlefield performance as the previous generation of heavy tanks. As a result of heavy guided anti-tank missiles, the focus in development shifted away from just the tank's size, to the technologies within it. Guided missiles made it useless to concentrate resources into fewer heavy tanks, because they could not longer perform in the standoff role, the one thing they were really useful for. So rather than just producing tanks with much thicker armour, radically more effective armour was implemented. Gun technology remained remarkably similar even to WWI era gun technology, with most tanks in service still being manually loaded, but with big advances in shell effectiveness.

The result was the concept of the main battle tank, a single design that would make up the vast majority of the armoured forces and be used like the last generation of medium and cruiser tanks, and in the same roles, but now the heaviest tank accommodated by a armies support system. They had the armour to withstand hits from other tanks, but were just as vulnerable as ever to threats like aircraft, mines, and artillery fire. They focused performance on the anti-tank role and speed, rather than infantry support. One of the most popular of these designs was the British Centurion with the 105 mm L7 gun.

Heavy tanks continued to be developed and fielded until the 1960s and 70s along with mediums, but new anti-tank technology such as guided missiles rendered them ineffective in that role. The combination of large HEAT warheads, with a long range relative to the tanks own gun, and high accuracy meant that heavy tanks could no longer function in the stand-off, or ambush role. Medium tanks were just as vulnerable, but had higher battlefield mobility and were less costly. At the same time the value of light tanks for scouting was diminished due to the advances in helicopters, though armoured reconnaissance vehicles are still fielded.

These medium weight tanks had come to be known as Main Battle Tanks, in reflection of their role, and would become the heaviest fielded direct-fire weapons with the end of heavy tanks (which are also still called MBTs sometimes). The continued need for vehicles that could carry and protect infantry, resulted in the development and use of combination vehicles, Cavalry Fighting Vehicles and Infantry Fighting Vehicles (CFVs and IFVs) such as the M2 Bradley, which combines the roles of a light tank and an APC.

The basic roles and traits of tanks were almost all developed by the end of WWI, but by the 21st century their performance had increased by an order of magnitude. They had been refined dramatically in response to continually changing threats and requirements, especially the threat of other tanks. The advancing capabilities of tanks have been balanced by developments of other tanks and by continuous development of anti-tank weapons.


The design of a tank is dictated by the role it will perform, and influenced by a combination of military strategies, budget, geography, political will and so on. The most significant force behind a new tank design is the deployment of other tanks and weapon systems, and its intended role. The designs themselves are often dependent on specific technologies such as a new power-plant or weapon.

The design can be described roughly as compromise of three main issues: Armour, Firepower and Mobility (speed and terrain performance). At the same time battlefield endurance - how long the tank can operate before needing more fuel and ammunition, or maintenance repairs. In practice more than the three issues have to be considered. A tank could be balanced between firepower, mobility, and armour systems but have very short range and still be under-armoured and too expensive compared to its enemy counterpart.

If considering the aspects based on weight, a given design may have a certain amount of armour for example. However, a heavier design could be made with more armour and a larger engine giving the same performance. What is not apparent is that unless fuel capacity is increased, the latter would also have shorter range. This comparison is useful to understand why tanks of a given class tends become heavier and heavier. Other areas of comparison include monetary cost. For example, more armour and a bigger engine would be heavier, but would also normally cost more. It may be more cost effective to use a combination of higher quality armour and a more efficient drive train.

Another criteria in design is its targeting and control systems. Fewer tank crew may lead to weight savings but be overworked, and not as good at their jobs. Weapon sights are not very heavy, but they play a big role on how well a given gun can be used. In the past it could be as simple as having good optics and a radio, and in modern tanks devices like GPS and thermal scopes.

A defensive tank (e.g. the Conqueror) designed to defend against a larger force favours firepower and armour over mobility. The balance in this case is largely dictated by the limitations of the power-plant. Later MBTs with similar designs with comparable weight and firepower could be much more mobile thanks to engine developments.

See also Tank classification for a overview of tank designs'


Main article: Vehicle armour.

The MBT is the most heavily armoured vehicle in modern armies. Its armour is designed to protect the vehicle and crew to a wide variety of threats. Commonly, protection against kinetic energy penetrators fired from other tanks is considered the most important, and modern tanks are by themselves highly vulnerable to anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) fired from infantry or aircraft. Also anti-tank mines and larger bombs and direct artillery hits are serious threats. Most modern MBTs do offer near complete protection from artillery shrapnel and lighter anti-tank weapons such as rocket propelled grenades. The amount of armour needed to protect against all conceivable threats from all angles would be far too heavy to be practical, so when designing an MBT much effort goes into finding the right balance between protection and weight.

In spite of their heavy armour, modern MBTs can be destroyed by artillery, heavy anti-tank mines, and disabled to varying degrees by a large variety of anti-tank weapons. They are especially vulnerable to airborne threats, and even a few rounds of well placed armour piercing rounds by an aircraft can disable a tank. This makes efficient tactics a very important part of tank protection.

Types of armour

There are several different kinds of armour. The most common is called passive armour which comprises layers of battle steel, alloys and ceramics. One of the best types of passive armour is the British-developed Chobham armour, which is comprised of spaced ceramic blocks contained by a resin fabric matrix between layers of conventional armour. A form of Chobham armour is encased in depleted uranium on the massively protected M1A1 Abrams MBT.

Another common design feature among is to use spaced armor , in other words rather then being solid there is a space between layers. This was first done WWI and especially common in WWII as the technique was especially good at defeating shaped charge warheads. Some common types of spaced armor include slat armor , screens, or solid sheets attached outside the main armor of the tank, or alternatively an extra layer inside the main armor face.

Another major type of armour is reactive armour, which involves the armour "exploding" out towards the incoming round and diverting it. Reactive armour is most effective against shaped charge weapons while passive armour tends to be better against kinetic energy penetrators. Reactive armour tends to be attached to the outside of an MBT in small, replaceable units rather than being permanently incorporated into its main body. Secondary passive armour may also be attached to a tank, but this is not common.

Armor location

Traditionally the thickness of the armour is unevenly distributed. The thickest sections are usually on the front glacis plate and the front of the turret. The sides have much lighter armour and armour on the top of the turret is lighter still. The back of the tank, and over the engine, in the rear, have the lightest protection of all.

The tracks and wheels on some tanks are partly protected by steel skirts, since these are some of the most vulnerable parts to damage. Many tanks without side-skirts have them added later or with kits in the field.

As a result of these design decisions, a tank unit is relatively vulnerable to air attack and needs the support of anti-aircraft vehicles, when the enemy is at least partly in control of airspace. For the same reasons immobilised tanks are also very vulnerable to enemy artillery fire from anything from medium mortars to heavy artillery guns. Unescorted tanks are also vulnerable to ambush by light infantry and guerrillas with hand held anti-tank weapons.

Paradoxically, though more so in the past, and in more urban type warfare, a tank is usually in its safest state when the commander is in a personally unsafe position, riding in the open, head out of the turret, with no personal protection save his helmet and a flak jacket. In this rather high position the commander can see around the vehicle with no restrictions, and has the greatest chance of spotting enemy anti-tank operations or natural and unnatural obstacles which might immobilize or slow down the tank. Tank periscopes and other viewing devices give a sharply inferior field of vision and sense of the countryside, despite constant advances in optics and electronics. Thus, when tanks advance in hostile territory with hatches closed, the commander and others might be personally safer but the tanks as a whole are more at risk, given the extremely reduced vision.

Armour research

Using armour technology currently in development (such as electric reactive armour) could reduce main battle tanks from their current scale-tipping weight of 70 tons, down to a more manageable 20 tons, while providing superior protection. This would also have strategic implications. Currently, US heavy armour divisions can take months to move from the continental United States to locations around the world. A lighter MBT could make deployment faster.

Other technologies being considered for MBTs include active armour, an advancement on reactive armour, which uses radar or other sensing technology to automatically react to incoming missiles. Once the system detects hostile fire, it calculates a firing resolution and deploys counter-projectiles to intercept and disrupt the incoming fire. Again the goal is to reduce overall tank armour while maintaining protection levels.


The main weapon of any modern tank is a single gun. Tank guns are among the largest caliber weapons in use on land, only a few artillery weapons being larger. The caliber have not changed substantially since the end of the Second World War, although the weapons are technically superior. A bigger weapon would require a larger, heavier, more powerful and even more expensive tank. The current common sizes are 120 mm calibre for Western tanks and 125 mm for Eastern (Soviet/Chinese legacy). Tank guns have fired many types of rounds but current use is usually limited to kinetic energy (KE) penetrators and high explosive (HE), though some tanks can fire missiles through the gun. Smoothbore (rather than rifled) guns, being the only type capable of firing KE-penetrators, are the dominant type of gun today. The British Army and the Indian Army, convinced of the usefulness of HESH rounds, are now the only ones to field main battle tanks with rifled guns.

Usually, tanks carry other armament for close-in defence against infantry or targets where the use of the main weapon would be ineffective or wasteful. Typically, a small calibre (7.62 mm - 12.7 mm) machine gun mounted coaxially with the main gun. However, a couple of French tanks such as the AMX-30 and AMX-40 carry a coaxial 20 mm cannon, which has a high rate of fire and can destroy lightly armoured vehicles. Additionally, many tanks carry a roof-mounted or commander's cupola machine gun for close-in defence or limited anti-aircraft fire.

Fire control

Historically, tank weapons were aimed through simple optical sights, and laid onto target by hand. Consequently accuracy was limited at long range and made concurrent movement largely impossible. Modern tanks have a variety of sophisticated systems to make them more accurate. Gyroscopes are used to stabilise the main weapon; laser range finders are used to measure the range to the target; computers calculate the appropriate elevation and aim-point, taking into account many factors such as wind speed, air temperature. Night and infrared vision equipment is also commonly included. Laser target designators may also be used to illuminate targets for guided munitions. As a result modern tanks can fire reasonably accurately while moving.

Grenade launchers and smoke

Most armoured vehicles carry smoke grenade launchers, which can rapidly deploy a smoke screen to visually shield a withdrawal from an enemy ambush or attack. The smoke screen is very rarely used offensively, since attacking through it blocks the attacker's vision and will give the enemy an early indication of impending attack. Modern smoke grenades work in the infrared as well as visual spectrum of light.

Some smoke grenades are designed to make a very dense cloud capable of blocking the laser beams of enemy target designators or range finders. In many MBTs, such as the Leclerc, the smoke grenade launchers are also meant to launch tear gas grenades and anti-personnel fragmentation grenades. Many Israeli tanks contain small vertical mortar tubes which can be operated from within the tank, enhancing the anti-personnel capabilities and allowing it to engage targets which are behind obstacles. There have been proposals to equip other tanks with dual-purpose smoke/fragmentation grenade launchers that can be reloaded from the interior. Some tanks have been adapted to specialised roles and have had unusual main armaments such as flame-throwers. These specialised weapons are now usually mounted on the chassis of an armoured personnel carrier.

Ammunition types

There are several types of ammunition designed to defeat armour, including HESH (High Explosive Squash Head), HEAT (High Explosive Anti-Tank), APDS/APFSDS (Discarding Sabot designs). Non-KE-penetrator rounds have greater accuracy when fired from rifled guns, but can also be fin-stabilized in order to work with smoothbore guns.

Some tanks, including the M551 Sheridan, T-72, T-64, T-80, T-90, and T-84 can fire anti-tank guided missiles through their gun barrel. One reason for doing this is to extend the effective combat range, since the normal AP round loses penetrating power over distance. It also provides the tank with a useful weapon against slow, low-flying airborne targets like helicopters. The United States has abandoned this concept, phasing the M551 and M60A2 out of their forces, but CIS countries continue to employ gun/missile systems in their main battle tanks.


The of a tank (here an Mk-III) allow it to tackle most types of terrain, but they are only lightly armoured and are prone to mechanical failure.
The caterpillar tracks of a tank (here an Israeli Merkava Mk-III) allow it to tackle most types of terrain, but they are only lightly armoured and are prone to mechanical failure.

There are essentially two main aspects of mobility to consider, the tank's basic mobility such its speed across terrain and ability to climb obstacles, and its overall battlefield mobility such as range, what bridges it can cross, and what transport vehicles can move it.

A main battle tank is designed to be very mobile and able to tackle most types of terrain. Its wide tracks disperse the heavy weight of the vehicle over a large area, resulting in a specific ground pressure that might be lower than that of a man's foot. The types of terrain that do pose a problem are usually extremely soft ground such as swamps, or rocky terrain scattered with large boulders. In "normal" terrain, a tank can be expected to travel at about 30-50 km/h. The road speed may be up to 70 km/h.

The logistics of getting from point A to point B are not as simple as they appear. On paper, or during any test drive of a few hours, a single tank offers better off-road performance than any wheeled fighting vehicle. On the road the fastest tank design is not much slower than the average wheeled fighting vehicle design.

In practice, the huge weight of the tank combined with the relative weakness of the track assembly ensure that the maximum road speed of a tank is really a burst speed, which can be kept up for only a short time before there is a mechanical breakdown. The maximum off-road speed is much lower, but in general it cannot be kept up continuously for a day, given the variety of off-road terrain and its unpredictable nature, with the possible exception of plains and sandy deserts.

Since an immobilised tank is an easy target for mortars, artillery, and the specialised tank hunting units of the enemy forces, speed is normally kept to a minimum, and every opportunity is used upon to move tanks on wheeled tank transporters and by railway instead of under their own power. Tanks invariably end up on railcars in any country with a rail infrastructure, because no army has enough wheeled transporters to carry all its tanks. Planning for railcar loading and unloading is crucial staff work, and railway bridges and yards are prime targets for enemy forces wishing to slow a tank advance.

When moving in a country or region with no rail infrastructure and few good roads, or a place with good roads but mines or frequent ambushes, the average speed of advance of a tank unit in a day is comparable to that of a man on a horse or bicycle. Frequent halts must be planned for preventive maintenance and verifications in order to avoid breakdowns during combat. This is in addition to the tactical halts needed so that the infantry or the air units can scout ahead for the presence of enemy anti-tank groups.

Another mobility issue is getting the tank to the theatre of operations. Tanks, especially main battle tanks, are extremely heavy, making it very difficult to airlift them. Using sea and ground transportation is slow, making tanks problematic for rapid reaction forces.

Some tank-like vehicles use wheels instead of tracks in order to increase road speed and decrease maintenance needs. These vehicles lack the superior off-road mobility of tracked vehicles, but might be more suited for rapid reaction forces due to increased strategic mobility.


The tank's power-plant supplies power for moving the tank and for other tank systems, such as rotating the turret or electrical power a radio. Tanks fielded in WWI all used petrol (gasoline) engines as power plants, though starting in the intra-war period some tank designs used diesel instead. In the Second World War there was a mix of types used, a lot of tank engines were adapted aircraft engines. As the Cold War started, tanks had almost all switched over to using diesel, improved multi-fuel versions of which are still common. Starting in the late 1970s, turbine engines began to appear.

The weight and type of power-plant (influenced by its transmission and drive train) largely determines how fast and mobile the tank is, but the terrain effectively limits the maximum speed of all tanks through the stress it puts on the suspension and the crew.

Multi-fuel diesels

All modern non-turbine tanks use a diesel engine because diesel fuel is less flammable and more economical than petrol. Some Russian tanks use the dark smoke of burning diesel as an advantage and intentionally burn fuel in the exhaust to create smoke for cover. Fuel tanks are commonly placed at the rear of the tank, though in some designs, such as the Israeli Merkava, the diesel fuel tanks are placed around the crew area. Fuel has often been stored in auxiliary tanks externally, or by other means such as in a small trailer towed behind the tank, able to be detached during combat.

Modern tank engines are in some cases multifuel engines, a form of two-stroke design which can operate on diesel, petrol or similar fuels. However the exhaust is hotter then a diesel giving a larger thermal signature (see below).

Gas turbines

Certain designs, like the Russian T-80 and the US M1 Abrams, are powered by turbines. Gas turbines have been used as an auxiliary power unit (APU) in other tanks but not as the main engine. They are comparatively lighter, offer higher amounts of sustained power output, and their efficiency is greater than that of other engines in some conditions. However, at their lowest operating speed they consume fuel at a much higher rate than other types of engines. During the first Gulf War this was a handicap for the M1s since they needed to keep their turbines running even while stationary (like other tanks) to power the electrical equipment; the diesels could run at idle to power their equipment. Newer models of the M1 have a secondary small turbine engine as an APU for powering tank systems while stationary which is more fuel efficient.

In theory a turbine is easier to maintain than the piston-based engines, since there are much fewer moving parts. In practice, the turbine blades are very sensitive to dust. In desert conditions, where fine sand and dust gets in everywhere, special filters have to be carefully fitted and they must be changed several times a day during operations. An improperly fitted filter, or a single bullet or a piece of shrapnel could render the filter useless, potentially damaging the engine. Piston engines also need filters and these also need constant maintenance, but the engines are more resilient even if the filter does fail.

One clear trend is the increasing number of electrical and communication systems on a tank, such as thermal scopes and higher powered radios. If tank designs switched to electrical motors like some other heavy construction equipment, rather then a direct drive transmission, or used electromagnetic guns, as is being studied for ships, there would still be a need for a good power-plant. The turbine engine long ago supplanted piston engines in both military aircraft and ships, but whether it will be successful in tanks has yet to be seen. It is also possible that other types of power-plants such as fuel cells will provide a viable option, and they have been experimented with. For example, a hybrid electric version of the M113 APC outperformed the conventional one in many areas, but only at the expense of smaller range.

Sonic, seismic and thermal traces

Stationary tanks can be well camouflaged in woodland and forested areas where there is natural cover, making detection and attack from the air more difficult. By contrast, in the open it is very hard to hide a tank. However, in both cases, once a tank starts its engine or begins to move, it can be detected much more easily due to the heat and noise generated by its engine. The tank tracks across lands can be spotted from the air, and in the desert movement can stir up dust clouds.

Most tanks are powered by a diesel engine of a power comparable to a diesel locomotive. From the outside a tank smells, sounds, and feels quite like a diesel locomotive. The deep rumble of even a single tank can be heard a great distance on a quiet day, and the sharp diesel smell can be carried far downwind. When a tank stands still with engine running the land trembles around it. When moving, the vibrations are greater. The acoustic and seismic signatures of multi-fuel engines are comparable. The acoustic signature of a turbine engine is much greater: its high pitch whine can be much more easily distinguished from other sounds, near or far.

The very large output of a tank engine (typically in excess of 750 kW) ensures that it will always leave a distinct thermal signature. The unusually compact mass of metal of the tank hull dissipates heat in a fashion which marks it off sharply from other objects in the countryside. A moving tank is thus relatively easy to spot by good land-based or aerial infrared scanners. One of the reasons for the one-sided fighting during the Gulf Wars was that tanks like M1 Abrams had almost four times the night time infrared scanning range of T-72s used by the Iraqi army. Another factor in the Gulf War was that even when camouflaged and not moving, Iraqi tanks at night would cool at a different rate than their surroundings, making thermal detection easy.

Getting a tank to move proved to be important in the Kosovo conflict in 1999. During the initial few weeks of the conflict, NATO air sorties were rather ineffective in destroying Serbian tanks. This changed in the final week of the conflict, when the Kosovo Liberation Army began to engage tanks. Although the KLA had little chance of destroying the tanks, their purpose was to get the tanks to move whereupon they could be more easily identified and destroyed by NATO air power.


See also

Last updated: 10-24-2005 03:09:16
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