My vision of the future of anti-aircraft
munitions and electric tanks
This page is a placeholder to capture some thought I've given to the future of warfare in an electronic forum I participate in. The technologies I describe are within the realm of reasonable extrapolation, but I'd like to hear any flaws in my logic or numbers. This page is ugly, just some thoughts on technology and their implications.
The future of surface to air munitions
Modern aircraft can detect missiles a few different ways. If the missile is radar homing, it's easy, but even infrared homing missiles can be detected because of the rocket plume.
Imagine this, put an infrared or image tracking seeker and warhead on a rail-gun launched projectile and fire it. A current day fighter would be defenseless against it because it doesn't know it's being fired on. There's no plume warning, no smoke trail for the pilot to see, nada.
I'm betting this technology will also show up in main battle tanks. 30 years from now, I predict that the MBT of the US military will mount a rail gun, will perform both anti-armor AND artillery roles, and each tank will be part of a battlefield network that uses distributed sensors to also perform anti-aircraft roles.
Imagine you have fifty of these tanks in a battlefield. Any that are at the front are guns down, taking out armor and defensive positions with direct fire. They can fire hundreds of shots because they're using inert railgun rounds that are tiny compared to modern projectiles (which are huge because they carry their propellant). Any tanks that are more then a few miles behind the current front can be both artillery to hit targets that are out of reach (eg, behind a mountain) of direct fire. All other tanks can be part of an autonomous 'No fly zone' enforcement that fire guided anti-aircraft munitions at targets flying anywhere from NOE to tens of thousands of feet up.
Since this is a pretty straightforward extrapolation based on current trends, I think this is another reason why manned aircraft will be exiting the battlefield of the future. Your standard $50 million fighter will be replaced by 100 $500K fighter drones. Instead of mega planes that dominate everything from angels 30, you'll have hundreds of NOE drones that will dart around, over, and under landscape features and fight it out at 30 feet. Anything else will be easy pickings for the integrated fighting net.
I'm betting that it's just a matter of time before tanks switch to hybrid power sources. The Abrams has turbines that are directly geared to power the treads, and they do a good job of transferring that power. The problem is that the only thing that can really use that raw power is the drive train. Not only that, but the turbines need to rev up and down or the hydromatic transmission needs to sump a lot of energy to match the power output with the request from the driver.
The next generation of naval vessels have the same problem and are moving to using constant velocity turbines that are revved up to the optimal speed for efficiency and power output and the electricity generated is used for powering electric motors. They expect to generate something on the order of 10x the amount of electricity that they do right now, and that power will be available for use with directed energy weapons. I think it's safe to assume that within our lifetime, those same types of advances might reach armor too.
There are also potential performance and reliability benefits from this too. Instead of two tracks, you could have four (two to the front, two to the back) and have independent electric drives in each. You make the tank lighter and more damage resistant because you don't have all that transmission and driveline complexity. You have more space for armor, fuel, weapons. Also, if you tank a HEAT round to a track, you can still conceivably escape on three treads. If the same happened with a modern two tread vehicle, it becomes disabled.
Additionally, since you'll probably have banks of capacitors charged for your weapons systems, you might have the option of siphoning that power off to run your motors to get the hell out of dodge if someone took out your power plant(s). In an Abrams, dead engines can equal dead tanks.
Electric drive systems give you the power to use directed energy weapons (and rail guns), potentially increase your speed and reliability, and give you plenty of options that the direct drive systems don't.
As long as the system is designed so that when
traveling at cruise speed, the generators provide more then enough power for
real-time propulsion, then that shouldn't be a problem. You would presumably be
able to selectively recharge. If escape is your main concern, your power
management system would defer re-charging the rail gun.
One advantage that a current tank would have over an electric tank with thin margins is that it can run and fight at the same time. I would expect that before one of these sees deployment, it would have sufficient excess power to provide acceptable 'reload' times while at cruise.
There was a hybrid medium tank prototype in the 1940s called the T23. It has a constant speed piston engine that generated electricity to power electric motors, and apparently had great maneuverability, but the design was passed because of concerns that they would need to retrain mechanics. If they had a prototype electric tank back in the 1940s that could go 35mph, I wonder what they could do nowadays?
(Someone posted that chemical rounds have
an advantage in that they carry their own propulsion onboard, to which I
I agree that it's probably not going to happen today, but it's well within reason to expect that'll be something that's feasible in the near future. Remember, each of those rounds is packed with the gunpowder needed to propel it to a target. A gallon of black powder contains a LOT less energy then a gallon of diesel, by an order of magnitude.
A rail gun round is just the actual payload, so it's small. Every cubic foot saved in weapons volume is a cubic foot that can carry high energy density diesel that can be converted into power to propel the round with terrible force at the enemy.