The End of the Tank in Warfare

The End of the Tank in Warfare, by Tim Kirby. The US Marine Corps is getting rid of its tanks, because new technologies render them obsolete. Anther king of the battlefield is retiring, like knights and legions before them.

The cliché that we are always planning to fight our “father’s war” is proven to be true time and again over the course of history. The conservatively-minded well-trained generals of the Confederacy expected a purely Napoleonic campaign of musket and bayonet, and what they got was the dawn of industrialized war. The French were sure that WWI would involve volley fire and cavalry looking sharp in their bright red “pantaloons”. And, the U.S. entered Vietnam with the mindset and strategies of fighting the Axis powers, “if we just drop enough bombs, they’ll surrender for sure”. …

However, this restructure of the Marines could be the exception to the rule.

During the Iraq War(s) it became apparent that the U.S. with forces designed to fight a Cold War were perfect for crushing Saddam Hussein’s traditional army within days. Now holding the very same country during an insurgency with those forces, that is another story.

The Abrams which performed brilliantly against Iraq’s tanks became a sitting duck in tight urban environments where it could be hit and crippled by local yokels with primitive RPGs. Urban environments provide opportunities to strike a tank from angles that reduce the effectiveness of its armor. …

Essentially, big armored targets are not as useful for war in the 21st century, when the offensive weapons that can take them out are extremely cheap by comparison, and new generations of cheap(er) anti-tank weapons continue to be developed. …

The core of the decision to restructure seems to have come from wargames in 2018-2019. These exercises played out a proxy style conflict between the U.S. and other entities in the sands of the Middle-East. The Marine Times broke down the results of the wargames as follows…

But tanks and armored vehicles have had trouble surviving against the threat of precision strike and the plethora of drone and reconnaissance systems flooding conflict zones across the Middle East.”

They also presented experience from Turkey’s moves in Syria that support the theory that tanks are going out of fashion quickly…

“Turkey posted videos highlighting a mixed role of drones, Paladin artillery systems and aircraft pounding Syrian armor from the skies over the course of several days. The Syrian army appeared helpless to defend from the onslaught of long range systems. Even tanks camouflaged by buildings and bushes were no match for sensors and thermal imaging watching from the skies.”

These exercises probably were the nail in the coffin for the Abrams and a big motivation to buy more drones.

Lots of tank porn and some interesting commentary on US Marine tankers: