Top officers extol tanks’ virtues (subscription only)
Current operations affirm armor’s worth, leaders say
The transformation of the Army continues. It’s just that part of the transformation involves keeping the M-1 Abrams main battle tank production lines open for an extra eight years.
Fort KNOX, Ky. — The armor community is alive and well and the 70-ton Abrams tank has a bright future on the urban battlefield, even in a force moving increasingly toward lighter, more mobile fighting platforms, Army leaders said.
“Without tanks, we don’t have combined arms,” said Gen. B.B. Bell, commanding general of Eighth U.S. Army Korea, who spoke to a packed auditorium May 18 during this year’s Armor Warfighting Symposium about tank successes on the Iraq battlefield.
Bell emphasized the tank’s important role in a complicated fight, pointing to its decades-old lethality, ability to adapt to open terrain and urban settings, the survivability factor for crews, and the fact that a heavy-armor task force can be deployed in as little as 96 hours.
Bell points out that urban operations are nothing new for the Army, and that tanks are major part of our ability to be successful in the cities. Tanks led the way during the initial invasion and have been prominent weapons in nearly every major operation as well as important in the day-to-day mission.
Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Richard Cody pointed out that the Army was not really prepared for modern warfare before the 9/11 attacks in 2001. It was under-trained, under-equipped, and in a generally-poor state of maintenance. But war has changed that to a great extent, and the place of the tank in the new and improved US Army has been re-thought.
“The opportunity to invest came to fruition when we went to war,” [Col. Larry Hollingsworth, Heavy Brigade Combat Team project manager] said. “It became apparent to people that the risks you could assume with your force during a peacetime environment were very different from the risks you could assume during wartime.”
“If you’re not going to fight with tanks and Bradleys, you may not want to invest in them the same way as if you were going to have to roll them into Baghdad. I think that’s what our entire Army has seen,” Hollingsworth said.
Note the machine gun shield with ballistic glass in the pictured M1A1 (pic from DoD). This is a recent addition to the old warhorse which increases protection while maintaining vital sight lines for the man on the gun. Other improvements for the M1, collectively known as the TUSK program (“Tank Urban Survival Kit”), are in the pipeline to transform our tanks into even more lethal monsters on today’s battlefields, also known quaintly as “cities”. Many times “transformation” isn’t revolutionary but instead incremental.
It’s not been just tanks, either, that have had their worth re-evaluated lately. It’s also been the B-52 bomber, the A-10 attack plane, the 7.62x51mm rifle round, the M79 “blooper” grenade launcher, and many other systems, most of which are considered “old school” and had been slated for retirement. Some had already been put out to pasture but rushed back into service when the need arose. Sometimes it is because new gee-whiz gadgets don’t work as expected, and we could have worse problems than to learn that the systems we already have are the ones we need.
—cross-posted to Defense Tech