The M8 Armored Gun System: TANKITA with no buyers as of yet...

Carlton Meyer
21st Century Weapons
e-mail January 1999

Tank designers have always assumed that heavy armor requires 50-70 ton tanks. This has impaired the development of tanks for airmobile forces which must weigh less than 25 tons. Although modern missiles can provide heavy firepower for light forces, heavy armor is also required to support assaults against entrenched infantry.

The solution: "Tankita;" the "ita" borrowed from a common Spanish suffix denoting a smaller version. This would be a heavily armored tank the size of an automobile weighing 15-25 tons with a two-man crew. It would be difficult to hit with major anti-armor weapons because of its small size, yet its armor would easily deflect anti-armor weapons used by infantrymen.

The gunner would operate a 25mm automatic chain gun with a coaxial laser designator. Laser-guided Hellfire missiles or rocket pods could be mounted above the turret for heavy firepower. A "tank roof" would project against "top attack" munitions. Fold down "rumble seats" on the rear would allow infantry men to hitch a ride. A tankita would cost one-third of a modern tank to build, maintain and operate, while providing nearly the same firepower. Bigger is not always better as tankitas will prove on future battlefields.

Cartlon Meyer


A noted U.S. Army weapons analyst and armor officer writes:

"England's Carden Lloyd tankette was the first (commercially successful, anyway) two-man tankette. Tiny thing, about 2 tons. Carried two-man crew and a forward-pointing machinegun. Led to British Army's "Universal Carrier"(commonly called "Bren Carrier"). Export models served as basis for Russian T-27 series, Polish TK-3 and TKS series, Itallian Fiat-Ansaldos, Japanese [don't recall their name], etc,. etc. French had similar designs. As WW II got close, everyone started trying to upgun to 20mm or even 37mm, without success. Vehicles were too small and short, had lousy ground clearance, no trench crossing capability, and got immobilized really fast. We forgot all of that when we built the M114 C&R (command & recon) vehicle during Vietnam, and had the same results.

Many tankettes tried various mult-role options, too, to include infantry seats and grab rails and such. Did not work. Russians eventually went and developed much better full turret T-37 and T-38 amphib tank, and used tankette-type "Comsumal" as an artillery tractor. Germans used captured tankettes as artillery tractors, too. That's about all that they were good for.

Today, must have a three-man crew. Driver, gunner, and commander. If you try for two, the commander ends up watching the world through an optical sight and never sticks his head out to see the battle. Also, leaders and commanders cannot fight the battle that way. See WW II French tanks. Great on paper, but most had one-man turret with a hopelessly overworked and confused TC trying to do it all.

No, what I propose is a classic light tank, only use available components and round out the already vast M113A3 family of vehicles. M113A3 basic hull and drive. A BFV (or LAV) turret with 25mm and coax machinegun, and the TOW missile is optional. [While I hate the design of the "hammer-head" launcher of the ITV, I still think that the TOW should be on a vehicle overwatching the tank, not necessarily on the tank itself.] Three-man crew. No added bells and whistles. No jump seats, etc. For infantry, you get M113A3 APCs.

Now, is there still a role for machinegun-armed tanks or armored cars? Perhaps. It is easy enough to provide an emergency AT capability or a mix of vehicles with close in bullet sprayers and long range overwatchers. Just do not try to fight real tanks with them. WW II started with lots of mg-armed tanks, and they worked fine against infantry, horse cavalry, wagons, and trucks. Patton stated repeatedly that the primary weapon of the tank during exploitation was the machinegun, since that's what you used as you shot up CPs and log weanies in the enemy's rear area. So let's put some small turret models, too. Today, we can build a mg cupola with good visibility, including thermal, and a responsive power traverse and elevation and even range estimation fire control. They do it on video arcades all the time.

Gee, sort of like Cadillac-Gage's V100 and V150 Commando armored cars of Vietnam days. Light armored cars with mgs, mortars, 20mm cannon, 90mm AT cannon, APC model, etc.


During our last exchange, I stated my strong opposition to the "tankitta" idea and explained that it is simply an uninformed rehash of the old tankettes of the 1920s & 30s, when everyone thought "cheap and lots" only to get their clocks cleaned when they went into real combat. Tankettes failed in Spain, Poland, and Italian North Africa, and the slightly better but basically similar British, French, Czech, German, and Russian light tanks were equally disappointing.

However, after thinking about it a bit, I recalled three workable precedents, but they require a change in focus. First is the WW II Universal Carrier (aka "Bren Carrier") of the British Army. Second is the WW I Renault FT 17 tank used in the U.S. divisional motorized machinegun battalion. Third is the WW II U.S. armored halftrack in the gun motor carriage (GMC) role.

The Universal Carrier was derived from the same Carden-Loyd carrier that served as the progenitor of so many tankettes, but its role was strictly that of a weapon carrier to support dismounted infantry. While everyone else tried to run around in "cheap tanks" that quickly died when encountering enemy troops, the Brits used the Universal Carrier as an infantry supporting weapon platform, armed either with a machinegun, an antitank rifle, or even a mortar. Today, we call that "overwatch."

The Renault FT 17 tank (and the US-built copy, the 6-ton M1917) came in two versions. One had a short 37mm "one pounder" while the other had a machinegun(this was before the days of coax machineguns). What is not commonly known is that the Renault was also used, instead of a truck-transported machinegun, by US infantry divisions in the divisional motorized machinegun battalion.

Now, the WW II halftrack is no longer a two-man vehicle, but it is the next evolutionary step. Since the halftrack served as a squad carrier, it only made sense to use the same vehicle to carry heavy supporting weapons such as 81mm mortars and antiaircraft .50 cal machineguns and 37mm auto cannons. Until suitable tank-derived chassis were available, the halftrack was also used as a gun or howitzer motor carriage for 57mm AT guns, 75mm pack howitzer, 75mm AT gun, and 105mm howitzer.

This pattern of usage continued all the way to and including the M113 APC and its family of vehicles. The company had 81mm mortars, 106mm recoilless rifles, and later, TOW launchers. Battalion had TOWs as well as 4.2" mortars. ADA had 20mm Vulcans. Other guns and turrets were developed for foreign customers.

Then, under Div 86, in our short-sighted attempt to streamline everything, we stripped the now pure Bradley company of its supporting weapons and have been screwed up since.

Now, please note that this is subtle. If you want two-man tankettes to operate as a light armor force on the battlefield and conducting armor-type missions, forget it. They will die. You need unencumbered TCs to view the battle independent of the gunner, whose view of the world is limited to the periscopic gunsight. However, and this is the key, if you want to use two-man armored carriers as infantry support weapons carriers and such, well that is an entirely different and well-documented successful role. By being part of the infantry unit, they rely on the infantry commander for orders and security.

Want a really nice vehicle? Get the old M113 and a half, the Comd & Recon version that FMC sold to Belgium and others when US Army turned it down. It is a 4-roadwheel hull with angled corners and comes with either a .50 cal or 20mm cupola. If remanufactured into M113A3 standard, it would be an excellent machinegun fire support vehicle. In back, it had room for a third man, the scout, but you can use that room for ammo, instead.

Or, and more simply, just use the M113A3 with extra weapons as an overwatching vehicle. Perhaps a 2d weapon pod mounted on the top deck where top cargo hatch is now. Whatever.

Bottom line: Do not try to redesign tanks when what you need is infantry support vehicles. But once you focus on the problem, there are plenty of solutions.