Who Needs Armor Anymore?

Written by J Rawls

This coming March (2016) will be the final farewell of Charlie Company, 2nd Tanks, USMC. The ceremony will be a door closed in a long line of similar events. Charlie Company will be missed by the tanker community at large, but their contributions will not be forgotten.

Why the draw-down? Money.

Tanks cost a lot of money to maintain and operate, they always have, and the Marine Corps has always lacked funds. This fact of life is a solid part of their “adapt and overcome” mentality, and there is nothing wrong with being “Semper Gumby”, unless it adversely affects mission readiness that is. New mission directives and objectives will cause strategy to change; so the higher brass wants you to believe. Regardless of the new expeditionary views or the return to previous expeditionary ways, we know the actual cost of loosing these assets.

Sure, tanks are gas guzzling behemoths that require a ridiculous amount of fuel. And yes, we know their average short-lived field endurance equals about four hours of standard operating time, but that is 4 solid hours of pure mechanized hate. Don’t ask about fuel bladders to extend the time either; we aren’t going back down that road. Additionally, fuel consumption has always been an issue in war, and it always will be. However, the argument over cost should not be the crutch that withholds needed firepower.

Tanks enhance the dynamics of the combat environment, and so long as there’s fuel, can stay on-station with minimal resupply. No one who understands the decisive role armor plays in combat would exchange that asset for air support either. Yet it’s often those who don’t who use air assets as an argument to get rid of tanks. We need air forces, just as much as we need ground forces, and the simple fact is that the two simply aren’t interchangeable.

If I am a ground-pounder, and I am taking fire from a close target, I can’t just call in air for danger close all the time, it doesn’t always work that way. Urban combat has taught us that much. But, lo and behold, a tank arrives! 120mm main gun rounds tend to sway a close fight as they punch out walls and shake the ground. Granted, everyone will be leaving with less hearing, but nothing we use is quiet anyway, and you certainly won’t find an infantryman on the planet that says a friendly tank arriving in a firefight was never appreciated.

The availability of armored assets, coupled with speed and firepower, give the U.S. substantial battlefield dominance.  The argument of which tank is the best on the global scale will always continue, and so will terrain assessment issues with what we currently have.  But, what we have is what we have created, and manufacturability is a concern.  We are currently stuck in a loop of refurbishment for both the Corps and the Army as nothing so far has been found as a solid replacement for the Abrams tank.  Critics will always cite their three major issues against armor; maintenance cost, fuel consumption, and weight.  Yet armor brings to the battlefield three far more important aspects; survivability, firepower, and psychological operations (don’t forget that people are afraid of tanks).  The debate will never end until something new comes along to revolutionize warfare.  Until then, reduction in assets will cause gaps on the battlefield, impact mission readiness, and limit capabilities.

God speed Charlie Company; here is to crossing our fingers and hoping that history doesn’t repeat itself, like it always does.


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About the author

J Rawls

Jeremy Rawls is a former active duty Marine with two combat tours in Iraq. He was part of the invasion in 2003 and later returned for the take down of Fallujah. After leaving the Corps, he worked as a contractor for the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security with two contracts in Afghanistan. He is currently a freelance writer.