Anti-tank warfare arose as a result of the need to develop technology and tactics to destroy tanks and their supporting infantry during the First World War. Because tanks represent an enemy's greatest force projection, anti-tank warfare has been incorporated into the doctrine of every combat arm and service.
The predominant anti-tank weapons at the start of the Second World War were the tank-mounted gun, limbered (towed) anti-tank guns and anti-tank grenades used by the infantry. Anti-tank warfare developed rapidly, particularly on the Eastern Front, to include infantry and infantry support weapons, anti-tank combat engineering, towed anti-tank artillery, tank mounted guns, ground-attack aircraft and self-propelled tank destroyers. Both the Red Army and the Wehrmacht developed complex combined-arms methods of combating tank-led offensives, including deployment of static anti-tank weapons in in-depth defensive positions, protected by anti-tank obstacles and minefields, and supported by mobile anti-tank reserves and ground attack aircraft.
From the Korean War to the Cold War, Europe and other countries faced the possibility that a nuclear weapon could be detonated over an area of tank concentration in one strike. While technology was developed to protect crews of armored vehicles from the effects of collateral radiation, the same could not be done for all their supporting arms and services on which tanks depend. In the NATO countries little if any development took place on defining a doctrine of how to use armed forces without the use of tactical nuclear weapons. In the Soviet sphere of influence the legacy doctrine of operational maneuver was being theoretically examined to understand how the tank-led force could be used even with the threat of limited use of nuclear weapons on the European battlefield. The solution they arrived at was maneuver warfare while massively increasing the number of anti-tank weapons. To achieve this, Soviet military theorists (such as Vasily Sokolovsky) realized that anti-tank weapons had to assume an offensive role (rather than the traditionally defensive role of the Great Patriotic War) by becoming more mobile. This led to the development of guided anti-tank missiles, though similar design work was being performed in Western Europe and the United States.
The French SS.10 missile was the first successfully used in anti-tank combat—by the Israel Defense Forces during the Suez Crisis of 1956, but the impact of Soviet anti-tank missile tactics was not evident until 1973, when Russian 9K11 Malyutka (Sagger) missiles were used by the Egyptian and Syrian armies during the Yom Kippur War against Israel. The outcome suggested that although the French missiles were a threat, they could be countered. The explosive power delivered by the missiles convinced NATO tank designers to continue their emphasis on increased armor, while Soviet designers retained their emphasis on mobility of tank-led forces. The utility of the light anti-tank weapon was also recognize by both sides of the Cold War and led to further development of both shoulder-launched and man-portable weapons used by the infantry squad, while heavier missiles were mounted on dedicated missile tank-destroyers, including dedicated anti-tank helicopters, and even heavier guided anti-tank missiles launched from aircraft. Also being developed were new varieties of artillery munitions in the form of top-attack shells, and shells that were used to saturate areas with anti-armor bomblets. Helicopters could be used as well to rapidly deliver scattered anti-tank mines.
Since the end of the Cold War in 1993, the only major new threat to tanks and other vehicles, has been the Improvised explosive devices used by insurgents following the Global War on Terror. However, while the tank remains an important part of the army, anti-tank weapons and tactics continue to develop, as was shown by the 2006 operation in Lebanon. Some anti-tank weapons from the Second World War are now used as infantryman's "artillery" to defeat snipers or gain entry to structures. Even the anti-tank rifle has returned in its new guise of the anti-materiel rifle. As long as there are tanks there will be specific anti-tank weapons.
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