As armored combat vehicles have ascended in importance on the battlefield, so have the
systems designed to stop those vehicles. The umbrella term antitank originally denoted systems
specifically designed to destroy tanks. But today it is also more broadly constructed. Modern
combat is combined arms combat. Mechanized forces include other armored combat vehicles,
such as armored reconnaissance vehicles, infantry fighting vehicles, armored personnel carriers,
etc. Tanks cannot survive or achieve their tactical objectives without support from other armored
systems. The more recent term antiarmor may supplant the current term; because antitank
weapons which cannot penetrate tank armor can still be a formidable threat if they can defeat or
damage more lightly armored fighting vehicles. With upgrades and innovative tactics even older,
seemingly obsolete, weapons can be used as OPFOR antiarmor weapons.
Antitank weapons can include guns of various sizes, antitank guided missile launcher
systems, rocket and grenade launchers, mines and their delivery systems, and other obstacle
systems. Because the OPFOR place
a high priority on stopping and destroying armored combat vehicles, they will use all other
available assets which can doctrinally support the effort. These include fixed and rotary-wing
aircraft, artillery, NBC assets, etc. A number of recent systems have been fielded seemingly for
other roles, but available for use as antitank weapons: light tanks, heavy armored reconnaissance
vehicles with guns of 60 millimeters or more, assault vehicles, fire support vehicles, and
artillery/mortar-type combination guns, such as Russian 120-mm 2S9, 2S23, and 2S31. Many
OPFOR countries will employ antitank weapons for roles other than antitank, including AT guns
against personnel and soft targets, and ATGMs against personnel and rotary-wing aircraft.
Antitank guns include towed guns and self-propelled antitank guns (also known as tank
destroyers). A number of guns were designed as field guns, with multi-role capability as both
artillery and antitank guns. The modern focus on maneuver warfare has brought a slight decline in
development of uniquely antitank guns. Thus, the 85-mm D-44 gun, which can be used as
artillery, is effective for use in an antitank role. Although recent systems have been developed,
the number fielded has not kept pace with production of armored combat vehicles. Nevertheless,
their effectiveness and selected armies' continued reliance on linear positional battles and
protracted defenses have kept a large number of these systems in inventories. Based on numbers
fielded and likelihood of their threat to US forces, only towed antitank guns were included.
A number of upgrades are available. These include night sights, such as passive image intensifier
sights and thermal sights for the Russian 100-mm MT-12. This is a robust antitank weapon, with
a high rate of fire and rapid mobility. Note the Russian innovation in the MT-12R, an AT gun
with a radar-directed all-weather fire control system. Improved ammunition is critical for
continued effectiveness of antitank weapons. The MT-12 and its variants can fire a variety of
modern ammunition, including the Russian gun-launched ATGM, Kastet.
The antitank guided missile (ATGM) is the singular greatest threat to tanks today.
These systems are distinguished from other antitank weapons in that they are guided to the target.
Most employ SACLOS guidance (see Glossary). An operator holds crosshairs on the target, and
the missile tracker directs the missile to that point. There is a wide variety of countermeasures
(such as smoke and counterfire, due to long flight time and operator vulnerability) for use against
ATGMs. Thus, a 90% probability of hit is a technical figure, and does not mean a 90%
probability of success. On the other hand, there is a variety of counter-countermeasures which
the ATGMs, launchers, and operators can use to increase the chance for success. Tactics,
techniques and procedures within the antitank arena are critical to mission success.
As armor protection levels and antitank weapon lethality levels continue to rise, armor
protection for many modern tanks has outpaced most AT weapons. However, ATGMs have been
able to increase their size, range, and warhead configurations to threaten even the heaviest tanks.
Among notable trends in ATGMs is the worldwide proliferation and variety of manportable and
portable antitank guided missile launchers. These include shoulder-launched, short-range
systems, such as the French Eryx, and a variety of copies of former Soviet systems, such as the
AT-3/Malyutka ("Suitcase SAGGER). Another notable trend is in development of upgrade
ATGMs, with increased lethality. The most common type of lethality upgrade is addition of a
nose precursor or tandem warhead. A more recent lethality upgrade has been the use of warheads
that permit the "fly-over, shoot-down" mode. These missiles can over-fly a vehicle behind a hill,
and fire an explosively-formed penetrator (EFP, in the shape of a cannon kinetic-energy
penetrator round) downward through the relatively soft top of armored vehicles. Other
improvements include improved guidance and resistance to countermeasures, reduced smoke and
noise signature, and increased range. A fairly common trend has been addition of night sights,
including thermal sights for the launcher. As the missiles and launchers have been improved,
weight loads have increased. Most of the so-called portable launchers (AT-4 launcher, TOW, and
HOT) have outgrown the portability weight limit, and must be carried in vehicles and only
dismounted short distances from the carriers.
Although there are unique ATGM launcher vehicles with unique ATGMs, most
numerous launcher vehicles are military and commercial vehicles adapted with pintel mounts for
portable ground launchers, with ATGMs manually loaded and launched. Configurations of those
vehicles consist of simply pairing of vehicle and launcher, and can be executed with equipment at
hand; therefore, they were not described in this guide. The number of fielded ATGM launcher
vehicles specially designed for the mission numbers no more than a few dozen systems. They
constitute a high level threat to vehicles and rotary-winged aircraft in the US Army.
Sources and Methods
Maintained by Robert Sherman
Originally created by John Pike
Updated Saturday, June 19, 1999 6:37:33 AM