Wednesday, December 2, 2020

"Wonder Weapons" For The Middle East

The concept of "wonder weapons" has been around since WWII. They are unconventional or advanced weapons that could give an army on the backfoot, or one that is weaker, an upper hand against its enemy. Such weapons would be needed for a Middle Eastern nation to defend against Israel or NATO nations, for example. The first two items on the list, APFSDS shells and Fire Control Systems, are not wonder weapons to the West. For the Mid-East these two items haven't made much of an appearance in a war with a Western power. These weapons could primarily be used by Iran and Syria, as well as militias throughout the Middle East.

Starting off the list are a simple but necessary munitions for a Middle Eastern tank fleet. Saddam's Iraqi Army lacked advanced APFSDS (Armor Piercing Fin Stabilized Discarding Sabot) shells during both the Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom. This meant Iraq's tank fleet was unable to penetrate the M1 Abrams even if they made a hit. A future war with a NATO power would have to include the use of APFSDS shells for T-55s, T-62s and T-72s.

T-55 APFSDS shell.

T-62 APFSDS shell.

T-72 APFSDS shell.

Another lesson from the Gulf War was that tanks need fire control systems (FCS) to target tanks. Some Syrian and Iranian tanks have advanced fire control systems like the TURMS-T for Syria, and its reverse engineered counterpart on the Iranian Karrar tank.

Syrian TURMS-T on a T-72M1.

The Fire Control System optics on the Iranian Karrar tank.

To defeat a tank's Active Protection System (APS), new weapons will need to be purchased and produced.

The RPG-30 is a Russian anti-tank rocket system that fires two rockets in rapid succession to trick a tank's APS into hitting only the first rocket.

The Kornet-EM ATGM system uses the same method as the RPG-30, firing two missiles at the same target. Both of these systems could be purchased from Russia. However, the Kornet-EM would be quite an expensive weapon system.

Another strange way of dealing with an APS is to coat an RPG with radar absorbing paint. This would make the round invisible to the APS detection radar. Paint with ceramic microspheres and Graphene or Ferrite is known to absorb radar. This is known as iron ball paint.

Another odd way to deal with an APS is to cover an RPG with a ballistic shield to deflect APS projectiles and prevent them from detonating the RPG prematurely. The down side is that this would make the rocket less accurate. The projectiles hitting the shield may further knock the rocket off course, but it would have a chance at hitting the tank.

A way to armor artillery rockets against interception from systems like the Israeli Iron Dome could also include a ballistic shield to guard against blasts. The rocket would only detonate by the force of hitting the ground.

The Iron Dome system for intercepting rockets.

A rocket could also be fitted with road flares to cause fires when it crashes. Even if this rocket was intercepted, its flares would fall to the ground successfully.

A rocket could guard against being intercepted by simply having a metal warhead with no explosives. This rocket could be aimed at cities to cause structural damage when it crashes through buildings. A solid rocket kinetic impactor could not be intercepted and would have a huge psychological effect.

A rocket could have a solid warhead with no explosives.

Kamikazes are the only real way a Middle Eastern air force could go up against a Western power. Kamikazes were used by the Japanese as their situation became desperate in the Pacific. The Germans also planed to use piloted V-1 flying bombs as kamikazes, but this was never implemented. Jets like the Syrian L-39 and Iranian Su-22s would be prime candidates for use as Kamikazes. These could be used against ships and land targets such as air bases. The pilots could announce on the radio their plan to defect while their real intention would be to crash into a military target. This would allow an approach without being shot down. Alternatively, they could fly low to their target to avoid radar.

An L-39 that could be used as a Kamikaze.

The terrestrial version of the Kamikaze is the VBIED. VBIEDs were used to great effect in the Battle of Mosul by ISIS. ISIS used these truck bombs to destroy Iraqi Army tanks and armored vehicles. In a war with a Western power, a Middle Eastern nation might use this method as one of its last resorts. The VBIEDs would hide in cities and wait for an approaching enemy vehicle. It would then pop out and drive to the target and detonate. Many M1 Abrams tanks were destroyed in this manner during the Battle of Mosul.


M1 Abrams destroyed in Mosul.

Another M1 Abrams hit.

Remote weapons are a solution for going up against a superior infantry force. Remote machine guns and even bombs have been developed and even used in the past. Iran has developed tracked machine gun drones and tripod mounted remote heavy machine guns. In the past remote controlled tracked mines were used by the Germans.

The Goliath tracked mine was used by the Germans in WWII against tanks and hard targets. About 7,500 were built, but they were not very successful in their intended role. They were controlled via cable, which was easily destroyed. If a more modern take on this design was built it could be very effective at destroying tanks and armored vehicles.

A tracked UGV (unmanned ground vehicle) armed with a PKM built by Iran. This could fight infantry without fear being a factor if it was mass produced.

Dummy tanks are a great tactic at redirecting an enemy's air force away from your equipment. Hundreds or even thousands of tank decoys could be built prior to an invasion by a stronger NATO power. They are cheap and simple to built and will trick not only the Air Force but also advancing ground forces.

A tank decoy built by rebels in Idlib.

Hiding tanks and armored vehicles from enemy Air Forces while on the move is quite difficult. One solution is a multi-spectral camouflage canopy built over a tank or other vehicle. This blocks thermal and visual signatures from the air. ISIS used this tactic in Syria with unknown effect. It is likely to be a very effective remedy to enemy air superiority.

A T-55, T-62 and T-72 with multispectral camouflage canopies.

To deal with an invading force, tank turrets could be built into the ground under the cover of structures inside major cities to combat enemy tanks and armored vehicles. These turrets would guard a designated street or alleyway. This tactic was used by the Germans, especially during the Battle of Berlin. Panzer IVs, Panthers and even Tiger II tanks were dug into the ground to fight the advancing Soviets. This method could be used today. It would be best to use more outdated tanks like the T-55 for this role, firing APFSDS shells at close range in a city.

Panther turrets dug in during the Battle of Berlin.

A Panzer II with its 20mm autocannon. The modern version of this dug in turret would be a BMP or BTR series vehicle. This would combat infantry or light armored vehicles, not tanks.

A drawing of a T-55 turret hidden in a building looking down a street.

Alternatively, whole tanks could hide in buildings. They could move from building to building to avoid airstrikes. This would be a far better tactic than a conventional tank on tank battle, as NATO or Israeli tanks are superior in that role.

Tunnels are a crucial tactic for beating an invading force. Tunnels were used extensively by the NVA against the US Army during the Vietnam war. They were more recently used by Hamas against Israel for infiltration in 2014. It is thought that North Korea has massive invasion tunnels running under South Korea as well. Tunnels are effective at allowing troops to emerge behind an enemy and hit their rearguard forces, causing chaos in enemy ranks.

NVA tunnel system.

A Hamas tunnel.

Drones, particularly small or stealth drones would be a highly effective weapon against an invading force or on the offensive against a stronger regional power. Civilian DJI phantom drones have been used to drop small home made bomblets by ISIS. Iran produces more advanced drones, such as the stealth Saegheh-2 UCAV.

ISIS hitting a T-72 engine with a bomblet dropped from a civilian DJI Phantom drone.

Hitting an M1 Abrams tank during the Battle of Mosul.

Iran's drones are far more advanced. If small civilian drones can cause this kind of damage, imagine what the Saegheh-2 stealth UCAV could do. The Saegheh-2 is a flying wing design, so it inherently has a low radar cross section. It possibly has other stealth features as well, such as radar absorbing material. The Saegheh-2 can carry two Sadid missiles in an internal weapons bay. These drones could sneak over enemy lines and strike vital pieces of equipment, such as artillery and air defense systems.

The Saegheh-2 dropping a Sadid missile.

Disguising your tanks to look like your enemy's tanks is another strange tactic that could cause massive confusion among enemy ranks. The Germans did this in WWII during the Battle of the Bulge, dressing up Panther tanks to look like American M10s. If a T-72 could be convincingly dressed up as an Abrams or Merkava tank you could fool your enemy into not firing on you until you fire the first shot.

A panther disguised as an M10 Tank Destroyer.

The Iranians have built a tank, the Zulfiqar 3, that looks almost exactly like an M1 Abrams. If they continue to have these in service they would be excellent for fooling an American ground invasion. The Zulfiqar 3 would have to be painted tan and modified. The DShK guns would need to be removed, for example.

 The T-72M1 could be built to look like a Merkava or Abrams with light material. It has to be just convincing enough to fool the air force and ground forces from a distance.

Movies such as "Red Dawn" (1984) dressed up M-48 Patton tanks to look like T-72A tanks. A fake BTR-60 is also seen below.

The use of eye blinding lasers is banned by the Geneva Convention. Before they were banned, China produced the ZM-87 eye blinding laser system, which North Korea then apparently obtained. Iran could obtain these from North Korea and reverse engineer and then mass produce them for a war against a stronger power. Eye blinding lasers wouldn't just blind soldiers, but damage and destroy aircraft and drone optics as well as tank FCS (fire control system) optics. The ZM-87 causes permanent blindness out to two miles and temporary blindness as far as six miles. Laser dazzlers can also be used in this role without causing permanent blindness, but are not as effective as the ZM-87 or other eye blinding laser systems.

The ZM-87.

A Laser Dazzler. These don't have as long a range as the ZM-87, but could be used to destroy tank FCS optics.

Optics of the M1 Abrams tank.

The ZM-87 could be an effective anti-aircraft weapon. If it didn't blind the pilots it would damage the aircraft optics making targeting difficult. It could blind pilots and damage optics up to 30,000 feet.

The electro-optical targeting system for the F-35 under the nose.

Tankettes are an outdated concept dating from the years before WWII and early WWII. In a modern function they could be built very small, just one man who would be the driver and gunner. It would be armed simply with a machine gun. This 21st century tankette would be a mobile pillbox mostly for urban combat. It could sit in a house or building and wait for infantry to sweep through and open fire with its machine gun. Infantry would not be able to counter its armor with an M4 carbine or similar rifle. The house would have to be destroyed by tank, airstrike or anti-tank rocket with the tankette inside. 

The Polish TKS Tankette.

Conventional aircraft would not last long in a war with NATO or Israel. What could be used to replace jets and helicopters are powered hang gliders dropping mortar shells on enemy targets. These aircraft would avoid radar by flying low and slow and being very small. Dropping bombs like this is a WWI biplane tactic. 

The Quds cruise missile is a short range cruise missile built by Iran that has been combat proven by the Houthis in Yemen. It has been used to strike the Saudi Armco refinery. This cruise missile could be launched at nearby military bases and air bases by Iran or its proxies in the region. It is very hard to intercept due to its low flight altitude.

A Quds missile being launched in Yemen.

Shaped charged IEDs caused massive casualties in Iraq among the US Army. Apparently Iran was behind the design. It is a concave cone that explodes outward showering a vehicle with shrapnel.

Timed or proximity fused anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) is a WWII/Cold War era weapon. A common theme seen in this post is that old weapons have become useful again in modern combat when used differently, or in this case in their intended role. The KS-19 is a soviet era 100mm anti aircraft gun that Syria has in small numbers, but Iran has in much larger numbers. Iran even produces their own version of the KS-19. With many SAM systems becoming obsolete or easily jammed, AAA could come back into use. Timed fuse shells for the KS-19 could explode at a certain altitude, while proximity fuse shells would detonate when they detected a radar/radio ping from a nearby aircraft. Used in large numbers, AAA could down many aircraft. This was proven in WWII. AAA also downed several aircraft more recently during the Gulf War.

Iranian KS-19.

Proximity fused shell.

The Ballistic missile is the ultimate wonder weapon. Iran has produced many variants. One of the longest range and most capable is the Khorramshahr missile. Its range is up to 2,000 kilometers with a warhead weighing up to 1,800 kilograms. This missile can reach any of Iran's regional adversaries and is potentially nuclear capable, as well as MIRV capable, carrying multiple warheads.

Chemical weapons are banned by the Geneva Convention, and their use may do more harm to your cause than good. Its use could draw in a larger retaliation from many nations. However, it is an effective weapon at stopping an invading force in its tracks as a last resort. It would effect infantry and personnel in light armored vehicles. Tanks are NBC protected, so chemicals such as Sarin would not effect the crew inside. Sarin was in large stockpiles in Syria until 2014 when it was removed under a deal with the US and Russia. It could be produced again and the stockpile rebuilt.

Sarin artillery shells.

The M-46 is capable of firing chemical shells, but a more likely delivery of Sarin would come from rockets.

Underground artillery presighted for invasion routes along major roads is another tactic at battling an invading army. These would be hard to detect from the air and the artillery barrage on advancing convoys would bring them to a standstill, if not a retreat.

Concept of underground D-30s. Notice their muzzlebreaks are above ground.

The anti-tank gun is an outdated concept dating from WWII. It may be one of the only ways to defeat a modern tank with an APS, however. The D-30 122mm is capable of firing armor piercing shells that could do damage to a modern tank. The M-46 is another good candidate for an anti-tank gun due to its high muzzle velocity and large 130 millimeter gun. Like the tanks listed above, the artillery would have to be stationed under structures in cities and towns waiting in ambush. M2 Bradley and Namer vehicles would be easily destroyed by a D-30. Merkavas and M1 Abrams would be more difficult, but at close range it is possible.

The D-30.

Tank traps are another WWII concept that could be brought back to life. Blocking off key streets with "Czech hedgehog" tank barriers could corral your enemy. Meanwhile, large pits dug in certain areas and covered with material like plywood and dirt would cause a tank to crash through and get stuck.

Czech Hedgehogs.

Ditches could be dug and covered with weak material to fool tanks into crossing and then crashing though and becoming stuck.

The ultimate wonder weapon is a nuclear capable cruise missile. However, it would not be carrying a conventional nuclear bomb, but a nuclear dirty bomb. 100 pounds of nuclear material could be loaded onto the Iranian Soumar or Hoveyzeh cruise missile along with a conventional explosive charge. It would then fly to and detonate in major cities of regional adversaries. Iran has 4,600 pounds of Uranium 235. That is up to 46 100 pound nuclear dirty bombs. It would be loaded onto cruise missiles and not ballistic missiles because cruise missiles are almost impossible to intercept. These missiles could target major cities in Saudi Arabia and Israel, irradiating them and making them at least temporarily unlivable.

The Soumar.

The Hoveyzeh.

Uranium 235. 100 pounds of which could be loaded on cruise missiles.

Wonder weapons could change the course of a war for a weaker power going up against a stronger power. Some of these methods are war crimes and fighting dirty, but it is not out of the realm of possibility that we could see such weapons and tactics being used.

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