Picture the future battlefield. Smart munitions. Unmanned drones. Infantry soldiers packed with electronic sensors. And stealth tanks. This may seem like a creative and futuristic scenario from a PS4 warfare game.
Tanks on these battlefields will be pitted not only against other tanks, but also against unmanned aerial vehicles armed with heat seeking smart missiles and autonomous ground triggered smart munitions. At the same time, increased guerrilla-based warfare and the predominance of air superiority will mean that the humble tank could easily become prey.
A pioneering stealth tank concept design was unveiled at the International Defense Industry Exhibition in September 2013 that could change the future of tank-based warfare. The PL-01 is Poland's newest light battle tank concept, equipped with a range of futuristic and potentially war winning technologies.
The PL-01 features all the advanced technology that mechanical engineers dream of designing. With a 940bhp diesel engine coupled to a torque converter, automatic gearbox and driving assistance system, the vehicle can reach speeds up to 70km per hour and has a range of 500 km. It can overcome 30° inclinations, 2.6m wide ditches and even a water that's 1.5 meters deep.
The primary weapon is a 120mm turret gun capable of shooting both conventional concussion shell projectiles as well as antitank rockets. An automatic loader has been integrated to achieve a firing rate of six rounds per minute. It also has a coupled 7.62mm high caliber machine gun with a 1,000 magazine of ammunition, giving it anti-personnel capability.
What is more impressive with this tank is its low observable stealth design, making it less visible to radar, infrared and sonar sensing methods. This works by camouflaging the vehicle in certain bands of the electromagnetic spectrum. The vehicle armor has a modular ceramic coating that is designed to provide the same protection as conventional NATO tanks. However, the whole vehicle is also covered with radio absorbing material that will throw off radar and thermal imaging. The result is a design that can slip through a potentially dangerous theater undetected.
The PL-01 is also fitted with a fire extinguishing safety system in the turret and hull, internal radio communication system, active anti-projectile protection system, battlefield management system, cooling exhaust system, thermal masking system, and even air conditioning.
The crew have special seats which minimize the physical effects of nearby explosions. The vehicle is also equipped with a satellite navigation system and a vitally important friend-foe identification system. Production for the PL-01 is scheduled to begin in 2018. However, even if this concept vehicle doesn't get to the production phase, it will surely inspire the next generation of military designers to take a revolutionary look at modern tank design.
Dr. Dan Thomas @bioprinting2 is a research scientist, writer, editor and advocate for education. He holds degrees in Engineering and Science and is a speaker on diverse topics such as sustainability, environmental engineering and nanotechnology.