Military bloggers are preoccupied with an existential question this
week: What role will tanks play in tomorrow's military? The U.S. Army's armor
branch, once a crucial tool of conventional warfare, has been slowly
scaled back in recent years as the U.S. engages in lighter, less
conventional wars. But is that a good thing? At hand is a two-part
question: How useful are tanks in asymmetrical, counterinsurgency
battles like those in Iraq and Afghanistan? And how important is it for
the U.S. to retain a large and well-trained tank division for possible
use in a conventional war? Here's the debate.
- Are We Still
Ready For Conventional War? Kicking off this round of the
long-running debate, Colonel Gian Gentile writes in Small
Wars Journal, "Over the last 9 years of doing irregular warfare we have
eviscerated the Armor Corps to the point of its extinction. ... But what
if the American Army has to fight somebody in the future beyond
insurgents laying IEDs and small arms ambushes that is usually handled
effectively by infantry platoons? What if a heavy Brigade Combat Team in
Iraq was told to pick up and head east and do a movement to contact
into a threatening country?"
- Tanks Do Help in Unconventional
Wars Foreign Policy's Tom Ricks notes, "one thing I
would add to his article is that armor has a clear morale value for
troops in a counterinsurgency campaign -- when they are in a bad fix,
there is nothing like hearing an M1 clanking around the corner to help
- The Israel Lesson: Hybrid Warfare RAND's David Johnson examines Israel's
defeat against Lebanon-based Hezbollah, which he credits in part to
Israel letting its tank training deteriorate as it focused on
low-intensity conflict with Hamas in the West Bank. Johnson calls the
Hezbollah conflict a "hybrid war" because it combined elements of
low-intensity conflict with conventional war. "The U.S. Army, focused as
it necessarily is on preparing soldiers and units for duty in Iraq and
Afghanistan, might be approaching a condition similar to that of the
Israelis before the 2006 Second Lebanon War: expert at
[counterinsurgency], but less prepared for sophisticated hybrid
- Don't Plan Around 'Hybrid Warfare' World
Politics Review's Judah Grunstein rolls
his eyes. "But how many paramilitary organizations worldwide
currently enjoy the kind of support, training and terrain advantages,
not to mention semi-state privileges, that Hezbollah does? Clearly,
Hamas did not. And I'm skeptical that enough will in the future to
warrant turning hybrid wars into a focus of training and preparedness.
For all sorts of reasons, Hezbollah seems more like a boundary-blurring
exception to the state vs. non-state actor continuum, rather than a
model that can be easily reproduced elsewhere. So while it makes sense
for the Israeli army to prepare for hybrid wars, I'm not sure Western
militaries need be that concerned."
- Weighing Different Threats
Military blogger Starbuck muses, "Truth be told,
there is reason for alarm in the deterioration of the tank force.
Although I would say that 'small wars'--insurgencies, peace enforcement,
peacekeeping, stability/support, humanitarian assistance, counter-terrorism,
border conflicts, etc--will probably dominate the US military's future,
'Black Swans' tends to make their way into the mix. As a wise man once
said, in the wake of his inability to see into the future, 'always in
motion, the future is'." He adds, " In a perfect world, the US military
would be prepared for every single threat" But, "it's no surprise that
we addressed counterinsurgency, as it's the highest priority right now."
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