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Tanks: 100 Years of Evolution, Book By Richard Ogorkiewicz

A chapter on development of strategic use of tanks

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Tanks: 100 Years of Evolution, Book By Richard Ogorkiewicz
Tanks: 100 Years of Evolution, Book By Richard Ogorkiewicz, Pixabay

Their looming profile and bristling armaments make them the most easily identifiable piece of military hardware. But tanks, which represent a watershed in the age-old military technology contest between offensive and defensive capacities and mobile and static weaponry, are at their best only when their key attributes are in sync.

Their entire story, which dates from much before they first trundled on to the battlefield in World War I — as this book shows — hinges on the development and interplay of these attributes: Mobility, protection, firepower and communication.

Experts, however, differ on these attributes’ relative importance. As an anecdote goes, a tank officer recalled that, in his training, there were three modules: Driving, where they were told that immobile tanks were of no use; radio, where they were told that lack of communication made tanks useless; and gunnery, where they learnt that without firepower, tanks were essentially a 50-tonne portable radio.

But as Richard Ogorkiewicz recounts here, the development, modification and testing of these attributes not only underlines the evolution of tanks but also of human ingenuity and technology — and stubbornness to change.

Concentrating on mobility, firepower and protection, he presents a “comprehensive account of the worldwide evolution and employment of tanks from their inception to the present day”.

And while this is a story that Ogorkiewicz is well qualified to tell, as one of the foremost civilian experts on tanks, he adds a number of interesting nuggets. Say, the role of major car-makers — Rolls-Royce, Fiat, Daimler, Renault, etc., in the evolution of armoured military vehicles, and unexpected countries with roles in tanks’ history.

heavy war armour vehicle: Tank
heavy war armour vehicle: Tank, Pixabay

Also a long-time independent member of several scientific advisory committees of the British Defence Ministry, the author notes that while tanks’ military importance and general interest have led to a number of books on them (including three authoritative works by him): “There is much more to be said about them, not only because of the more recent developments or because of tanks’ worldwide proliferation but also because of the misconceptions about their origins and other developments.”

He kicks off on this mission by revisiting conventional history of self-propelled, armoured military vehicles, whose origins, we learn, go back further than we thought to the year of Napoleon’s birth (1769) — though this particular venture by a French military engineer got nowhere, nor did the brief revival of interest in the mid-19th century.

Ogorkiewicz shows how the course only began via development of armoured cars in various European armies in the early 20th century — with Italy taking an early lead here.

He then charts the development, the false starts and piecemeal attempts that marked tanks in World War I, before going on to how they faced another problem post-war, when even the victors (save France) reduced the inventories while traditionalist high commands disparaged their contribution or ruled out their independent use.

Recounting how tanks made a comeback courtesy some visionary and dedicated British military theorists — along with the mistakes the country’s military leadership made and their consequences in the next World War — he takes up developments in this field in other major powers: France, the US, Italy, the Soviet Union and Germany, as well as in Poland, Sweden and Japan.

A chapter on development of strategic use of tanks offers a thoughtful prelude to an armoured battle view of the Second World War.

Military tank
Military tank, Pixabay

Ogorkiewicz then deals with the changed battlefield after the Second World War, and how tanks survived the onslaught of hand-held — and then more sophisticated — anti-tank weapons. Apart from the five dominant tank powers — the US, the Soviet Union, Britain, France and Germany — he also takes a look at other countries which tried, including Switzerland, Israel and Argentina.

Asian countries, especially China, Pakistan and India, get their own section, in which he makes an incisive summary of Indian armoured forces’ developments, shortcomings and achievements, before offering his assessment of the future and some technical appendices.

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Though not a book for the casual reader due to its wealth of technical detail, it gives an expansive look not only at tanks, but the transforming paradigms of war-fighting, which changed from soldiers walking or riding to find and engage the enemy to long-ranging, combined-arms operations. Military buffs, this is for you. (IANS)

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Indian Navy, Restructuring its Organisational Setup to Cater to Advancements in its Military and Technical Systems

As per Navy sources, the proposal was discussed at length at the recently concluded Navy Commander's Conference in New Delhi

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Indian, Navy, Military
As per a senior Navy official, the re-orientation will result in functional re-organisation and optimal manning of its platforms by efficiently utilising the lean manpower. Pixabay

Indian Navy, the leanest of the three armed forces of the country, is contemplating restructuring its organisational setup to cater to the advancements in its military and technical systems.

The re-orientation is proposed as the force is acquiring systems with super-special technologies equipped on platforms, including new ships, frigates and submarines. As per a senior Navy official, the re-orientation will result in functional re-organisation and optimal manning of its platforms by efficiently utilising the lean manpower at its disposal.

As per Navy sources, the proposal was discussed at length at the recently concluded Navy Commander’s Conference in New Delhi.

At present, the Navy’s staff strength is 56,000, which includes 5,600 officers. In comparison, the staff strength of the Air Force is 1.5 lakh and the Army, 13 lakh.

Indian, Navy, Military
The re-orientation is proposed as the force is acquiring systems with super-special technologies equipped on platforms, including new ships, frigates and submarines. Pixabay

“Discussions are underway to develop an organisational structure based on the Operator-Maintainer concept of the US Navy. In this concept, the operator of any system on a particular platform is technically qualified to undertake the first line of maintenance of that system,” said a senior Navy official.

However, given the technical complexities involved in operation of new systems on board any platform, technical knowledge is required.

“To acquire crew with the requisite technical knowledge, the Navy is contemplating on altering their training methodologies and even recruiting staff with the necessary education backgrounds,” said the official.

Indian ships typically have two sets of crew. There are sets of ‘operators’ to run systems, like radars, a fire control systems or guns. There are separate sets of ‘maintainers’ whose services are called in when any of the systems malfunction. The ‘operator-maintainer’ concept would mean overlapping of technically complex functionalities.

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As per experts, Russian ships too follow the operator-maintainer concept. Russian platforms were witness to massive overcrowding when they were inducted into the Indian Navy because these were designed to accommodate only a limited number of persons. The Royal Navy of the UK has tried this system on its ships too.

“In the operator-maintainer concept, each person has to be technically qualified because maintaining a modern platform is complex. There are two issues involved for India in adopting this system. The existing crew has to be trained with much higher level of technical competence.

After merging of functions, leaves available to any staff, which is around three months a year, have to be curtailed. Another issue pertains to the costs involved in training the staff. There has been a trend among officials quitting the Navy after 15 years of service for lucrative jobs in other sectors of the economy,” former Navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash told IANS. (IANS)