Small Wars Journal

4 Myths About Combat Vehicles, Debunked by Lt. Gen. McMaster

Thu, 11/03/2016 - 12:02pm

4 Myths About Combat Vehicles, Debunked by Lt. Gen. McMaster

David Vergun, Army News Service

WASHINGTON (Army News Service) -- It's a unique situation that the Army doesn't currently have a ground combat vehicle under development, said Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster Jr.

That hasn't happened since World War I.

"At current funding levels, the Bradley and Abrams will remain in the inventory for 50 to 70 more years," he said in his remarks as the keynote speaker Tuesday at a professional development forum for The Association of the United States Army's Institute of Land Warfare.

McMaster is the deputy director, Army Capabilities Integration Center and deputy commanding general for futures, Army Training and Doctrine Command.

The Army needs to make "clear and compelling arguments" for capabilities that advanced ground combat vehicles will bring to the fight with their effective mobile protective firepower, he said.

Unfortunately, it's sometimes difficult to make the case when there are myths that are still circulating out there, he commented, pointing to four persisting myths.


Existing platforms are already the best in the world and are sufficient for future conflicts.

McMaster swatted this myth down, noting that "our enemies, and even our friends and allies, have not remained static." Potential adversaries, notably the Russians, are integrating new technologies into their vehicles, he said.

Germany's Puma, an infantry fighting vehicle, has a superior suspension and lacks torsion bars. "That's something we might think about having," he said.

Sweden's Combat Vehicle 90, a tracked infantry fighting vehicle, and the United Kingdom's Ajax, a family of armored fighting vehicles, both feature technologies at a high-level state of maturity, he said.

Those vehicles contain high-tech components that are already integrated into the vehicles, "But we just can't fit them in our [own] tanks and Bradleys. You just can't put more stuff in there, it's so crowded," he explained.


The next war won't be fundamentally different from previous ones and will be resolved through long-range, stand-off capabilities.

On the contrary, enemy forces will not be passive targets for long-range weapons, McMaster said. Rather, they will take evasive actions to avoid targeting, evasive actions that will include dispersion, concealment, intermixing with civilian populations, deception and moving into restrictive terrain like forests, jungles and mountains.

Additionally, we can expect enemies to employ new technological counter-measures to stand-off weaponry, measures such as counter-satellite capabilities, sophisticated electronic warfare, and cyber-attack capabilities.

"It should be pointed out that [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] doesn't have a Navy or Air Force, and they were doing OK for a while," he said. "It wasn't until we had capable land forces developed in Iraq that we could close with and destroy the enemy."

Another example cited by McMaster was the recent Turkish offensive in Syria. "[ISIL] looked like an insurmountable problem until a combined-arms formation, equipped with combat vehicles, overmatched the enemy," he said.


Combat vehicles have a limited role in restricted environments and dense urban areas.

"That neglects our history," McMaster said. During tank battles in dense forests with sloping terrain during World War II, both the U.S. and the Germans used armored vehicles to support their infantries to great effect, he said.

In the early years of the Vietnam War, it was thought that the jungles were too dense to allow combat vehicles. But one of the first things the U.S. did there, he said, was call for armored vehicles to support infantry and mobile formations.

Those formations supported by armored vehicles were "the most flexible in Vietnam" and were key to winning a number of battles, McMaster said. More recently, armored vehicles were used in the very dense urban areas of Gaza City in the Gaza Strip and Sadr City, Iraq.

When it comes to enemy forces using civilian populations as shields, armored vehicles, "allow you to take more risk to get closer to that enemy … and to use precision firepower," he said.

Exactly 100 years ago, McMaster reminded his audience, the Germans were facing the allies across static trench lines and both sides were taking tremendous casualties.

That's what the battlefield could look like without mobile combat vehicles.


Combat vehicles are too expensive.

Expensive is a relative term, he pointed out, asking his audience: Are they too expensive compared to what? "An F-35, an F-22, a nuclear submarine?"

"This is an inexpensive capability that's vital to our national security when you compare it to the big-ticket procurements of the other services, he said.

"The Army is a cheap date," he said, when it comes to modernization dollars compared to the other services. "We are gravely underinvested in close-combat overmatch, gravely underinvested in land systems broadly, gravely underinvested in combat vehicles in particular."

But McMaster was careful not to minimize the capabilities of the other services, observing that in future conflicts all domains will be contested.

"We don't want to give the enemy just one problem to solve," he said. "Close combat overmatch becomes more and more important as all domains are challenged. But if you remain static for a long time [without effective ground combat vehicles], it's more likely that you will be targeted."