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    Early tank commanders opened the top hatch and observed their surroundings directly when they weren’t being shot at.

    Does this make sense in a near future / hard sci-fi setting? Or would ultramodern sensor tech make such exposure unnecessary?

    Does a hard sci-fi rule set need to include rules to cover open hatch vs. buttoned up?


    FOW Russian T-70

    Angel BarracksAngel Barracks

    Depends on how much Electronic warfare you have, jam the sensors then you need eyes on?
    Cover the sensor in a paint grenade, maybe you need eyeballs on there too?

    From a modelling point of view, it looks cool.

    Maybe the alien world (if there is one) has some effect on electronics.
    Maybe EMP weapons are more common in the future as people like to capture vehicles due to the costs, so rely on knocking out the electronics, and thus old school eyes on is more common?

    There are certainly plenty of ‘plausible’ reasons why it could happen.

    Angel BarracksAngel Barracks

    I also reckon things like the smell of diesel and camp fires and men and stuff can only really be sensed with a nose in the air.

    Robey JenkinsRobey Jenkins

    Although I can foresee a time when “eyes on” will be technologically superfluous (because the commander will be permanently immersed in a simulated environment that perfectly replicates all the available sensory data), I would say that for as long as tanks are tanks as we see and understand them, there will be a need for commanders to occasionally unbutton.

    That said, I think we are on the verge of, if not already at, the point in technological advancement at which the need for a commander to be unbuttoned when he or she knows that a fight is underway has been done away with.  When you already know that the enemy is present, the data provided by close-support drones, satellites and the good, old Mark 1 eyeball of your supporting reconnaissance units will be functionally superior to anything you’re going to glean from putting your own neck on the line.

    Although I’m not totally au fait with the platform, I think the T-14 Armata doesn’t even have a commander’s cupola.

    John D SaltJohn D Salt

    Robey Jenkins wrote:

    I think we are on the verge of, if not already at, the point in technological advancement at which the need for a commander to be unbuttoned when he or she knows that a fight is underway has been done away with.

    If the fight gets close enough, there is always the option to button up, but in general there is a severe tendency by technolatrists to over-estimate the ability of sensor technology to replace human senses adequately.

    When I was at Fort Hatstand working on TRACER/FSCS, intended to be the UK’s first digitized AFV, the design consortia came up will all sorts of super-duper high-tech schemes for keeping the blokes inside the vehicle and closed down; an uninhabited turret with fibre-optic connected EO sensors, VR “see-through” hull sides, all kinds of tosh, along with the laughable claim that the platform signature management would be so good, the vehicle would have a lower visual and thermal signature than a dismounted man. All such ideas became progressively less technically ambitious as deadlines loomed, but the big hit was when a cavalry Colonel, just back from Bosnia, put the designers right on one basic point. Recce vehicles don’t do recce, recce troopers do recce, and sometimes they need recce vehicles to carry them. The designs were at once revised to permit the recce troopers to get into and out of the vehicle easily.

    It might be argued that this is less true of tankies, because they need the big gun to do their fighting with. Even so, MOD has just spent quite a lot of money re-jigging badly-designed (because badly-specified) “digitization” equipment so that the AFV commander can use it from an open hatch (and reminding itself for the umpteenth time that human factors integration is best done at some time before the end of the project). In future I think there will be less emphasis on the big gun carried forward under armour — the classic tank role — and more on the “recce-strike complex” idea (a term originally coined by Marhsal Ogarkov, but an idea enthusiastically adopted by Western armies). You don’t need to carry your own big gun if you have the comms and precision location gear needed to call fire from the sky. While I am as sceptical about this as much as I am about any piece of technophilia, there are point-lase-and-shoot systems that do this now, whereas the VR-enabled transparent tank hull will I think remain ten years in the future for at least another fifty years.

    Another method that might be used to improve SA for AFVs is the “hen and chickens” idea of having a number of autonomic or semi-autonomic UGVs reporting to, and tasked by, a single control AFV. If the unmanned botswarm can reliably detect, identify, localise and attack (or call an attack on) any opponent, the commander of the control AFV might quite safely sit on his turret roof sipping cocktails under a brightly-coloured golf umbrella.

    In SF settings it might be worth thinking about how much it costs to move weight on to a planet, and how this might change things. Whereas on-planet defenders would have little to stop them using something very like traditional heavy armour with extensive defensive aids, the off-planet invader might want to make more use of lightweight recce-strike forces calling fire from bombardment systems in low orbit. Indeed the ability to aim even quite a small rock accurately at a point on the planet’s surface would, I think, have severe consequences for the other side, so I could imagine on-planet defenders getting interested in tunnelling gear quite quickly. But that’s the problem you have if you are trying to fight from the bottom of a gravity well.

    All the best,



    A thoughtful post as ever John. However we already know what the answer in a Sci Fi setting is, the defenders will mainly consist of inadequately dressed infantry in rudimentary trenches and a few light GEV, whereas the attacks will deploy huge stompy four legged Armoured camel things prone to explosive destruction when they trip over. Both sides will use wizards armed with swords, and neither side will be able to shoot straight.

    "Mistakes in the initial deployment cannot be rectified" - Helmuth von Moltke

    Robey JenkinsRobey Jenkins

    To be fair to the armoured camel concept, they only blow up when actually shot by flying door stops.

    Going back to John’s answer, I completely agree that IFVs and reconnaissance vehicles would need to unbutton (although possibly not from a turreted position). But the OP was specifically about tanks. Unsupported tanks might well need to unbutton, but otherwise, why risk it??

    Darkest Star GamesDarkest Star Games

    Honestly, in my mind it all comes down to what you want your sci-fi to be.  Gundam has big robots because “Minovsky particles” mess about with sensors and fusion power plants allows for huge outputs and limited anti-grav (oh, and ESP…).  Hammers Slammers has big tanks because beam based weapons are line of sight and anything flying will be nailed (and there is a technology limit imposed by the writers’ experiences).  Heavy Gear has small robots because they’re cool and an evolution of construction units that are more mobile in many settings that tanks are not, though tanks are still heavily used because they can have bigger guns and thicker armor.

    Having lots of scouts and calling in support only works if ECM isn’t an issue (wouldn’t work in Gundam) and if the enemy are grouped enough for it to not end up costing an arm and a leg to blast them all (if economics are an issue), especially if it’s COIN warfare like in the Stan or Iraq.  Having a massive armored force that is rolling out to confront a small force of recce vehicles backed up by ortillery and whatnot sounds interesting in theory but would probably not be fun to play.

    But as a friend of mine that was a Stryker commander told me: “even though we have sensors galore we still have to put our heads out.”  He said that there is a time and place for the sensors (thermo works great at night and day, but can’t distinguish between people in a crowd without true color) and a time and place for the Mk1 eyeball.  He hated being buttoned up going through a city because you had to be able to see who was near the vehicle and sensors aren’t full 360 all the time.


    I’d say if you want them to stick their heads out, do it.

    "I saw this in a cartoon once, but I'm pretty sure I can do it..."

    John D SaltJohn D Salt

    As the orginal question was framed in terms of “Hard Sci-Fi”, which I took to mean SF (using the John Campbell definition I am apparently the last person in the world to use), I was making modest extrapolations from current technology, and trying to avoid violating most laws of physics.

    I don’t see how “calling in support only works if ECM isn’t an issue”; ECM has been around about as long as indirect fire, but the inverse square law of RF propagation means it is always going to be easier for you to achieve a given power of transmission to people behind you than it is for an enemy well in front of you to achieve similar power in jamming. Given some knowledge of friendly callsign positions, one might also rig a system of steerable nulls to ensure that jamming signals from any other direction got almost no antenna gain. There’s also the point that jammers tend to attract unwelcome attention of a high explosive kind. It seems to me that there is potential for a whole bunch of interesting game mechanics based on electronic warfare; it’s a shame nobody ever bothers to make a game of them. Based on some ideas we kicked around a few years ago when researching into autonomic C2 systems, I’s suggest that a fun game might be made out of the robot swarm idea by having players attempt to co-ordinate the requisite collection of spotbots, combots, killbots, bombots and zotbots while frustrating the enemy’s attemts to do the same by the use of countermeasures in jambots, hackbots and decoy zombots. Part of the game would be attempting to infiltrate and take control of part of the enemy’s battlebot net — very few games seem to allow for turning captured enemy tech against the former owner.

    Still, if you’re happy to make up any physical improbabilities you like in order to produce the game you desire, then the motivation for tank commanders to remain head-and-shoulders out is not far to seek:

    DRIVE ME CLOSER! I want to hit them with my sword!

    All the best,


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