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Toward an Armorless Army Pt 1

April 26, 2010

Mk 4 Merkava Tank of the Israeli Army. Author MathKnight via Wikimedia Commons

Gregg Grant at DoD Buzz, provides details of a report from RAND analyst David Johnson titled “Military Capabilities for the Hybrid War: Insight from the Israel Defense Forces in Lebanon and Gaza” (pdf). The piece sums up the IDF’s own conclusions why her armor failed in the 2006 Lebanon War with the terrorist oragnization Hezbollah:

Before summer 2006, the IDF believed its future was fighting Palestinian terrorists, so, big cuts were made in funding for combined arms training, particularly in the heavy armored units. Air Force forward air controllers were removed from ground brigades. Counterterror operations in the West Bank and Gaza were highly centralized affairs, with the active involvement of Israeli leaders at the highest levels, which over the years had a stifling effect on small unit initiative.

I personally believe this is the wrong conclusion. Though Israel may have increased her anti-terrorism operations, she was still essentially an army married to the old way of warfare, meaning heavy armor tactics. During the crisis with Hezbollah, she sent her tanks ahead of the infantry, much as she did in 1967, and again in 1973. Since this was the first enemy since 1973 who really stood up to her previously invincible armor, it took a long time to remind themselves of this inconvenient fact.


Most experts contend the 1973 October War, fought during the Jewish Holiday of Yom Kippur, is a turning point in warfare. Introducing the guided missile for the first time in a major way, I would go further to say it spelled the death knell of the armored tank and the manned jet fighter.

Nearly 40 years later, how can I make such a claim, since the tank, the fighter jet are still with us, used constantly in warfare, and seem as powerful as ever? Well, some things take a long time to die, and the fact is there has been no peer on peer conflict, that the Soviet Union vanished without war between the superpowers, plus that most of our enemies since then, those of Israel and the West, have been low tech Insurgents, terrorists and suicide bombers.

Yom Kippur doomed the tank and the jet by forcing those weapons to become heavier, with extremely complicated defensive equipment and tactics. Today, it isn’t enough for a fighter to fly over enemy territory and drop its bombs. It must be preceded by specialized EW planes, anti-radar missiles, guided overhead by AWACS planes, often preceded by new unmanned aerial vehicles as the Israelis used over the Beqaa Valley and Operation Desert Storm. America also builds extremely costly and complicated stealth jets, prohibitive to most nations and even the Navy and Marine Corps, which has effected her own operating forces severely. In the last 20 years the USAF has built only about 200 new fighter jets, despite being in consistent and often major combat, certainly a self-induced obsolescence for a global military .

The tank today is an armored giant, with tons of armor, reducing its mobility, and the places it can traverse. If this wasn’t enough, very expensive add-ons are required such as active and reactive armor, also Chobham whose exact makings are a closely guarded state secret. Newer defenses such as Trophy active armor use sophisticated radar and “buckshot” pellets to protect the tank in close confined population centers. Specifically, protecting the tank is stretching the scientific and industrial capacity of world militaries, while its usefulness is waning.

Put bluntly, even though these weapons are still being used, they are now so expensive, hard to build, nearly impossible to replace, they are no more practical. At the same time are cheaper, more practical weapons, being used, bought in sizable numbers, and used more and more in place of the older platforms. These are the UAVs mentioned, plus new light armored vehicles useful in major combat and especially COIN warfare. Powerful man-portable anti-tank weapons are continually being developed, putting the armor at greater risk, but also an alternative to the tank’s heavy gun for blasting through strongholds.

Admittedly, all platforms are at risk from the same missile weapons that is forcing obsolescence on the tank and fighter. Yet, the smaller weapons are just a little more maneuverable, a little faster, not enough to run from the missile but to stay out of harm’s way from whomever is firing the man-portable weapons. Even better, they can be built in sizable numbers, offering many targets for an attacker contend with. Quantity then increases the survivability, but also the likelihood the intended target can hit back.

 Having been so successful contending with numerous foes, as she was fighting for her life constantly since 1948, Israel still struggles with the less well-armed enemy insurgents, dedicated to her destruction. When she was fighting the conventional forces of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, the IAF was unbeatable, and inspired the world with her courage and ingenuity. Today, she is mired in Lebanon, in the West Bank, still looking to similar conventional tactics and armament to save her.


The presumed need to relearn basic armor skills becomes instead an excuse for “let’s continue doing the same tactics, only more of them”. Better had it been if the Israelis had chosen the Stryker vehicles, which is even less survivable in a stand up fight with missiles. No, that last sentence is not a misprint because the beauty of Stryker is you naturally think “I’d better deploy my infantry ahead of me or I’m going to die”. It is a mindset that there must be codependency between the platforms and the soldiers. In other words, the combined arms mindset comes naturally.

After all the hard won lessons the American troops have fought and died for  in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army really should ignore the Johnson report, whether Israel stays the course or not. As Tom Ricks points out commenting on the same report:

“I do think that this piece is something the Army wants to hear…”


” the tendency of the U.S. Army is to lean too much toward conventional capabilities”


Tomorrow-Learning the right lessons.

31 Comments leave one →
  1. Hudson permalink
    April 29, 2010 3:07 pm

    The Russian 2S25 Sprut-SD Self-Propelled Anti-tank Gun is an air-droppable, fully amphibious “tank” with a 35-degree transverse of ist 125mm smoothbore turret.

  2. B.Smitty permalink
    April 29, 2010 1:46 pm


    The MGS isn’t a tank destroyer because its primary target isn’t enemy tanks. It is meant to provide direct fire support to Stryker infantry units. It has a secondary AT capacity, but that’s not its primary purpose. So it is a lightly-armored assault gun, IMHO.

  3. MatR permalink
    April 28, 2010 6:34 pm

    I always think of up-gunned apcs like the stryker 120 mm being like the old Wolverine Tank Destroyer – lightly armoured, fast and mobile, with a turret. Assault guns were low profile, heavily armored brutes with no turret. And often mechanically simple.

  4. B.Smitty permalink
    April 28, 2010 11:16 am

    B.Smitty said, “Killboxes work just fine. The problem is, they aren’t CAS. They are a BAI technique and aren’t meant to be used close to friendlies.

    I will pre-emptively correct myself. Killboxes are used for both BAI and CAS, but they have different rules when friendlies are in or near the killbox.

  5. B.Smitty permalink
    April 28, 2010 11:14 am


    The assault gun didn’t die out. The Stryker MGS is one modern, in service example.

    There are numerous 105mm tank gun turrets on the market meant for medium weight vehicles.

    Plus Cockerill and others have sold a lot of 90mm guns and turrets for even smaller vehicles.

  6. MatR permalink
    April 28, 2010 8:40 am

    I like Jed’s smoothbore mortar idea. Giving the tank a kind of ‘artillery-tank’ role would see it become much more fluid and responsive. More capability – and reach – for your money, even if the beast isn’t a thoroughbred mbt. And the added antitank missile idea – why not? They’re quite light, so that’s no big deal from a payload perspective.

    On a different track, I always wondered why the assault gun died out. Things like the old Elefant or Stug. Generally, they were so much cheaper to build than tanks, with a good balance of pros and cons compared to mbts (less easy to track a target, but lighter and with a lower profile, etc). Would a modern ‘assault gun’ be a force multiplier? It seems like a natural niche between field guns and tanks.

  7. B.Smitty permalink
    April 27, 2010 10:27 pm


    Killboxes work just fine. The problem is, they aren’t CAS. They are a BAI technique and aren’t meant to be used close to friendlies.

  8. Jed permalink
    April 27, 2010 9:09 pm

    Solomon I agree – a return to the infantry support tank. Take out the 120mm smoothbore ‘long gun’ and replace it with 120mm smooth bore breach loading mortar ! 12Km plus long range rounds, 1-2KM direct line of site fire with big HE rounds, indirect anti-armour out to 7KM with IR guided top attack rounds, and line of site anti-armour with Israeli LAHAT missiles….. truly multi-purpose !

    Swap the Co-ax MG for a 40mm GMG and keep the two roof mounted RWS (on the M1A1 TUSK) – serious “infantry support” – of course for the marines replace that gas guzzling gas turbine with the beefy diesel from the Leopard II :-)

  9. April 27, 2010 6:32 pm

    Hey totally agree. Its the kill box nonsense. It just doesn’t work. As a matter of fact (and I know this without a doubt) it got to a point where the USAF wasn’t trusted to provide close air support and USMC/British/French and even Army attack helicopters were preferred.

    Don’t get me wrong…they did the job on the highway of death and they’re good at deep interdiction but up close they’re just not into that.

    Times have changed and the tech it easier…but there are still problems…which brings us back to the tank.

    120mm of negotiating power that lives with the infantry is the future of the tank force. Infantry support tanks…but tanks non-the-less.

  10. Jed permalink
    April 27, 2010 9:12 am

    Solomon – ref: “Air Force A-10 targeted USMC LAV-25′s and destroyed them despite being called off by the Forward Air Controller” – yep, and we had the same problem, when A10’s killed more British soldiers in one air strike than all the Iraqi’s put together managed to do ! Gung h0 MF’s or just incapable of recognition ? Or just a problem with the “kill box” method of CAS ???

  11. MatR permalink
    April 27, 2010 4:38 am

    We don’t know if we need heavy tanks or nimble armored fighting vehicles?


    Then I say we build my new 80 billion dollar (each) B RIS-47 Bomber. It is not stealth. In fact the whole POINT is that is to be as visible and intimidating as possible.

    Imagine if you will a mostly cube shaped object approximately 200 meters to a side. The forward “fuselage” is slightly sculpted into a skull shape with prominent canine-fang like protrusions at the main intake vent. Every square surface is covered in six barreled mini-gun turrets (27 in all), missiles, bombs, and diamond tipped spikes. If possible every spike should have the rotting corpse of a defeated enemy impaled upon it.

    There are also specially designed claxon horns and sirens that reach an inhuman volume of 600,000 decibels each playing a combination of “The Ride of the Valkyries”, Tom Waits’ “Earth Died Screaming” and Einsturzende Neubauten to announce, for hundreds of kilometers in all directions, the coming of the B RIS-47.

    The avionics configuration of the B RIS-47 makes it’s radar profile actually larger that it would naturally be. In fact they do not currently make a radar monitor large enough to contain the signature. During flight tests SAM crews did not stay at their controls more than 8 seconds when presented with looming blazing profile of the B RIS-47. The bravest operator stayed exactly 8 seconds before calling his mom to tell her loved her and then shot himself mumbling something about the Fourth Horseman.

    The aerodynamics of the B RIS-47 is… well it’s laughable. However this is more than compensated for with 14 GE90-115B Jet engines and the main booster thrust of 2 Rocketdyne’s J-2 Rocket engines all powered by an atomic core. Still top speed of the B RIS-47 barely tops 400 MPH – which is fine when you are like an unstoppable atomic zombie bent on crushing everything in your path. It must be noted this less than impressive speed was only reached when the design team scrapped the reactor shielding, landing gear, and ejection modules. Not to worry since the bomber is vertically launched into the operation theater by the main boosters of the soon to be retired space shuttle. The B RIS-47 DROPS in most unexpectedly we can assure you.

    As for pilots well we have found the crew of monkeys pretty much can get it where it needs to go and by the time all the ammunition an ordinance is exhausted the little bastards have bailed out anyway. Thus freeing us from liability and expensive Returning Hero Ceremonies.

    Can it maneuver? If by “maneuver” you mean go in a straight balls-out screaming vector like a god damned mile wide flaming freight train of death — right at your enemy until the turds in his pants becomes too heavy for him to even scream let alone run. Then, yes. The B RIS-47 is maneuverable.

    And should the worst happen and the B RIS-47 get shot down? Well most impressive is it’s crash profile. Which can take out most major cities in a half mile deep crater of radioactive death.

    You can preview the B RIS-47 at next years Paris Air Show. However the training run will take place over the Atlantic becuase those pussys in France have some rule about contaminated air and the plan always being terminal on the ground crew.

    Oh. The name designation? RIS? Sure. It means “Resistance Is Futile.”

    Thank you Congressmen. Remember our motto at TKChristo-dyne Offesive Systems …
    “Defense is for sissies. Offense is for winners.”

    [I have to admit that I didn’t write this, I got it forwarded to me in an email. If New Wars doesn’t immediately scrap all its ideas and accept this as the future, I’m never reading the site again.]

  12. Andy permalink
    April 27, 2010 4:35 am

    Hi Mike,

    Bottom line, is terrorism an existential threat to our existence? Should we spend all this tressure to change our armed forces to fight it? Is this not a job better suited to much stronger security/intelligence agencys and paramilitary law enforcement eg: enhanced coast gaurd? Once we get rid of all our ‘heavy meta’ don’t we invite our enemies to respond by building lots of it?

    Re: report at the heart of your article. You haven’t realy hit on the points where it states just how poorly Israeli tankers of all ranks were trained, to the point where they didn’t even pop smoke when they came under missle attack etc etc etc. This accounts for alot of the losses the Israeis took.

    Then there was the issue of the restructing of their army by their new head of the armed forces that so completley undermined he chain of command as to make it essentialy useless. See sending in one battalion unsupported to take a town of thousands etc and the change in the language of comand. Going from, move here kill this and hold here for so long to orders being recived stating you must create a spectacle of defeat in the minds of the enemy!

    Only one brigade commander actualy crossing into lebenon, and only then after 4 days! This is much deeper than I believe you are stating, if I’m reading yoiur article correctly that is!

    I will end with saying though, please keep putting your ideas out there because they disccusion and information they generate is just amazing. Keep up the good work.



  13. Joe K. permalink
    April 26, 2010 10:45 pm


    Could you point out then what was happening along the Kuwaiti border on January 29? Because if I recall right from my own studying (which wasn’t contested by an Army colonel I brought this to) there was fighting between Iraqi tanks and the marine forces stationed at the observation post near Al-Zabr. I believe that was also the fight where 11 marines were killed due to friendly fire both from a LAV-AT and an A-10 which mistook an LAV for an Iraqi tank.

    73 Easting took place a full month later.

  14. elgatoso permalink
    April 26, 2010 10:09 pm

    Anonymous permalink
    I would suggest that the current American tank the Abrahms is the best in the world,followed by the UK’s Chieftain MK2.

    are you refering to the Chieftain MK2 or the Challenger mk2???

  15. April 26, 2010 8:23 pm

    If Israel has a lot CBU-105 (SFW sensor fused weapon BLU-108B) maybe… but there are a lot of tanks surrounding Israel.

  16. April 26, 2010 7:01 pm

    Interesting conversation. But as a matter of clarification, whoever is talking about the Battle of Khafji has his “Order of Battle” all screwed up.

    He’s mixing the units that fought in Khafji with those that fought the big tank battle at 73 Easting.

    Additionally, the Battle of Khafji reinforced the USMC that Marine Aviation was a must. Air Force A-10 targeted USMC LAV-25’s and destroyed them despite being called off by the Forward Air Controller (a Harrier Pilot serving his ground time).

  17. Daniel permalink
    April 26, 2010 3:01 pm

    I think you have an interesting premise…a 60-70 ton vehicle is too vulnerable so well go with a 20+ ton vehicle…because then those ATGMs definitely with have a 95% catastrophic kill rate then. A stryker and a MBT have do different missions. one with the RWS is really a battle taxi or even a “Mother ship” if you want to call it that (im sure you do) and another is designed to take hits dish out punishment and break through enemy lines through sheer weight armour and firepower. a styker MGS this is not.

    if you screen every attack with infantry you will end up with alot of dead infantry, this is coming from an infantryman. I think if you had lived in the 20’s when the anti tank rifles started showing up you may have thought the age of the tank is gone. the balance between armour and weapons has always swung back and forth depending how the APS turn out it may be swinging back to armour.

    Tanks have never been “invulnerable” and they never will be, but as long as they remain hard to kill they will remain. if anything the experience of the IDF would suggest everything must get heavier, that would complement our experience in iraq where now the MRAP at often over 20 tons is the main convoy supply as opposed years ago to the 5 ton.

    being light and transportable is great but it does no good if when you get their you cant do anything. im sure your a student of history and im sure a recurring theme of yours is the military was not prepared for an insurgency however it would be even worse if the military was not prepared for a conventional war. im sure you’ll argue that there wont be one and air power this asymmetrical that which is all well and good and should be addressed in being capable of a full spectrum of operations but the capability to defeat Russian and Chinese forces must be maintained, there likely wont be Russians or Chinese behind their equipment but they hardware itself will be used against us.

  18. April 26, 2010 2:32 pm

    I think figures show that during the recent adventure into South Lebanon IDF’s amo(u)r losses were minimal to the point of negligible.

    Further the IDF’s main enemy is Iran. What happens if a democratic Iraq goes the way of Iran in a decade or so?

  19. Mike Burleson permalink*
    April 26, 2010 2:14 pm

    Charley, in answer to your thoughts concerning light armor in the World Wars, consider how much armor protection has advanced. Now instead of just super-heavy steel, we also use lighter Chobham armor, on our giant behemoths. So, if the steel alone isn’t good enough to protect the tank, why not just chuck it altogether, and arm our light vehicles with both active and reactive army, and save the great expense? This is the revolution in vehicle protection, plus V shape hulls for IED deflection. I don’t think there are any tanks with V shape underbellies, nor are they needed.

  20. Mike Burleson permalink*
    April 26, 2010 2:09 pm

    I am less impressed with the Hamas lessons as I am with those from Lebanon, as I write more on tomorrow. The Palestinians are more dependent on UN and EU support for its existence, where Hezbollah is a battle-hardened, Iran sponsored terrorist “state within a state”. There is not much comparison between the two in terms of threat.

    What Lebanon 2006 reminded us, is any good infantry can stand up to the tank. “So what” you ask? The tank has always made a come back, right? With the right tactics and proper crew training, plus extra defenses and we’re good for another generation. The only problem is, how much larger can the tank get, how much more defenses can it hold, how much weight until it is an immobile fortress unable to maneuver, too expensive to maintain by even the superpowers, and a burden on resources already stretched to the breaking point fighting insurgents?

    If the infantry can manage the tank good enough and we need infantry even more for the new insurgencies conflict, i say lets shuck the unbearable burden, keep a few around in reserves for fire support, but make the Army leaner, more mobile, more relevant, more cost effective. I’m not saying we can’t use some tanks, just that increasingly we don’t need them.

  21. DesScorp permalink
    April 26, 2010 1:44 pm

    Sorry, but I just don’t buy the “tanks are obsolete” thing. That just sounds too much like “missiles have made dogfighting obsolete”. The problem isn’t that armor is obsolete. It’s that Hamas and like-minded groups are increasingly gaining capabilities… like anti-armor tech… that only nation-states formerly possessed. The answer, in this case, may not be asymmetrical warfare at all, but to start treating Hamas like a conventional army in some respects.

  22. Anonymous permalink
    April 26, 2010 1:32 pm

    I would suggest that the current American tank the Abrahms is the best in the world,followed by the UK’s Chieftain MK2.
    Why the USA would want such a vehicle in the numbers it has is beyond me,nobody in the near future is going to invade the USA and it is quite inconceivable that they will be of any use.
    At the risk of being torn apart by those of you who are far better able to judge, I would say that the current UK FRES programme is far better suited to future warefare than is the heavy tank.
    The USA with its heavy airlift capability would be able to shift these vehicles around at a reasonable turnaround and if you look at LM’s blueprint they would be excellent for the wars we are now fighting.
    Much more capable than is Stryker (sorry) and much more capable of being updated to future requirements.

  23. Hudson permalink
    April 26, 2010 1:03 pm

    I think the 08-09 Gaza War (Operation Cast Lead) answered several questions about the tank and the nature of asymetrical warfare. The tank was useful, and civilians suffered losses–they were not exempt from the fighting nor were they massacred en mass–buildings, farms and infrastructure suffered considerable losses.

    The tank was an integral part of an all-arms battle plan, including naval gunfire. The IDF picked apart Hamas’s defenses in detail, including their lame booby traps (mannequins in shop windows). There were instances of Israeli restraint and, I think also, brutality.

    The IDF achieved its goal of greatly reducing mortar and rocket attacks from Gaza into its territory. Israel withdrew its ground forces unilaterally, leaving Gaza and Hamas with a huge mess to clean up and long thoughts to think about the next round of violence directed against Israel. It left them, and the world, with a kind of riddle to solve.

  24. Charley permalink
    April 26, 2010 12:32 pm

    In WWII, the US deployed M4 medium tanks that were underarmed and under armored. It was thought that their relative maneuverability would make them survivable and give them an opportunity to take a favorable (rear aspect) shot. For many reasons, it did not work out that way. The Army learned from its mistakes and fielded a heavy tank at the end of the war, and since then has developed several successful series of MBT’s – M48/60 and M1. For some reason, the Army dallied with the idea of going back to lighter platforms with FCS, again thinking that maneuverability could make up for lighter armor. Thankfully, that program has been largely cancelled for cost reasons. Guided missiles, sophisticated gun systems and a plethora of RPG’s would decimate light armor.

  25. MatR permalink
    April 26, 2010 10:38 am

    A couple of things come to mind, for me.

    One is that, historically, we might, just might, tend to give the Israelis too much credit for their early military victories. I’m not saying their armed forces weren’t – or aren’t – very capable. Far from it. But they fought Arab armies: enemies that tended to be poorly led, trained, and supported in the field. Armies with low literacy and educational levels trying to use hi-tech equipment and sophisticated conventional doctrines (yes, even if Soviet!). In contrast, the Israelis had excellent intelligence, leadership, and motivation; literate, educated troops; short supply lines; and in later years, the best US supplied equipment. You’d almost expect Israel to have dominated the local opponents it had in any major, conventional conflict back then.

    Fast forward to 2006, and just maybe we throw too much blame. Hizbollah would be a tough nut to crack for any opponent. Dispersed amongst civilians that it uses as human shields. Expert at harnessing international media and the ‘Arab street’ every time an Israeli shell goes astray – but as a ‘non-state’ actor surreptitiously supplied by Iran and Syria, not held to the same standards. (How do you take Hizbollah to the International Court?) I can’t think of anything that would have decisively stopped Hizbollah from firing rockets from Southern Lebanon in 2006 apart from parachute dropping tons of fuel air bombs, napalm or poison gas: you simply can’t pin down or ‘winkle out’ their asymetric forces otherwise, without losing men, tanks, helos and apcs. In short, in 2006, the Israelis were handed a crock to begin with.

    It seems to boil down to Hizbollah using civilians as completely expendable cannon fodder, and boy oh boy, they can’t wait for Israel to kill them – the more that get caught up in the crossfire, or forced into the line of fire, then the more Hizbollah has won.

    Short of reoccupying Lebanon, what does Israel do? Perversely, maybe they can hope that Hizbollah actually becomes the de jure, de facto government in Lebanon, because then it becomes easier for Israel to tackle Lebanon as a state rather than an an asymetric insurgency. Not much easier, but some.

  26. Jed permalink
    April 26, 2010 9:25 am

    Mike, personally I think your way off base with your analysis. Your arguement wanders around the subject a bit, and you contradict yourself right at the beginning. If the Yom Kippur war was the death knell for the main battle tank (MBT) then why were they such a factor in Gulf War 1 and 2 ? Why are they actually being used to great effect by some nations in Afghanistan ?

    The real problem is, there is no one size fits all solution. If the Israeli’s tilted too much towards COIN, and the U.S Army is criticised for tilting too much towards large scale conventional conflict, it does not mean either of them is completely right, or completely wrong, but neither have they found the correctly balanced doctrine for their own theatres / scenarios. The Stryker is NOT the “be all and end all” as we say in Britain, but neither is the M1A1. Combined Arms (Armour, Infantry, artillery, engineers and air support) is NOT new, it’s been an established doctrine since the blitzkrieg into Europe in 39 ! You can fiddle with it, you can change the vehicle types, sizes, and mixes, but you throw out the whole idea at your own expense.

    So at the moment, I am not sure your “cheaper, less complex = more practical” mantra is correct, because I don’t think we are have reached the tipping point. Does not mean that we won’t at some point though…….

  27. Joe K. permalink
    April 26, 2010 9:25 am

    I would like to point out a particular battle that happened in recent years: the Battle of Khafji. In case you don’t know, it was a four-day battle where Saddam Hussein invaded the Saudi town of Ra’s al Khafji just south of the Kuwaiti border but was eventually forced out from the Coalition response.

    On the opening of the attack, elements from the III Corps’ 3rd Armored Division and 1st Mechanized Divisions struck at the observation posts on the Kuwaiti border west of Khafji which at the time were manned primarily by marines from the 1st & 2nd Marine Divisions. In one of those attacks the marine company defending a post was called to retreat in the wake of tanks from the (1st Mech or 3rd Arm, I don’t remember)’s 6th Armored Brigade and they brought in a platoon of the LAV-25 and LAV-AT vehicles to cover their retreat. The LAV-25’s, armed with their autocannons, could do nothing more than disorient the Iraqi tank commanders with their gunfire as it couldn’t penetrate the armor of their older T-model tanks (T-55’s and T-72’s). The Iraqis only retreated when they had cleared the observation post and the Coalition’s air power came in to provide support. (As a side note, the practicality of close air support was proven in that fight given that it was largely air support that not only held back Iraqi advances but also forced back the Iraqis)

    Point I’m trying to make is that yes there are “alternatives” out there that aren’t as heavy or pricey as tanks. But the fact is that unless they properly armed, handled, and placed, they are not likely to replace the tank. Even though there’s the MGS model Stryker, with its big gun, it can’t replace the tank because of its weaker armor.

    I’m not saying we shouldn’t look into lighter vehicles (which we already have been, mind you). I’m saying you can’t expect them to replace the tanks when we’re the only ones really doing it.

  28. Mike Burleson permalink*
    April 26, 2010 8:32 am

    The self-licking ice cream cone: we spend billions to maintain last century technology, that isn’t any more capable against old-style infantry than LAVs or IFVs.

    Sure, they’re handy, but what a waste when the troops have no helos or body armor.

  29. infocyde permalink
    April 26, 2010 8:27 am

    Better yet, how about combined arms and really heavy tanks? That way the armored vehicles are more survivable, and if they are used properly with infantry support is considered a matter of competence of the commanders leading the force. I’m not so cool with the logic of buying a bunch of crap vehicles that are easily killed as a good way to force combined arms discipline.

    I know big tanks are expensive, and I’m not against a leaner tank, but it still should be survivable. And you make great points about how there is a constant technological battle between armor and anti-armor technology. I think it is too early to right off big steel just yet. Absent from your comments are the 3rd division armored thrust through Iraq, and how Abrams have served admirably in Iraq. They aren’t even that expensive. I think I’d rather go up against three Strykers in an Abrams then the reverse. Now if the Strykers were able to call in artillery and air strikes that might change things, but then we circle back to square one don’t we? We then need planes that can penetrate air space (and we can’t use UAV’s unless we own the air space, which is bought by those expensive fighters). Also, we need to be able to do pin point artillery strikes, so we need to spend money on keeping artillery platforms up to date as well.

    In essence you bring up some good points, but there is a reason why 50 years of military leadership likes big steel. There is also a reason while the Israelis like big steel. And believe it or not, some of those military commanders and strategist might like big steel for valid reasons, not just because they are “stuck in the past”. Heck, they might even be smarter then you or I.


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