The Futility of Armor
Don’t Blame the Strykers
The Stryker armored vehicles, made popular in Iraq and wildly successful there, are getting a bad rap in Afghanistan due to mounting casualties. Here is Robert Haddick at Foreign Policy.com with “Why Don’t Stryker Brigades Work in Afghanistan?”:
On July 5, the U.S. Army’s 5th Stryker Brigade arrived in Kandahar province for a year-long tour of duty. The brigade was equipped with 350 Stryker combat vehicles, an eight-wheeled armored infantry carrier that has proven successful in Iraq and is popular with soldiers. It was the first time the Army had deployed Strykers to Afghanistan, but the country has proven unforgiving to the brigade. Thus far they have lost 21 of their Strykers to improvised explosive devices (IEDs), at a cost of two dozen killed and more than 70 wounded. On Oct. 27, seven soldiers died during the bombing of a single Stryker vehicle.
We don’t see the problem with the vehicle itself, many of which have taken terrific poundings before, far beyond what you might expect from a light armored vehicle. Instead, it is the nature of the beast, being road bound and the lack of available roads in the Afghan:
Iraq has a much more developed road network than Afghanistan. A denser road network provided U.S. mission planners with more routes to choose from, complicating the enemy’s roadside bombing effort. In Afghanistan by contrast, U.S. forces may be lucky to have one usable road to get from an assembly area to an objective. The standard counter-IED strategy is to constantly observe such roads for insurgent bomb-planting activity.
Pretty much all vehicles are at risk, including the equally successful MRAPs, special IED vehicles, and tanks. If you believe tanks would solve the problem in the Afghan, think again.
More Armor Equals More Casualties
Deploying more armor, including the powerful M-1 Abrams in place of Strykers would fail to solve the problem. While a tracked vehicle itself may not be road bound like wheeled vehicles, its logistic support is. Here is very interesting commentary on the logistics problem from James Lochbaum at Digital Bits Skeptic:
A clever opponent can neutralize the tank’s combat power by defeating its logistics footprint. How? The Abrams burns about 12 gallons of fuel an hour just with the engine idling. When moving, its gas mileage is measured in feet, not miles (3). For a company of tanks to conduct operations (that’s about 12 tanks), they must be supplied with at least 144 gallons of fuel per hour just to idle. Fuel must obviously be transported to the same place as the tanks…
The Abrams Main Battle Tank has incredibly tough armor, a powerful main gun (105/120mm), and sophisticated optics and gear that allows it to do all kinds of ridiculous things that would have made it a Soviet General’s nightmare. But, the ability to engage targets with a gyroscopically stabilized main gun while moving isn’t as effective when those targets are blending with the local population. This particular tank has severe limitations in the battle-spaces in which it’s currently employed. Yet, despite this, the U.S. Army deployed over 1,100 of the vehicles in Operation Iraqi Freedom (4). This actually causes more casualties – vehicles must be used to transport supplies to the tanks, putting more troops in harm’s way.
Get the idea? More vehicles, more casualties, and less, not more mobility.
The Right Solutions
So is there any hope? Of course, there are always solutions and the two sources we sighted have good ones, we think:
- FP-Watching for bomb-planters, avoiding unwatched roads, using helicopters, dispersing into more vehicles, and taking alternate routes across the country will all help with the IED problem. But the real solution lies with offensive action against the IED networks. This will require aggressive patrolling, raiding, and the interrogation of captured suspects, actions that hopefully are not yet out of fashion.
- DBS-Lighter, more mobile and longer range vehicles; a more streamlined logistics system (no more Pizza-Huts and Subways for starters), and equipment with smaller logistics foot-prints.
We like the idea of more helos and other air transport. Ultimately, it is all about bringing the Taliban to terms, our terms hopefully, and I am not sure what will do this short of completely wiping out their command network. Showing them we mean business and have no intention of abandoning our Afghan allies for a second time would go a long way in undermining the enemy’s support.
A Revolutionary Asset
Where see the Stryker as vital in helping to push the Army away from a mindset that heavy armor was the final answer to current land wars. In this role, the smaller vehicle has been very capable, coming just in time for the the War on Terror, as the service was grasping with the problems of COIN, it at least had the right tools for the new mission. Not perfect, but not bad, and it was certainly a start. Strategypage has more:
The Strykers are faster, and quieter, than tracked armored vehicles. This still 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, wheel’s are not. Strykers can sneak up on the bad guys, an M-2 Bradley or M-1 tank cannot. But the anti-vehicle mines on dirt roads are a wheeled vehicles worst nightmare, and requires lots of sharp eyes, and new thinking, to deal with.
The Afghan is just a brutal conflict, and it has been for countless armies who have fought there over the countless ages. The American military and NATO have actually been more successful than most, so we would hope the hard fighting there would not stray us from the indispensable role played by the Stryker in preparing us for the Hybrid Wars where heavy armor has less a place, but agile yet tough forces are an essential asset.