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calendar   Saturday - March 12, 2011

Ha, some Tanks I get for all the work I do

You haven’t heard much from me this week. I’ve been busy with lots of things here at home. When I’ve been online, it was mostly working on some family genealogy research. I found a second cousin who had been a B-17 pilot in WWII and then ran an art gallery after the war. His son, my previously unknown third cousin, runs that gallery today. Boring to you, but fascinating to me. This genealogy stuff is very time consuming, even though so much of it is online these days which makes it much easier. And we got whipped again at bowling league. What else is new? And that’s 3/4 of what I’ve been up to this week that I’d bother to write about.

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I was going to run a post on the IDF’s first successful combat use of their new Target/ASPRO-A vehicle defense system. I’d seen the news feed on this a week and a half ago, and I ran across a link or two to the story on other blogs.

The Israel Defense Forces Armored Corps successfully operated its new armor-defense system for the first time on Tuesday, defending a tank from an antitank missile attack on the Gaza border. On Tuesday afternoon, an antitank missile was fired at a Merkava 4 tank on the border with the Gaza Strip, near Kibbutz Nir Oz in the western Negev. The tank crew then activated the new defense system, Me’il Ruach (Windbreaker), and successfully foiled the attack.

This is actually a bit of history, it being the very first time an active automatic defense system has been used on a vehicle by any Western forces. Possibly by any forces, but there is a Soviet claim that they had a similar system that worked in combat, back when they were in Afghanistan. But you know the Soviets. They invented everything first, even water.

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I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure this thing out, because I had some difficulty understanding how it was an different than the IDF’s similar, earlier Iron Fist system. The two are highly similar, and the tank mounted repulser guns look very much alike. While I may be wrong, I finally understood the difference to be that the repulser gun of the Target system uses something like a shotgun, while the Iron Fist system uses/used EFPs - explosively formed penetrators to do the job. That sent me down a huge research sideline, because an EFP is a variety of a shaped charge explosive, and shaped charge explosives - bazookas, RPGs, etc., are what brought the Era of Armor to a close. That seemed hugely ironic, that a giant armored tank would need to be defended with shaped charge projectors against other shaped charge projectors to which it was highly vulnerable. You see, those things don’t just blow up. They blow forward. Instead of blasting fragments in all directions, their cone shaped hollowpoint metal lined design creates a focused jet of sun-hot plasma which eats it’s way through armor in an eye blink. All of it; the latest designs can chew through armor to a depth 7 times their diameter. Which means an RPG warhead just 3” across can blast through the thickest naval armor plate ever made, with ease. So I did a whole research project on that part too, right back to a 1945 Popular Science article which explained the Munroe effect, and noted how it had been discovered in the late 19th century and then ignored by the military for nearly 50 years. Had it been put to use then, not a single one of the massively armored battleships of the WWII era would have ever been built. Not when three Cub Scouts in a rowboat could sink one, or at least seriously wound or disable it, with a boxful of RPGs.

So anyway, the Target system itself is technically fascinating because it shows just how fast and powerful computers have become. When they aren’t dragged down by Windows I mean. Target can spot, track, analyze, and if necessary defend against RPGs fired at it from only 20 or 30 feet away. Seeing that an RPG flies at just below the speed of sound, that’s mighty fast. And it can defend against HEAT rounds too, which fly faster than a speeding bullet. Pretty damn amazing. It really is a virtual shield, like the one depicted in the fanciful picture above. The other really amazing part is that the counter measure system is so minimal that there is hardly any risk even to nearby bystanders. The first time I heard the news story, it said the guys in the IDF tank didn’t even know the system had activated.

Is it scalable? Can a big one be built, a la Star Wars SDI, that will stop ICBMs? Can a tiny one be made that soldiers can wear that will deflect bullets? Time will tell.

But I put all this stuff together, and it just seemed boring. News item: one tank used a bazillion dollar system to stop one RPG in some dusty alley somewhere in the Middle East. YAWN? What I wrote here isn’t 1/10 of what I had, which covered everything, from the invention of armor and it’s entire history from tree bark and leather through iron and steel through “Harveyizing” through modern ceramic composites and depleted uranium, to defensive reactive explosives, and then on to the whole shaped explosive thing over 100 years, and a discourse on the history and future of tanks from Da Vinci to today. It was huge, but boring. Into the trash! I have to learn to try and be concise.

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Speaking of tanks and their history, a guy from bowling league lent me several DVDs of early Laurel & Hardy movies, the ones done by Hal Roach. Yeah, the same Hal Roach who did the Our Gang/Little Rascals films. Ha, he even used the same tune in the Laurel & Hardy flicks.

In one of those movies, Pack Up Your Troubles from 1932, the boys get strong-armed into the Army in 1917 and go Over There. There is one scene where they’re out in No Man’s Land, in a shell crater, running back and forth like ducks in a shooting gallery, trying to get away from the explosions coming in left and right. Sitting in the middle of the crater, in perfect condition, is a Renault FT, the 3 1/2 ton mini tank the French built during the war. A real one.

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The boys hide out in the tank for safety, but somebody left the engine running, Stanley leans against one of the control levers by accident, and away goes the tank. Hilarity ensues as he tries to figure out how to drive it, accidentally going up the crater and through the barbed wire, driving an entire company of Jerries out of their trench, tying them up with the barbed wire, and dragging them back to their side as prisoners. The two screw ups are heroes and get promoted. It’s actually about the funniest scene in the whole film. But what I didn’t know is that this little French chug-chug, with it’s top speed of 5mph, was actually still the US’s active duty tank in 1931. It’s little gun used the same anemic 37mm shell that the little pack cannon I wrote about last week used, because that tank served the same purpose, just wrapped in a somewhat mobile and slightly bullet-proof exterior. Here’s another picture and a video of R Lee Ermy taking one for a test ride with all his usual misinformation. That particular tank might be the American made post-war version.  Amazingly enough, the FT saw active duty as late as WWII, and perhaps longer, and they keep turning up in the oddest places. Come to think of it, I’ve actually seen the one there at Rhinebeck, but I can’t remember if it was out driving around as part of the show or just sitting on display.

So there you have it. History making tanks from both ends of the time line. But no redheads. No brunettes either, but I’ve got a comparison post in the works on that one. Maybe.


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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 03/12/2011 at 10:58 AM   
Filed Under: • HistoryMilitary •  
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