The Quiet Demise of the Battle Tank
- Number of Stryker wheeled armored vehicles purchased this past decade for the US Army-2,988
- Number of Main Battle Tanks purchased in the same time period-O
That is really amazing when you consider that tracked armored vehicle production has been ongoing in this country since the 1910’s, even during during the dark days of the Depression. Here’s more from Strategypage:
The initial 2004 combat actions in and around Mosul were not as intense as they were down around Baghdad. But there were heavily armed Baath party diehards and al Qaeda terrorists up in Mosul. Thus the Stryker brigade saw a lot of action, some of it quite heavy. It was thought that the Strykers would be very vulnerable to RPGs, but only two vehicles were lost that way in the first year. In some actions, platoons (four vehicles) of Strykers had dozens of RPGs fired at them with no serious damage. The protection on the Strykers has been up to the job, but the troops, and hostile Iraqis, have also noted that the Strykers were faster, and quieter, than other armored vehicles. This turns out to be a battlefield advantage, something American troops had forgotten about. The last large scale use of wheeled armored vehicles by American troops was in World War II. Some of the details of how those vehicles could be used had apparently been forgotten. A wheeled armored vehicle can more quickly move out of an ambush, or any other kind of trouble. Wheeled armored vehicles also make a lot less noise. The track laying system is inherently noisy, wheels are not. Strykers can sneak up on the bad guys, an M-2 Bradley or M-1 tank cannot.
Consider the Canadian decision to purchase some used Leopard 2 tanks for use in the Afghan:
Off the road, the Stryker is not as mobile as a tracked vehicle. Canadian troops in Afghanistan recently got reminded of this, as their LAVs (a cousin of the Stryker, also used by the U.S. Marines) often got stuck when they left the few roads found over there. The Canadians brought in some tracked armored vehicles to deal with the worst off-road situations.
That makes some sense, but consider that they are justifying the purchase of a multi-million dollar battle chariots for use in one of the world’s poorest countries, where the main mode of transportation is still horse-drawn. We can’t imagine where the problems the Stryker suffered in the Afghan would duplicate itself, except maybe in parts of Africa where the West has been extremely reluctant to intervene of late. There has to be a lower cost solution to the track issue. There are countless alternatives to a MBT if tracked armor is required, but we increasingly see this as a niche capability as with the Canadian experience.
As for US tank production, it seems essentially dead. Still, that doesn’t mean the concept is totally obsolete, though the signs are not favorable. It is possible for a non-armored power to defend itself against an tank army, as we saw in the 2006 Lebanon crisis with Israel and Hezbollah. Most other tank successes, such as Russia versus Georgia and Israel versus Hamas, or Gulf War II were essentially lop-sided victories (despite the over-blown tributes here)considering the enemy weren’t so well equipped with high tech anti-armor defenses, or especially well-motivated.
However, considering so many effective tanks still in the world’s arsenal, it might be prudent for another last production run of the M-1 Abrams, at least 1000 vehicles, but preferably 2000. Reduce costs as much as possible, such as replacing the gas guzzling turbine engines with something more efficient like diesels or a hybrid. Looks like the Army is on the right track with its M1A3 plans, according to Army Times:
The Army is exploring the possibility of developing a 60-ton Abrams main battle tank that provides as much protection as the current 75-ton version…Plans to lighten the vehicle complement an existing Army effort to build prototypes of a tougher, more high-tech M1A3 Abrams main battle tank by 2014, with an aim to field it by 2017.
This run should do us for several more decades. Forget the do-it-all-nothing-well Future Combat Systems. Just keep the Abrams and buy more off the shelf armor like Stryker.