Toward an Armorless Army Pt 2
The principle rationale for the reluctance to reduce the emphasis on heavy forces in the standing army is the fear of being unprepared for a classical-style mechanized war.Over the years this line of reasoning has dominated the resistance to change. It pre-supposes an old-style enemy must be fought in the old way: mass on mass. But if the emergence of precision-guided weapons and networked sensors and communications has taught us anything at all, the lesson should be the bigger the old-style force, the harder it will fall to the new way of war. Many senior military leaders will acknowledge this, but entrenched habits of mind and institutional interests are highly resistant to change, even though the need for radical reform of the army is now urgent.
John Arquilla writing in “Worst Enemy: The Reluctant Transformation of the American Military“
A tank with all its armor, and gee whiz sophisticated defense has a mindset that nothing can defeat it. It will knock down the door and all with follow. But any well armed and trained infantry can stand up to a tank, no matter how good the latter is. This has been proven in all wars, since the armored behemoth’s inception. Here’s Gregg Grant at DoD Buzz with more commentary from RAND analyst David Johnson (pdf) who thinks the US Army should adopt Israeli’s lessons from the 2006 Lebanon War:
The 2008 Gaza operation was intended largely to restore the credibility of the IDF as a deterrent, Johnson says, so there was enormous pressure to perform at a high level. Not surprisingly, they used their best units, backed by lots of artillery, attack helicopters and bombers.
My response after Gaza:
In places where modern anti-tank weapons or even primitive road-side bombs are prevalent, as during the Lebanon Crisis with Hezbollah in 2006, the tanks did’t fair too well. This is the type of enemy the US and Western countries have justified the need to pour billions of dollars into advanced armor protection since the late-Cold War. In contrast, the only places modern tanks have worked well lately… is within low-threat environments such as Georgia and the Gaza Strip where the defenders were mostly unprepared for a full-scale blitzkrieg.
Johnson wants a return for greater training in “combined arms”. I get the impression he means “the tank is still king”, and the IDF apparently agrees with this idea. Even though the Israel’s Merkava tank is still the world’s most powerful, keeping it that way will not be easy, and it is questionable if it is worth it all:
Heavy forces—based on tanks and infantry fighting vehicles—are key elements of any force that will fight hybrid enemies that have a modicum of training, organization, and advanced weapons (e.g., ATGMs and MANPADS). Light and medium forces can complement heavy forces, particularly in urban and other complex terrain, but they do not provide the survivability, lethality, or mobility inherent in heavy forces. Quite simply, heavy forces reduce operational risks and minimize friendly casualties.
A very expensive answer to a low tech problem, but there is a better way, and the American Military seems to have the answer, according to Greg Grant:
I had a recent conversation with a Pentagon official who told me of work he had been doing with the IDF on future south Lebanon scenarios. He urged IDF commanders to make greater use of helicopters and air-mobility for deep insertion to maneuver Hezbollah out of their entrenched positions along the border.
They were also offered the Stryker years ago, which has served the US so well in Iraq, but turned it down. The Israeli’s are determined to shape the new warfare in their own image:
The Israelis don’t want a large helicopter fleet, he said, they consider them too maintenance intensive. They want tanks and they want to do a frontal assault on Hezbollah. For the IDF, the tank is king. Which, in part, explains their eagerness to deploy the Trophy active-protection system on their Merkava main battle tanks.
Thankfully, the US Army has its own ideas on fighting Hybrid Wars, and they seem to be the correct plans. At the Center for Defense Studies, Tom Donnelly posts a recent visit with 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, on its way to Afghanistan. Well learned in the Army is the saying “train as you fight”:
But the regiment long ago traded its M1s and Bradleys, first for Humvees and now for Strykers — hardly a Thunder-Run-style ride. And they were preparing for a counterinsurgency mission in southern Afghanistan rather than the clash of chariots with the 8th Guards Army.
The experience was a snapshot of an army in the throes of a real change of mission, not simply adapting to an unexpected contingency. And the biggest change of all may not be the shift from a service dominated by tankers to a service dominated by light, heliborne and airborne infantry, but a service dominated by medium-weight, mounted-but-not heavy forces and concepts of operations.
The old LAVs are also readily adaptable to the new information warfare, without the need of “reinventing the wheel”, as was the planned Future Combat Systems, mercifully killed by Defense Secretary Gates:
Stryker units have been the first to employ the suite of “Land Warrior” gizmo’s, and though the first iterations of this gear have been heavy and unwieldy, that will improve. Infantrymen are at last becoming equipped like fighter pilots, and considering that they are almost always the difference between defeat and victory, it’s about time.
We see in these small units, LAVs and Stryker’s the birth of a new era of warfare. While the tank has been with us for most of the last century, it has faced a continuous challenge from smaller weapons, man-portable or not, that threatened its survival, like guns, missiles, rockets, mortars, mines, and aerial bombs. We recall at Cambrai 1917, the first large scale use of tanks in warfare, yet mostly forgotten is the first use of anti-tank weapons and tactics in this battle, and also the future doom of mass armor which has been in urban warfare.
Though the track behemoths has mostly weathered these threats to its existence, the production of new vehicles has virtually ceased in the West, though older updated models will be around for some time. Hopefully, future strategists might grasp the logic, that with the enormous expense and vast resources devoted to keep the tank viable in a new era, maybe this same new infantry and light armor is enough for all our needs, without the extreme costs, and massive logistics burden which last-century heavy mechanized warfare brings with it.