T-14 ARMATA versus M1A2 ABRAM. Click to zoom.
The most fundamental part of a vehicle is the chassis. It gives the vehicle its mobility thanks to its engine and propulsion system and is generally either wheeled or tracked. The chassis affects acceleration and the maximum speed that can be reached across different terrain. It will also determine if the unit is amphibious or not, if it can be airlifted by helicopters, deployed by planes and so on.
The weapons carried by the chassis will determine which kind of target a vehicle can attack. Some are better against infantry, some are dedicated to the destruction of vehicles or aircraft, but most importantly it is possible to customize these weapons.
For instance the Stryker APC is equipped with a remote weapon station (RWS) that can carry a M240 medium machine gun, an M2 browning HMG, or a Mk19 grenade launcher.
But that’s not all, smoke grenades can also be fitted on the RWS as well as Javelin missiles.
Stryker ICV with various weapons ranging from a simple M2 browning that can be upgraded with extra smoke grenade discharger and a Javelin missile to a 30mm autocannon. Click to zoom.
The chassis also defines the armor of the vehicle. The armor is different for the front, the sides, the rear and the top of a vehicle.
Armor allows vehicles to take less damage from projectiles with a penetration value inferior to the armor. If the penetration value of your weapon is too low compared to the armor of the target, your units will not even shoot. This is to save ammunition and avoid being spotted unnecessarily.
The armor of tanks is strongest at the front. So it is generally best to target either their exposed side armor or even better, their almost non-existent rear armor.
The armor value varies depending on whether the projectile is using kinetic energy (KE) or chemical energy (CE).
Kinetic energy weapons
The most common firearms, like machine guns, use kinetic energy to pierce through armor. This energy is gained by accelerating a projectile with an explosion inside the gun and is released when hitting the target. Part of this energy is also lost in flight due to air drag so the further away your target, the less damage you will cause. If the armor of your target is too thick to shoot at maximum range try to get closer to gain more penetration.
The APFSDS shells (Armor Piercing Fin Stabilized Discarding Sabot) fired by tanks at each other are the most powerful kinetic energy weapons carried by ground units.
Chemical Energy Weapons
The second method to pierce through armor is chemical energy. Here the principle is to transfer a lot of heat to the armor to melt it. The main family of weapons using chemical energy are called HEAT (High-explosive Anti-Tank). They emit a concentrated jet of metal in fusion against the armor.
This type of ammunition has the big advantage of not being dependent on the speed of the projectile. For that reason it is widely used in grenades, missiles and submunitions. Their lower weight is the reason why infantry anti-tank capabilities almost exclusively rely on chemical energy.
M1A2 Abrams with various armor packages and the Trophy active protection system Click to zoom.
Upgrade your defense
As we’ve seen, HEAT projectiles are widely used and can be carried by infantry. That makes using vehicles in close quarters combat very risky. To compensate for that, several defensive upgrades can be installed on vehicles:
- Slat armor can be placed around the whole vehicle or on the most sensitive parts. It consists of a cage of metal bars that will damage or prematurely detonate the HEAT charge and partially protect the vehicle. This type of armor is totally ineffective against KE projectiles.
- Explosive reactive armor (ERA) can be fitted around vehicles as well. The principle is to create an extra layer of armor sitting on an explosive charge that will be ejected against the incoming projectile when the explosive charge is hit. This is very efficient against HEAT but not so much against KE projectiles.
- Active protection systems use mini radars to detect incoming projectiles and shoot them in the air with an explosive charge or another projectile. They are perfectly efficient against CE projectiles but also moderately efficient against KE projectiles. Their downside is that they have a limited amount of charges and must reload after each interception, so they can be saturated.
M2 Bradley in its most basic A2 version and A3 version with BUSK armor package. Click to zoom.
Counter the counter!
One more thing to consider with chemical energy weapons - Extra armor weighs a lot and diminishes a vehicle’s mobility so it cannot be placed everywhere. The top armor of a vehicle is generally the weakest so that’s where top attack missiles try to hit. Instead of going straight for their target, they first gain altitude, to attack their target from above.
Infantry using tall buildings will be an even greater threat to vehicles, for similar reasons.
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