Building A Tank Force For Your Interstellar Army | Tank Types, Naming Conventions & Doctrines
You know, it’s the damnedest thing, but ever since I returned to the Templin Institute from an undisclosed location in Eastern Europe, I can’t stop thinking about tanks. I find them intensely interesting. From their debut in the First World War in which they were deployed break the static trench lines on the Western Front, to their dominance on the Eastern Front some 30 years later, where great fleets armor dueled in places like Brody, Kharkov and Kursk, all the way to the modern era where the equipment and doctrines of the Cold War began to clash with new realities. But what future does the tank have? Even today there are theorists who declare it to be an obsolete piece of technology, doomed to be replaced by advanced aircraft, drones or other types of vehicles. And that might be so, maybe in the future tanks will be cast alongside zeppelins or boards with nails in them, as no longer needed in warfare. But when I look at the armies of
alternate worlds fighting across interstellar wars, armies which indeed lack these kinds of armoured vehicles, I can’t help but think that they might be better off if they had a few tanks. Sure the scale might be bigger, but in so many of these wars and conflicts, the battlefield situations for which these vehicles were designed were still present and in my opinion at least, tanks could altered the course of the fighting. The wildlife of Pandora might have been able to overcome the “Amplified Mobility Platforms” used by the RDA, but I doubt they would have been as successful trying to tip over a 70 ton tank. The
United Federation of Planets wouldn’t have needed to rely on WWI tactics against the dominion or the klingons, the Mobile Infantry of the Terran Federation would have actually been mobile and no tricky use of tow cables would have stopped Imperial tanks, if they’d had any, on Hoth. In some cases, the lack of tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles makes sense. We might forgive Stargate Command for relying on light infantry when they were limited to whatever could fit through a wormhole with a 20 foot diameter. Not much chance an M1 Abrams was going to make it
very far through that. The Alliance to Restore the Republic also made very little and sporadic use of tanks because they were in most cases trying to avoid the pitched battles those vehicles were designed for. And the remnants of the 12 Colonies of Kobol simply lost all their tanks when the Cylons destroyed their homeworlds and were left to fight with what they had. So while some interstellar armies might be excused for the lack of tanks and armoured fighting vehicles in their inventory, there’s others where I think the words of one Heinz Guderain remain true. “Whenever in future wars the battle is fought, armored troops will play the decisive role.”
So if we can agree that tanks might still have a place within the armies mobilized to fight interstellar wars, what characteristics should they have, what features should they avoid, what kinds of vehicles make the most sense to deploy and how should they all be categorized. These are the questions we’ll be discussing on this episode of Incoming. And find yourself a comfy chair, make another batch of stroganoff with maybe some homemade creme fraiche instead of sour cream this time, and grab a vanilla coke, cause this is a long one. But before we begin, it’s important to note that depending on which alternate world you find yourself within, the nature of its battlefields can vary drastically. Some possess fantastic technologies or supernatural abilities that can fundamentally alter the nature of war and others have seen the adoption of new types of machines that might have largely supplanted the traditional tank. For this reason, I’ll be talking about the systems involved in a tank design
in a largely imprecise way. I can't tell you an autocannon is a better choice over a laser or that you should always pick shields instead of armor when these concepts vary so tremendously across alternate worlds. So with that in mind, this guide might not be relevant to every interstellar army, but hopefully can be something of a starting point. And I should also mention that while in most cases I’ll be referencing the vehicles used by “interstellar armies”, those required to fight across multiple planets or star systems, this won’t always be the case. In some instances, it will be necessary to draw examples from armies that while not technically interstellar, are nevertheless suitably advanced and unique enough to be included.
And so, with my futile attempt to reduce comments that begin with the phrase “um actually” now over, let’s begin. One of the interesting bits of history or trivia surrounding tanks, is that unlike say firearms or artillery, where we don’t have a clear picture of their origins and first use, or aircraft whose civilian origins made their role in conflicts not immediately understood, tanks were designed to fulfill a very clear function and in a conflict recent enough to make their combat history relatively well recorded. In short, we can say definitively why tanks were designed, where they were first utilized and how they’ve performed ever since. This gives us a solid foundation to work from. And that foundation begins on the Western Front of the first World War, a combination of technological developments, the relative parity of the countries on either side, and the terrain being fought over, created a situation where most battles heavily favored the defender. This in turn resulted in a stalemate and both the Allies and Central Powers
would spend much of the war looking for a way to break it. The landship, later known as the tank, was one of the solutions presented to solve this problem. They were armoured vehicles, mobile enough to cross rugged battlefield terrain, armoured enough to survive the fire of the enemy, and equipped with enough offensive firepower to break through entrenched enemy defenses.
The first use of the tank was on 15 September 1916 during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, part of the larger Battle of the Somme. Their performance here was mixed. The British MKI tanks were generally unreliable as a result of their rushed design process, and not available in large enough numbers to make a significant difference. But the concept was proven to have potential, and today, over a century later they have grown to form a core part of modern armies and fulfill, more or less, that same battlefield role. As is to be expected however, a century of development and combat use has expanded, refined, and in some cases, dramatically changed their characteristics.
There’s even some debate on whether the term “tank” should be used to refer to certain armoured fighting vehicles. Fundamentally though, every tank or AFV is still a balance of those three characteristics: Mobility, Protection and Firepower. Mobility might stream straightforward, but there’s a few layers to the underlying concept. The first is known as “tactical mobility” and is probably the most obvious. How fast is the tank, how quickly can it accelerate, brake or turn on various kinds of terrain. Can it clear obstacles
like walls or trenches or environmental considerations like rivers and forests. Second you have “operational mobility”, how well it can move within a larger area of operations, or from battlefield to battlefield. The third major layer is known as “strategic mobility”. This refers to how quickly and effectively the tank can be transported to the battlefield.
Most tanks are relatively slow and rely on some external transportation system like ships, railways or aircraft when travelling long distances. Just as an example, a Sherman tank breaking through ruined buildings during street fighting in Caen would be demonstrating tactical mobility. It racing to liberate Paris would be a demonstration of operational mobility, and it being shipped to Japan and then Korea would be strategic mobility.
It’s my belief that between the three, strategic mobility would be one of the most important factors of a tank designed for use in an interstellar army. Payload capacity is always one of the most limiting design characteristics of any spacecraft, making sure tanks can be loaded onto an interstellar transport as efficiently as possible would be a huge consideration. Your nation might have the best tank in the galaxy, but if its too big to fit on your starships and it can’t get to where it needs to go, that tank is suddenly useless.
But when not being transported externally, a tank’s mobility is usually achieved through continuous tracks or wheels and each offers various advantages or disadvantages to both Tactical, Operational and Strategic mobility. Tracks are much better at overcoming rugged terrain and unfavorable conditions such as heavy mud, ice or sand. This comes at the expense of their overall top speed. Wheels by contrast are less suited towards rough terrain,
but they offer much greater fuel efficiency and are less maintenance intensive. As such, they can travel much longer distances. Now it should be noted there is some debate on whether tracks are a fundamental characteristic of tank design, and if wheeled vehicles should be called something else like a “maneuver combat vehicle”. That’s not a debate that I’d like to get into,
but for the purposes of this video, I’m willing to stretch the definitions a bit. I’ll just draw the line at legs, put those on a tank and you have a walker, or battlemech or whatever. But there’s one other popular method of propelling tanks across the battlefield that we see utilized very often within interstellar armies. And this leads me to tangent #1: Anti-gravity or hover tanks.
The main benefits to a propulsion system like this is that a hovertank would likely be able to achieve a much higher top speed and be largely immune to things like rivers, lakes, lava flows, and other hazardous environmental features. This by itself is a huge advantage. River crossings are traditionally some of the most dangerous operations a tank can be involved in. Deep wading or fording, where a tank drives across a river using a snorkel to provide engine intake, is exceptionally risky and wildly unpopular with crews, even when they’re not under enemy fire.
Being able to simply drive across rivers without requiring deep fording or the construction of bridges would be of huge strategic benefit. But there is also another potential benefit, that a hovertank might be immune to landmines. I’m a little less sure about this. In any alternate reality where the technology available has made hovertanks commonplace, it seems incredibly likely that landmines that can detect the presence of hovertanks above them are also commonplace. A more universal downside, is that regardless of how the tank is made to hover, it’s only going to be effective over flat terrain; water, grasslands, sand. On any kind of rocky or ruined battlefield
where you have sudden and unpredictable variances in elevation, it seems pretty likely that the hovertank would just start banging into stuff. Additionally, I have to assume that whatever technology allows the tank to hover, is coming at the expense of something else. Maybe the tank needs to be lighter or carry a smaller gun, there is likely some kind of trade off. And personally,
while I can’t defend this point objectively, I think hover tanks just look stupid, let me grind the skulls of the enemy to dust beneath my treads, not hover over them. In conclusion, I think an argument can definitely be made for the use of hovertanks within interstellar armies, but I don’t believe every tank should be a hovertank. Maybe a unit of hovertanks can be used to establish a foothold across the river before bridging equipment and tracked vehicles are brought over to reinforce. Okay, but moving on. The second major characteristic of tank design is protection. This isn’t simply a tank’s armor, shields, or whatever, but a whole array of interconnecting principals, layered on top of each other that are collectively sometimes known as the Protection Onion. The outer layer of the Onion is the idea of avoiding a dangerous encounter in the first place.
Your tank can’t be shot at, if your tank is nowhere near anything that can shoot at you. In this case, communications equipment or sensors that tie an individual vehicle into a wider networked environment, are just as useful as additional armor. Possible threats to the tank can be pinpointed by a starship in orbit, automated satellites or drones, other vehicles or even boots on the ground.
Once identified and these threats properly communicated the tank now knows to avoid them. But that’s not always feasible, which brings us to the next layer of the Onion: avoiding detection. Originally, this was as simple as slapping some green paint on a tank and hoping nobody noticed it hiding in a bush. But as the ways of detecting tanks have evolved so too
have the methods of circumventing that detection. Again, this is something that will depend on the technology of the alternate reality this tank finds itself within. In most cases, it will refer to masking the electronic, radar, acoustic, infrared and the magnetic signature of the tank, but if your enemy can detect the psychic presence of the tank’s crew, or some other method, then wearing tinfoil hats would fall into this layer of the umbrella. Likewise, if Gods or other supernatural forces are actively involved on the battlefield, then prayer might also be utilized here, although I feel like prayer might extend across every layer of the onion, that’s something to think about.
But, maybe in spite of everything, your tank has been spotted. The next layer of the onion is to avoid being acquired by enemy systems. This is another aspect where there's no universal technological solution, but unique applications that vary from reality to reality. I’m sure the Covenant fighting on Reach use a drastically different method of acquiring targets, compared to say, the Soviet Union trying to take over Europa. Countermeasures might
include things like decoys, smoke or other obscurants, or some sort of jamming device. Once a shot is fired though, we move into the next next layer, avoiding being hit. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this is again heavily dependent on whatever technology is available within the alternate reality your tank operates within. In our own world, there are many
different counter-measures in use, but generally fit into soft-kill or hard-kill measures. A soft-method would alter the tracking or sensing behavior of an incoming threat causing it to veer off course. This might be flares or counter-radar chaff, or again, depending on where you find yourself, something more fantastical. If some sort of Tyranid living ammunition is being shot at you, projecting a pheromone that makes your tank smell like the ammunition’s brood-mother, would probably be a soft-kill measure. A hard kill measure would be some sort of direct counter-attack meant to intercept and neutralize the incoming threat. This could be some sort of missile or other kinetic attack, or if you had a Jedi in your tank crew, maybe using the force to stop enemy blaster fire.
But, if your tank exists in a post-Order 66 universe or that Tyranid living ammunition really hated its brood mother, we end up in the penultimate layer of our onion. Avoiding penetration, and this, finally is where elements like armor, shields or whatever, finally comes into play. The more you can pack onto a tank or the better you can economize it, the better a tank’s survivability. The last layer to the Onion is ensuring that even if every countermeasure fails, and the tank is hit and penetrated, this doesn’t necessarily result in a kill. These could be redundant systems, allowing the vehicle to continue functioning even if a major component is damaged, or one last layer of protection afforded to the vehicle's crew. If your
tank is unmanned or is crewed by droids or robots or whatever, this may not even be a major issue. But, moving away from protection, the last major characteristic is a tank’s firepower, and thankfully this is the most straightforward of the three. A tank’s main weapon is typically a single large-caliber cannon mounted on a fully traversing turret. This can be capable of firing a variety of ammunition types, increasing the gun’s effectiveness against hard targets like enemy tanks, soft targets like enemy unarmored vehicles or infantry and anything else a tank might reasonably need to fire upon. Within interstellar armies, this might be a railgun, or a giant laser, some sort of plasma accelerator, or who knows.
But whatever it is, I’d expect that tanks might be given special ammunition or their lasers charged in a specific way, so that they have the capability to inflict more damage against shields, low flying starships, mechanized walkers and whatever else. If it exists and is a threat, there is almost certainly some sort of specialized ammunition intended to deal with it. Making sure the tank is big enough to house all that ammunition, is another consideration in the firepower category. While a single cannon is the most popularly used tank armament in our own world, other options exist. Autocannons are the 2nd most popular, trading caliber size for firing speed and ammunition count. In most cases, but not always, you would expect guns like these to be less effective against heavily armoured targets, but more so against infantry, lighter vehicles and even aircraft. Again, the
interstellar equivalent to this could be anything, pulse phasers, tachyon shredders, whatever. Variations in a tank’s armament however, is where we again slide into the debate of what constitutes a tank. Give a vehicle a large enough gun, and you might end up with what some would consider a self-propelled artillery piece, optimize it towards shooting down helicopters, aerospace craft or starships, you might have a self-propelled anti-aircraft weapon. But there is one specific type of armament that I don’t think should ever be on a tank, and this leads us to Tangent #2. As mentioned, pretty much every successful tank design has been armed with a single cannon. So if one cannon is good, having two cannons has gotta be even better right, maybe even twice as good? Well, I don’t think so. This has something that’s been tried multiple
times across our own history and the results have never made such a design worthwhile. You have to start by asking, what problem is a dual gun tank meant to solve? It’s only major advantage that I can think of, would be that it can fire two shots at once. But if you’re looking to increase the tank’s rate of fire, an autocannon or some similar kind of weapon seems like a better option. If you don’t want to sacrifice the power of each individual round, then investing in a better loading system seems much more practical.
When you add a second cannon, you also need to add another detection system, another method to load it, and find a place for all the extra ammunition that additional gun would need. It also seems like it would be harder to line up your shots as the gun is no longer in the center of the tank’s turret or chassis. Dual cannon systems only make sense if you're trying to spray a large area with fire, which is why you do find this type of armament on anti-air vehicles When dealing with enemy tanks though, precision is what's required. Now all that said, it’s perfectly possible some kind of weapons technology might exist in some alternate reality to make this arrangement more pacticle, but for the most part, stick to one gun.
But a tank's offensive power is also based on the systems in place to make sure it can actually acquire the enemy. There are again many elements to this, ranging from the sensors that identify the enemy, to the stabilization methods that ensure a tank’s cannon remains fixated on that target, regardless of what the rest of the vehicle is doing. This to me is one of the ways in which tanks seem superior to mechanized walkers. When you compare the videos of tanks driving around
with pints of beer resting comfortably on their guns, to Imperial ATATs or the BattleMechs of the Inner Sphere, well the latter always comes off a bit clunky. So between Mobility, Protection and Firepower, you have the three main characteristics of any tank. Improvements in one of those areas, will likely come at the expense of the other two. But, it’s important to remember that many other factors will impact the overall success of any tank design and these are often much harder to measure. Other secondary characteristics include things like: Ease of Training: How long does it take for a novice crew to become proficient.
Crew Comfort: how long can the tank be operated before its crew needs a break. Reliability: How often does the tank break down while in regular use. Ease of Maintenance & Repair: How much effort and time is required to keep the vehicle operational? Consumption: How long can the tank be in operation before it needs a resupply, either of fuel or ammunition. Cost: How much money or time does it take to build? There’s a whole lot more secondary characteristics like these, but the point is; It’s possible to end up with a tank that scores a perfect 10 in mobility, protection and firepower, only for nobody to want to crew the thing because it’s interior is too loud and hot and it takes forever to figure out how to drive it. You might also find that these Secondary Characteristics can directly affect Primary characteristics. Your tank might have phenomenal mobility, but if it breaks
down all the time, it’s not going to get very far no matter how fast its top speed. Likewise, you can have the best gun in the galaxy, but maybe the tank is only big enough to fit a couple rounds. But, that aside, pretty much every tank in history has been designed with those three main characteristics in mind, and hopefully enough attention given to those secondary characteristics so as to make the vehicle practical. With an ever increasing number of designs, has come the desire and need to classify those designs into various tank types. Here we run into a bit of a problem. Many different classification systems have been used since the introduction of the tank and these have evolved and changed both across history and between nations. Some countries classified their tanks based on their weight, others on their battlefield role. There
is unfortunately no universal classification system that works across all eras and nations. What might be called a “cruiser tank” in one army, would be designated a “light” or “medium tank” in another, even if the designs were identical. Likewise the requirements for what constitutes a light, medium, or h eavy tank have changed over time.
So when we talk about the different types of tanks, it’s important to remember that these designations… well there kinda, PoC Yeah, what he said. So we’ll do our best to provide a visual representation of how each type of tank is balanced between those three primary characteristics, mobility, protection and firepower, but even within the same tank class, these attributes can vary wildly. We’ll be starting with the modern main battle tank, before moving into various kinds of historical designations as determined both by weight and battlefield role. We’ll include a few examples of vehicle types that are arguably not tanks at all, and some others that will assuredly piss off the tank pursuits out there. But hey, better to cast the net too wide than too narrow right? The concept of a main battle tank or MBT, is in our world at least, the most modern classification we’ll be discussing. Across history, the number of tank types in use
has expanded and contracted with evolving technologies and shifting doctrines. Since the middle of the Cold War into the modern era, the MBT has successfully replaced a number of more specialized tank types to become the most predominant class in service today. The idea behind them is pretty simple, a design that balances evenly between speed, protection and firepower. The oversimplified role of an MBT would be as a jack-of-all trades. Through advances in suspension systems, lightweight composite armor and other technologies, it has the firepower of what was historically designated a super-heavy tank, the armor of a heavy tank, the mobility of a light tank with the weight of a medium tank. It makes sense that this kind of design has replaced various others, with the technical sophistication of tanks increasing over time. Why maintain numerous distinct production lines when you can achieve the same battlefield results with just one? It seems to me that for 90% of interstellar armies, the Main Battle Tank is what you would see in service most often.
Battle Order here. Just a quick interjection, Main Battle Tanks aren’t actually an even weighting of technical characteristics. They are simply the main tank used by an army, and not defined by any specific technical detail. As was said, the reason modern main battle tanks are the way they are now is because technology got to the point where one tank could do the traditional jobs of light, medium, and heavy tanks. However, there are different design philosophies that make it hard to pin down a technically derived definition. For example, the Germans and French of the early Cold War generally gave their MBTs less armor to afford greater mobility because during an offensive maneuver war, when protecting against artillery shrapnel is often enough. The Americans
and British meanwhile opted for heavier armor with a tradeoff in mobility, as they foresaw less aggressive operations against the Soviets that would require being able to take direct hits. You also have to consider that some countries operate multiple MBTs in different types of units. For example, countries like Russia or South Korea operate older tanks in infantry units for direct fire support while they keep their newest tanks in their premiere armor units.
Ultimately, designations are relative and what your MBT is all depends on the threat. If the threat is such that a traditionally light tank can take the hits and dish the damage you need, using it as your main tank is perfectly fine. For example, the Stuart light tank was mainly used for reconnaissance and screening in Europe, and probably couldn’t have been America’s main tank due to the armor and anti-tank threat. However, in the Pacific, there were plenty of situations where the Stuart could function as the main tank. Afterall, if the enemy really only had small arms to counter them, a light tank protected against rifle fire was actually capable of closing with and destroying them. Further, in restricted terrain, like jungle or a wooded area, light tanks could actually provide benefits in maneuverability compared to larger options.
Remember, designing a tank force is really all about addressing the circumstances you are likely to find yourself in within the limitations of your resources. You are right though, most tanks will likely be main battle tanks in the future, but being most of the tank force is sort of what makes main battle tanks main battle tanks. Damn, Battle Order comes in outta nowhere to take me to class. But he’s absolutely right, any of the tanks we’ll go over in this video could potentially fulfill the role of an MBT depending on the battlefield they find themselves within. And even traditional MBTs
might not all be an equal balance of those three characteristics. But with that said... The type 61 tank in service with the Earth Federation would be a good example of an MBT. It’s the main tank fielded by Federation forces and it can fulfill a multitude of roles. Design wise, I don’t think the dual cannons are necessary, and it's maybe a bit big, but overall, it’s a pretty effective design at least to my largely untrained eye. But before technology made the MBT possible, armies utilized many different types of tanks.
The Light Tank is one of the few variants that has been present across history, but also remains viable. Originally, these tanks emphasized speed and were intended to harass and outmaneuver larger vehicles. They could perform screening actions ahead of a heavier armoured formation, conduct reconnaissance, artillery observation and participate in landing operations. In the modern era, many of these roles have shifted to other battlefield elements, but the viability of the light tank within airborne or amphibious landings makes it uniquely suited towards interstellar armies. If your is fighting a relatively low-intensity insurgency across a number of worlds, lugging around MBTs might be inefficient and cost prohibitive.
A dedicated light tank might be better suited towards this kind of expeditionary warfare. The Scorpion Tank utilized by the Brotherhood of Nod would be a good example of a light tank. While its design seems impractical by modern standards, it has a smaller gun, high speed and its light weight allows it to be rapidly redeployed. It’s not meant to engage the heaviest vehicles used by Nod’s opponents, relying instead on other heavier vehicles. The medium tank is perhaps one of the most ill-defined tank types encompassing a wide variety of vehicles. While the name suggests some sort of weight distinction, medium tanks
were routinely classified by their battlefield role. Initially, this was similar to that of a light tank, prioritizing speed and exploiting the breakthroughs made by heavier tanks, but this later evolved to instead focus on mobility, protection and firepower, if not exactly equally, at least in a way that was bit more balanced. For this reason, medium tanks almost entirely evolved or were replaced by Main Battle Tanks. It’s hard to see how medium tanks would fit into an interstellar army, a standard main battle tank makes a lot more sense. But, if society suffered through some kind of tark age of technology resulting in an amalgamation of different military theories and doctrines under the command of an ignorant faith-based regime, maybe the concept would return.
It should be no surprise then that the Leman Russ would be a good example of a medium tank in interstellar use. It is neither the largest nor most advanced tank in service within the Imperium of Man, yet it’s able to be produced in great numbers and routinely modified to fit a number of more specialized roles. Most importantly however, it serves alongside both lighter and heavier vehicles, indicating its status as a medium tank.
This leads us to heavy tanks. As the name suggests, these vehicles weighed more than Light or Medium Tanks and sacrificed mobility and maneuverability for better protection and equal or superior firepower. Heavy tanks were necessary in both world wars, first for surviving artillery and anti-tank guns while crossing trench-lines or no man’s land, and then for anti-tank warfare once that became more common.
The lack of mobility ended up being a major weakness though, as heavy tanks had a difficult time getting to the positions where they could excel in their intended role. More often they were used as mobile pillboxes or as focal points in a wider defensive position. It would be hard to justify using heavy tanks within an interstellar army. Even if technology and doctrine made the basic concept viable, I’d imagine hauling these enormous slow vehicles around the galaxy would be a giant waste. By the
time they lumbered off their transports, and were ferried to the battlefield, the war might be over. But, the Tumbril Nova is a good example of a heavy tank within an interstellar army. It is enormous, heavy, and extremely resilient to damage. It also seems to have the same disadvantages inherent to
its class, with even dedicated transports only able to carry a couple of the vehicles at a time. I’ve spoken at great length before about how I don’t particularly find the Nova to be a good design, but in a video like this one, where critiquing the individual designs isn’t really the point it seems unfair for me to repeat all those same critiques again. So I’ll have someone else do it. Thanks Spookston! If you’d like to see the UNSC’s Scorpion, the tanks of the Imperium of Man and many other given that same treatment, be sure to check out Spookston’s Youtube channel. Okay, back to it. Deficiencies in the design aside, the Nova seems to be a heavy tank by the standards of the Cold War, mostly dedicated to destroying other tanks. We can contrast this with a
different heavy tank design that seems to have been based more on the World One War standard. The Imperium of Man classifies the Baneblade as a super-heavy tank, and we’ll get to those next, but when you compare it to some of the absolutely enormous vehicles it serves alongside, the Baneblade is comparatively small. So for our purposes today we’ll consider it a heavy tank. The point is, rather than a single large caliber cannon, the Baneblade’s armament is composed of up to a dozen separate guns, each suited towards enemy armor, fortification or infantry. With a crew of ten people, it’s more akin to a moving fortress. The Baneblade, at least doctrinally, would not have been out of place in 1919 as a heavy tank.
So that takes us to Super-Heavy tanks. Ostensibly, this refers to any tanks suitably heavier than a heavy tank, but where exactly that line is hard to define. In our own world, I almost think it’s more appropriate to classify Super-Heavy tanks based on their deficiencies, as every single design that fits that type has either been cancelled, or wildly impractical. My definition would be when a heavy tank becomes too big to move under its own power, it is now a Super-Heavy tank. For all the same reasons that a heavy tank would be an inefficient design type within an interstellar army, a super-heavy tank would be even less desirable. In my opinion, if the nation in question is capable of constructing starships big enough to efficiently transport these gigantic vehicles into a variety of warzones across interstellar space, it would likely also be capable of using orbital bombardment or some other method to overcome the situations for which these super-heavy tanks were designed.
As impractical as I might find them, the Bolo Tanks used by the Concordiat of Man would be a good example of a super-heavy tank. I don’t understand how they can move, but these AI guided vehicles are absolutely enormous, bristling with weapons and exemplify the old concept of a “landship”. So we move now from tank types more or less classified by their weight, to those classified by their intended role. As previously mentioned, there is a lot of overlap between these two systems. We’ll start with the “Cruiser Tank”. In a lot of cases, these are very similar to light or medium tanks, comparatively small and fast at the expense of armor.
The distinction between light, medium and cruiser tanks is often subtle and sometimes arbitrary. But where light tanks were generally designed to conduct scouting and screening, cruiser tanks were intended to exploit breakthroughs in the enemy’s line and directly engage other armoured units. This brings it more in line with the concept of a medium tank. Now we’ll run into some issues trying to apply historical designations like the Cruiser Tank to futuristic vehicles, so your mileage might vary on some of my examples from here on out. That said, I think a strong case can be made that the M-44 Hammerhead in service with the Systems Alliance is a good example of a cruiser tank. It’s equipped with solid-fuel
rocket thrusters in place of wheels or tracks allowing it to move at great speeds, but its single forward facing gun is evidence that the hammerhead was intended to engage armored targets. Now the System Alliance itself classifies this as an infantry fighting vehicle, but as we’ll get into later on, I don’t think this quite fits. Using the Hammerhead as an example, we can also maybe take some inspiration on how the cruiser tank concept might fit into an interstellar army. Normally I’d say the Cruiser Tank concept is
redundant next to medium or main battle tanks, but this is where different technologies could make it more distinct. Earlier than I said that hovertanks should server alongside tracked vehicles? Well, maybe the tracked vehicles can be classified as MBTs, while the hovertanks use the term Cruiser tanks. It still fits its historical role, but in a way that’s now distinct. But next, let's get into the Infantry Tank. If the cruiser tank is basically a medium tank, than the infantry tank is pretty much a heavy tank. It was designed to support the advance of infantry, and as such, wasn’t required to move much faster than walking or running speed. They were equipped with additional armor, but not necessarily more firepower. Unlike heavy tanks, infantry tanks
weren’t specifically designed to engage enemy armor, at least that wasn’t their primary role. They were instead intended to support infantry in creating a breakthrough. As such, they were often equipped with similar sized guns to medium or even light tanks. The Annihilator variant of the Malcador Heavy tank again in service with the Imperium of Man, is a fairly accurate example of an infantry tank, even if it’s not directly designated as such. It’s primary armament, a demolisher cannon, is better suited towards enemy infantry and fortifications, and while its secondary armament could be used against armoured targets, it’s too slow and large to effectively perform the role of a tank hunter.
So far, each class we’ve talked about are about as universally recognized as tanks as you can get. But now we start moving into more controversial territory, are the following vehicles tanks or do they fit into the border category of “armoured fighting vehicle”. That might vary from nation to nation and era to era, so I’m not going to pass judgements. A tank destroyer, tank hunter, tank killer, or self-propelled anti-tank gun, is specifically designed to engage and destroy enemy armoured vehicles. In most cases they lack
the operational mobility and tactical flexibility of tanks, sacrificing both in favor of firepower. Historical examples are usually turretless, giving the tank destroyer both a lower silhouette and the ability to house a larger gun. More modern examples have replaced their tracks with wheels and discarded heavy guns in favor of missile systems, although cannons have made something of a comeback as the demand for lower cost anti-tank solutions has increased.
Tank destroyers are another type of vehicle that I think would make a lot of sense within an interstellar army. If the enemy possesses a large number of heavily armoured units, and you don’t have the means to transport MBTs or main battle tanks, smaller, cheaper tank destroyers might be able to do the same job. Now, while its design is unlike any kind of tank destroyer in our world, the IG-227 Hailfire Class, is used by the Confederacy of Independent Systems in nearly an identical role.
It doesn’t seem particularly durable, but its high speed and armament made it an excellent counter to the heavier walkers deployed by the Republic. Next on our list are self-propelled anti-aircraft weapons and not many people would argue this is a tank at all. This should be pretty self explanatory; an anti-aircraft system, usually a couple rapid firing cannons or missiles, are mounted on a tank-like chassis. They are intended to operate in concert or in the same environments as other armoured vehicles, so their design is subsequently very similar.
Anti-air vehicles might not make a ton of sense within an invading interstellar army, they’d likely be redundant with fleet carriers in orbit or in the atmosphere. But for a defending force I can definitely see their use. Fixed anti-aircraft weapons would likely not last too long before they were targeted by orbital bombardments so having a mobile platform seems to make sense. If these are
suitably armed to engage enemy starships, not just fighters or bombers, they could be a huge asset. While the exact designation of this vehicle remains unknown, the Helghast employed a very good example of a self-propelled anti-air weapon. It was based on the standard Helghast hover APC chassis, but with an additional quad barreled cannon mounted atop a turret and what seemed to be anti-aircraft missiles.
Next on our list of vehicles we have Self-Propelled Artillery. Again, in fairness, despite some similarities, these really aren’t tanks although they do seem to be mistaken for them quite a bit. Self-Propelled artillery has much lighter armor, usually only resistant to small arms fire or the shrapnel from counter-battery fire, but they feature a much larger and longer ranged armament, meant for indirect fire. That is, their targets are often not within visual range. Where these vehicles have an advantage over towed artillery, is that they’re able to shoot and scoot, limiting their risk of being hit but counter-fire.
In certain situations they might be used for direct fire support, but only in emergency situations and as a last resort. So if for example you had a convoy of vehicles heading into enemy territory, you would generally not want self-propelled artillery to be in the front. As with Self-Propelled anti-aircraft weapons, I’d imagine this sort of vehicle would only be useful to the defender. A starship parked in orbit could likely achieve the same results without the added logistics of deploying a specialized vehicle to the surface of a planet.
Battle Order here again. So I actually disagree with my colleague on this point. A starship would be a formidable fire support capability, no doubt about that, but that doesn’t make artillery at lower echelons useless. Otherwise, in the 21st century we just would have had corps-level ballistic missiles and strategic bombers and nothing lower than that. Putting artillery in the hands of lower commanders allows for more responsive fires and guarantees that they will have fire support of some kind. If a starship is providing general support for a large area, what if they are busy supporting another unit? What if the process of getting approval for orbital bombardment adds precious minutes to actually getting an effect on the ground? What if friendly soldiers are too close to the enemy to call in massively powerful starship fires? If a brigade commander for example has their own artillery, they will always be able to call on it and might get faster results. To make an analogy, if you have a nail that can be driven in with your ballpeen hammer and you need it done within 30 seconds, there’s no sense asking your friend to use their jackhammer to do it in 15 minutes.
Additionally, smaller artillery pieces can provide you better effects for certain missions. Sure, a starship turbolaser can probably glass 10 grid squares at once. But if you just need to suppress a target, hide movement with smoke, or just probe a position, lighter ground-launched precision artillery of the future would probably be the move. For this reason, self-propelled artillery ranging from mortar carriers at lower levels to self-propelled guns and precision missile artillery at the brigade, division and corps levels is my recommendation.
Once again, Battle Order makes a good point. As with every armored fighting vehicle we’ve gone over, there is always the chance that the benefits of including them within an interstellar army will outweigh whatever disadvantages they might have. It all depends on what situation you find yourself within and what capabilities your forces possess. The siege tanks used by the Terran Dominion are not a perfect example of self-propelled artillery, but they’re pretty close. In this instance, the design can perform all the functions of a heavy tank, but then reconfigure itself to provide longer ranged support.
While this concept is intriguing, I do have to wonder how effective it would be. Each of these configurations is designed towards a completely different role, so the siege tank is likely not quite as good at either as two specialized vehicles might have been. Self propelled artillery is unusually rare within interstellar armies, the only other example I can think of is the aptly named Self-Propelled Heavy Artillery used by the Grand Army of the Republic. Now technically this is actually a walker, which I did swear I wasn’t going to include in this video, but I want to go on another brief tangent here. The main purpose of artillery, as discussed, is to provide indirect fire. But what’s unusual about the Republic SPHA is that it fires a direct beam of energy. This energy doesn’t seem to arc or
curve in any way, meaning that this piece of artillery requires a direct line of sight to whatever it’s trying to hit. And that beam of energy also very clearly pinpoints exactly where the artillery walker is positioned, leaving it susceptible to counter-battery fire. It makes me think this weapon was designed more so to hit starships in orbit, as its otherwise unable to fulfill the traditional role of artillery. While self-propelled artillery is designed to most often provide indirect fire, Assault guns are the opposite. They are intended to follow friendly infantry and knock out enemy fortifications or enemy infantry, sometimes at very close range. They might have significantly
weaker armor compared to a traditional tank, but are usually a bit more mobile. Assault guns have widely fallen out of use as main battle tanks ended up being able to perform this same role. What’s interesting however, is that in our own world, the role of main battle tanks are increasingly resembling that of assault guns. In battling insurgencies in the Middle East, it is rare that tanks find themselves engaging enemy armor, but rather clearing out strongpoints and irregular infantry. MBTs seem to be able to fufill this use well enough, but maybe a dedicated design might be even more efficient. So again, while this design might not be useful in every interstellar army, when going up against an insurgency of some kind where the enemy doesn’t have access to armor, this type might be valuable.
The Vindicator tanks used by the Space Marines are a great example of an assault gun. They are intended to accompany infantry, and clear our fortification with their heavy, forward mounted gun. It’s pretty much a perfect representation. This leaves us with the last armoured vehicle on our list, the Infantry Fighting Vehicle or IFV.
These share a lot of similarities with armoured personnel carriers, they’re designed to carry infantry and deliver them into combat. But where an APC would lthen leave the combat area after deploying its troops, and IFV stays with the squad, providing direct fire support or advances independently towards its objective. For this reason, they have heavier armaments and more protection than APCs, at the cost of how many troops they can carry. Compared to main battle
tanks however, they are equally mobile, allowing infantry to keep up with an armoured advance. This IFV concept has been very popular in our modern world as armies often need a less expensive vehicle with heavier firepower, and folding in the ability to carry infantry, makes a lot of sense. And I think they’d make a ton of sense within an interstellar army as well. Keeping your force mobile when fighting over a battlefield that might be the size of a planet would be an absolute necessity. The M577 is technically classified by the United States Colonial Marines as an APC, but I think it fits the definition of an infantry fighting vehicle pretty well. I say this because unlike most APCs, the M577 has a heavy armament and seems more than capable of hanging around to provide fire support.
And remember when I said earlier that the M44 Hammerhead wasn’t a great example of an IFV? Well it definitely has a large cannon, but it doesn’t seem to have the ability to carry any troops, just a few crew. So that’s my rationale there. So with that, we’ve covered most major tank types and even some armoured fighting vehicles that probably aren’t tanks at all. I have to admit, including Self Propelled Artillery but then drawing the line at infantry fighting vehicles feels kinda arbitrary. We could have gone into flame tanks, takettes, armoured cars, reconnaissance vehicles, mortar carriers, armoured trains, tank classifications are so nebulous and always evolving that we probably could have kept going for another 50 minutes. Of course, knowing the different types of tanks is only part of building your interstellar armoured force. Doctrine is equally important. And rather than risk embarrassing myself yet again,
let’s go back to Battle Order so is clearly the expert we need. So now that my colleague has given you an overview of some types of armored fighting vehicles, how do you actually integrate these into your army? You can min-max your technical performance all you want and shell out billions for the newest in interstellar tanks, but it can all be squandered if you don’t know how to employ them. The three main ways you can employ tanks are as infantry support, aggressive maneuver forces, or reconnaissance. First, where tanks started and where I see them going, the tank as infantry support. In essence, this is the tank as an assault gun, but with added capabilities to keep relatively lightly protected infantry in the fight. This is essentially how tanks were used during World War I,
protected self-propelled direct fire artillery with cross-country mobility. However, you really don’t have to be limited to interwar British ideas of the “infantry tank” to pull it off. For your interstellar army, you can justify many different kinds of vehicles to fill the role, from light and heavy tanks, to main battle tanks or assault guns. For example, the British during World War II would attach Tank Brigades equipped with Churchill infantry tanks, which were basically just heavy tanks with British flavor, to infantry units to provide intimate support. However, the Americans during the same period did something pretty similar but with Sherman medium tanks. In the 20th and 21st Centuries, the Russians and
Soviets before them have put a main battle tank battalion in their Motorized Rifle formations to do basically the same thing; support infantry with direct fire, provide intimate support and enable infantry to maneuver in the face of enemy fire. And the Japanese put Type 16 wheeled light tanks in their rapid deployment infantry regiments, because they wanted a direct fire, close combat capability that can also be moved by their relatively small airlifters. If you aren’t going up against a mechanized force, or have relatively few resources and a more infantry heavy army, you’ll probably be using tanks mostly in support of other forces. In terms of unit organization, you can really handle it in a lot of ways. Infantry support tank units can be independent so you can prioritize them to where they’re needed. This was pretty much the World War II infantry support tank doctrine for the majority of countries, whether they used heavy breakthrough tanks or medium tanks for the job.
Or you can make them organic to infantry units, so they always have them and have more time to train together. This makes all of your infantry units more resilient and powerful, but also means you’re less capable of concentrating tank forces for offensive operations. In terms of amounts, different countries have done different things. For example, the Russians typically have one tank battalion per infantry brigade. That’s about 41 tanks
supporting about 81 infantry squads for those watching at home. Meanwhile, the South Koreans have one tank brigade with between 70 and 105 main battle tanks supporting each area defense corps. Corps can vary wildly in size, as they’re mainly administrative headquarters, but we can guesstimate them as being about 20, to 40,000 people. In the Russian and South Korean cases, these are usually older main battle tanks, while the Canadians disperse their tanks in mechanized infantry units because they don’t have the need or money to create dedicated tank units. Another alternative to infantry support tanks is the assault gun, which are typically less-well protected and provide less intimate direct fire support to infantry. Unlike tanks, they can’t really close with the enemy, so they’re more about shooting from an overwatch position while infantry close in. They can be used to take the burden of infantry support off your main battle tanks,
which you can prioritize for more aggressive action. Assault gun roles, which usually involve anti-personnel and anti-structure work, really don’t require your best tank gun to be effective. Even a 90mm cannon or a smaller autocannon could do the job; thus you’re not wasting capability by putting a very capable tank in the role. You can integrate other things, like anti-tank guided missile carriers, to take on enemy tanks when needed. Further, assault guns can be more
strategically and operationally mobile than tanks, making them less of a burden for infantry units. One prominent example of assault guns is in the Chinese practice, whose medium and amphibious combined arms battalions have an Assault Vehicle Company equipped with either tracked ZTD-5 or wheeled ZTL-11 assault guns. But, perhaps more controversially, infantry fighting vehicles functionally fit an assault gun role within the mechanized infantry, since their autocannons or even low-pressure gun-launchers like on the BMP-3 provide effective direct fire support for infantry. The second major type of tank application is as aggressive maneuver forces. Using their mobility, firepower, and protection, tanks can be used to conduct their own combined arms maneuvers, driving deep into enemy territory or defeating enemy assaults through direct fires and counterattack. In modern times, the main battle tank is typically the core of such units. I would say if you’re going to have a dedicated tank maneuver force, the units should be at least half tank. If you have more infantry than tanks,
then I’d classify it as mechanized personally rather than a tank unit. However, it should also be noted that tank forces need infantry support to hold ground and screen them when moving through complex terrain, so you don’t want to go pure tank. Whether that means you have infantry in the tank units all the time or you attach them from outside is up to you. One example is the combined arms battalion, which has a mix of tanks and mechanized infantry. The Chinese and Swedes for example do a half-and-half mix of 2 tank companies and 2 infantry companies.
Meanwhile, the Americans have either 2 tank and 1 infantry company, or the reverse. Thus, each battalion can swap platoons between companies to create combined arms teams. Another method is making your brigades combined arms. For example, the Russian Tank Brigade has 3 tank battalions and 1 infantry battalion, with that infantry battalion being split up to support the tanks. This would entail creating Battalion Tactical Groups, usually 1 tank battalion reinforced with a motorized rifle company, artillery, air defense, and other support to create a combined arms unit. In South Korea, brigades subordinate to their offensively-minded
Mobile Divisions are similar, but much more varied. Each of their brigades typically consist of 3 battalions, and these can be pretty much any mix of tanks and mechanized infantry. Overall, combined arms units have an advantage in that different types of units get the chance to train together, form intimate relationships and gain competence in combined arms operations. You can still grow proficiency in combined arms even if units aren’t organically combined arms, but they might not have as much experience in it or build as close relationships.
The third and last niche I want to mention is tanks as reconnaissance and security elements. Your recce and screening units will typically operate on the bleeding edge of your armored unit, both to observe the enemy force and provide early warning so the enemy’s recce doesn’t get the jump on you. Having tanks here can be beneficial as being able to defeat armor in the enemy’s advanced guard or recce element without outside support is very useful. Further,
sometimes attacking the enemy is necessary to collect information, so offensive capabilities are also necessary for reconnaissance. If you don’t put tanks in the recon units, you might need to detail tanks from your maneuver forces to reinforce them, which isn’t ideal. Light tanks were traditionally used for reconnaissance purposes, so that’s an obvious option. You can also use main battle tanks for the task. For example, US Army armored brigade combat teams have a tank company with the M1A2 Abrams. Assault guns are also an option, but I would stay clear of a dedicated heavy tank in your recce unit for obvious reasons. Even if you don’t put tanks in there, in some cases dedicated recon vehicles or infantry fighting vehicles can functionally act as light tanks depending on the circumstance. For example,
the M3 Bradley, an infantry fighting vehicle, displayed many of the characteristics of a light tank during the Battle of 73 Easting, using their TOW missiles for anti-tank work and autocannons for more assault gun-type fires. So long as you put something in there that can effectively engage and defeat enemy infantry and armor, you have a recce capability that can fight for information. I must give special thanks to my colleague over at Battle Order for lending us their expertise here. If you’re not already familiar with them, Battle Order does absolutely phenomenal work on their YouTube channel discussing real life military units in a way that’s clear and accessible. If you want to know how a modern Russian motor rifle company is organized, what the helmet markings of paratroopers on D-Day all meant, or even just what is a platoon, there is no better resource than Battle Order.
So, going by the three general uses of armored formations, infantry support, maneuver warfare and reconnaissance, are there any lessons we can apply to interstellar armies? Well, even though they don’t make extensive use of tanks, the Galactic Empire certainly seems to rely pretty much exclusively on that infantry support doctrine. This makes sense in a battlefield like Jedha City where you have hidden insurgents amongst the civilian population. Stormtroopers surely benefited from the fire support offered by Imperial tanks. But on a battlefield like Hoth, Imperial doctrine was entirely inappropriate for the situation.
To defeat an elusive irregular force like the Rebel Alliance, Imperial forces needed a means to cut off their retreat. If the Empire had abandoned its AT-ATs and embraced maneuver warfare, tank formations might have been able to sweep through the Rebel lines and encircle their defensive formations. Instead, they relied again on that infantry support doctrine, slowly advancing and giving the Rebels ample time to withdrawal. If the Alliance had deeply entrenched positions stretching across dozens of miles, this might have made sense, but there was no reason the Empire needed to be so cautious when engaging such a lightly armed force.
The military forces of the Terran Federation could have made great use of all three of those armoured doctrines, but on a battlefield likes Klendathu and elsewhere, using armor in an infantry support role would have made a lot of sense. While sweeping armoured advances would have no doubt killed a lot of bugs, against such a numerically superior foe, the risk of these elements being cut off from support elements and overwhelmed is significantly higher. A slow methodical advance in which counter-attacks can be repulsed by intense fire support seems the best strategy, and here tanks could have made all the difference.
Now as we reach the end of our guide, we come to the most important part, how do you name your different tank designs? Unfortunately, unlike naval vessels, armoured vehicles seem to lack the same sense of tradition when it comes to naming conventions. Most nations use an alphanumeric designation, sometimes followed by a nickname, either official or unofficial. The American military typically names their tanks after army generals, the British seem to like words that start with the letter C for some reason, and the Germans really love wild cats. I have no idea what the Russians are doing. A lot of their self-propelled artillery is named after flowers, anti-air vehicles are named after rivers, and their main battle tanks are called things like “Slin