The war in Ukraine has been defined by images of demolished Russian tanks. These pictures include the broken chassis, broken turrets, blackened barrels, and pointing at the sky with their guns. Some have wondered if modern anti-tank weapons render it ineffective on the battlefield.
David Willey, curator at the Tank Museum in Bovington (Dorset), says, "This is a story which comes around every time that a tank gets knocked down." "Because the tank symbolises power, people jump to conclusion that it's the end for the tank when it's destroyed."
As we watch a T72 main battle tank of Soviet design rev its engines as it clatters towards the refuelling station, we are practicing for a demonstration. This tank model was the one that crossed the border into Ukraine in February. It was destroyed by small, agile Ukrainian infantry using drones, Javelin, and Next Generation Light Anti-tank Weapons Nlaws.
"It is important not to draw wrong lessons from the events of the past few months," states retired US Army Lieutenant General Ben Hodges. Hodges was previously in command of US land forces in Europe.
The Russian tanks were often poorly used, without support from dismounted infantry and without the benefit a strong non-commissioned officer corps (NCO), such as the one found in the US Army or British Army. They were therefore easy targets for the defending Ukrainian forces.
Retired British Army Brigadier Ben Barry is now senior fellow for land warfare at The International Institute for Strategic Studies.
"The Russian attack on Kyiv was defeated by tanks that were incompetently deployed by a force incapable of combined arms warfare (combining tanks, infantry and artillery) and with weak logistics.
"A skilled Nato battle group would send out infantry to prevent tanks from being ambushed."
The tank, one of the most iconic symbols of modern warfare, has both its supporters and critics. Azerbaijan's Turkish made drones decimated Armenia's tanks during the 2020 Nagorno Karabakh war. These same drones, known as the TB2 Bayraktar in Libya, caused serious losses to General Haftar's forces. In Syria, however, government tanks were also destroyed by the Turkish drones.
Modern anti-tank guided missiles supplied by the US, Britain and other countries proved to be an important weapon in the defeat of the Russian armoured columns north of Kyiv. In the Donbas, however, the game-changer was the massed Russian artillery, which used destructive firepower to gradually blast its way forward in the second phase.
Russia has lost over 700 tanks so far in the year. Some of these tanks were destroyed and some were abandoned. These tanks are often covered with reactive armor, which looks like a rectangular box. It's designed to cause a small explosion when the missile hits it, which blunts its impact.
However, Western-supplied drones or anti-tank missiles have been able to circumvent this problem by striking the tank from the top on the turret where armour is the thinnest.
Brig Barry says, "This war was the day of drone." It tells us that drones are needed for defense to keep enemy drones away from your back. Classic low-level air defense, including electronic jamming and lasers, is required.
The Active Protection System (APS) is a way to prolong the life of your tank. It's a way to prevent any potential threat from hitting your tank.
David Willey, Bovington's APS expert, explains that there are two types of APS: soft and hard kill suites.
He stops, as the T72 tank nearby, a gift of the Polish Army, emits blue exhaust fumes, and then swivels its huge 125mm gun menacingly towards our direction.
Soft kill refers to electronic pulses that can disable the missile's incoming. Hard kill is firing something kinetic at it like a stream bullets.
The Israeli military has been diligent in their research of this area, particularly since 2006, when they were subject to Hezbollah IED's. They also deployed anti-tank missiles in South Lebanon.
The Active Protection System they developed was called Trophy. The system works by tracking the threat using radar. A rotating launcher mounted on the turret then fires an explosive stream to neutralize it. The Trophy or a variant thereof is likely to be standard on most of the new Western tanks.
Gen Hodges says, "Advancements in counter-drone actions will reduce the effectiveness drones that now appear to roam around the battlefield looking for easy targets."
Is the tank still viable? Is it doomed to the scrapyard, as some believe?
Gen Hodges says that there will always be a demand for mobile protected firepower. He sees a future where unmanned, remote-controlled tanks - basically armoured drones -- will move across the battlefield in tandem to crewed tanks. This will increase their firepower and reduce the risk to lives.
He says, "I was an Infantry soldier. I wouldn't want to be in any battle in any terrain without protected, mobile firepower."
Justin Crump, an ex-commander of British Army tanks and CEO of defence intelligence company Sibylline agrees. Tanks possess a firepower and mobility that Infantry simply don't have. It is a flexible platform capable of operating 24/7, delivering shock to the enemy and getting to the goal. If tanks weren't vital, Ukraine wouldn't be rebuilding its tank force. They asked for twice as many tanks as the UK.
David Willey has been instructing British Army soldiers and, more recently, visiting Ukrainian troops. He says, "It's not only the best tank that matters, but it's also the best crew." "Just because you have the most expensive kit on the planet doesn't mean that you will win, it doesn't necessarily make you a winner. Believe in your cause. The Ukrainians believe in it.