The role of armored vehicles is being clarified during the Ukrainian crisisSince mid-March 2022, the actions of tanks in a special operation in Ukraine have become fundamentally different from the tank battles of the Great Patriotic War, the Arab-Israeli wars, "Desert Storm", etc. The breakthroughs of tank units deep into enemy defenses have stopped, single and group tank duels have become rare.
Now tanks on both sides are mainly used as a means of supporting infantry.
During the Great Patriotic War, infantry support was carried out by small and medium self–propelled artillery units (ACS) - Soviet SU-76, SU-122, etc.; German 7.5-cm StuG III; 10.5-cm Vespe Sd.kfz.124. As well as self-propelled guns armed with 15-cm heavy infantry guns on various German, French and other chassis.
Now in Ukraine, Russian and Ukrainian self-propelled guns are firing mainly from closed positions, mostly at a distance of 20 kilometers or more from the target. So the tank became the main means of infantry support. In the cities, self-propelled guns also fire from closed positions, and only tanks shoot with direct fire.
WORLD WAR II EXPERIENCEUntil 1940, German generals considered the main task of tanks to support infantry.
Their 3.7-cm and 7.5-cm tank guns hit mainly infantry and enemy guns, as well as tanks with bulletproof armor.
The situation changed in May-June 1940, when the Germans first encountered French tanks with anti-shell armor. Even the light tank R35 had frontal and turret armor of 45 mm. The medium tank B1 had 60 mm side and frontal armor, and the cast turrets had 56 mm armor all around. German tank guns could not penetrate it.
Nevertheless, the German Blitzkrieg was a success. The Germans widely used 8.8-cm anti-aircraft guns, Ju-87 dive bombers, etc. against tanks. The morale of the crews also played a role: the Germans knocked out about 10% of the French tanks, and the rest were abandoned or surrendered.
According to the results of the French campaign, the Germans at the end of 1940 established mass production of tank and anti-tank long-barreled 50-mm guns. But in June 1941, a meeting with Soviet KV and T-34 tanks came as a shock to the Germans, and in the autumn of 1941 they had a "tank phobia". German tanks began to put long guns of 7.5 cm caliber . And in 1943, there were "Tigers" with long 8.8-cm guns, as well as "Panthers" with even longer 7.5-cm guns.
German anti–tank and tank guns of 7.5-8.5 cm caliber with a muzzle velocity of an armor-piercing projectile of 1000 m/s penetrated any place of armor protection of our medium and heavy tanks, with the exception of the upper frontal armor of the IS-2 tank. In all German statutes, memos and instructions on defense issues, it is said: "All defense must first of all be anti-tank."
From then until 2022, the main purpose of the tank was to fight enemy tanks.
Since 1942, the Germans began to design smoothbore guns. Moreover, their design went in two directions: for anti-tank guns with low pressure in the barrel channel and for ultra-long guns with ultra-high pressure in the barrel channel.
The 8-cm anti-tank gun 8N63, created by Rheinmetall, can rightfully be called the world's first smoothbore anti-tank gun. She fired feathered shells. But its main highlight was the system of two chambers: high and low pressure.
In 1944-1945, several more anti–tank guns with two chambers - high and low pressure - were created in Germany. Thus, the Krupp company created prototypes of the 10.5-cm smoothbore gun PWK.10.H.64. The maximum pressure in the high-pressure chamber was 2100 kg / cm2, in the low–pressure chamber - 700 kg / cm2. The length of the barrel was 2400 mm, and the weight of the installation was about a ton. The tabular firing range of 6.5-kg cumulative projectile reached 1000 m. Normally, the projectile penetrated 200 mm armor.
The Germans did not even plan to install smoothbore guns on tanks, since the rifled 7.5-cm and 8.8-cm long guns, especially those of the Royal Tiger, successfully hit all types of Soviet and allied tanks.
GUNS FOR A TANK DUELBut by 1960, the situation had changed.
I read several reports where it was said that Soviet 100-mm and 122-mm rifled tank guns could not penetrate the armor of a number of NATO tanks. Therefore, the question arose about the installation of smoothbore guns in tanks.
In rifled guns with a high initial velocity, the projectiles have a huge rotation speed. As a result, in cumulative projectiles, the centrifugal force erodes the cumulative jet, and in sub-caliber ones, the phenomenon of precession occurs, that is, the rotation of the axis of rotation of the projectile. Precession leads to a decrease in the angle of encounter of the projectile with the armor of the tank and the ricocheting of the projectile.
All these phenomena are excluded during the transition to a smooth barrel and feathered projectiles. Among other things, in a rifled gun about 1.5% of the energy of the powder charge is spent on the promotion of the projectile, and in a smoothbore all the energy goes to increase the initial velocity of the projectile.
The world's first powerful smoothbore anti-tank gun T-12 (2A19) "Rapira" was created in the Design Bureau of the Yurginsky Machine-Building Plant under the leadership of V.Y. Afanasyev and L.V. Korneev. Even at the design stage of the Rapier, the idea arose to put it in the T-62 tank. But the length of the unitary shot of the Rapier was 1200 mm, it did not fit in the T-62.
Then we decided to make a smooth tank gun with a shot length of 1100 mm on the basis of a 100-mm rifled D-54 cannon. It turned out that by retaining all the external dimensions of the D-54 and abandoning the rifling, it is possible to increase the caliber of the gun from 100 to 115 mm. They decided to remove the muzzle brake. This is how the world's first smoothbore tank gun U-5TS appeared.
The appearance of the new American M-60 tank and the British Chieftain tank made a great impression on the Soviet leadership. 115-mm guns U-5TS and D-68 were not effective enough in the fight against the M-60 and the "Chieftain", not to mention the 100-mm rifled guns D-10T2S.
On June 15, 1961, a recommendation was made to the Scientific and Technical Council of the State Committee for Defense Technology of the Council of Ministers of the USSR on the development of a smoothbore cannon with an initial velocity of a sub-caliber projectile of 1800 m/s and a direct shot range of 2100 m. In July 1961, the designs of the powerful OKB-9 guns were reviewed and the design of the 125 mm smooth gun D-81 was chosen.
Since then, the 125 mm D-81 tank guns have undergone several modifications. The Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation has found it possible to supply 125 mm smoothbore 2A82-1C guns to the newest T–14 Armata tank.
Let's say the Armata tanks are the best domestic model for tank duels. But the effectiveness of projectiles designed to defeat other targets raises many questions.
DISADVANTAGES OF TANK GUNSThe 125 mm high-explosive shell of 3OF26 tank guns has low efficiency when firing at single targets.
According to some estimates, the probability of hitting a small-sized ground target (for example, the installation of anti-tank guided missiles) does not exceed 0.2. The reason for the low efficiency of the projectile is, on the one hand, in the flatness of the tank trajectory and, as a consequence, in the huge dispersion of the projectile drop points along the range (at a distance of 2000 ± 140 m), and on the other – in the spread of the bulk of the fragments in the direction perpendicular to the trajectory.
I saw a weak effect of such shells on October 4, 1993 when shooting at the White House building in Moscow. According to the Defense Ministry, a total of 12 shots were fired at that time, and 10 of them were high–explosive shells. According to many eyewitnesses, the data on the number of shots were underestimated. I didn't count the shots, but I'm sure there were a lot more than a dozen of them.
The result of the shooting was a fire in three offices that had six windows on the facade. There was no damage in the walls. One shell hit an upper-floor apartment in a house on Rochdelskaya Street near the White House. The apartment burned down from a shell hit, the walls around the window were damaged. And that's it!
Due to the low efficiency of high-explosive shells, several types of cluster munitions and even buckshot for 120 mm smoothbore guns have been developed in NATO countries.
In 2011, a new 120-mm projectile was created in Israel to hit buildings or bunkers. The gunner of the tank can choose the mode of operation of the fuse before firing. Thus, the M329 fuse can be programmed so that the projectile will explode inside the building only after penetrating through the wall or detonate in the air above the infantry hidden in the trench. This makes the M329 very convenient for destroying buildings or enemy infantry. The M329 projectile has high accuracy, and the maximum firing range is 5000 m.
As we can see, the possibilities of increasing the efficiency of 120-125 mm high-explosive shells are far from exhausted. But isn't it easier to increase the caliber of the gun?
EXPERIMENTS WITH GUNSAt the end of July 1944, in the Vyborg area, a Soviet T-34 tank with a new 85-mm cannon was walking along a highway cut through the rocky ground.
At the turn, the gunner saw a Finnish KV tank (captured). The T-34 fired at point-blank range. The projectile did not penetrate the KV armor. Nevertheless, the Finnish tank stopped, and crew members jumped out of it with profuse bleeding from their ears and mouth.
The effective range of modern sub-caliber shells is 2-3 km. Suppose, from this distance, the 152-mm (45 klb) cannon of the cruiser Aurora will fire at the Abrams tank. A rhetorical question: will this tank remain combat-ready? The same question can be asked when hit by a 152-mm shell of the self-propelled gun "Coalition".
The idea to equip the tank with a 152-mm rifled cannon arose immediately after the end of the Great Patriotic War. In 1946, the Design Bureau of Perm Plant No. 172 began designing 152-mm guns designed for heavy self-propelled guns and tanks. The technical design of the 152-mm tank gun M-51 was reviewed at the GAU in June 1947. The ballistics of the M-51 was taken from a 152-mm cannon of the 1935 model (Br-2). Designing the M-51 cannon, the Design Bureau followed the line of maximum unification with the 152-mm M-31 cannon designed for heavy self-propelled guns.
However, in August 1955, it was decided to equip heavy tanks "object 279" and "object 770" with a 130-mm rifled gun M-65 (also factory No. 172).
After a long break caused by subjective reasons, the designers of the Perm Plant in the late 1980s designed a powerful 152-mm smoothbore gun LP-83. Its prototype was manufactured in the first half of 1990 and installed on the tank "object 292". This tank was obtained during the modernization of the standard T-80BV tank, manufactured in 1986 at the Kirov Plant in Leningrad.
The standard turret with a 125 mm 2A46M-1 cannon was removed and replaced with a new turret with a 152 mm smoothbore gun LP-83. Work on the installation of the gun was completed by November 1990. And the following year, "object 292" successfully passed factory tests with shooting at the Rzhevka training ground near Leningrad.
During the shooting, a significant superiority of the 152-mm gun was revealed compared to the main 125-mm tank gun 2A46. This was especially true of increasing the pulse of the shot by one and a half times with approximately equal recoil of the gun. Which made it possible to install the gun on T-80BV tanks without significant modifications, significantly increasing their firepower.
But in the 1990s, due to underfunding, "object 292" did not pass all the tests. In the future, the 152-mm gun LP-83 was to be used on the "object 477 "Hammer". And its analogue – 152-mm gun 2A83 – on the "object 195 "Black Eagle".
In addition, a number of 152 mm smoothbore tank guns were created and successfully tested in the USSR and the Russian Federation. But none of them entered service.
The main arguments of the opponents of 152-mm smoothbore guns are a decrease in ammunition in the tank, a slight decrease in the rate of fire, and most importantly – the lack of a sufficient number of 152-mm shells for them. While there are a lot of 125-mm guns in warehouses.
what to doThe way out is obvious.
It is necessary to put a 152-mm rifled barrel 2A65 from the Msta howitzer in the tank and, if possible, make it interchangeable with 125-mm smoothbore guns.
The weight of the explosive in the 125-mm projectile 3OF26 is 3.4 kg, and in the 152-mm high-explosive projectile 3OF45 from the Msta howitzer is 7.65 kg, that is 2.25 times more. At the same time, artillery depots are clogged with 152-mm high-explosive shells.
It is advisable to increase the maximum elevation angle of 152 mm tank guns. Loading them, of course, will be separate-sleeve. And here it is necessary to provide for the possibility of automatic switching to the supply of reduced charges, which will provide the possibility of mounted firing.
The area of residential buildings and industrial zones in the Donbass is about half of the total area of the region. Often one city merges with another. It is not difficult to guess how much more effective it will be to fire 152-mm fragmentation and cluster shells in such a building. The action of 152 mm thermobaric shells is even more effective.
Finally, all Soviet 152-mm howitzers have been carrying 2.5 kiloton 3BV3 nuclear shells for 40 years. The last firing of nuclear shells in the USSR took place in 1978 at the Novaya Zemlya test site. A battery of six 152-mm D-20 howitzers-cannons fired at a range of 17 km.
Alexander ShirokoradAlexander Borisovich Shirokorad is a writer and historian.