Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A silly discussion of armored conflict that isn't going to happen

A site called The National Interest recently put up what I consider an unserious and actually downright silly discussion of what might happen if Russian-made T-90 tanks wind up facing off against American-made Abrams M1-A1 tanks in Syria.

The two, of course, are probably the premier main battle tanks in the arena today. The Russian T-90 is essentially a souped-up version of the Soviet-era T-72, considered a cheap-ish, quantity tank intended to overrun NATO tanks of higher quality by virtue of sheer numbers. Rather than build off the more-advanced T-80, Russia decided to "improve" on the T-72. Which gave them this:

As near as I can tell, the T-90 is OK as 3rd-generation main battle tanks go. It is worth noting, though, that the Russians haven't ordered any new T-90s since 2011, preferring to await deployment of their next-generation MBT in 2016. Maybe that doesn't mean anything, and maybe it means they have not a lot of faith in the ability of the T-90 to do well against its projected opponents.

The projected opponent is, of course, the US-made M1 Abrams, including the M1A1 and A2 versions. First entering service in 1980, the M1A1 and, later, the M1A2 tanks have been tested in battle, unlike the T-90, and kicked the shit out of all the Soviet-made iron they ran into during the 1991 and 2003 Gulf Wars, including the T-72 upon which the T-90 is based. The Abrams, updated frequently since its introduction into service, looks like this:

It has always been superior to the Soviet tanks it was designed to face, and the upgrades have made it superior to any Russian tank it might face today.

So, what the hell is The National Interest doing? They start with the fact that Russia recently deployed an unknown number of T-90s to Syria. They then toss in the fact that it appears that ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, a bunch of serious bad guys who have arisen because King Barry chose to abdicate in the Middle East, leaving a power vacuum) has captured a number of American-made Abrams tanks from Iraqi forces who, mostly, fled as soon as they saw ISIS guys approaching.

What could be more natural, then, than postulating on what a battle between Russian-manned T-90s and ISIS-manned Abrams would look like? The only good part about this article is that they reach the proper conclusion:
So how would ISIS’ Abrams fare versus the best Russian-owned and operated tanks? Probably not very well—the Russian crews are professional soldiers, with proper training, tactics and a functional logistical train. ISIS, meanwhile, might have some veterans of Saddam Hussein’s army, but they aren’t exactly experts at employing an Abrams or even mechanized warfare in general given their past performance.
Simply driving a tank is not an easy task. Put that in a combat situation, and a bunch of untrained terrorist asshats are going to get curb-stomped by trained soldiers every time. Especially when those trained soldiers have air support, which the Russians do. This has nothing to do with the relative merits of the combat capabilities of the tanks involved and everything to do with the relative abilities of the crews in those tanks. On the one side --the Russians, with less-capable tanks -- we have a bunch of trained professionals, while on the other side, we have a group of jihadis for whom driving the tank at its most basic level is a challenge. Of course the trained professionals would win. They would win driving World War II-era T-34s.

Never mind that the jihadis are unlikely to even try to deploy these tanks in battle. I guess they might try to use them as self-propelled artillery, but they certainly wouldn't try to use them as actual tanks -- they don't know how. The match-up postulated by The National Interest simply isn't going to happen, and if it did, the Russians would win without breaking a sweat, and it wouldn't answer any questions about the relative merits of the two tanks. All in all, this is one of the most asinine speculative articles I've ever seen.

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