I was reading a Kazuhisa Kondo translated interview over at Zimmerit and thought it had an interesting take worth discussing. Primarily, the role of non-Mobile suits in combat. The interview is geared towards the PC-98 Gundam strategy game but also touches on Revival of Zeon.
Revival of Zeon is a manga with an interesting premise set between ZZ and CCA that show's Neo Zeon fighting on the ground. We see Zeta's primarily as bombers or hit and run strike craft, a surplus of Nemo's and MK-IIs engaging in ground warfare and machine guns as far as the eye can see. Additionally, many Zeon-esque Titan's units like the Hizack, Marasai and Gaplant are being used by Neo Zeon. It's visually striking and I really enjoyed the artwork in it.
In Revival of Zeon, Zeon is once again in a ground invasion of Earth and it isn't going great. Logistics are stretched thin and it looks like Zeon needs to breakthrough the lines IOT retreat back to Space. Thankfully they have the gargantuan The O-II (or Neo Jio if you prefer) to help with that, being piloted by Frederick F Brown the very same from the MS Gundam: Record of MS Wars. While the story doesn't spend a surplus of time on infantry or tanks I found this quote from the interview very interesting.
(Interview: http://www.zimmerit.moe/kazuhisa-kondo- ... operation/)Plainly speaking, mobile suits are a step up in evolution from armored vehicles, so they’d excel at countering tank units. But tanks are more effective in taking down infantry, in addition to being more cost-efficient. And when it comes to seizing cities and occupying territory, infantry is the best choice. So no matter how advanced mobile suits get, tanks and infantry are never going to disappear. And since the suits are expensive to outfit and maintain, it’s probably not practical to deploy a large number of them as front-line units.
He makes a very reasoned point here, not matter how advanced your war machines you will always need infantry. You can send F-18s to bomb a city all day long but eventually your ground combat element will be sent in to capture it.
Kondo brings up what I would consider a more grounded point of view that even with the advent of super-light super-strong alloys that allow for giant robots to fly around and destroy everything in sight, tanks would still have a role to play from an economic and militaristic perspective.
Economically tanks should be wildly cheaper compared to a mobile suit. Militaristically they would be useful in engagements where Mobile Suits would either be inefficient or overkill. The AU series Iron Blood Orphans has Mobile Workers, a tank sized mech unit that fill this role nicely but we don't have an equivalent in UC where all the tanks disappear after the OYW.
Thinking about Tanks, Infantry and combined arms doctrine in Gundam I wanted to propose a few reasons as to why Tanks are no longer used in UC series set in later years. These will be in-universe explanations since the out of universe it's easy to explain that MS and Gunpla are the money maker for Bandai/Sunrise rather than tanks and wappas.
1. Tanks are featured during the OYW because afterwards MS advanced to a level where a tank could no longer keep up with the Mobile Suits overall speed and mobility.
The OYW featured the dawn of Mobile Suits, a brand new technology and war fighting device the drastically reshaped the battlefield for land, air and space. That said MS were pretty slow and clunky back then, yes they could still vault into the air and cut aircraft out of the sky, but many MS especially ground type models were slow enough that tanks could reliably target them be a threat. We see this in MSG, 08th MS Team and IGLOO.
(Sidenote: The game Federation Vs Zeon (PS2) features a personal favorite unit of mine which is a Zaku II wielding a magela top as it's primary weapon)
With Zeta Gundam we see that Mobile Suits are able to take to the skies for much longer periods of time as shown in the episodes with the Audulhulma (hope I spelled that right!). Now that MS can be aerial for far longer and are less likely to be on the ground for significant periods of time it again weakens the role of a tank on the battlefield.
2. Most MS Pilots were not competent or trained yet during the OYW.
Pilots of the mass produced GMs were in the crawl of the crawl-walk-run stages of learning when it came to MS Piloting. Thank goodness for that learning computer! We also see in 08th MS Team that adapting to using a MS on earth is quite hard.
While many pilots may be exceptional in aircraft MS Combat is a completely different spectrum and does not give a 1-to-1 transition of skills. Off the top of my head Ryo Jose, Yuu Kajima and Lydo Wolf were fighter pilots before MS pilots and the latter struggled when they first used a Guncannon MP. In some media we see that pilots do best when using the GM Light Armor (or G-Line Light Armor), a light MS that is more able to dogfight making their skills more relevant in the cockpit.
During the OYW pilots are thrown into brand new vehicles and sent to the front. After the OYW there's plenty of experience and training time to go around so Pilots are able to bring out a suits full capabilities turning MS into highly evasive and lethal machines.
3. Tanks aren't for space operation and are of a limited effectiveness in colonies.
Since Space and Colonies have become battlefields any military weapon that will compromise the bulk of your forces needs to be usable in that domain.
While we see Magella's used to a fun effect in The Plot to Assassinate Gihren, they are useful as a tool or support role only. Fighting inside colonies will always favor MS, especially with the changes in gravity as one nears the center playing havoc on artillery and ballistic calculations. Being unable to fight in 3 dimensions would make a tank obsolete.
4. Cost effectiveness
Overall I agree with this and Kondo's point. I think in ground based combats there would still be Tanks and APCs especially when it comes to Actions on Objective and capturing cities. As Kondo mentions Infantry and Tanks would work with MS in doing this.
Mobile Suits by their nature are very complex machines with many moving part, top of the line sensors and avionics so naturally they'd be more expensive than a metal boxes with treads. The argument could be made that a tank would be so significantly cheaper it wouldn't make sense to eliminate them entirely.
We see this a lot in Tabletop games where a few super soldiers in Power Armor may be worth the same amount of points as a platoon of Guardsmen. This comparison would work in MS, where one Gundam may hold the fighting equivalent of 10 GMs but doesn't work as well when comparing different vehicles.
That said I couldn't but think of the propeller plane and the jet after the end of WW2 for the cost effectiveness argument. Sure the propeller plane may be several orders of magnitude cheaper than the Jet, but the performance of the Jet is so wildly higher that no amount of propeller planes would really matter in a dog fight. Do we still use propeller planes? Well of course, what better way to hunt submarines or drop bombs, but they have their own missions which does not involve dogfighting.
With a MS that can quickly travel in three dimensions it's hard for the traditional tank to have merit. That said if Tanks were to mount weapons whose searching and traversing fire would let them easily follow airborne MS perhaps they'd be a worthwhile investment.
Although that does makes me wonder why we never see mobile missile batteries for short range missiles. Why yes Minovsky particles make missiles worthless at a certain range we see MS using missile pods and micromissiles often so why not a cheap delivery device with wheels or treads easily hidden and camouflaged. Just a thought.
5. Beam Weapons
With the advent of beam weapons mobility became key. While we do see several suits struck by beams and survive in MSG and Zeta Gundam, more often than not a direct hit from a beam weapon represents a kill shot which be the likely outcome for tanks hit by a beam.
Although I do have to wonder what warfare in MSG would look like if they had tanks with beam weapons. It reminds me of Battletech / Mechwarrior where the Tanks are nearly the same weight class as the Giant Battle Mechs and can be dangerous rather than a nuisance. Granted different universe with far less mobile Mechs.
So those are my thoughts on why we don't see Tanks in the media following MSG. I'd be curious to hear what your opinions on the matter and if you can think of any other reasons why Tanks should or should not have a place in the war zones of the Gundam universe either UC or AU. I'd also be curious to hear your thoughts on the warfare displayed in the Revival of Zeon manga. Thanks!