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Useful Notes / Modern Battlefield Weapons

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The sort of weapons one finds on a modern (i.e. 1900 or later) land battlefield, be it forest, desert or urban.

This will be split into weapons a soldier can carry and weapons that need a vehicle to transport them.

Man Portable Weapons

Pistols

The most common "sidearm" in modern military service is some model of semi-automatic pistol with a detachable magazine. Fulfilling functions from purely ceremonial to close-range self-defense to "fighting your way back to your rifle", pistols offer fair firepower at short range and are among the lightest, most portable firearms.

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Note that there are, for historical reasons, some rather different attitudes in different militaries about these. In many European militaries prior to World War II, the pistol was symbolic of a commissioned officer's authority; it meant that if he drew it in battle, its purpose was to shoot one of his own soldiers for failing to obey orders, and the idea of actually using it to shoot at the enemy seemed in these military establishments rather strange. In some other militaries—the UK and US militaries come immediately to mind—due to 19th Century colonial warfare and warfare against the Plains Indians, the pistol was regarded as a vitally important instrument of close quarters combat. Which is why so many European armies prior to NATO issued tiny little .32 caliber pocket pistols to their officers, whereas the US and UK militaries favored big revolvers and/or big semiauto pistols in calibers beginning with a ".4" The Germans, having observed this, and suspecting (correctly) that close quarters battle was going to be commonplace in the next big war, created the perennially popular 9x19mm pistol cartridge, which is still in use by NATO and many governments around the world.

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Military revolvers, though not unknown up until after World War II (and in both World Wars, the US military purchased revolvers from Colt and also Smith & Wesson due to insufficient production of the M1911 semiauto design), have all but disappeared from service, though even in the 1980s they were sometimes seen in use by the US Air Force and US Navy. Common examples include:

Submachine Guns

A submachine gun by definition is an automatic weapon that uses pistol ammunition, which is much less powerful than rifle ammunition. This makes them it relatively easily controlled in full auto fire—there is less recoil, the muzzle rises less—but it limits their effective range to 150m or less, and the relatively low velocities mean the bullets do not penetrate light cover—such as car doors, building materials, etc.—nearly as well as more powerful ones do.

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Appearing in the late stages of World War I, submachine guns, SMGs saw wide use during the Second World War; shortly thereafter, it was supplanted by selective-fire assault rifles. Although they were first considered to be the equivalent of giving every soldier his own machine gun, experience showed that the pistol calibers and detachable magazines used meant SMGs could not attain the range or sustained fire capability of proper machine guns, and the invention of intermediate caliber automatic weapons (the assault rifle, as famously coined by Adolf Hitler himself) pushed them away from their primary weapon role. Today, SMGs are seeing a sort of resurgence in two fields: first, as a special-operations weapon, as sound suppressors can make pistol-caliber weapons surprisingly quiet. Today, they have been almost completely overtaken by assault rifles in military use.

A further evolution of the submachine gun is the Personal Defense Weapon, or PDW. PDWs are intended for use by rear-echelon and support troops, such as combat engineers and truck drivers, and is intended to be shorter, lighter, and handier than an automatic rifle, yet still capable of penetrating the soft body armor that is becoming increasingly common on the modern battlefield. In practice, the concept has not been particularly successful, due to the popularity of compact assault rifles which use regular 5.56x45mm ammunition, don't need proprietary magazines or cartridges, don't need much retraining, and are a lot more affordable. Because of this, PDWs mainly see use not in their originally intended role as a defensive weapon for rear-line troops, but as the weapons of VIP bodyguards, special forces units, and police SWAT teams.

  • Many nations in Eastern Europe designate very short barreled assault rifles as "submachine guns" despite them not fitting the actual definition of the term, because they're used in the same tactical role.

Shotguns

Compared to other firearms, which typically fire single bullets, shotguns fire large numbers of pellets, or "shot", from a cylindrical shell. They are much more powerful compared to handguns, easier to aim, and much cheaper, while their large case capacity allows for the use of many different types of ammunition. The spherical pellets they fire lose velocity quickly, however, limiting their effective range to around 50 meters, as well as reducing their penetration against obstacles or armor (which may sometimes be an advantage if one does not wish to cause collateral damage), while the large shells limit the amount of ammunition one can carry.

The most common shotguns are manually operated "pump-action" designs, which means the user must pump the forend back and forth to eject fired cases, cock the mechanism, and load a fresh round, with fixed tubular magazines that must be loaded one cartridge at a time through a spring-loaded gate in the bottom of the receiver. There has been a relatively-recent trend towards semi-automatic and even fully-automatic shotguns, though the pump-action is still considered the most reliable.

For military purposes, the most popular antipersonnel round is "buckshot," originally created in the late 19th Century for hunting medium to large game, and not greatly changed since then; these cartridges hold a stack of big heavy lead balls, big enough to be pistol bullets in their own right. There has been considerable experimentation with flechettes, miniature grenades, and other, more exotic types of ammunition in an attempt to boost the shotgun's already considerable lethality further, but they keep coming back to buckshot, because it's really inexpensive to manufacture and works really well. Specialized types of ammunition include "breacher rounds," have been created permitting the shotgun to be used as a tool for blowing hinges off doors in order to permit Dynamic Entry, along with rubber slug or baton rounds for less-lethal use and riot control.

Shotguns have always been very popular with US law enforcement, and since the end of the 19th century, US military units have issued shotguns to selected infantrymen whenever they are expected to do a lot of house-to-house fighting, or close-quarters work under jungle conditions. Several models have been issued, most of them adapted from civilian hunting shotguns, but with barrels shortened, extended magazine capacity and mounting hardware for bayonets added on, so-called "trench guns."

Bolt-action Rifles

Most common in the First World War, and used by most nations until well after the Second World War. Most have a bolt handle on the right, which a right-handed user rotates upward to unlock, then pulls back to eject the fired casing, pushes forward to load the next cartridge into the chamber, then rotates the bolt handle back down to lock the breech. They can be fed by integral magazines, box magazines, or be single-shot.

By 21st century standards, bolt-actions are quite slow and old-fashioned due to their manual, non-repeating design. Compared to automatics, however, bolt-actions have fewer moving parts, meaning there is less of a chance for them to be thrown off-target, while their sealed, non-repeating design means they can potentially achieve higher velocity and accuracy (most automatic or semi-automatic weapons must tap some of the energy from the weapon's firing to cycle the action). The simple, manually-operated action also makes them easy to build and disassemble, simple and rugged, and is extremely resistant to abuse and neglect. Finally, most bolt-action designs are strongly-built, allowing them to chamber large calibers.

There were three different popular bolt-action designs: the Mauser model 1898 or Gewehr 98, copied in the US as the M1903 Springfield and in Japan as the Arisaka. The British had the Lee-Enfield, and the Russians had the Mosin-Nagant Model 1891. This is not to say that other nations didn't also have similar designs, but these were the ones commonly found on battlefields in the early and mid part of the century; the Mauser designs were extremely widely exported, and the Model 1898 was the AK47 of its day—it can be found on Third World battlefields even in the present day. Some nations still issued these into the 1960s (and the Russians had tens of millions of Mosin-Nagants left over from the Second World War put away in arsenals that they didn't start selling off as surplus until after the year 2000), but more modern designs eventually supplanted them. The bolt-action mechanism is still very popular for target rifles and hunting rifles in the present day—and has been since the 1920s. Due to their high potential accuracy, many dedicated sniper rifles are bolt-action.

Battle Rifles

Following World War II, NATO adopted the 7.62x51mm round—a World War I style "full power" rifle cartridge—at the behest of the USA. Paired with maturing designs of man-portable automatic weapons, this created the distinctive class of battle rifles, which are chambered in full-power rifle calibers. Most are capable of full-automatic fire, but the recoil is prohibitive and so this capability was rarely used. Common examples include:

  • The M14 rifle. This modification of the Garand rifle that had equipped the US Military during World War II came into service at the end of the 1950s.
  • The Heckler & Koch G3. Working from a design developed by Mauser engineers at the tail end of World War II and further refined when they went to work for Francisco Franco in Spain after the war, the G3 was Heckler & Koch's first big success and introduction to their use of the roller-locked breech system which is also used in many of their other firearms. Widely adopted by militaries in Western Europe and a very popular export item all over the world. Still used by surprisingly many countries.
  • The FN FAL. This Belgian rifle is unanimously hailed the greatest battle rifle. Both it and the G3 were in fierce competition for adoption in many countries. The UK abandoned their own experiments with novel rifle designs and calibers in favor of a purely semi-automatic version of the FAL, which they used into the mid-1980s including against Argentine FALs in The Falklands War (not the only bit of equipment shared by both sides). At one point, circa 1985, the FAL was the second most common military rifle in use on the planet. The US also very nearly adopted the FAL in 1955, but at the last moment went with the M14 instead after looking very hard to find any excuse to go with the domestic design.

Battle rifles were mostly supplanted in the late 20th century by the assault rifle, which fired lighter, intermediate-power rounds. Battle rifles, however, have recently undergone a kind of resurgence, by Western forces who've adopted designated marksman tactics, giving one squad member a longer ranged weapon that can more easily pierce cover.

Note that the term "battle rifle" is somewhat vague. In most cases (like this page), it refers to select-fire weapons fed by box magazines and chambered in full-power rifle rounds, but the term may also be retroactively applied to older weapons that meet some, but not all of these requirements, like the American M1 Garand or the Soviet SVT-40.

Assault Rifles

Perhaps the main man-portable firearm since World War II, assault rifles are select-fire firearms firing intermediate calibers, like the 5.56x45mm NATO or the 7.62x39mm or 5.45x39mm Soviet rounds. They are the all-rounder of battlefield weapons. The relatively lightweight ammunition allows an infantryman to carry more ammunition than previous designs, while the low recoil allows for better accuracy and controllability. They are much longer-ranged and have better penetration and power than most submachine guns, but less range than a sniper rifle.

The first such weapon to appear was the German StG44, and it was for it that the term "assault rifle" was coined. It was a short and handy—well, compared to a K98, anyway—selective-fire automatic carbine using detachable 30 round box magazines and a distinctive-looking stubby little 7.92x33mm cartridge. The Germans manufactured several tens of thousands of them during the Second World War, and they were well liked by troops in the field, there weren't enough of them produced to make any real difference in the outcome of the war. The weapon's concept, however, appealed to various militaries and arms designers, and after the war, many new assault rifles were designed and adopted.

The two most common examples:

  • The AK-47 (or, officially, the Avtomat Kalashnikova or "Kalashnikov automatic") and all its descendants. Memetically tough and nigh-indestructible, this weapon family entered mass production around 1948 and is widespread around the world and has more licensed copies / unlicensed knock-offs than can be easily recounted, including some in use by Western-aligned nations (designs based on it but not outright copies have been manufactured in Israel, Finland, and South Africa, among other countries). According to some estimates, more than thirty million AKM and AK74 pattern rifles have been manufactured worldwide since 1960. Often crudely made—the definitive mass-produced variations in Soviet service, the AKM (in 7.62x39mm caliber, appearing in 1960) and AK74 (in 5.45x39mm caliber, appearing in 1974) have a receiver made from stamped sheet metal riveted together and most often a buttstock and handguard cut roughly from plywood, even the military issue ammunition in these calibers is usually loaded in lacquered steel cases instead of more expensive brass (though the bores, chambers, and gas cylinders are usually chrome-lined to reduce wear and protect them from corrosive primer residue).
  • The M16, the primary rifle of the United States military, and many of its allies. It suffered from a troubled development history, plagued by mismanagement and deliberate sabotage. Fortunately, the M16 survived those horrible first years and has eventually become a widely adopted and copied weapon itself. The now steadily more popular M4 variant is described under Carbines. The weapon's design also proved to be relatively easy to customize, allowing it to accept a large number of accessories.

Carbines

A carbine is, somewhat oxymoronically, a long gun with a shorter than normal barrel. The most common weapons defined as "carbines" are shortened versions of longer rifles. Many long-barreled rifles were found to be difficult to handle, while the accuracy offered by their long barrels was found to not be as much of an advantage as expected (most combat took place at ranges much closer than their maximum range). As a result, many long rifles had their barrels shortened (the German Gewehr 98, for instance, was shortened to create the Karabiner 98K), slightly reducing their range and muzzle velocity, but making them easier to handle. After World War II, as assault rifles and battle rifles, with barrels shorter than the rifles of old, came in, they, too, received carbine designs. The American M16, for instance, has the M4 carbine variant, while the Russian AK-74 has the AKS-74U compact carbine. Today, carbine-length rifles are mostly used by rear-echelon troops and soldiers expecting to see close-quarters combat, as the shorter barrel and weight make maneuvering easier. In fact, with the high-speed maneuvering and short-range engagements that define modern combat, short-barreled rifles and carbines are sometimes the norm rather than the exception (the United States Army, for instance, has replaced most of its M16s with the M4).

Carbines may also be purpose-built weapons with shorter barrels. They were intended for cavalry, engineers, etc., who weren't expected to advance in lines at enemy position, but still needed something for self-defense, essentially an ancient PDW. Examples of these older carbines include:

  • The M1 Carbine. Chambered in a unique caliber that approached the intermediary cartridge ideal of assault rifles, it was very compact and light, it was intended to be used by rear-echelon troops, and proved very popular with paratroopers.
  • The Simonov SKS semiauto carbine, which was the platform in which the AK's 7.62x39mm cartridge was introduced in 1943. This was essentially a carbine version of Simonov's AVS battle rifle without the full-auto. The Russians didn't have a lot of enthusiasm for a design they regarded as a stopgap and only mass-produced them for a few years, but the Chinese and several Soviet allies in Eastern Europe made copies by the tens of millions and exported them all over the world; the Chinese still export them today. It is perhaps a bit heavy and clunky for what it is, and almost all examples are loaded from the top with a stamped sheet metal stripper clip like something from before World War I, but it has a good reputation for ruggedness and reliability. Very commonly encountered around the world.

Today these older carbines are something of a historical anomaly, having been replaced by more advanced weapons.

Grenade Launchers

These began appearing in the 1960s. They are rifled weapons, often but not always bolted onto a rifle underneath its barrel, firing a projectile normally 30mm to 40mm in caliber, rather than an actual hand grenade. They are relatively low velocity direct-fire weapons that lob their smallish shells in a high arc with an effective range of up to a few hundred meters, but are surprisingly accurate. These have appeared in both Eastern and Western armies, though are somewhat less common in Eastern armies. The rounds have a relatively small bursting radius due to relatively small caliber but are highly lethal within that radius. Most common around the world today is the US M203, introduced in the early 1970s and designed to be bolted onto an M16 rifle or M4 carbine, slung under the rifle's barrel. Antipersonnel HE-fragmentation rounds are most common but others exist, from colored smoke for signaling or target marking purposes to shaped charge armor-piercing rounds capable of destroying a light armored vehicle.

  • One of the most iconic dedicated grenade launchers is the M79 "Blooper", used by the US during the Vietnam War. Essentially a breach-loaded 40mm tube, the M79 was well-liked but not very practical: the weapon weighed as much as a standard assault rifle, and the grenade rounds were unusually large and heavy as well, which meant that the grenadier carried no other weapon (other than maybe an M1911 pistol), which limited their combat ability in close engagements. There were several variants of the M79 created, but the designed remained mostly unchanged until the introduction of the underbarrel grenade launcher.

Prior to purpose-designed grenade launchers, there were "rifle grenades," which used contraptions bolted onto the muzzle of an infantry rifle that used a special type of blank cartridge to launch a modest-sized shell, most commonly a light shaped-charge antiarmor round but antipersonnel HE-frag was also common. They have been around since between the World Wars, and there is still a NATO spec for rifle grenades, but they fell from favor in the 1960s in favor of more modern "grenade launcher" type weapons. In some Eastern countries they are still in common issue; Poland and the former Yugoslavia, for example, still issue rifle grenades widely.

Machine Guns

Here we begin to see the real "teeth" of infantry formations, so to speak. Machine guns are designed to provide sustained automatic fire, compared to smaller automatic weapons like submachine guns and assault rifles, which can fire on full-auto, but are not intended to do so for long periods. To accommodate for the heat generated by sustained fire, many of them are built heavier than common rifles, with thick barrels and/or barrels that can be easily swapped, and are commonly fed by ammunition belts. They also have various methods of keeping the gun cool, such as with water (early machine guns like the Vickers and Maxim), or forced-air cooling (most machine guns today). Due to their heavy weight, they may be designed to be fired from mountings (like bipods, tripods or vehicle mounts) for easier aiming and handling.

On the defensive, the purpose of the riflemen is to keep the SAW and LMG teams from being outflanked or overrun. In meeting engagements or on the offensive, the SAW and LMG teams set up a base of fire and suppress enemy units and enemy positions, while the riflemen form a maneuver element to approach the enemy position under cover of fire and then assault it at close quarters.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, machine guns have been a ubiquitous weapon, and come in several classifications.

  • Heavy machine guns may be classified as such due to their weight (like the WWI-era Vickers gun, or the WWII-era Type 92), or due to firing a large-caliber round (the .50 BMG Browning M2 and the 12.7x99mm DShK), the latter the most common definition today. Modern heavy machine guns are intended primarily for use against vehicles, aircraft, and structures, thanks to their high power, range, and penetration. Their heavy weight limits their mobility, so they usually must be fired from mounts like bipods and tripods.
  • General-purpose machine guns and medium machine guns are the everyman of the machine gun classification. They typically fire full-power cartridges, like the 7.62x51mm NATO or 7.62x54mmR and are usually adaptable for multiple purposes. Medium machine guns are more oriented toward fire support and static defense, fired from a mounting. While lighter than heavy machine guns, they are still somewhat heavy and cumbersome to move and use. General-purpose machine guns are more adaptable, able to be fired from both bipods and tripods, and much easier to move with and be carried by infantry. Examples of general-purpose machines guns include the FN MAG/M240, the German MG42 and later MG3, the American M60, and the Russian PK.
  • Light machine guns are light enough to be carried by an individual soldier, with or without an assistant. They are designed primarily for supporting infantry on the move. They are typically chambered in full-power cartridges. Older light machine guns were fed by box magazines, while newer ones are likely to be belt-fed. Examples include the WWII-era British Bren and the American Browning Automatic Rifle, or BAR.
    • Squad automatic weapons (SAW) are a subtype of light machine gun, usually issued at the squad level (hence the name) for fire support. . They are typically chambered in intermediate-power rounds like the 5.56x45mm, typically the same round as the squad's rifle. In fact, their design may even be based on the squad's standard rifle (adapted for sustained fire). Examples include the FN Minimi/M249 and the Russian RPD and RPK.

Sniper Rifles

The ultimate weapon whenever you need to reach out and touch someone a few paces away. And "a few paces" really means half a mile, if not further—if the rifleman has the skill to use it effectively at such distance (the record is over 2 kilometres). And "touch" means decapitate. Normally fitted with a telescopic sight of some kind rather than iron sights. They are typically bolt-action for accuracy, though some are semi-automatic. Some of the more common ones are:

  • The M24, standard 7.62 NATO bolt-action sniper rifle as fielded by the United States Army. It is based on the long-action, detachable magazine configuration of the Remington 700 rifle. The United States Marine Corps uses the M40, based on the short-action, fixed magazine configuration.
  • The Accuracy International Arctic Warfare series of rifles, the British sniper rifle of choice.

Related to the sniper rifle is the designated marksman rifle, or DMR. Compared to sniper rifles, DMRs are meant to engage at much closer ranges than dedicated sniper rifles, but further out than most infantry rifles. They are typically repeating designs, with larger magazine capacities, with designated marksmen functioning as part of the squad rather than independently as most snipers work. DMRs may be based on an existing assault or battle rifle (like the Mk 14, based on the M14, and the FN SCAR-H), or be a purpose-built weapon (like the Dragunov SVD, the original Soviet rifle intended as a DMR).

Anti-Tank/Anti-Materiel Rifles

With the arrival of tanks in World War I, came the development of large-caliber rifles intended to defeat them. Various European armies had them in calibers up to 20mm. Most were single-shot or bolt-action. They were commonplace until early in World War II, when it became obvious that a man-portable rifle, even a big and heavy one using armor-piercing bullets, could not do much against newer tanks.

Although no longer effective against tanks, their utility against other types of targets, such as light armored vehicles, trucks, parked aircraft, equipment, etc., have caused the concept to make something of a comeback since 1990 or so. Currently weapons in this class are generally called AMRs (Anti-Materiel Rifles) and there is a certain degree of overlap in design, function, and application with the largest-caliber (.50 caliber and up) sniper rifles.

Both the ATR and AMR generations of this kind of weapon tend to weight enough to make firing them without steady support all but impossible, and absolutely require a crew of two for portability of rifle itself and necessary ammunition just because one man can not be expected to carry it for any prolonged period of time and retain physical fitness to accomplish a shot. Most are easily disassembled into major components (usually barrel/reciever/peripherals) on the field for that very reason. In short, an AMR is to an ordinary sniper rifle roughly what an HMG is to a LMG/SAW.

Examples:

  • The Russians had a semiauto 14.5mm antitank rifle called the PTRS, but it was less reliable and harder to produce than its bolt-action cousin, the PTRD, causing the latter to be used and manufactured much more.
  • The M82 Barrett, your characteristic BFG, this is a .50 caliber rifle most often used for unexploded ordnance disposal and interdiction of light armored vehicles and has been used at distances of two kilometers and beyond. This weapon stands on the border between "anti-personnel" sniper rifles and...

Please note the spelling is correct. In a military context, the spelling for supplies and equipment is "materiel," not "material."

Flamethrowers

These appeared in World War I and were in widespread use until the 1970s. They were extremely heavy and unwieldy, using tanks of compressed gas to propel a stream of burning napalm at a target up to 40 or 50 meters away. The US Marine Corps made very heavy use of them in jungle fighting in the South Pacific during the Second World War, but flamethrowers have become much less common since then, for various reasons—like, their limited range, the extreme weight, and advances in technology providing more efficient methods of dealing with stubborn bunkers and machine-gun nests, like laser-guided artillery shells, infantry rocket launchers with thermobaric/fuel-air-explosive warheads, and so on. Flamethrowers are still manufactured in some countries but the US military has not issued them since the 1970s, and by the 21st Century their extreme weight, and also the high level of training necessary so that the user won't be more of a danger to himself and the friendly troops around him than to the enemy, have made them an uncommon sight in the present day.

Contrary to popular belief, most flamethrowers used by militaries did not violently explode if hit by a bullet. The propellant gas was not flammable, and as MythBusters showed, it is very difficult to set off a tank of gasoline by shooting it with a gun... and gasoline is MUCH easier to ignite than the jellied fuel used in flamethrowers. The trooper was in far more danger of being perforated himself because the bulky flamethrower getup both drew fire and made it harder for him to move freely to take cover or defend himself. Flamethrowers depicted in movies generally lack the "Supersoaker stream of flame" quality that combat flamethrowers had. Movie and video game flamethrowers also tend to be much shorter ranged than their real life counterparts.

Shoulder-Launched Ordnance (Bazookas and RPGS)

Tank armour improved rapidly during World War II, as both sides introduced larger and heavier tanks. Infantry anti-tank rifles became ineffective as the high velocities needed to penetrate tank armour required impractically large rifles.

Fortunately a new development in explosive charges gave the infantry a new weapon to fight tanks. High Explosive Anti Tank (HEAT) warheads were small, and did not need to be fired at high velocity to cause damage—the warhead was shaped and lined to punch a jet of molten metal through any armour it hit. These warheads have been continuously improved since the war, and are even now the only way to kill tanks without a giant cannon or an even bigger bomb dropped from the air.

Different countries each invented different ways of getting the warhead to its target. These uses of and principles behind these weapons are often misunderstood by laymen (particularly reporters), so an explanation is called for.

The British PIAT (projector, infantry, anti-tank) used what was essentially a spring-triggered mortar to lob a 3lb bomb, on the theory that much of the recoil would be absorbed by recocking the giant spring. Many British veterans with gimpy shoulders will tell you that this was not always the case. The effective range was short, the bomb became less effective when its German targets started adopting armor skirts which would pre-emptively detonate the bomb before they could reach the vehicle's main armor, the bomb's fuses were statically considered only 75% reliable in retrospective firings, the weapon was heavy and required cocking to fire (cocking a spring sufficient for propelling a 31b bomb was certainly not the most consistently easy feat), but the bomb was fairly powerful and the weapon was occasionally winged for use in anti-building/bunker duty or even a mortar for short-range indirect fire. And it did have the advantage of not instantly giving away the shooter's position.

The Americans developed the M1 Bazooka—a long but light long reloadable tube with a rocket in it that so greatly resembled a particular type of musical instrument that it stole the name. Recoil was reduced by the simple principle of letting all the exhaust escape out the back of the weapon, creating a huge cloud of hot gas behind the firer, which both gave away his position and severely hurt anybody stupid enough to stand right behind him, but gave the weapon an impressive effective range. Theoretically the rocket was supposed to finish burning by the time it left the tube. Many American veterans without eyebrows will tell you that this was not always the case. The bazooka was issued in improved versions until the 1970s.

For once, the Germans went with an elegantly simple design—the Panzerfaust (tank fist) was simply a disposable steel tube from which a black-powder charge threw a bomb with fins to a similar range as the PIAT. Short-ranged, but very cheap and powerful, improved versions of this weapon were built right up to the end of war, long after anti-tank gun production virtually ceased. They worked so well their Red Army enemies employed captured Panzerfausts quite frequently toward the war's later years.

The Germans also copied the American bazooka to make the Panzerschreck (tank terror)—with a larger diameter,note  which gave it a longer range and greater armor penetration than it's American counterpart. It was quite effective against most of its targets and inspired the Americas to upgrade their design to the M20 Super Bazooka. It suffered from low production numbers like many other Wehrmacht weapons, so there were far too few to change the course of the war (about 280,000 panzerschrecks were made compared to over 6 million Panzerfausts)

The Russians didn’t get into the game until after the war (they were making do with the Germans' own panzerfausts beforehand anyway), when they developed the RPG-2—essentially a reloadable version of the panzerfaust. It was later replaced by the now-iconic RPG-7, which added a rocket motor set to ignite after traveling 10 meters, increasing the range. This system gives the weapon a very strange trajectory and counter-intuitive behavior in wind (it steers into the direction of a crosswind), making it very hard to aim. Nevertheless, the weapon is a favorite of insurgents all over the world for its simple design and use. It should also be able to be fired safely from within buildings. Many Iraqi veterans with singed beards will tell you that this is not always the case. Incidentally, RPG actually stands for Ruchnoy Protivotankoviy Granatomyot, or hand-held anti-tank grenade launcher. Rocket Propelled Grenade is a backronym.

The US also from around 1967 until around 1990 universally issued the little M72 66mm "LAAWS" ("Light Anti-Armor Weapon System") single-shot disposable antitank rocket launcher, which fired from a disposable launch tube. In the late 1980s it was felt that the 66mm round was not big enough to damage the newest generation of Soviet tanks, so it was scaled up and redesigned for an 84mm round of Swedish design, which entered service in 1990. The "AT-4" rockets are still US military issue today.

Almost all modern short-range anti tank weapons use some variant of the Bazooka or ‘recoilless gun’ principle (rocket burning entirely with the firing tube). To enable firing from within buildings, some modern designs use methods such as counter-mass to reduce the back-blast. Warheads have become heavier and more complex—some have two HEAT charges in a row to defeat explosive armor, for example. Other warhead types have been developed for purposes other than killing tanks, such as the building-collapsing thermobaric SMAW-NE. The Predator SRAW uses an inertial-guidance system to counteract crosswinds and increase accuracy. Almost all new weapons are very expensive, heavy, and require specialist training.

Recoilless Rifles

  • These weapons, somewhat resembling rocket launchers, fired a projectile and vented their propellant gases to the rear—and as they burn all of their propellant at once, they create tremendously more severe backblast than rocket launchers. Developed and fielded during the Second World War in US service, they came in a variety of calibers, the single most common of which in US service after the war was the 106mm M40 introduced around 1954, which was just a bit too large and too heavy to be readily man-portable and so was most often seen on a pintle mount in the back of a Jeep, though they could be and often were dismouned and set up on heavy tripod mounts also. They were heavier than rocket launchers of equivalent caliber, but more accurate. They are not common today in First World armies, their places having been usurped in the antiarmor role by antitank guided missiles and in the infantry support role by grenade launchers, though jeeps and similar vehicles with an M40 recoilless rifle on the pintle mount in the back are still in service in the militaries of many nations.The M67 90mm recoilless rifle was for a time in the 1960s and 1970s a platoon-level asset in US infantry units, intended as a medium-range antitank weapon to supplement the LAAWS rockets and also a direct-fire infantry support weapon firing HE and antipersonnel flechette ammunition, but they were unpopular in service (due largely to the fact that it weighed almost forty pounds unloaded) and no one missed them very much when they were replaced by the Dragon ATGM in the mid 1970s (though some reserve and training units kept theirs until around 1990). Many militaries still issue these, and the military of the Phillipines often mounts the M67 on a pintle mount on a jeep as a mobile fire-support system.
  • They were mainly intended as antiarmor weapons and the most common ammunition type is HEAT shaped-charge antiarmor. They had a secondary direct-fire infantry support role and usually had at least a few HE rounds available to them as well. Antipersonnel flechette rounds were also available in some calibers.
  • Other powers didn't go for this concept very much, though the US systems were very widely exported during the Cold War, and are still in widespread use worldwide, the M40 106mm in particular. The Russians in the 70s and 80s made a 73mm recoilless rifle they never exported, the SPG-9, and only issued to elite paratrooper units, used by the battalion's antiarmor platoon. The British in the 1950s devised a 120mm recoilless rifle nicknamed the "Wombat" that was normally mounted on a Land Rover, as an antiarmor weapon, but it, like the M40 in US service, was replaced by guided missiles as quickly as it became practical to do so. Many British Commonwealth infantry units do still issue an 84mm weapon of Swedish origin (the same whose ammunition was adapted to the AT4 and SMAW) that their tables of organization & equipment call a recoilless rifle, but from an engineering perspective it's more of a rocket-assisted round, and the Carl Gustav 84mm is probably better listed with bazookas and similar portable rocket launchers.

Handheld Surface to Air Missile Systems aka MAN Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS)

Designed for shooting down choppers, big cargo planes taking off or landing or for assassinations, these are short-range (usually) heat-seeking missiles carried by a single person. You'll get a loader/spotter along with them too. You switch on, point, wait for the fire control system to give you the loud beep in the headphones meaning it has a positive target lock, and fire. There's little recoil either as the missile accelerates when it is clearer. It is advisable not to stand in front of a wall though when launching one. Please also note these things weigh about 45 pounds (20 kilos).

You can also mount these onto attack choppers, though this is becoming somewhat rarer as new, lighter, and more effective air-to-air missiles are developed. The AH-64 Apache helicopter, for example, eschews the FIM-92 Stinger for the Sidewinder air-to-air missile (which is bigger and more destructive).

  • NATO's first successful entry into this category was the infrared-homing American-made FIM-43 Redeye, which entered service around 1964. Like all first generation MANPADS it was largely limited to the "tail chase" of aircraft that have already passed over and was easily confused by flares and the sun.
  • The better-known classic NATO example, the FIM-92 Stinger, which entered service in 1981, many examples of which were provided to the Mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980s for use against Soviet aircraft.
  • The UK fielded a command-guided portable SAM in the 1970s, the Shorts Blowpipe, which was replaced in service around 1985 by a man-portable SAM called the Javelin (not related to the US military's newest lightweight ATGM by the same name). The Javelin was in turn replaced by the Starstreak in 1997. The British missiles are unusual in that they are all some kind of command guided, like most wire guided anti-tank missiles. Not that they used wires.
  • In the late 1980s the French developed a man-portable IR-homing SAM called the "Mistral" independently, which has enjoyed some success in export sales
  • The Soviets started with the Strela/SA-7 "Grail", which first appeared in 1967 and was immediately exported to the North Vietnamese, among others. The modern Russian version is the Igla/SA-18 "Grouse".
  • The Chinese have manufactured a copy of the SA-7 and SA-18, the HN-5 and QW-1, which they export in large numbers as well.

Mortars

These are short to moderate range indirect-fire (which is to say, normally they are fired at targets the crew cannot see, while someone speaks to them with a radio to describe the target and its location and give them information to correct their aim) artillery pieces, and all but the largest are designed so that the crew can disassemble them and carry them cross-country on foot, along with ammo for them, and reassemble them in a new location. Mortars are far less expensive than guns or howitzers, and have a shorter range.

Mortars are very simply constructed, very inexpensive weapons. Typically they have fixed firing pin at the bottom end of the barrel, and are loaded and fired by dropping a live round tail-first into the tube.

The ancestral mortar was a sort of very short cannon—so short, in fact, that they looked more like bowls (hence the name). They could be very small or quite large indeed (many were intended to fire half-ton balls of stone) and filled the role formerly occupied trebuchets in siege warfare—i.e. lobbing things over walls into the enemy fortification (rather than actually destroying the walls, which was the job of catapults and battering rams pre-gunpowder and regular cannon afterwards).

Modern mortars first appeared in World War I, and usually have ranges of several kilometers, longer for larger caliber ones. They are normally smoothbore weapons firing a shell that has fins at its rear to stabilize it, though rifled mortars have also been manufactured. They are inexpensive and ubiquitous. Their strength is low cost and portability, their weakness is that they tend to have much shorter range than conventional tube artillery of equivalent caliber.

They range in caliber from 50mm up to 120mm commonly, and larger mortars up to 240mm exist but those larger than 120mm require wheeled carriages and must be towed behind vehicles.

81mm is the most common caliber in Western armies, and 82mm is the most common caliber in Eastern armies. Small 50mm to 60mm mortars may be company-level assets—that is to say, attached to an individual infantry company—whereas anything 81mm and larger is likely to be concentrated in a mortar battery that may be attached to an infantry battalion, in Western armies, or in Eastern armies, one or more mortar batteries may belong to a motorized infantry regiment, possibly even a mortar battalion of three batteries.

Mortars deliver high-angle plunging fire and can be very accurate, if the gun crew and the forward observer team are sufficiently skilled. The most common ammunition type is HE, and mortar rounds typically have more explosive filling proportional to their weight and therefore wider bursting radii (they throw fragments further) than conventional artillery rounds of equivalent caliber. Mortar rounds also can deliver smoke-producing chemicals to lay down a smokescreen rapidly, or even poison gas.

Antitank Guided Missiles (ATGM)

First appearing around 1960. These were used on a large scale by both sides in the 1965 Indo-Pakistan War. The most famous employment on a large scale in combat until the Yom Kippur War of 1973, these weapons brought about fundamental changes in the tactics of mechanized warfare. Inexpensive (at least compared to the tanks that are their targets, anyway), readily portable, extremely accurate, and lethal out to a range measured in kilometers, they allowed infantry units equipped with them, assuming they had time for the crews to set them up in positions giving them good fields of fire, to inflict severe damage upon attacking tank formations out to about as far away as the tanks could shell them with their main guns, making coordination with infantry and artillery even more important than it previously was.

Books could be written about the systems in use. There have been many generations of them with different guidance systems (command guidance over a fiberoptic cable is a favorite, as is laser guidance; fire-and-forget weapons using thermal TV imaging and high-resolution millimeter-wave radar sensors are also beginning to appear), but all are commonplace, especially in wealthier armies. A characteristic they tend to share is that they usually do not work very well at all within a minimum range they need to stabilize and arm the warhead, perhaps around 100m for most designs, requiring the continued use of portable antiarmor rocket launchers to cover this gap.

Most are designed to be carried in the field and used by a team of two to three men, but some are lighter, and some are so heavy that they're normally found on vehicles only.

These weapons replaced recoilless rifles in the antiarmor role.

It is important from a tactical perspective that the launcher and/or launching vehicle must normally remain motionless at least until the missile strikes its target, as the gunner must still in most instances guide the missile and bouncing along cross-country will usually not help his aim.

Many Western infantry-issue antitank guided missile launchers these days have thermal imaging (FLIR) night-vision sights built in, especially on vehicles.

The most common of the of the wire-guided missiles are the Russian 9K11, which NATO calls the AT-3 "Sagger", the American BGM-71 TOW (Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided), and the European MILAN.

It cannot be emphasized how difficult these systems are to use in practice, although modern weapons are relativly more user friendly. For a while, ATGMs were not very impressive in actual combat. It was estimated for the Sagger and its Western counterpart, the COBRA, that it took a minimum of 100 firings for an operator to become proficient. This meant that you needed great investment in training, which most Armies in the mid Cold War did not have time to do. As an aside, however, even obsolete ATGMS in the hand of trained soldiers are very effective against field fortifications.

Some of the newest generation Western fire-and-forget ATGM designs are smart enough, fast enough, and agile enough that they can also function as portable SAMs, at least against helicopters at low altitudes, provided the target aircraft is not moving too fast.

One of the more iconic ATGMS weapons in recent media is the FGM-148 Javelin. Commonly depicted (incorrectly) as a shoulder-launched weapon, the Javelin has a characteristic "high arc" launch profile. During the design process, it was noted that the thinnest armor on a tank was on the top, which was almost impossible to hit except in a urban environment (and dangerous even then), and so the Javelin was designed as an indirect-direct anti-tank weapon: after locking on to a target, the missile launches forward, then up, before tipping over and striking the target from above. Contrary to popular belief, it can also be used as a direct-fire weapon, and is designed to be fired by a two-man crew in a seated position.

Vehicle Transported Systems

These weapons may need a vehicle to move them about- or are part of a vehicle in their own right.

Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA or Ack Ack or Flak)

Designed to shoot down enemy planes, Anti-Aircraft Artillery comes in many forms and fires a large number of shell types, ranging from standard bullets to explosive rounds to timed shells that explode after a specific time, shredding nearby targets with sharpnel (the third is what is typically meant when someone is referring to "flak", while the first two are "triple A" or "Ack Ack"). Largely developed and deployed in World War 2, these weapons eventually fell out of favor with the introduction of jet-engine planes, which moved much faster than their propellor counterparts.

Most of these weapons can also pull double-duty as anti-personnel and anti-armor weapons: flak cannons firing explosive shells were deadly against armor, and rapid-fire cannon weapons could shred enemy infantry in seconds. German Flak 88 guns, for example, were designed as flak cannons for aircraft, but were just as easily turned against Allied (and Axis) armor when necessary, and the tracked ZSU-23-4 vehicle had little problem turning its four barrels of 23mm fun on soldiers and infantry carriers.

In contrast to more complicated missile systems, AAA systems are vastly easier to use: pointing guns at a target and pulling a trigger is much simpler than figuring out the lock-on process and firing method for a SAM. This was particularly exploited during the Cold War, when client states might have conscripted, poorly-educated peasant armies who would have difficulties with the intricacies of electronic warfare, or, for that matter, figuring out the Russian or Chinese label for "ON" (and before you laugh, try to imagine the difficulty of finding the "dummy load" switch on your impressive new Russian SA-6 launchernote , or the "single sideband mode" button on your Chinese SAM launcher. Complicated technical equipment given to client states required training, and, more importantly, literacy in a foreign language, in a country where the majority of people can't read their own language). But shooting machine guns at the enemy airplane? That's much easier to comprehend, and much easier to train troops lacking a technical background to do.

Firing rates vary - many are examples of More Dakka.

  • The classic World War II example is the 8.8 cm Flak (Flugzeugabwehr-Kanone) fielded by Nazi Germany, who also found it extremely effective against tanks. Matter of fact, on the field "88"s were just as likely to be assigned to anti-tank artillery role as to actual AA duty.
  • Skyshield, a Swiss-built automated system has two 35mm cannons.
  • The M55 quad .50 caliber HMG was mounted on a trailer, and had a hydraulically rotating turret for the gunner. It was manufactured in the US from the Second World War into the early 1950s and exported widely.
  • Electrically driven Gatling autocannon have been very popular in this role since the 1950s. Towed 20mm gatling autocannon are still in service with some US airborne and airmobile units, and were often used in Vietnam for perimeter defense on firebases. Weapons in this class tend to be able to supply very high volumes of fire, which can be useful against more things than airplanes.
  • Bofors of Sweden has exported an antiaircraft gun system using 40mm autocannon since 1934, using either single or more commonly dual guns on the carriage. Some of the newer ones have radar, though most do not. The twin Bofors 40 is very commonly encountered around the world. The single-barrel version is the "medium-sized" cannon mounted on the AC-130 gunship.
  • Possibly the single most common type found around the world today is the old Russian ZPU-4, which is a lightweight (light enough to tow behind a jeep or the Russian equivalent thereof, anyway) wheeled towed mount with four KPV 14.5mm heavy machine guns on it, introduced in 1949. It has no radar, no rangefinder, just iron sights. It is normally operated by a single gunner (though for obvious reasons there is normally a gun crew of about half a dozen, to help set it up and take it down, haul cans of ammo to it and help load it, etc). It was replaced decades ago in Soviet service by the ZU-23, a dual 23mm autocannon on a very similar wheeled mount. Both were exported very heavily indeed during the Cold War and are commonplace all over the world today. Iraqi troops made very heavy use of both designs during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, but mainly against Iranian human wave assaults rather than aircraft.

Tactical Surface To Air Missiles

Short-range missiles designed as a second line or last line of defence around particular targets. Usually road-mobile or even truck-mounted, but you'll still need to bring a search radar with you.

  • The Soviet/Russian Osa/SA-8 "Gecko", which is put on a modified APC and carries its own fire control radar on said vehicle. There is also the SA-9, usually deployed as part of a pair with a ZSU-23, which was designed to share the ZSU-23's radar by connecting the vehicles with a data cable.
  • The Russians designed dozens of such systems in multiple technological generations and produced them by the tens of thousands, because their doctrine relied on SAMs and AAA rather than air superiority to give their troops at the front lines protection from air attack.
  • In the 1970s and 1980s, the US Army fielded the M48 "Chapparal," a tracked chassis with launchers for four otherwise off-the-shelf AIM-9 "Sidewinder" air-to-air missiles. These were withdrawn from service in the early 1990s.
  • In the 1970s, there was a joint Franco-German developed mobile battlefield SAM called the "Roland" developed. Various tracked and wheeled and even towed launchers were developed for it, most all carrying four of the distinctive-looking, smallish pointy-looking missiles on launch rails. It has been very widely exported for more than thirty years and appears to be quite efficient and effective.

Strategic Surface To Air Missiles

Long-range missiles designed as a first-line of defense for an entire region or country. Semi-active or active radar guided, these missiles are designed to go a long distance and/or a great height very quickly.

Some of these missiles can engage tactical ballistic missiles. In the past, these often carried nuclear warheads, to be sure of a kill.

  • The U.S. MIM-104 PATRIOT system, which entered service in the late 1980s as an Anti-Ballistic Missile platformnote .
  • The Patriot replaced the MIM-72 HAWK which was introduced in the late 1960s and stayed in service, in improved form, until the early 1990s. The HAWK was very widely exported and remains very common around the world today.
  • The Soviet/Russian S-300 family, which is road-mobile.
  • The older semi-mobile S-75/SA-2 "Guideline" family, which were very effective in The Vietnam War, mainly for forcing mission cancellations and low-altitude flying that led to encounters with AAA.

Artillery

Heavy guns usually of caliber 105mm and larger (though a 75mm of French design from World War I was very widely exported and was very common around the world before around 1980), fired in indirect mode with ranges of many miles, artillery has dominated the modern battlefield since World War I. The guns are large enough that they have crews of many men and must either be towed behind a truck or built into a self-propelled armored vehicle for better mobility. Howitzers are lighter in weight and shorter in range, with shorter gun barrels, and can often be carried by helicopter. Field guns are heavier and longer-ranged with longer barrels. They normally fire high explosive shells designed to burst into lethal fragments on impact, though since World War I artillery shells have also been used to deliver poison gas; with other chemicals they can be used to lay down instant smokescreens to hinder visibility on the battlefield. Artillery is used to bombard enemy positions prior to an attack against them, and to drop into enemy units as they move across open ground toward a defensive position. And the unit in the defensive position can, of course, call for artillery to bombard enemy units attempting to attack it as well (one military term for this is "final protective fire"). Artillery is also used for harassment. Artillery bombardments can go on for days; during World War I, some continued for months, three rounds per minute per gun, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

On 20th Century battlefields, artillery caused 90%+ of all battlefield deaths and injuries. Machine guns and all forms of small arms fire were responsible for less than 5%, for comparison.

Since the 1970s new types of artillery rounds have become available, particularly in Western armies. (Though the Soviets kept up with their own munitions) There are ICM rounds, Improved Conventional Munitions, which burst a short distance above the ground and discharge a cargo of dozens of live grenades. There are the closely related FASCAM rounds, which allow minefields to be laid by artillery in much the same manner. And there are CLGP munitions, laser-guided artillery shells (the laser is normally operated by the forward observation team that is spotting for the artillery barrage). Starting in the 1990s SADARM (Sense and Destroy ARMor) munitions appeared, where each shell carries a pair or more of sensor-fuzed submunitions designed to detect armored vehicles and fire an explosively-formed penetrator at the vulnerable top.

Soviet artillery tactics teaches that some howitzers, particularly the D-30 122mm caliber ones, are to be used as antitank guns in emergencies, and shaped-charge HEAT rounds are available for them. The D-30 has direct-fire sights and is regarded as very accurate in the direct-fire role.

Though media commonly depicts artillery as haphazard shelling over a wide area, the truth is that even as far back as World War 1, artillery was and is extremely accurate. The British, in particular, were the undisputed masters of artillery fire during World War 1, perfecting the practice of "creeping fire", or shelling the area directly in front of their own advancing troops (and by directly in front, we're talking within 5 to 10 feet) to protect them from enemy counterattack. Modern artillery, using radar, laser rangefinders, satellite mapping, GPS and computer calculations, can put several dozen shells within a 5 foot by 5 foot area over the course of a minute, if they're taking their time. Combined with new shell designsnote , modern artillery is completely and utterly devastating, capable of firing from farther away than ever before, and virtually unstoppable if there's enough of it.

Antitank guns

These weapons, closely resembling indirect-fire artillery pieces, had their heyday in the Second World War. Since the war everyone but the Russians went in other engineering directions for filling this tactical niche. These weapons were normally either high-velocity tank guns or some other weapon with high velocity, such as a heavy antiaircraft gun, adapted to a towed mount similar to that used by artillery, intended to be towed up to the front line, put in a place where they could support a defensive position and had good fields of view and good fields of fire, and then, if there was time, dug in and carefully camouflaged in the hopes that they'd get the first shot off at an enemy tank. On the offensive anti-tank guns would be deployed on an open flank to cover an advancing unit from a counterattack by tanks. The virtues of this kind of antitank gun are that the gun and ammunition are cheap, as well as adaptable for use as conventional artillery. The weaknesses are that they require large crews, are quite horribly vulnerable to hostile artillery fire or air attack once they are spotted, and are rather lacking in mobility.

During the Second World War the US fielded a variety of conventional antitank guns of this type but was dissatisfied with their performance, and even during the war introduced recoilless rifles with an eye to possibly replacing them. After the war the US, and US allies that bought a lot of US exported weapons, went first with recoilless rifles in this role, then guided missiles.

The Russians, on the other hand, after the war, kept on making antitank guns. When they introduced the T54 and T55 tanks in the 1950s, with their 100mm guns, they also immediately began manufacturing a 100mm antitank gun using the same weapon on a wheeled towed carriage. In the 1970s, when they introduced tanks with 125mm main guns, they did the same thing—and these are still in service, but now with laser rangefinders. The Russians also have laser-guided antitank missiles that are launched through the gun tube on tanks, which they also issue in limited quantities to the antitank gun units. The Russian 100mm antitank guns have been fairly widely exported, the 125mm have not.

The Russians have also since the 1960s used the D-30 122mm howitzer as an antitank gun in emergencies, or more specifically they teach its employment in this role to their clients.

Self Propelled Anti Aircraft Weapons

Eseentially a modified APC with anti-aircraft guns, heavy machine guns or short-range surface to air missiles on. May have a radar unit stuck on it. These go back to World War I, though typically before the 1960s these systems utilized only the Mark One Eyeball for target acquisition and fire control.

Have proved to be very effective against low-flying targets- the Israelis had most of their losses in 1973 to these weapons, while 12.7mm and 14.5mm machine guns destroyed a lot of US choppers in Vietnam.

  • In World War II and Korea, the US fielded the "M16" (no relation), a halftrack vehicle with quad .50 caliber machine guns in a hydraulically powered turret in the back. It had no radar, no fire control computers, just the gunner's eye and skill. Some of these remained in service in foreign countries until the 1980s. In Korea they were often used as mobile fire-support platforms, rolled up to the front lines to fire into Chinese human wave assaults at close range, which is another kind of job to which vehicles in this class tend to be admirably suited. Some of these quad .50 HMG turrets were attached to flatbed trucks instead.
  • The Russian ZSU-23-4 Shilka, with 4 23mm autocannon and a "Gun Dish" fire control radar. About 6,500 built in all and widely exported. Some versions can be connected to a SA-9 "Gaskin" SAM launch vehicle with a data cable allowing them to share use of the former's radar. Although made obsolete by new aircraft & anti-aircraft technology, it's impressive rate of fire & ability to hit targets at high angle makes it useful for counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan & Chechnya.
  • Britain had Crusader AA tanks in World War II, but they were largely unneeded when they arrived in 1943.
  • The infamous US Bradley has the Linebacker version, with a launch box containing four Stinger missiles has replaced the usual dual launcher for TOW IIB wire-guided heavy antitank missiles.
  • Prior to Linebacker, there was the M163 "Vulcan," using the same 20mm Gatling autocannon as is mounted on jet fighter aircraft, mounted in a turret, with radar and fire control computers to assist the gunner, the turret mounted on top of an old M113 armored personnel carrier. There was a towed version for airborne and airmobile units also. The Vulcan is still in front-line service today, alongside the Linebacker, though it is more often used in a direct-fire fire-support role. The Israelis still use the M163, which they call the Machbet, with the addition of a launch box with tubes for four Stinger SAMs bolted to one side of the turret.
  • And prior to the Vulcan was the M42 "Duster," which was basically just a WWII-surplus Chaffee light tank chassis with a powered turret on top, armed with two Bofors 40mm autocannon. It had a hydraulically operated turret but no rangefinder, no radar, just the "Mark One Eyeball," a.k.a. "steam gunnery." They entered service in 1952 and the last ones were withdrawn from US Army National Guard units in 1988. Those deployed to Vietnam tended to be used more for close range fire support than anything else. Like other vehicles in this class, it excelled at this sort of task, quite apart from the purpose for which it was designed. Widely exported, they are still found here and there around the world.
  • In the 1980s the US miltary spent a lot of money on a replacement for the Vulcan that ended up being abandoned due to software problems that could not be overcome, the M247 "Sergeant York." This was cobbled together from the Bofors 40mm autocannon from the 1950s M42 "Duster" light SPAA mounted on the hull of an obsolescent M48 tank, with radar and fire control system from a mothballed F4 Phantom jet fighter bolted to the top of the turret. Everything but the fire control system actually worked pretty well. It represented an admirable attempt to cut costs by using off-the-shelf technology, but the radar system was never designed for use on a ground platform and they were quite never able to get the software to work. The costs mounted year by year with no obvious progress (it was remarked at the time that even bolting on the crude 1960s radar and fire control computers of the M163 "Vulcan" would have been a significant improvement) and eventually in 1985 the program was quietly cancelled. Cancellation was politically possible because US military doctrine tends to assume air superiority as a given, so SPAA and SP SAM systems are a much lower priority than they are in many other militaries. That, and also some of the research did result in improvements for the radar and fire control system of the old M163.
    • An interesting note was that the Sergeant York was given the "go-ahead" to be canceled because the Defense Intelligence Agency provided the program managers with the proper ammunition..in the form of a false threat assessment.
    • The fact that the M247 even advanced far enough to need cancellation was controversial to the point of being inexplicable. Ford's XM247 design was consistently outperformed in testing by the General Dynamics XM246. It used the same 35mm Oerlikon autocannon as the later German Gepard (see below), and shot down more than twice as many test targets as the XM247, yet the latter was the one the Army selected to go into production as the Sergeant York.
  • In the late 1970s, the Germans built the Flakpanzer Gepard, a tracked vehicle on a Leopard tank chassis, with a purpose-designed radar and fire control system and a pair of very-high-ROF electric 35mm autocannon. It does not appear to have been used in combat but the specs are impressive and in testing it appears to be quite efficient at its job. The Gepard was what the M247's developers claimed they could deliver at a fraction of the cost, but failed.
  • The U S Avenger air defense system, introduced in the late 1980s. A one-man turret mounted in the back of a HMMWV with 2 quad tube launchers for Stinger missiles, a radar guidance system and a single coaxial machine gun for ground targets. Still in widespread service with the U S military.

Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS)

These systems are mobile trucks with a frame attached to them that holds multiple artillery rockets. These are designed for area attacks and to ripple-fired in quick succession. Usually utilised in groups, they are a common method of delivering a Macross Missile Massacre and can in some cases fire about 50km (i.e. over the horizon).

Using these on towns is highly frowned upon- Russia accused Georgia of using MLRS weapons on towns during their 2008 war.

  • The US MLRS system can carry 12 227mm rockets or two short-range ballistic missiles on the tracked M270 mobile launcher. The M142 HIMARS is a lightweight wheeled version that carries half as many of the same weapons. Formerly known as the General Support Rocket System (GSRS), leading to the delightful "Grid Square Removal System" backronym. The normal round for MLRS is an ICM-DP (Improved Conventional Munition, Dual-Purpose) rocket containing over six hundred very efficient little multipurpose (shaped charge antiarmor/antipersonnel/incendiary) grenades but laser-guided and GPS-guided versions with a single large HE warhead have been developed.
  • The great granddaddy of them all was the Russian BM-13 "Katyusha," designed just before the Second World War, with launch rails for sixteen 132mm artillery rockets usually bolted onto the back of a Studebaker truck provided via Lend-Lease from the US, with a maximum useful range of 5400m (5.4km, or, if you prefer, about three and a half miles).
  • Also in World War 2, the US fielded the T35 "Calliope", essentially a Sherman tank with a rack of 60 rocket tubes mounted on the top. It saw limited use in battle, as it wasn't produced in large numbers.
  • The Soviet/Russian BM-21 Grad ("Hail", appropriately enough) can fire 40 122mm rockets about 20 kilometres (12 miles). It was developed in the early 1960s and was very widely exported for decades; it is ubiquitous in Third World armies.
  • Eastern rocket artillery systems are cheap, designed to be used massed in huge numbers to saturate a broad target area with fire, as the individual launchers are rather less accurate than field guns. Western rocket artillery systems are more expensive and more accurate. Most Russian rocket artillery systems have only plain HE and chemical smoke rounds available; ICMDP rounds only became available for them fairly late, and not in all calibers; the expense of manufacturing them means that usually there will not be many available to any given unit, and they will generally be saved for special targets that justify the expense.
  • The Russians have always loved these, and have manufactured them since before World War II in a dizzying array of different designs and calibers, from 82mm up to 300mm. During the Cold War this type of system was considered by Soviet planners ideal for chemical warfare as a battalion of eighteen launchers could saturate a target area a kilometer or more across with nerve gas rockets in well under a minute.

Short-Range Ballistic Missiles (SRBM)

A large missile with a range under 500 km (300 miles), these weapons are designed for long-distance deep strikes against hardened targets i.e. concrete bunkers. Older versions aren't much use unless they're carrying nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, but the newer ones have radars on to help ensure an accurate hit.

Unless you happen to have an anti-ballistic missile system to hand (which not many people do), these weapons are effectively unstoppable (assuming they strike their intended targets, do not explode in flight or on the launch pad, etc., which some early systems were very prone to—supposedly fewer than half of German V-2 rockets fired made it back to the ground, much less struck within ten miles of their intended targets). They are carried on road-mobile Transport Erector Launchers (TEL), which can be reloaded, making them very hard to take out — witness the difficulties the US had during the Gulf War. During the Iran-Iraq war, Iraq used these to great effect (mostly on civilian morale) on Iran during the "war of the cities".

  • The original SRBM was the A-4 from Nazi Germany, more commonly known as the V-2.
  • The classic SRBM is the R-17/SS-1 "Scud", a liquid-fuelled missile developed by the USSR and widely exported with local modifications in some cases, such as in Iraq and North Korea.
  • The 1980s successor to "Scud" was the OTR-23 Oka/SS-23 "Spider" with a range of 400km. Was eliminated under the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty to appease the West.
  • A modern Russian system is the Iskander/SS-26 "Stone", which is carried in pairs.
  • Pakistan has developed the Hatf 2 SRBM, also known as the Abdali.
  • The US MGM-31 Pershing had a range of 740 km (460 miles) and carried a 400 kiloton nuclear warhead. It was soon realized that this was ludicrously overpowered for a tactical missile (indeed, most ICBMs' strategic nuclear warheads are less powerful!) so the vastly improved Pershing II was produced with a variable yield warhead (5 to 80 kilotons) on a highly accurate radar-guided reentry vehicle, and a range of a whopping 1,770km (1,100 miles) which arguably disqualified it as a "short range" ballistic missile. It was also theoretically capable of carrying a half-ton conventional HE warhead. All were withdrawn from service by 1991, as the US and USSR agreed to eliminate all short- and medium-range nuclear missiles.
  • The US MLRS system can carry two MGM-140 ATACMS (Army TACtical Missile System) missiles with a range in one form of 300 km (186 miles). It can deliver a payload of either hundreds of grenade-sized bomblets or a single 230kg HE warhead; unlike most ballistic missiles it has no nuclear capability.

Anti-missile Systems

Designed to shoot down missiles before they strike.

  • Israeli Arrow and Lightning anti-missile missiles
  • American Phalanx electric Gatling gun, nicknamed "R2-D2s" due to their shape (and yes, some Brits have seen them and called them "Daleks" instead). The Royal Navy, and a number of other navies worldwide, use them too. There are a number of other takes on the same idea, including the Spanish Meroka, Turkish Sea Zenith, Dutch Goalkeeper, Chinese Type 730, Russian AK-630 and the Italian DARDO. They're collectively known as CIWS, for close-in weapons system. Russia, in typical Russian fashion, has designed one that has not one, but two 30mm Gatling guns and eight short-range missiles on a single turret. If Gatling is good, More Dakka is better.
    • The Phalanx was also mounted on a truck and repurposed by the US Army as the Centurion C-RAM (Counter-Rocket, Artillery, Mortar), to destroy mortar rounds fired by Iraqi insurgents in Baghdad.
  • The US (and a number of its allies) are also beginning to mount the more capable RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile as a point defence weapon, replacing the older gun systems.
  • US RIM-66 Standard. Though originally a medium-range anti-aircraft system, it does double-duty against cruise missiles and anti-radiation missiles, too. (Also ships, but that belongs elsewhere). A newer version, SM-3, can also engage ballistic missiles. Its maximum range has gotten longer, and its minimum range shorter, over the years. The Standard is also notable for its humongous warhead (by SAM standards), and was originally designed to be able to use a tactical nuclear warhead if circumstances warranted as well as a long since discarded secondary anti-ship function.
  • US Evolved Sea Sparrow. Essentially an AIM-7 Sparrow bolted onto a ship, then hacked, kluged and modified until it's more like the little brother of Standard.
  • The Patriot Missile System also has anti-ballistic missile capability, though it was not originally designed with this in mind.
  • Before Patriot, in the 1960s, the Nike-SPRINT antiballistic missile system was designed in the US, again with an optional tactical nuke warhead. Notable for accelerating from zero to Mach 10 in five seconds.
  • Russian 9K311 Tor missile system. Though designed as a short-range anti-aircraft missile, it can engage cruise missiles, anti-radiation missiles and even bombs and artillery shells.
  • Russian Rif/Fort (NATO calls it SA-10 "Grumble" or SA-N-6 "Grumble" depending on whether it travels by land or by sea). Also a long-range AA missile that does double-duty as an anti-missile system.
  • Some tanks have anti-missile systems. They generally use radar to find the incoming missile and launch some sort of countermeasure. The Soviets made the first system in the late 70's. The Russians and Israelis have fielded a couple of systems and the US has one under development.

Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC)

The bulk of soldiers in the 20th century had to march between engagements or ride in canvas-covered trucks. Neither of these stand up particularly well to air raids or artillery strikes, so the APC was developed as a battlefield taxi. They can ride in ships or planes for maximum rapid response. The primary design division among APCs is wheeled versus tracked propulsion.

These are not designed for a direct battle, though they may deploy several hundred meters to the rear of the infantry unit they belong to in order to give fire support with their machine guns. Generally only armed with machine-guns, although some carry anti-tank guided weapons (though this tends to be more a feature of IFVs rather than APCs). Many can swim and the modern ones are generally protected against chemical weapons attack. Their armor tends to be relatively thin compared to a tank, and is often cast aluminum or magnesium alloy instead of steel.

Despite every new generation of this breed offering the same promise of increased passenger safety, every notable conflict so far proved otherwise. A combination of subpar, compared to a tank, armor and a premium package of targets inside always made APCs a target of choice for any anti-tank weapon in reach. This explains a phenomenon commonly seen on combat footage: infantry riding ON the armor instead of INSIDE it. While this strips them of bulletproof armor, it also greately increases their chances of survival in case of RPG (or anything more) hit or driving over a mine. Another way to combat this inherent problem, mostly seen in US armor nowadays, is to reduce the size and passenger capability of APCs from "squad-sized" to "ATV-sized", proportionally decreasing the maximum casualties of a single blown vehicle.

  • The US M113 (called the ACAV in Vietnam when used as a scout vehicle by armored cavalry units), in production since around 1960 and still in widespread service worldwide.
  • The Russian BTR60/70/80/90 series, which are wheeled and amphibious.
    • The BTR-60 in particular is considered "excellent idea, horrible execution". Afghan fighters facing off against Soviet forces quickly noticed that the fuel tank for the vehicle was essentially inside the infantry loading door, and prioritized striking that point. While the vehicle could technically survive a hit from the anti-tank weapons of the time, a hit on the door was good enough to kill an entire Soviet squad instantly from the resulting explosion. Later designs fixed this problem.
  • The German Fuchs (Fox) in all of its over nine thousand variants.
  • The US Stryker. A modular design is still in development which would allow the Stryker to serve as a command & control vehicle, a recon vehicle, an engineering vehicle, a combat ambulance, or even a version with a NATO standard 105mm tank gun. Among the many controversies surrounding the Stryker is that just about every one of those variants is not easily transportable by cargo plane, rendering one of the key advantages of the vehicle moot. The base model is the relatively lightweight M1114, an eight-wheeled armored car APC very similar to the Russian BTR-80, but lacking the 14.5mm HMG turret.
  • The US MRAPs, Mine Resistant Armored Patrol vehicles, designed solely for the purpose of surviving roadside IED attacks. Contentious debate remains as to whether they are worth the money.
  • New Israeli designs counteract the problem of subpar armor by actually using tanks; the Achzarit was a converted version of captured T-54 and T-55 tanks, while the from-scratch Nammer is essentially a Merkava with the turret ripped off, and the weight savings put into actually giving it heavier armor than a main battle tank.

Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFV)

A more modern iteration of the APC idea, these are designed to take a squad into battle and then give them support fire, with a heavy direct-fire gun of some kind (sometimes a light tank gun, sometimes an autocannon; the Russian BMP-3 has both) and one or more machine guns, often but not universally with launch tubes or launch rails for antitank guided missiles also. Still universally being less armored than tanks, IFVs retain the "juicy target" disadvantage of APCs.

  • The US M2 Bradley, it was subject to horrible corruption throughout its development and countless production defects in the 1970s, but seems to have performed well enough once the kinks were worked out. It is one of the more heavily armed and armored examples in service today; the turret has a 25mm autocannon and a 7.62mm machine gun, and there are a pair of launch tubes for TOW IIB wire-guided heavy antitank missiles on the side of the turret as well. Derided by some servicemen that it looks too much like a tank, too tall and carries too little infantry.
  • The British Warrior. Rather susceptible to roadside bombs. Similar to the Bradley, but with a bigger 30mm gun and usually no ATGM capability on the premise that using a troop transport to fight tanks is not a particularly good idea.
  • The Russian BMP series introduced in the 1960s, with continuous evolution and improvements since then, each version more heavily armed and armored than the previous one. The BMP-1 and BMP-2 were exported very widely during the Cold War era. Both are popular for their amphibious capability, not always a feature in IFVs. The BMP-1 had a 73mm gun and machine guns plus a launch rail for the 9K11 Malyutka/AT-3 "Sagger," the BMP-2 had 30mm autocannon and machine guns plus a launch tube for the laser-guided 9M113 Konkurs/AT-5 "Spandrel," and the BMP-3 is even more heavily armed, with a 100mm main gun in addition to the autocannon, and as also amphibious.
    • Ironically, due to the inherent problems of riding into battle inside an APC/IFW outlined above, the BMP, originally Boyevaya Mashina Pehoty (literally translating to IFW), is informally but universally known as Bratskaya Mogila Pehoty (Infantry Common Grave) in the Russian Army. Despite this it is appreciated for fire power equivilant to some WWII tanks it provides for infantry support.
  • The Russian BTR-90 belongs here also. It is the old eight-wheeled BTR armored car APC chassis, but with a new turret. Instead of the old turret with the 14.5mm HMG, it has the turret of a BMP-2 IFV: 30mm autocannon, coaxial PKT MMG, and launch tube for the laser-guided AT-5 "Spandrel" ATGM, plus night vision optics for the gunner. That level of armament puts it in firmly in the IFV class itself.

Tanks

What intimidates people? A Big Fucking Gun. What's even more intimidating than that? A Big Fucking Gun aimed by computer/radar/laser assisted fire-control computer that can land the shell in one square foot of real-estate from two miles away, attached to a turret mounted on a tracked vehicle bristling with machineguns and grenade launchers, all encased in nigh-impenetrable steel and ceramic armor, inexorably bearing down upon your puny little concrete bunker despite machine-gun fire, light cannon, and flamethrowers.

You Can Panic Now

In reality, tanks are nowhere near invulnerable as the Russians learned to their dismay in Afghanistan. In asymmetric warfare, a tank becomes a bullet magnet, and lots of small explosives (or just one really really big one) can destroy a tank (if not always kill the crew). In short, a tank is basically one big juicy gas-hog of a target and needs to be babysat by infantry in close range and urban combat. In a desert, field or other open environment, however, there is very little that can touch them short of aircraft, other armor, artillery and anti-tank missiles.

One other limitation: Try hauling 40-tons of tank across a damaged bridge (or a wooden pier, or any other non-reinforced structure). Hilarity Ensues.

It is important to note that a tank differs very much in purpose and design from a self-propelled artillery vehicle like the M109 or the Russian 2S1. Self-propelled artillery pieces are designed to sit many kilometers behind the front lines and fire in indirect mode only. A tank, by contrast, is intended for use at the front lines and always fires its gun in direct fire mode. Tanks as a rule tend to have much, much heavier armor than self-propelled artillery.

Tactically speaking a tank is a vehicle combining both road and cross-country mobility significantly superior to that of men on foot with a direct-fire crew-served large-caliber heavy weapon adaptable to both the antiarmor and infantry support roles, protected by armor at least sufficient to protect against the most common battlefield threats, which are artillery shell fragments and small arms fire. Would a wheeled vehicle designed for the same purpose and that could perform the same tasks be a tank? What if it had its big gun mounted pointing forward in the hull in a semi-fixed orientation with just ten or fifteen degrees of traverse to either side, instead of a turret? What if it uses some kind of big rocket launcher instead of a cannon? Is it still a "tank" or should it have a different name? That's a matter of some debate; there have long been debates about the terminology, "assault howitzer," "tank destroyer," "fire support vehicle," and so on have been applied to such designs.

Note that since the 1980s tanks, especially Western designs, have tended to get very impressive sensor and fire control suites: thermal imaging/FLIR for driver, gunner, and commander, laser rangefinders, ballistic computers that take into account everything from the tank's own movement to target movement to wind to relative humidity and supply a firing solution that can sometimes give first-round hits out to three kilometers and beyond. Post-1980 tanks, especially Western designs, tend to have extremely tough and resistant Chobham type composite laminate armor. Eastern Bloc designs had the similar treatment, only without thermal sights until 1992.

  • Starts with the pinnacle of Cold War tank R&D, the M1A2 Abrams Tank of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps
    • And ends with the bigger, nastier, tougher British Challenger 2.
  • The other side didn't have it all too bad either, even though the T-72 and T-80 were designed for costly frontal assaults.
    • This was also true of western tanks expecting a European Theater of operations—larger West Germany fully expected to be able to bleed smaller, less-populous East Germany dry in prolonged tank battles, and probably weren't mistaken.
      • Frontal assaults were seen as the least preferred method of offensive action in non stereotyped Soviet tactics, so Soviet tanks would damn well use a lot of maneuver and swarm the enemy rather than doing something completely stupid. Also to note is that unlike NATO tanks, Soviet tanks were intended to be used primarily in wrecking NATO's rear-area infrastructure rather than dueling head-to-head with enemy armor.
    • Even if they were much lighter than Western tanks, T-80's and other Soviet tanks developed after it were often equipped with reactive armor (basically a steel plate sandwich with a high explosive filling, intended to detonate when struck by antitank weapons, forcing the outer steel plate outward and high velocity at an angle to the incoming weapon, hopefully deflecting it or reducing its penetration), which made them durable enough to compete with their otherwise tougher Western counterparts (some reports even state that the reactive armor was powerful enough to deflect depleted uranium rounds) Even earlier vehicles like the T55 and T62 got fitted with reactive armor by the late 1980s.
      • Kontakt-5 reactive armor was able to defeat 1980s-era 120mm projectiles like M 829 A 1 and was also capable of defeating precursor warheads on the earliest tandem-charge anti-tank missiles.
    • Definitely putting the modern in modernity, the T-80 was also the testing platform for the Arena active protection system—essentially, a radar system linked with several projectile cannons mounted about the turret that could shoot down anti-tank missiles, rockets, and even certain tank shells. While never produced in large quantities, Arena itself is an upgrade of Drozd which was deployed in Afghanistan, and currently has no comparable NATO equivalent.
      • Doesn't Arena also incorporate lasers that can also (theoretically) blind and burn out the laser seeker heads on some missiles?
    • Many, if not all Russian tanks, even older models like T55s and T62s used by reserve units, also at least have the lasers and fire control circuitry installed to fire laser-guided antitank missiles through the gun tube. The missiles are expensive, and it is rare for an individual tank to carry more than four or six of them out of a total of 40 or 45 total main gun rounds. The Russians developed these because they felt that even with laser rangefinders the accuracy of the main gun armament was lacking out past 2km.
      • Actually, the missiles were intended to be used to take out anti-tank missile platforms (helicopters, and ATGM-equipped vehicles) from beyond their effective range rather than any inaccuracy of the main gun.
  • Possibly the single most common tank in the world today is the Chinese Type 1969, a copy of the Russian T54. Widely exported, it is very inexpensive, as tanks go.
  • The Brits, Germans, French, Chinese, and Israelis got into the tank business as well.
    • The German Leopard 2 rivaled the Abrams in terms of power and weight, and currently uses the same NATO standard 120mm main gun.
      • Correction: the latest versions use a slightly longer gun, which helps the fired projectiles achieve higher muzzle velocity.
  • Israel modified a great many American M-60 tanks (not the machineguns) in addition to creating homebrew modifications of captured T-55 and T-62 tanks (the "Tiran" series, no longer in service in Israel, but most were sold off to various Latin American countries in the 1990s). The modified M60s, which are called the Mag'ach in Israeli service, are still in use by reserve armor units. The current versions are the Mag'ach 7 and Mag'ach 8 with explosive reactive armor tiles, thermal sights, laser rangefinders, computerized fire control systems, and the latest thing in 105mm HVAPFSDSDUnote  ammunition (the Mag'ach 8 has a NATO standard 120mm gun and has been exported to Turkey, who call it the M60T), they are not in the same class as a Merkava IV (their current top-of-the-line tank, generally regarded as world-class) or an M1A2, but when operated by skilled and motivated crews they are still regarded as capable of contributing significantly on the 21st Century mechanized battlefield.


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