There’s something about tanks

March 25, 2011 in General Topics

Tanks feature in much of my fiction. If it’s made of steel, has a turret, and looks great in camo, I’m usually in love. Oh dear tanks, let me count the ways…

Tanks make terrific, compact fighting units to use in fiction tales. You have an entire self-contained war machine and usually a crew, so you have a military focal point that can be the central element of a story itself. If you need a sudden decisive infusion of firepower for a small group of fighters, a tank works wonders. The vehicle can take damage or be disabled, ramping up the tension, or providing a new layer of vulnerability to the crew.

When it comes to speculative fiction, we can extrapolate life for the tank itself into the far-future battlefield. I like to wonder if armor will even be relevant decades or centuries from now. A tank is exposed in ways infantry never is. As the arquebus signaled the beginning of the end for the knight, could today’s mechanized monster see its death forecasted by increasingly-smart weapons?

If it is still on the future battlefield, I imagine the vehicle playing to what has kept it relevant in the first place: speed, firepower, and protection. Perhaps it dispenses entirely with the treads and goes with some hover-capable or anti-grav system. What if the armor becomes entirely reactive and ablative, perhaps gel-like or semiliquid, so an explosive shell just sinks in and stops?

The most fun comes when the tank has a chance to make its own decisions, to well and truly become autonomous. I really have a good time with autonomous machines of all stripes. I imagine tanks being programmed to enjoy their work. Or, maybe they’ll be engineered to be more cautious. What if you built a tank to refuse travel across a road if it learned IED’s were present? Can you imagine a tank commander having an argument or having to issue some sort of command override on the side of the road?

Maybe the tank will want revenge when a squadron-mate goes up in an explosion. Maybe it will express a need to return to infantry support when it sees none is nearby. Could the big bad tank take a softer edge, refusing to fire if it detects non-combatants? The possibilities are endless and very enjoyable.

The tank is emblematic of our American ground forces. The Sherman and Abrams, in particular, are beasts vested with an allure that speaks to our culture, our never-say-never attitude, our desire to take the fight to our enemies. They make powerful metaphorical possibilities, and this writer deeply enjoys any chance to work with them or their descendants, real or imagined.

Stay tuned.