The History of Bad Armor, All Over Again...And Again!
ACORRECTEDHISTORYOF ARMOR “A page of history is worth a pound of logic.”--Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
1916: After heavy WWI casualties,the British Army led by Churchillbegins experimenting with trackedtanks in combat to break thedeadlock of the trenches. Wheeledarmored cars get stuck in mud.The U.S. Army is disinterested.Only private companies experimentwith tracked tanks in the U.S. November, 1917: British tanks go into action as part of a combined arms infantry, tanks, artillery, aircraft team at the battle of Cambrai. The tank is proven effective at break- Tanks: note no gun turrets! throughs and 2D mechanized mobile warfare is born.
Oops…..The U.S. is soon woefullybehind in tank technology.Belatedly, the U.S. showsinterest. Patton is ordered toestablish an U.S. Army tankschool at Langres, Francein late 1917. The first U.S. tank units go into combat on-board foreign FT17 Renault light tanks. U.S. produced tanks are not available until 1919 and are only copies of European armor.
The “War to End All Wars”ends in 1918. A short sightedand budget conscious Army staffdisbands the U.S. Tank Corps in 1920. 1922: The Tank Board is established to define the future role of tanks in the U.S. Army. The primary considerations in the decision-making process are cost and the ability to move the vehicles rapidly. Armor and armament are sacrificed for cost and weight. Tanks are largely considered “infantry support” weapons as they were used in WWI.
British Reformers Like B.H. Liddell-Hart,JFC Fuller and Percy Hobart create tankunits linked by radios to infiltrate throughenemy lines and collapse enemies with2D mechanized infiltration tactics to winbattles without costly trench warfare. TheAllies thinking war has been abolished ignorethem and party in the “Roaring” 1920s. The“party” is over in the ‘30s with the greateconomic depression. Unlike the victorious Allies, the Germans listen and act on their reform ideas as Hitler takes power and builds powerful panzer divisions. They add a 3D maneuver element with parachute and glider Airborne troops
1939: The Germans act on thepre-war reformers and achievedramatic successes with massedlight tank led combined-armsteams in Poland and France toinfiltrate then collapse enemyarmies by encirclements. Called“Blitzkrieg” or lightning war,their light tanks are fast,cross-country mobile, well armoredand have effective main gun systems. Oops….. Behind again, the U.S. begins to research better tank designs and massed armor tactics. As a result of poor planning and limited vision, the U.S. enters WWII with inferior tank designs.
The Americans without a battlefield functionfocused branch to oversee armored vehicledevelopment creates “mechanized cavalry”in wheeled scout cars to avoid enemycontact and report back enemy positions to“cherry pick” where tanks will be used.Tank destroyers with light armor protectionand open-tops would then destroy enemytanks. In North Africa, the German enemydoesn’t co-operate and drops mortars andartillery on the rubber-tired scout cars andopen-topped tank destroyers leaving burninghulks and dead Soldiers all over the KasserinePass. After many defeats in North Africa,mechanized cavalry units are given tracked lighttanks and Armor branch is born to work aroundCavalry branch. Cavalry branch which is alegitimate battlefield function is disbanded in1944. U.S. Army tank development drifts intotank vs. tank platform centricity under anill-defined “Armor” branch.
Oops…..U.S. light/medium tanks performsuperbly in the Pacific againstdug-in enemy infantry, WWI-style.However in Europe, they arewoefully outmatched when fightingenemy tanks. German tanks are in .. Too late to save crewstheir 2d and 3rd generations of of hundreds of mediumdevelopment and now on the Grants, Shermans anddefensive have switched to light Chaffees from faster,heavy designs to compensate for more heavily gunned andbeing out-numbered by Allied armored German tanks.mass-produced light/medium tanks.The U.S. will not have a heavy tankcomparable to the enemy untillate 1944….with the M26 Pershingwith 90mm main gun
By 1944, both the Axis and theAllies have developed hand heldshaped-charge anti-tank weaponsfor infantry. Most armored vehiclesfall easy prey to the new weapons.Pundits herald the end of tanksdue to the advent of cheap, 2.36” Bazookaeffective anti-tank weapons. Heavy armor on new heavy tanks can defeat hand held AT weapons. Thin-skinned vehicles are still easy targets for AT weapons so tanks get progressively heavier and heavier to lead 2D maneuvers in the Cold War period after Tiger 1 heavy tank WWII.
Just like after WWI, after M4E8 “Easy Eight” Medium tankWWII, the U.S. neglectstank design. The U.S. failsto build large numbers ofimproved design tanks thinkingaircraft bombing with nuclearweapons have madeconventional groundwars obsolete. Uh-oh….. The “backwards” Soviets “don’t get the memo” on ground wars and continue to mass-produce tanks and develop further improvements in tank technology.
Oops…..As a result, the U.S. enters thewar in Korea without any tanks!In desperation, WWII M4 Shermanmedium tanks on static display arepressed into service. Our lighterM24 Chaffee tanks are inferior to the M24T34/85 medium tanks of the enemy.For the third time in the century,the U.S. Army sends Soldiers todie in a foreign land with inferiorequipment because of the falseview that tracked armored vehicleshad out-lived their usefulness T34/85and were “too expensive”.
After WWII, the French decidedthey needed a new light,air-transportable tank for theircolonial wars after getting good Oops…..results from M24 Chaffees as AMX-13s are successfulinfantry fire support vehicles in in the Arab-Israeli wars ofVietnam. The AMX-13 would use the ‘50s and ‘60s used byspeed, mobility and firepower to the allies and the Israelis.compensate for lighter armor. The design is a successThe AMX-13 is well-engineered, and is in use still todaymass produced and exported with 105mm guns.around the world. However, the U.S. Army Airborne neglects to buy AMX-13s and use M113 Gavin APCs to create a 3D maneuver force like the Russians do.
The Soviets and NATO developwire guided anti-missiles(ATGMs) and rocket propelledgrenades (RPGs) for use byinfantry. Pundits again heraldthe end of tanks. It is widely anderroneously reported that Oops…..missiles out performed tanks in The Russian Airborne with light tanks is ready to fly in to save thethe 1973 Yom- Kippur War. Egyptian Army, but the AmericanDespite early tank losses, the 82nd Airborne with only a few M551IDF reorganizes into infantry-led Sheridan light tanks would be foot-combined-arms teams to clear mobile in the searing desert if theyout enemy ATGMs/RPGs. parachute in to save Israel. Fortunately, Israeli losses are comparatively light and most missile damaged tanks return to action. Journalists ignore the impressive tank kill ratio Israel enjoyed over the Arabs, almost exclusively by main gun fire.
The Soviet Union with a long history of light tank designs develops lightweight, versatile, amphibious, air-mobile light tanks like the PT-76, ASU-57, ASU-85, the BMD and BMP family of vehicles which are successful inVietnam, Chechloslavakia, Pakistan, Somalia and Afghanistan. In the ‘60s,‘70s and early ‘80s it looks like the entire world will be over-run by thecommunists.Oops…..The Russians continue to improve their light tanks so that today’s BMD-3s and BMP-3s have powerful 100mm guns with 30mm autocannon andmedium machine gun armaments while able to carry an infantry squadunder armor. Others have 125mm guns. With waterjets they can swimfrom ship-to-shore in the ocean. Meanwhile, the U.S. Army fails to addturret weapons to its M113 Gavins, retires its M551 Sheridans and stopstraining to swim across lakes/rivers to effect rapid 2D maneuvers like itdid in Vietnam, obsessed with heavy tank vs. tank combat, the U.S.adopts medium M2 Bradley and M1 Abrams heavy tanks that cannot swimand are difficult to fly into action and ignores 3D warfare needs
Russian Air-Mechanized Operations with light tanks ASU-57 BMD ASU-85 Fixed-wing airdrop il-76 Fixed-wing airland Mi-26 Rotary-wing airland World’s First Helicopter 3D Air-Mech Operation, 1978 Combat: Czechoslovakia, East Africa, Afghanistan, Chechnya
Oops…..By the ‘70s, as the Cold Warsimmers, the West has no tanksthat can match the latestSoviet light, medium and heavytanks. And the tanks it does haveare fewer in quantity. NATO bickers and wastes money on the abortive MBT-70 heavy tank with kneeling track suspension. The Russians already field BMDs with kneeling suspensions for parachute air delivery. Not until the early ‘80s with the deployment of the M1 Abrams does the West somewhat match Soviet tank technology.
U.S. Air-Mechanized OperationsThe Good... Panama, 1989 First combat airdrop in history! M551 Sheridan light tanksM113 Gavin Mech-Infantry U.S. Army Air-Mechanized 3D Operations
British Air-Mechanized 3D Operations CH-47 BV-206 C-130British beat U.S.Army into Kosovo in1999 by usinghelicopters tofly in light tracked Scimitar light tankAFVs; though U.S. hasboth 7-ton Bv206s and Land Rover 4x410.5 ton M113 Gavinsthat can fly by helicopter!
Iraq 1, 1990-91: After victory inPanama, the U.S. leads coalitionforces against Iraq. The M113Gavins, M2/M3 Bradleys and M1Abrams are the masters of the 2Dbattlefield. M1s destroy Iraqi armoron-the-move with laser aiming beforethe Russian made Iraqi stop-to-shootoptics can even acquire the U.S.tanks. Large tank battles aresuccessful. Though the 82d Airbornehas 56 M551 Sheridans and a few The Bad... Yet, less than three years later, forM113 Gavins, this is not considered the 4th time in the century, Armya large enough 3D air-mech Soldiers are sent into battle withmaneuver element to cut the enemy inferior equipment. Light forces go tooff; large parts of the Iraqi Somalia in wheeled trucks withoutRepublican Guard escape. any armor support. A group of Rangers and Delta Force Soldiers are cut off and have to be rescued by Pakistanis with U.S. made M48 medium tanks and M113 Gavin light tracked armored fighting vehicles.
In 1999, GEN. Eric Shinseki, Chief ofStaff of the U.S. Army, describes his “vision”of the future. This homogenized, medium-sized units-only, future requires ONLY alightly armored, infantry force in vulnerablewheeled vehicles. Tracked tanks would bereplaced by wheeled LAV type armored carswith computers to mentally avoid trouble tohopefully compensate for reduced armorprotection by ”cherry-picking” when andwhere the dismounted infantry fights.Superior levels of physical protection,firepower and go-anywhere mobility are notneeded. The Army declares that the 2D/3Dmaneuver wars that tracked the AFVs were The Ugly...designed to fight will “never occur” again.General, we have made this mistake before… “History informs us of past mistakes from which we can learn without repeating them. “ --Judge William Hastie (1904 - 1976)
In 2003, the U.S. Army has to invade Iraq again and thetracked force that was allegedly “legacy” saves the dayand reaches Baghdad to collapse the enemy center ofgravity when marines-in-trucks get stopped by enemyRPGs and land mines despite “shock and awe” airstrikeswith “precision” computer guided bombs.However, DoD and the Army thinks the war is over because M113 Gavinthe Iraqi nation-state army is defeated by their WWII-styleblitzkrieg. This is actually 3rd generation warfare, but warsare caused by PEOPLE and machines are just tools, weforget that people can fight without belonging to a nation-state army if our political end-state hasn’t taken over; thisis 4th generation warfare. Because the U.S. Army Airbornehasn’t fully developed air-mech 3D maneuver withupgraded M113 Gavin APCs and M8 Buford AGS lighttanks to quickly parachute in and capture/kill enemy M8 Buford AGSleaders in conjunction with 2D maneuvers, we slowlyairland in M1s, M2s and M113s into North Iraq. SaddamHussein and others escape Baghdad and start a guerrillawar. 500dead and 10,000 wounded Americans later, we finally
Oops…..Moreover, the costly $1 billion 300-Stryker armored car brigadesShinseki wants are not ready or will ever be in quantity for thelarge-scale occupations of countries like Iraq. Without the 100 divisions ofWWII, the enemy is all around and can attack in any direction at any time;a Non-Linear Battlefield (NLB) where no place is safe for wheeled vehiclesto operate. The Army has to move its Soldiers around in vulnerableHMMWV and other wheeled trucks to try to maintain nation-state orderon the 4th generation warfare battlefield where the center of gravity is theloyalty of the people not just defeating an enemy nation-state army.Casualties mount as enemy road-side bombs easily explode the vulnerablewheeled vehicles despite computer “situational awareness”.The enemy does not let us “cherry pick” BBQ HMMWVwhen and where battle will occur. It’s theWWII scout car debacle all over again.And the 5th war where U.S. troops havebeen sent into battle with inferior gear. M113 LAV3 Gavin Stryker
The U.S. Army without a Cavalry Branch to developlight tracked AFVs does not have an effective 3Dair-mech maneuver force to compliment its 2Dmaneuver forces. The 19-24 ton Stryker armored caris too heavy to fly by helicopters or fixed wing C-130aircraft let alone parachute airdrop. Army leadershipin love with the idea of using computers to cherrypick where and when it fights over mythical linearbattlefields that do not exist, think they can skimp onphysical armor protection by using rubber-tired wheeled vehicles and save money.Meanwhile, as their Soldiers are getting killed and maimed by enemy road-sidebombs and RPGs on the NLB, the enemy resistance grows as the people seethat America cannot maintain order and protect them. Army officials full of technohubris that blinds them to the tracked armored vehicles that work ignore thethousands of M113 Gavin light tracked AFVs sitting in storage that could bequickly and inexpensively upgraded to be fully bomb and RPG resistant to moveEVERY Soldier in the Army under superior armor protection and mobility on thelethal NLB. We could have had a fully light tracked, under full armor protectionU.S. Army ready for Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 had we upgraded thethousands of M113 Gavins we have instead of buying handfuls of inferior,expensive Canadian-made Stryker armored cars. We can and still should do this,but judging from Army past history, the only thing that makes the unprofessionallyorganized and led U.S. Army change is obvious failures and lots of preventabledeaths that compels the civilian Congress to act.