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How practical would it be to use tanks on the moon (or any low-gravity airless body)? Would they provide any practical advantage over orbital strikes or suborbital railgun bombardment?

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A tank is a direct fire weapon system which carries its own sensors. Asking about tanks vs. suborbital strikes is comparable to asking about tanks vs. artillery today.

Yes, a laser-guided copperhead round can ruin a tank's day. But first you have to get a grunt with a laser designator into position, and then that infantryman must communicate with the artillery, the artillery has a long flight time, etc. In a high-intensity war, you can't count on having a drone with a designator overhead.

On an airless moon, and presumably in the future, that soldier with a laser designator might be replaced by a small robotic rover. But the principle still applies — if your sensor platform must get into position first and then call for fire, time is lost. There won't be treelines to hide, so the sensor platform might stand out more. Can it survive long enough?

I think if you want tanks in your story, you can have them.

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  • $\begingroup$ What about geostationary satellites as targeting platforms? $\endgroup$ – DOS4004 Nov 9 '16 at 6:18
  • $\begingroup$ @DOS4004, what makes you think that they will survive the first minutes of conflict? I was assuming two peer competitors, not a superpower making an intervention. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Nov 9 '16 at 6:19
  • $\begingroup$ Satellites need not be undefended, so they could survive longer than a few minutes. Also, shells can be completely automated, and do not need to have laser guidance. $\endgroup$ – DOS4004 Nov 9 '16 at 6:31
  • $\begingroup$ I was originally thinking of tanks as an alternative to free-fall crafts, since they have ground contact, they can dodge practically forever, while satellites and hoppers are limited by propellant. $\endgroup$ – DOS4004 Nov 9 '16 at 6:34
  • $\begingroup$ @DOS4004, what would defend the sats? Adding defenses and armor makes them bigger, so they become a more lucrative target. They cannot hide. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Nov 9 '16 at 6:40

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