Tuesday, June 28, 2005

A Brief History of Armor in Iraq

Once upon a time, in the period between the decisive American battlefield victory over Iraq in 1991 and the Iraq War of 2003, the dominant view of military reformers was that armor was obsolete and simply too heavy to get to a distant theater in time to harvest our victory.

Strykers were the answer. They were light, wheeled, and networked. They would show us how to fight and the experience would lead to a future combat system that will be light, lethal, and survivable.

Then the Abrams and Bradleys of 3rd ID stormed up and into Baghdad, setting a Middle East land-speed record, with the Iraqi army bouncing off their armor on the drive up. The value of armor had been shown and recognized. And the ability to have 19-ton survivable vehicles became a little questionable.

But then the heavy armor was called inappropriate once Baghdad fell. The calls went out to get the heavy armor out and put in lighter Humvees that are more mobile. Indeed, the call went to get our soldiers out of the body armor and kevlars and put on soft caps to patrol on foot.

But then the Iraqi Baathists started an insurgency and in time the cry went out that it was terrible that we didn't have armored Humvees in Iraq. As we put in every one we could find and set out to up-armor the rest, the cry went out that it was not fast enough.

So in time our Humvees were up-armored and the armor crisis was ended.

But then the enemy began using larger IEDs and even shaped-charge IEDs that burn right through the Humvee armor.

I assume the cry will soon go out that we never should have pulled out so much of our heavy armor, relying on inadequately armored Humvees. Perhaps we will put more heavy armor in Iraq in response to this. Or make sure that Humvees on patrols or escort duty are crewed with just a driver and a weapons operator to minimize the chances that vehicles will be totally detroyed with the loss of all aboard. And being alert is always more important than sitting oblivious in an armored vehicle, relying on passive defenses.

Such is war. We act. They react. We adjust. And it keeps on going like that because we are fighting a thinking enemy that wants to win, too. We need to think and not flail about in panic. Tactics are not strategy and casualties are not defeat.