Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Abrams Will Be Obsolete One Day, But Today is Not That Day

Bob Scales has a point that existing weapons can't cripple the need to adapt our warfighting methods by chaining us to that sunk cost:

Let’s accommodate legacy weapons in our doctrine only if they fit. But be aware of the past. A mountain of excess Abrams tanks rusting in the Utah desert should not unduly influence how we prepare to fight tomorrow’s wars.

I agree. I even said that we shouldn't regret all the MRAPs rusting in a Utah desert after the war and worry about how to use them. They served their function of saving the lives of our troops who faced IEDs and the cost of that is well worth writing them off completely.

We do use some MRAPS when needed, of course. But we don't use them just because they exist.

Similarly, if the Abrams tanks are still useful, they should be used now rather than saved for a future method of warfighting that moves beyond them. We have a lot of them that aren't needed in the force structure or for loss replacement.

I think attaching Abrams battalions or Abrams/Bradley task forces (or perhaps just a company or team, if appropriate) to infantry brigades (infantry, airborne, air mobile, Stryker) would increase protected anti-tank power in a new world of preparing to fight peer and near-peer competitors.

That's what I wrote about in "Look to Abrams Tanks to Support the Infantry," Army Magazine, April 2018 (Arlington, Va.: The Association of the United States Army), pp. 42-45.

Not available online except for a journal subscription service that you may have access to.

Anyway, I'm open to the idea that the tank will soon be obsolete. Weapons change. Although it scares me that we might be starting FCS 2.0 when we don't have much time left to replace Abrams and Bradleys before they are obsolete even if their types (tanks and infantry fighting vehicles) are necessary.

But what, pray tell, has replaced tanks to provide lethal, well-protected, mobile systems? We've been hearing this prediction of tank obsolescence since 1973, yet the heavily armed and protected tank continues to be vital for combat operations.

And just because tanks can be killed doesn't mean they aren't necessary. Has the Abrams spoiled us about what to expect for an effective tank? Armies lost lots of tanks in World War II, yet as long as enough of the crews survived the destruction of their tanks, the tanks were replaced and the war continued.

One "problem" for evaluating the tank is that the closest thing we've had to great power armored warfare is in the Donbas region of Ukraine between Ukraine's Russian-designed weapons and Russia's weapons. But for years this has been a static war that doesn't tell us more than that artillery will shred unarmored or poorly armored units, and with recon that artillery--even with dumb rounds--is more lethal than ever.

American tanks were vital in Iraq from 2003 to 2008, against both conventional and irregular enemies, but can we take that experience and apply it to peer enemy armies?