Tanks With Frickin’ Laser Beams On Their Heads

Portent Of The Future: This Mobile High-Energy Laser-equipped Stryker was evaluated during the 2017 Maneuver Fires Integrated Experiment at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. The MEHEL can shoot a drone out of the sky using a 5kW laser. (Photo Credit: C. Todd Lopez)

As the U.S. Army ponders its Multi-Domain Battle concept for future warfare, it is also considering what types of weapons it will need to conduct it. Among these is a replacement for the venerable M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank (MBT), which is now 40 years old. Recent trends in combat are leading some to postulate a next-generation MBT that is lighter and more maneuverable, but equipped with a variety of new defensive capabilities to make them more survivable against modern anti-tank weapons. These include electronic jamming and anti-missile missiles, collectively referred to as Active Protection Systems, as well as unmanned turrets. Manned vehicles will be augmented with unmanned ground vehicles.The Army is also exploring new advanced composite armor and nanotechnology.

Also under consideration are replacements for the traditional MBT long gun, including high-power lasers and railguns. Some of these could be powered by hydrogen power cells and biofuels.

As the U.S. looks toward lighter armored vehicles, some countries appear to going in the other direction. Both Russia and Israel are developing beefed-up versions of existing vehicles designed specifically for fighting in urban environments.

The strategic demands on U.S. ground combat forces don’t allow for the luxury of fielding larger combat vehicles that complicate the challenge of rapid deployment to face global threats. Even as the historical trend toward increasing lethality and greater dispersion on the battlefield continues, the U.S. may have little choice other than to rely on technological innovation to balance the evolving capabilities of potential adversaries.

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Shawn Woodford
Shawn Woodford

Shawn Robert Woodford, Ph.D., is a military historian with nearly two decades of research, writing, and analytical experience on operations, strategy, and national security policy. His work has focused on special operations, unconventional and paramilitary warfare, counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, naval history, quantitative historical analysis, nineteenth and twentieth century military history, and the history of nuclear weapon development. He has a strong research interest in the relationship between politics and strategy in warfare and the epistemology of wargaming and combat modeling.

All views expressed here are his and do not reflect those of any other private or public organization or entity.

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