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The Quiet Demise of the Battle Tank

November 2, 2009
tags: ,

071206-A-7740H-004

  • 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.

A column of M1 Abrams tanks from B Company, 1st Battalion, 35th Armor prepares to roll out on a training mission in Kuwait.

A column of M1 Abrams tanks from B Company, 1st Battalion, 35th Armor prepares to roll out on a training mission in Kuwait.

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.

44 Comments leave one →
  1. September 15, 2013 3:34 am

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  2. terz81 permalink
    December 26, 2011 1:08 pm

    In two days I will be fifty years old, I remember as a kid the world war two generation not
    all mind you stated the tank is dead, missile armed infantry, helicopters, Jet ground attack
    air craft.

    Now lets look at reality, if we did not have the Abrams tank would we still have won both
    the Gulf War and Iraqi Freedom the answer is yes, but it would have taken months
    maybe even years. Mind you the Iraq war was a two parter Iraqi Freedom and rebuilding
    Iraq., Iraqi Freedom was over in weeks and we slaughtered them.

    I believe we only lost one or two Abrams at most.

    That says something most argue this tank is out dated because it has a crew of four.
    and you have to manually load the 120 mm M256 L44 main gun.

    Our Crews destroyed hundreds of Soviet Made Iraqi tanks, there weight is about 30 ton
    class they are smaller in size and they have a crew of three and they have an auto loader.
    our crews out loaded and beat auto loading guns on a regular bases, and out shot them
    and we were faster, those are the three principles to a gun fight.

    Now as for missile armed infantry, no question it looked bad for tanks in the 1960’s and 1970’s, but we over came it and guess what we will again, missiles have limitations
    themselves for example when first launched against a tank they lack they momentum
    to kill a jeep they must travel x-number of yards where they will have the momentum
    to kill a tank than as there motor starts to burn out they loose momentum again.
    granted each missile is different but each has an effective range. Thus if a tank is to close
    or two far away that missile is useless. even though you have fire and forget weapons
    today when that weapon is first launched the launch position is given away, I donot care what they tell that operator, most likely hes going to get killed, and that has a negative effect on inexperienced young troops.

    If these wars have shown anything its that the wheeled combat vehicles are use less
    just like my uncle John said about the world war 2 types, he said they look cool till they get killed.

    As for the Battleship, its about politics not about being outdated that did that class of ship in.
    politicians do not like big gunned ships.

  3. Matt permalink
    June 30, 2011 4:50 pm

    The IDF has not invested too much in heavy tanks forces, (personally I do not go into any battle without MBT’s) The main problem with Lebanon is it was a frontal assault, a modern mechanized armored version of trench warfare, which is how Hizbullah bogged down the IDF. Also the size of the mechanized columns were two large allowing formations to get bogged down by bottlenecks.

    You could see the new IDF doctrine in play during our live fire exercise (simulation of the invasion of Lebanon) in December/January 2008/09. You know it as OP Cast Lead.

    Think of Gaza Strip Northern Sector Beit Hanoun, Biet Lahai, Al Atatra as South of the Litani. the Gaza City Sector and Central Camps Sector as the Bekaa Valley and Rafah, Khan Yunis Sector as Norther Lebanon.

    We attacked from multiple angles, using more smaller faster moving mechanized armored columns. We combined the Powell Doctrine and the Rumsfeld doctrine into one doctrine, overwhelming force and speed.

    So as you can see if the IDF go to war against Hizbullah in Lebanon we will opening up the Syria flank along the Syrian/Lebanon border, and cut off their supply of logistics in the northern Lebanon and Syria.

    The constant exercise we held in northern Israel was an old SAS tactic, we kept putting them on and off high alert, it lowers their attentiveness and makes them complacent, affects morale and mental health, just when they lower their guard and become complacent thinking it is just another drill we hit them. Hariri almost had a nerves breakdown.

    And remember when the IDF opened up a second front with the Lebanon war, all the Hizbullah fighters in Iraq had to return to Lebanon, most of them were made combat ineffective, KIA, crippled and were not able to return to the Iraqi AO.

  4. Mike Burleson permalink*
    May 18, 2010 9:34 pm

    Kristian, poor tactics? Here is the greatest tank army in the world and we are supposed to believe it was poor tactics? But the Israeli army has too much investment in its heavy tank forces to admit that it may be the vehicles which failed, especially since it comes from another era.

    If nothing else, the missile armed infantry has forced obsolosence on the tank tank by inducing it to become heavier, more expensive, and ever fewer. Concerning tank production in the West, it has virtually ceased in the past decade, while light vehicles purchases skyrocket. The infantry must have been doing something right.

  5. Kristian permalink
    May 18, 2010 8:21 pm

    MBTs and heavy IFVs are necessary for offensive, maneuver warfare against a first world foe. Light vehicles will not cut it as they are not as survivable and in most cases do not have the off road mobility. Lack of off road mobility kills. It channelizes your forces onto easily predicted routes and makes them easy kills for IEDs, ATGMs and artillery. I have seen this blog play down this handicap but I assure you, for this reason alone tracked vehicles are preferable in many cases. Your example of the Israeli experience in Lebanon in 2006 is more an example of poor tactics rather than an example of the demise of the MBT. Running head first into the teeth of a prepared defense is just plain dumb.

  6. Graham Strouse permalink
    November 3, 2009 3:45 pm

    I’m side-tracking a bit but anyone who is interested in asymmetric tank warfare engagements really should research the Russia/Chechnya conflict(s). The Russians basically had their butts handed to them in the initial engagements. The Chechens are rather different from most of the other aggressive Islamist powers (states & non-state). They’re much more competent on the combat side of things, less so at informational warfare. This is a generalization, of course.

  7. Graham Strouse permalink
    November 3, 2009 1:26 pm

    Touche, anonymous!

    (Nelson was right, btw. Ships sink much faster then ground. ;) )

  8. Anonymous permalink
    November 3, 2009 1:09 pm

    “The Norwegians made excellent use of old coastal fortifications”

    One of Nelson’s maxims was never to set a ship against fort.

  9. Graham Strouse permalink
    November 3, 2009 12:46 pm

    Good points, Mike. TO clarify, I think the Israeli HAPCs are a more useful urban combat vehicle then the MBTs they’re based on. I THINK I agree with you that Tom Clancy’s wet dreams of massive tank battles are a thing of the past. I do still like the Israeli remote weapon platforms–a 12.7 mm machine gun wedded to a couple light missiles for emergency purposes is a nice combo. through a few teriary guns on a HAPC & that’s plenty of ordnance to cover the guys in the back & deal with unpleasant surprises.

    You’re absolutely right when you say that most people get sucked into particular mindsets as far as weapon systems go. The most effective warriors are usually the ones who are either 1) quick to see game-changers & utilize them properly & 2) creative when it comes to using old systems in new ways.

    Example: The USA made VERY good use of its battleships in WWII. They were incredibly useful assets (and remained so when I was still in HS in 1990-91). We just didn’t use them (primarily) as anti-fleet units. They were very effective escorts, command ships & if there was something on shore that needed to go away, the BBs made it go away–recall the Iraqis who surrendered to the UAV spotter in Gulf War I.

    The Norwegians made excellent use of old coastal fortifications, medium & light artillery & some very sneaky unter-fjord torpedo mounts against the Germans in 1940. They killed Blucher & crippled Lutzow & bought the gov’t time to flee with some very dated weapons which they used creatively & effectively.

    I’ve thought of a lot of ways to kill carriers–I just have a red team mentality. One way would be to buy up lots of old Exocets (on the cheap, of course) & a modest number of top-flight missiles & mount them in concealed & preferably mobile locations in littoral waters & on land. Let the 7th fleet come in and hose them with massive numbers of cheap ASMs & rockets FIRST. And use some SSKs or heck, land-based torpedo mounts to take out escorts. Then hose the fleet with the serious missiles. They’ll run out of ammo (and a lot of ships) way before I do. I kind of like the idea of UAV dive bombers, too, although I haven’t thought that through so much. I mean, the deck of a CVN is basically one giant bomb…

    THAT should have been the lesson of Midway, incidentally, but not enough people really paid attention. CVNs are really quite torpedo resistant but they are VERY vulnerable to bombs or massed plunging rocket fire. Just sayin’.

  10. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 3, 2009 5:19 am

    Smitty said “The all-gun battleship is no longer wanted by the world’s navies;”

    The battleship not wanted? If you study their history, the admirals fought tooth and nail to keep their sacred vessels long past their prime. In 1944, the Royal Navy, after all its lessons, declared the battleship as still the core of the fleet and planned new classes of armored ships for the post-war era. They were over-ruled by Winston Churchill. Some, especially the USMC would have our own Iowa class sailing still with their big guns for fire support (just punch in “bring back the battleships” in search engine). It was cost and new technology which finally sank the battleship.

    Once a particular weapons program becomes ingrained in the mindset, it is nearly impossible to lose. Though things are pretty bad with those who think high tech is answer to all problems, the 100+ year-old cult of the battleship is with us to this day.
    (I know, since yours truly often gets yelled at here for daring to use the term to describe modern missile ships!)

  11. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 3, 2009 5:08 am

    Here is something that was in my email, concerning the British Fres program and the problems of creating new armored vehicles, with a relevant quote:

    The Government has been forced by the delays to buy armored vehicles off the shelf for Afghanistan.

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/Afghanistan/article6898751.ece

  12. Distiller permalink
    November 3, 2009 4:25 am

    Talking about new tanks, I think the Japanese Type 10 is quite interesting, especially the running gear and the synthetic sight system. Also has nice wide tracks.

  13. Tarl permalink
    November 2, 2009 11:26 pm

    The Army thought it could reinvent the tank with the future combat systems, making it lighter, smaller, more agile. Sounds pretty good if it came from Hollywood,

    The thing I like best about FCS is its total irrelevance either to irregular warfare or to fighting a peer competitor. FCS would not help us if we had it now in Iraq and Afghanistan. FCS would not help us against China. The only enemy it could do well against would be an extremely stupid, tank-heavy medium opponent. So it could kick the hell out of Iraq’s 1990 army, yaaay!

    Someone please kill it soon…

    it is remarkable a rogue terrorist group backed by a rogue terrorist country managed to stand up to the Israelis for a while.

    Meh. The Israelis fought stupid.

  14. B.Smitty permalink
    November 2, 2009 9:50 pm

    Mike said, “If that is the case then is the all-gun battleship “inappropriate” for modern warfare?

    No. The all-gun battleship is no longer wanted by the world’s navies; therefore it is obsolete.

    Tanks are still in use and in demand.

  15. Graham Strouse permalink
    November 2, 2009 9:41 pm

    I’d pay a lot of attention to the Russian-style theromobaric TOS-1 type MLRS. The naval value (even for SSKs) should be evaluated. Longer range Merch-type rockets should also be evaluated.

    Aslo, speaking as someone who has studied the Norway campaign in WWII, the Eiliat incidenatn & the more recent littoral catastrophes, I still maintain that if you need to operate a warship close to shore against an enemy with serious rocket/missile emplacements you either need a clever sub or a genuine old skool battleship. A converted pleasure ship might give you a first-shot capability but would be hosed afterwards. No more LCS.

  16. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 2, 2009 9:18 pm

    Graham said-“Israeli is much more experienced & more technically adept at mechanized motor/infantry urban warfare then the US.”

    Before 2003 I would agree with you. Now they are playing catch up to the Americans. I think you are maybe right about the Russians, though they still depend a lot on brute force, especially not having to worry about a noisy press and squeamish politicians.

    Concerning Asian tank developments, I see these as mainly catching up to the Western lead of the past few decades, with the S Koreans heavily influenced by the US M-1. Still updating Cold War era designs, it goes to show that the heavy armored tracked tank has reached the end of its development, though not necessarily the end of its lifespan.

  17. Graham Strouse permalink
    November 2, 2009 9:14 pm

    My point, Mike, is tht Israeli is much more experienced & more technically adept at mechanized motor/infantry urban warfare then the US. They expect it. The armored chassis is still useful. The big gun with the poor rate of fire is less so. Israeli is probably the world leader in heavy chassis-mounted combined weapon systems. You get a lot of armor, a bunch of trained soldiers & a chassis carrying a heavy machine-gun/light cannon w/ or w/o some light missiles for unpleasant surprises & you mean business in the business district.

    The US still relies on 120 mm cannons with limited re-supply & no real infantry support.

    Russia (and the Chechens) know urban warfare, too. America does poorly at this aspect of COIN.

  18. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 2, 2009 9:05 pm

    “Saying that Hezbollah are supposedly the finest light infantry”

    No one is saying that. But it is remarkable a rogue terrorist group backed by a rogue terrorist country managed to stand up to the Israelis for a while. Recall the entire Egyptian nation backed up by the Soviet superpower was the last nation that could say the same thing. That was a Pyrrich victory for Israel if anything was. Even near defeats can be looked on at times as a great accomplishment to a power used to only defeats.

    Speaking of the Egyptians, here is the Merkava heavy tank, built with the lessons of the 73 October War in mind, that the IDF would be on the defensive in the next war. Note it has a powerful cannon, extremely heavy forward protection, and an escape hatch allowing the crew to escape out back if disabled. This was built with the Bar Lev Line, and Golan Heights battles in mind.

    But what has Israel been doing since but racing into Lebanon, into the West Bank and Gaza, where a swift light tank might have been a better option. Mobility over armor and firepower. If Strykers had been sent against the Hezbollah, the Infantry would have been defending their vehicle, as the lessons of Iraq clearly showed, and their anti-tank infantry tactics would have been ineffective.

    Later though, in Gaza, still without a Stryker though, the Israelis took many of Iraq’s lessons to heart. You can read more here:

    http://www.strategypage.com/htmw/htinf/articles/20090119.aspx

  19. Graham Strouse permalink
    November 2, 2009 8:57 pm

    I do agree that the MBT is increasingly useless. It’s easy to isolate, expensive & too vulnerable. Long-range mobile cannon systems with MLRS (like the Russian TOS-1) & long-range gun systems do have some potential, though, I think. Mobile massed long-range indirect fire combined with UAVs can really screw up your day calender.

  20. Graham Strouse permalink
    November 2, 2009 8:55 pm

    Mike, I think you’re a little off-target here. Israeli converted & up-armored T-54/55s into HAPCs VERY effectively & is doing so again with MBTs. Heavily armored HAPCs w/ smart power plants & nasty remote-weapon platforms (with troop deployment ability) are the key. You don’t need a 105-125 mm main gun for urban warfare. It can be a nuisance. But take the same hull, add a remote firing 12.7mm to 30mm cannon w/ or w/o light missile mounts, additional light remote MGs & troop capabilities & you’re cooking with fire.

  21. November 2, 2009 7:41 pm

    The following thread over at Militarypictures.net has many images of Indian and Pakistani tanks. Post # 5 starts the coverage of the imported & locally-built T-90S and indigenously designed and built Arjun MTBs.

    http://www.militaryphotos.net/forums/showthread.php?t=89961

  22. Chuck Hill permalink
    November 2, 2009 7:27 pm

    The Indian Army is also reequipping with new tanks, both License built T-90s and possibly the domestically developed Arjun:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arjun_%28tank%29

  23. Chuck Hill permalink
    November 2, 2009 7:10 pm

    China and Russia are also reportedly fielding new tanks:

    http://www.wnd.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=32501

  24. Chuck Hill permalink
    November 2, 2009 7:06 pm

    South Korea is developing a new tank:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K2_Black_Panther

  25. Anonymous permalink
    November 2, 2009 6:36 pm

    “I thought that Israel’s trouble in 2006 was mostly a lack of proper good and routine training in field basics, which some generals admitted afterward. Alhough I might be mistaken.”

    True. But even considering that they kicked Hezbollah’s back side.

    Saying that Hezbollah are supposedly the finest light infantry (if irregular or not state sanction) in the Arab world. Doesn’t say much for the rest….

  26. November 2, 2009 6:17 pm

    I thought that Israel’s trouble in 2006 was mostly a lack of proper good and routine training in field basics, which some generals admitted afterward. Alhough I might be mistaken.

  27. Joe K. permalink
    November 2, 2009 6:11 pm

    Mike, having that firepower itself can boost the image of it’s power and presence. I have never seen scenarios where something armed with missiles tries to shoot at someone from short to point-blank range.

    Not to mention the big guns on those tanks do more than just the simple destructive factor from it’s ammunition. There’s the sound which can not only disorient nearby enemies but also boost its presence imagery.

  28. Hudson permalink
    November 2, 2009 5:40 pm

    “I think precision weapons is a practical alternative to heavy firepower.”

    Sure, if you have them and don’t have to pay for them–$68,000 in the case of Hellfire. At some point though you’re going to have less of something else you need on the battlefield to feed this insatiable appetite for precision weapons–someone will pay somewhere.

    The Russians were said to have made good use of old-fashioned field artillery in their dust up with Georgia. An artilleryman can kill you just as dead with his dumb 120mm or 155mm round as an operator can with a fancy missile, if he knows his business.

  29. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 2, 2009 4:16 pm

    Smitty said-“I think you are mistaking “obsolete” with “inappropriate”.”

    If that is the case then is the all-gun battleship “inappropriate” for modern warfare? In the last century we see tanks in use in all climates, including Pacific jungles to Eastern deserts. But now they are increasingly sidelined by wheeled armor, or tracked IFV which can be built in large numbers quickly for the counter-insurgency conflicts that have been the norm in the past few decades.

    Their cost has made them prohibitive in modern warfare, this has come about because of their increased vulnerability to advanced and light weight man-portable weapons. Western tanks are currently giants on the battlefield, but this isn’t a sign of power so much as a reminder of their weaknesses.

    Is there any nation currently constructing a tank from the ground up, other than updating Cold War era designs? I can’t think of one.

    Obsolescent perhaps, because I think they still have a lot of life left in them, but not inappropriate.

    Joe, I don’t think tank firepower is nearly as important as much as the presence and power of a tank. The troops feel safe behind it, and the enemy not so much in front of it. As far as firepower, there are numerous alternatives, especially the helos and UAVs firing Hellfire missiles. I think precision weapons is a practical alternative to heavy firepower.

  30. Jed permalink
    November 2, 2009 2:37 pm

    Requirements, requirements, requirements ! What do you want an armoured vehicle to do ? For every argument about how crap the Stryker is, there is a counter argument in its favor. For every MBT “death knell” there is an engagement where they are winners.

    Urban warfare update kits, or even longer 120mm barrels for “tank on tank” – economical diesels instead of gas guzzling turbines – the MBT is not dead and will continue to evolve. The wheeled APC is great if you have good roads, the tracked APC is often smaller (in volume) and even lighter than than a wheeled vehicle offering the same protection, and much better in really rough terrain (and I have dug enough wheeled vehicles out of fields in the UK and Germany to know that your way off the mark on that one Mike !). There “specialist” vehicles ranging from BVS10 to twenty flavors of MRAP. All are good for something, it depends on what you want to do !

    Personally I would like to see some existing MBT’s (M1, Challenger II, Leopard II) fitted with 120mm breach loading mortars, which can provide direct and indirect fire support for infantry, direct fire anti-tank with laser guided missiles (Israel and Russia already field them) and indirect anti-tank fire with IR guided mortar rounds (be around for years). There is also the “medium” tank in the form of CV90 carrying a RUAG ‘low pressure” 120mm smooth bore gun, at less than half the weight of a current MBT.

    So, pick yer fight, and the send the right kit to fight it (well, as long as it not an “up-armoured” Hummer or a bloody “Snatch LandRover” !)

  31. Anonymous permalink
    November 2, 2009 1:53 pm

    “The transition to lighter, more logistics-friendly vehicles in Iraq afterwards, and in the less armor-hospitable environment in Afghanistan is perfectly understandable.”

    You are right. But weight isn’t the issue, its volume. By the time you have a big engine and 8 big wheels and a turret etc. you end up with a vehicle nearly as big as a tank.

    M1 Hull: length 26ft, width 12ft

    Stryker: length 22ft, width 8ft

    Even though a C-17 can lift 4 Strykers we are back to the problem of using the poor plane at its (near) maximum cargo weight which would require that long, long window. You would still need 20 or so C-17 to lift an infantry regiment’s worth of Strykers…………..

    This is boring can we start talking about ships again? :)

  32. Joe K. permalink
    November 2, 2009 1:53 pm

    That first excerpt has a misleading remark:

    Strykers had dozens of RPGs fired at them with no serious damage

    Having RPGs fired at them and them sustaining direct hits from RPGs are two different kinds of statements. Sure there’s add-on armor in development but it’s not likely to be widespread enough to make Strykers invulnerable to RPG attacks.

    And with regards to tank production, I believe the reason why we haven’t produced a large number of tanks is because we haven’t had to replace them by the dozen. Few of them were considered destroyed with most that were damaged able to still keep on moving or fighting.

    Strykers certainly have their advantages in mobility in certain areas, but they do not have the firepower to supplant the heavier tanks with the only possible exception being one variant: the M1128 Mobile Gun System. And even with the MGS it does not have the thicker armor protection to deflect other tank shells.

    Tanks are nowhere near death. An RPG launcher does not provide the full power of a tank because it’s easy to kill the person with the launcher. They don’t wear heavy armor plating, they can’t travel far distances in a short period of time, they are not invulnerable to small arms fire, and they certainly don’t come with a smoothbore gun, machine gun mounts, or missile launchers.

  33. B.Smitty permalink
    November 2, 2009 12:28 pm

    Mike,

    I think you are mistaking “obsolete” with “inappropriate”. Western tanks performed admirably during combat operations in Iraq (both ODS and OIF).

    The transition to lighter, more logistics-friendly vehicles in Iraq afterwards, and in the less armor-hospitable environment in Afghanistan is perfectly understandable.

    Large formations of tanks may no longer be appropriate in Iraq and Afghanistan, but they certainly aren’t obsolete.

  34. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 2, 2009 10:42 am

    Smitty said “The reason we aren’t building more M1s is because we have a LOT in storage due to the draw down at the end of the Cold War.”

    That is not totally accurate. The Army thought it could reinvent the tank with the future combat systems, making it lighter, smaller, more agile. Sounds pretty good if it came from Hollywood, but not very practical or affordable. The M-1 has joined a long list of weapons in our inventory in which we can’t find replacements, so why bother if it works?

    The tank will not be reinvented but eventually will be replaced, as we see happening with the Stryker in many functions. Obsolete weapons eventually are replaced by something which is often maligned and apparently too vulnerable to survive on the battlefield. The Little Davids.

    Anonymous-I think the administrator (me) is only one who can edit posts in these WordPress blogs.

    Solomon-again I think the rough terrain in the Afghan is an exception, and don’t see the great cost of a new tank program justifying it. And why can’t we use Trophy on the lower cost wheeled armored vehicles, staying with our motto that “smart weapons don’t need smart platforms”?

  35. November 2, 2009 10:27 am

    Mike, you surprise me.
    Main Battle Tank?…the Dreadnaught of Terra Firma.
    Apply the same arguments towards armour as towards surface warships.

  36. Anonymous permalink
    November 2, 2009 9:58 am

    I should have said

    “Just because the Israeli army wasn’t taking coffee in Beirut by day 3 of the war”

    Not being a member I can’t edit my posts! Sorry.

  37. Anonymous permalink
    November 2, 2009 9:56 am

    Hezbollah hid and ran during the border war; remember these people think surviving to make another TV broadcast means a win.

    Just because the Israeli army was taking coffee in Beirut by day 3 of the war there is a myth that Israel fought a hard war to a draw. Stuff and nonsense. They didn’t do as well as in previous wars but the IDF served their purpose. And today are learning their lessons. Hezbollah won’t be as fortunate next time.

    When you look at the number of armoured vehicles the IDF deployed and the number of confirmed kills/stops by ATGM (about dozen or so) it hardly sounds the death nell of the tank.

    The US Army refurbishes M1-Ax MBTs. There is no need to purchase more.

    As mentioned above any stat to do with air mobility of a APC is rubbish. The US has about 175 C-17. It would take this many to move a division worth of tanks. But they would be out of commission for a week or so due to maintenance. They couldn’t be landed tactically; all that weight would mean a conventional landing on a long, long runway.

    Being a horses for course type of person I am pro-wheels and pro-tracks depending on the scenario.

    The IDF unlike the US can drive to their wars. Troop protection is paramount. This is the reason why they like tank based APC/IFVs.

  38. B.Smitty permalink
    November 2, 2009 9:51 am

    Mike,

    The reason we aren’t building more M1s is because we have a LOT in storage due to the draw down at the end of the Cold War. It is more cost effective to zero-time and upgrade these hulls than build new ones.

  39. Distiller permalink
    November 2, 2009 8:49 am

    When the Germans built the original 8-wheeler SdKfz 232/234 it worked because it was relatively light recon and cav vehicle. Also in the same weight class was the original MOWAG Piranha, which was amphibous in addition. Then weight started creeping up from 11 to 15 metric tonnes, and up to 22, 23 with the Stryker. No more floating and the 8-wheeler configuration is now more than twice as burdened as it was when first built. Resulting in the medium asphalt tank. Being wheeled and heavy (like the Stryker, or the MRAPS) is just a fad, a pork barrel fad, fueled by the industry. Looking at the latest trends, the wheeled vehicles are going lighter again, falling under that 15 metric tonnes threshold they never should have crossed. And everything beyond that threshold shalt be tracked.

    The MBT has its own problems, especially its focus on MBT vs MBT combat, which under NCW scenarios is pretty rare. I think the MBT has to re-invent itself more along the lines of the old infantry tanks, and getting down into the region of below 50 metric tonnes again, down to where the old cruiser tanks were. The combat vs armor is best left to missiles and other indirect stand-off weapons.

  40. November 2, 2009 8:23 am

    Hey Mike,
    Have to disagree with your assessment. The Stryker has been found wanting in Afghanistan (it should…its just a variant of the Canadian LAV-III) and with wheeled vehicles now approaching the 30 ton wt threshold, tracks just make more sense. Additionally defense systems like the Israeli Trophy System are giving the tank a second chance. The Israeli’s did get mauled but it was because of the tactics used by the Hezbollah. They volley fired ATGM’s at an individual tank and even then many of them were recovered and put back into service. The wars that we’re in now are Infantry centric. Notice the focus on APC/IFV? That might not always be the case. But I do like your idea for a late production run of Abrams.

    Great article but the boys at FT. Knox are going to go ape when they read it!

  41. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 2, 2009 7:21 am

    “Israeli down selected the Stryker labelling it as uninspired junk.”

    And Eric, Israel got trounced when it faced a real stand up foe in Lebanon, for thinking hard-hitting conventional warfare could solve every problem.

    Stryker is as much a mindset as a armored vehicle, putting more emphasis on its crew for keeping themselves alive than the vehicle itself. Its the troops that matter in COIN more than technology.

    If only we had the same mindset at sea.

  42. November 2, 2009 6:59 am

    The Stryker, while useful was yet another example of procurement corruption. For example the C-130 requirement was never to be (unless you only want to move one about 100 miles or so give or take the operating environment),,, pig that Stryker is. …the later idea of pushing one out the door of a C-17 not being so good.

    The last minute add-on of the Mel Gibson road warrior cage was a joke too. Surprise, surprise! When in the last 40 years has the U.S. faced an enemy that didn’t have RPGs? Rarely. An over-weight pig, yet it is better than taking a Humvee into a small arms rich RPG rich environment. That last one thought up by the same genius that gave us the Stryker. One shouldn’t be surprised by the threat the Humvee faced. After all, the Army would rather have us forget that we saw this threat before when soft vehicles got shot up on Blackhawk down dog day afternoon many years before on another useless piece of foreign dirt. CRS for the Army means ( Can’t Remember S&#@ ) A saying coined by the late Col. Hackworth. This CRS killed a lot of good people in the current wars.

    Israeli down selected the Stryker labelling it as uninspired junk.

    But yeah lighter vehicles are useful I do agree. Just have to apply Dirty Harry logic to it from the movie Magnum Force. “Mans got to know his limitations”. Stryker warts and all is what we have. Of course the troops say they love it. Compared to a Humvee it is great.

    Fulujah II would have been a lot tougher without the M-1.

Trackbacks

  1. Byzantine Lessons in Hybrid War Pt 2 « New Wars
  2. Toward an Armorless Army Pt 2 « New Wars

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