How Tanks Hit Their Target On Rough Terrain At High Speeds? Extreme Rotary Encoders…

By: | November 25th, 2014

The first military tank rolled onto the battle field on September, 15, 1916 during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette in World War I. Early tanks were big, heavy and slow, hard to maneuver, highly mechanically unreliable and utilized a slow process in order to simply stop, aim and fire. In fact, early tanks could only reach a top speed of 11.5 mph, making transportation a tedious ordeal.

Today’s tanks, such as the M1, which is the principal main battle tank of the United States Army and Marine Corps can travel at approximately 42 mph on road and 25 mph off-road, over rough terrain. Incredibly, we even have a tank that accelerates faster than a Ferrari called the RipSaw, capable of reaching 65 mph in 3.5 seconds and attaining a top speed of 95 mph!

Travelling at the high speeds of today’s tanks presents a whole slew of problems.

For example, How do you aim the barrel at a target while barreling along at 25 mph over big bumps? Without the help of today’s technology, aiming and firing would be like trying to shoot at a target while riding a bucking bull…

Simply put, your accuracy would be way off and your shooting would not be very effective. On the other hand, employing the concept of stopping to take a shot like the old tanks had to do is also neither effective nor reliable. Gone are the days where tanks were impervious to enemy fire, as the enemy generally has all kinds of serious artillery aimed right back at you!

So the main question is…

What technology is being used to stabilize a barrel while rumbling along in a tank?

The issue comes down to angles. When a tank hits a bump and moves upward, the barrel needs to adjust its angle downward in order to compensate. Similarly, when a tank moves downward, the barrels needs to adjust upwards. In essence, the tank control system needs to know the exact angle to adjust the barrel to based on the angle of the tank’s body.

To employ a successful targeting system you need 4 things:

  1. Rotary Encoders: Rotary encoders measure the rotary movement. These specific encoders operate at very high speeds (500Hz measurement frequency) and high accuracy (resolutions from 1k to 4M counts per revolution). A tank would utilize several encoders for vertical barrel movements, horizontal to turent movements, etc…
  2. Control and Guidance System: The rotary encoder tells the control system the angles of the tank and the barrel within milliseconds. The control system also communicates to the servo motors to point the barrel up or down almost immediately. The guidance systems helps the operator lock onto a target.
  3. Servo Motors: Servo motors are extremely quick and highly accurate motors that move the barrel to keep it fixed on a target.
  4. Clever engineers: Lastly, it takes some extremely smart engineers to figure this stuff out.

Zettlex is an sensor company taking precision to the extreme. The company cannot confirm or deny any participation in top secret projects, but Zettlex can offer more than 4 million rotary encoder product versions used in exciting applications such as Formula 1 racing, combine harvesters, robotics and maybe just maybe…

A few top secrets projects.

Everight Position is a value-add supplier of rotary encoders and sensors who are dedicated to providing solutions for linear, angular and tilt position measurement.

Get More Information on Rotary Encoders:


Marshall Smith

Technology, engineering, and design enthusiast.

More articles from Industry Tap...