Monday, March 24, 2008

Tanks, But No Tanks pt. 3

There seems to be a consensus in the Pentagon that once the Iraq Insurgency is over and the street by street fighting concluded, the massive influx of wheeled armored fighting vehicles will no longer be needed. My own view is that the new Strykers, MRAPs, and uparmored Humvees will come into their own in the post-war, post tank era.

To a great extent the tank has always been dependent on infantry for its celebrated succeses. Only against a very timid and untrained foe should armor ever operate without a defensive shield of foot soldiers to screen it from anti-tank weapons in the form of guided rockets or artillery. Such reckless actions have been common in history though, as with the British versus the Italians in winter of 1940/1941 and the Israelis versus the the Arabs in several conflicts.

When a determined infantry force decides to make a stand however, the results can often be devastating against unescorted armor. Proof of this can be gleamed from the cavalry-like charges in the Western Desert by the British 8th Army against the firesome German "88" cannon in World War 2, and later as General Montgomery attempted to break the Normandy stalemate and preserve his scarce ranks of foot soldiers. In such encounters, hundreds of English armor was lost, often in a single battle.

During the 1973 Yom Kippur War between Egypt and Israel, a similar fate befell the latter's armor when faced with the new antitank missiles supplied by the Soviets. Jewish over-confidence saw large groups of its previously invicnible chariots massacred by the much maligned Arab forces, without waiting for the essential infantry. More cautious tactics were restored barely in time, and not before the once unbeatable Israeli Army received a rude awakening.

The new wheeled tanks currently in action on the Iraqi and Afghanistan Fronts are the best of both worlds. They come with a minimum of armor protection, and make up for this perceived loss with high speeds and stealthy quietness. Best of all, they come with their own infantry, especially geared for vehicle protection but also with the ability to seize and hold territory. Unshackled from the excessive blast protection required in urban warfare, such vehicles might also utilize their enhanced performance and maneuverability to displace most roles currently performed by the increasingly heavier, vulnerable, and unaffordable Main Battle Tank. Still the blitzkrieg, only different.

These infantry fighting vehicles might be likened to the aircraft carrier which displaced the dreadnought battleship in the last world war. Though the parent vessel may appear flimsy and vulnerable to almost any attacker, her real worth was in the naval aircraft she carried , which created a new dawn in war at sea. So too are these new battle taxis whose infantry are its "fighters", which can defend their base while operating as the enforcer, hammer, and breakthrough weapon on the battlefield, armed as he is with his own portable precision weapons, wearing his own armor, and able to call down "fire from the sky" in the guise of unmanned or manned aircraft.