Attack Copters Wipe Out Chinese Tanks in Simulated Battle
War game underlines armor's weakness
Recently, a Chinese tank company with the Nanjing Military Region went on the attack. The mission — punch through an enemy defense, press forward and eliminate any resistance along the way.
This was, of course, an exercise. And the exercise was going well. The armored beasts busted through their objective … when two enemy helicopters armed with anti-tank missiles arrived.
Within moments, the helicopters effectively “destroyed” the whole company, according to a July 25 article in the Chinese military newspaper Jiefangjun Bao Online. The paper noted the helicopter counter-attack “set off an uproar in the brigade.”
The U.S. Army’s Foreign Military Studies Office took note of the exercise in its monthly journal OE Watch. “It was … apparent that commanders were not staying abreast of recent changes in warfare,” the journal stated.
OE Watch translated the newspaper article:
When they exploited the victory and staged attacks on “remnant enemies,” two “enemy” helicopter gunships suddenly appeared and fired a number of anti-tank missiles. Facing the abrupt counter-attacks from the opponent, the Fourth Company was knocked off stride and forced into a messy condition. Multiple tanks were hit, releasing red smoke. The battle damage rate of the tanks reached 80 percent.
A typical Chinese tank company has 14 tanks. So, roughly 10 or 11 tanks wouldn’t have made it had the battle been real.
Now, this isn’t surprising. The Chinese army has little combat experience — its last war in 1979 was with Vietnam. Its training programs accordingly suffer, and the unexpected arrival of a new threat resulted in heavy “casualties.”
It’s also further ammunition for the argument that tanks are becoming obsolete. The proliferation of small, tank-busting guided missiles fired from aircraft or on the ground can quickly turn an armored column into burning metal. Not to mention the threat from artillery, which has devastated both Russian-made tanks on both sides of the war in Ukraine.
Then there’s Syria. Within the first two years of the civil war, the Syrian army lost an appalling 1,800 tanks. The counter-argument is that its tactics were terrible, with tanks sent into built-up urban areas where rebels easily blew them up with rockets and improvised mines.
Tanks work best when concentrated. One by one and without infantry support, they die. Replicate that across an entire country, and the losses add up.
Same goes for China. But Jiefangjun Bao Online, in its typically optimistic way, described some of the changes the tank company made to its training.
To solve the difficult issue of air defense for tank detachments, they selected backbone specialists to pool collective wisdom for tackling the crucial issues, invited experts from military academies to give guidance on the spot, explored a series of combat and training methods, such as “discharging foil to disrupt missiles,” “discharging smoke for concealment and dispersion.” They also added this to the training plan as routine training courses.
In a test based on engagements between opposing forces last month, the Fourth Tank Company once again encountered “enemy” helicopters. It not only preserved 70 percent of its combat power, but also expelled the “enemy” helicopters by means of concentrated fire.
So perhaps the death of the tank is an exaggeration, after all.