Thoughts on Modern Ground War
A couple articles concerning land combat which I wanted to comment on. First there is more good news for the tank, if you consider continued support for last century armor a good thing. Here is from Aviation Week is Paul McLeary on some RAND research that I consider incomplete:
A sharp, short new report from two researchers at RAND concludes that despite all of the attention that counterinsurgency has received over the past several years, and the scorn that has been placed on heavy armor units, heavy forces—meaning tanks and infantry fighting vehicles—”are key elements of any force that will fight hybrid enemies that have a modicum of training, discipline, organization, command and control, and advanced weapons (e.g., ATGMs, MANPADS, RPGs, mines, and IEDs). Light and medium forces complement heavy forces in hybrid warfare, 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.”
The paper by David E. Johnson and John Gordon IV, is part of a larger research project that assesses how armor has been used in recent counterinsurgency fights, and the implications this will have for “U.S. Army force mix and capabilities, as well as for the elements that support or operate with ground forces.” The duo spoke with the U.S. Marines, the Brits, the Danes, the Canadians and the Israelis for the project, and found that contrary to what one might think, counterinsurgent forces in Afghanistan actually love their tanks.
The last paragraph would seem to settle it. I mean, who else would know what they need in a live combat situation that the troops, right? Only please consider that except on some rare occasions there has been no one shooting at the tanks as happened in the 2006 Hezbollah War in Lebanon. Pointing to the use of armor in Gaza is further evidence that the post-Lebanon Israeli armor hasn’t been put to the test. The forces are still at risk, as I wrote in 2009:
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 didn’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, as Sieff ironically points out, is within low-threat environments such as Georgia and the Gaza Strip where the defenders were mostly unprepared for a full-scale blitzkrieg.
So we see the armor advocates (the Navy does the same with its aircraft carriers) justifying last century tactics against poor and ill-equipped, though still dedicated light forces. Yet, on the occasion armor must face modern hybrid armies equipped with advanced missiles, the tanks must become subservient to the infantry. I’d like to see this dependency become permanent, and save our cash strapped armies billions.
The Israeli tanks may be practiced up for the next go-round in Lebanon, but neither has Hezbollah been sitting on their laurels. This Strategypage report details how the terrorist group has been rearming and reequipping themselves with tens of thousands of new missiles, some of them very potent:
To counter that, Hezbollah is expected to have more of the Kornet E missiles next time around. This is a Russian laser guided missile with a range of 5,000 meters. The launcher has a thermal sight for use at night or in fog. The missile’s warhead can penetrate 1200 mm of armor, which means that the side armor of the Israeli Merkava tank would be vulnerable. The missile weighs 8.2 kg (18 pounds) and the launcher 19 kg (42 pounds). The system was introduced in 1994 and had been sold to Syria (who apparently passed them on to Hezbollah).
The Jews are planning new tactics for use against Hezbollah, and I think they are on the right track:
The Israelis apparently plan to hit the missile storage sites quickly, with smart bombs and fast moving infantry units traveling in armored vehicles.
Does that mean wheeled armor? If so, you wonder why bother with the slow and vulnerable tanks in the first place. The beauty of the LAV is its adaptability. If you are having IED trouble, then buy some V-shaped hulls off the shelf. Problems with missiles? Slap on some reactive or cage armor, which can be applied in the field. So I see wheeled vehicles dominating this future warfare because of the need for speed, maneuvering, and large numbers against missile equipped light infantry. For these factors they are nearly as survivable as the tracked vehicle, so there is no need to bother with the logistical challenges brought on by modern supertanks.
By all means, keep some tanks for these insurgency conflicts, but lets not burden the entire force with all-armor, or even mostly tank centered brigades. We can’t afford it and don’t need it. Concerning the troops here, they have previously said they love their Strykers and MRAPs, too!