Predicting the demise of the tank as a principal weapon of land warfare is one of the longest-running pastimes in the study of military history and defense affairs. Before the guns had gone silent on the fields of Cambria, the site of history’s first major tank offensive, the German army had taken its successful blunting of the British attack to mean that the tank was a battlefield novelty of little importance. The combination of high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) warheads and the compact guidance systems in the anti-tank guided missile (ATGM), first deployed in numbers during the Yom Kippur War of 1973, was also supposed to have spelled the end of the tank.
With the end of the Cold War and the “end of history,” the demise of the tank was again foretold. This era was supposed to mark the end of conventional conflicts, with the tank increasingly relegated to minor and secondary roles, since airpower and Special Forces were to take the lead in brushfire wars the world over. And yet, in each instance, the tank’s unique combination of mobility, firepower and survivability ensured that the tank not only avoided consignment to the trashbin of history, but remains one of the principle expressions of land combat power in the modern age.
The Allied tank offensives of 1918 helped ensure victory against the Central Powers. The development of advanced composite armors in response to the ATGM threat by British and American engineers under codenames such as “Chobham” and “Burlington” would make tanks like Abrams and Challenger some of the brightest stars of Operation Desert Storm. Even in today’s conflicts against non-state actors and state proxies, tanks have repeatedly proven their worth by providing a high degree of tactical overmatch to the armies that employ them.
Looking forward, the Soldier of tomorrow is likely to face an increasingly complex and lethal environment. Advanced weapons that were once the exclusive reserve of the world’s leading militaries are now finding their way into the hands of second- and third-rate militaries, as well as non-state paramilitary organizations. Recent Israeli operations in the Palestinian territories, such as Pillar of Fire and Protective Edge, have demonstrated that highly sophisticated ATGMs and other precision-guided munitions (PGMs) are becoming increasingly common and are presenting issues once primarily dealt with by the foes of Western militaries.