The Low-Pressure Missile Tank Age

Only a few actually made it into mass production, but around the world, there was eager development in the 1960s of low-pressure gun/missile launcher tanks, the kind best emphasized by the M551 Sheridan and M60A2. The Soviet designs have turrets that resemble”squashed” versions of the classic dome turret.

The impetus was how to extend the firing range of the tank. This arrangement was ultimately made obsolete by the development of better fire control (for western tanks) and barrel-launched ATGMs that could be used in conventional tank guns (for Soviet ones)

But they’re still an interesting footnote.


Boom Boom Goes The Tank: Plotnukes

In my latest Sea Lion Press column, I finally have the opportunity to talk about one of my favorite technothriller pet peeves-“Plotnukes”.

Plotnukes are a kind of “I know it when I see it” term for the use of nuclear weapons in a highly contrived way. The Birmingham-for-Minsk “trade” in Hackett’s The Third World War and similar events in imitators is what I consider the poster child of such a thing.

The UN Legion and its opponent

One serious proposal for a standing “UN Legion” got me thinking. How would it compare to its most likely [conventional] opponent? The UN Legion (highly unlikely to be deployed in its entirety) would compare on the high-end to a Light OPFOR (conceived around the same time) mechanized force.

In short:

  • The two have a comparable mix of equipment, however the Legion’s equipment is likely to be newer but lighter (their heaviest vehicles are MGS/ERC-style wheeled ‘tank destroyers’). The Legion’s IFVs are considerably better, being newer wheeled ones, while the Light OPFOR division will be lucky to get older BMPs.
  • The biggest divergence is in heavy weapons. The Light OPFOR division has no organic aviation while the Legion has a sizable helicopter force. However, the entire Legion has only 18 towed artillery pieces, while a single mechanized brigade has that many self-propelled ones.



The Forward Detachment Protagonist

The “Forward Detachment” seems effective as both a tactical formation and a storytelling one. The Soviets (understandably) formalized it to a greater extent, but the basic concept has been used in any army with a fast-moving component. In oversimplified terms, it’s a task force (often a reinforced battalion) used for racing ahead of the main body and seizing/destroying something to aid its advance.

And I think a unit like it is an ideal place to put a protagonist (or antagonist, if the goal is to stop the forward detachment). At least in theory, it solves a lot of issues. It’s small enough that the component characters can be developed without fading in, but is big enough to have a large conventional battle. It can be dramatic and have a clear MacGuffin/goal without sacrificing too much in terms of plausibility.