Small Wars Journal

The Death of the Armor Corps

Sat, 04/17/2010 - 8:59am
The Death of the Armor Corps

by Colonel Gian P. Gentile

Download the full article: The Death of the Armor Corps

The Armor Corps in the American Army is gone, it is no more.

The Army has become decidedly infantry centric. This wouldn't be so bad if it was a fighting kind of infantry centered army. But instead it is an infantry centric Army grounded in the principles of population centric counterinsurgency and Rupert Smith's view of war in the future as "wars amongst the people."

To be sure the American Army will be told to do lots of things from winning hearts and minds in the Hindu Kush, to passing out humanitarian relief in the troubled spots around the world, to nation building in Iraq. But first and foremost it must be an Army grounded in combined arms competencies. This must come first, and not second or third after fuzzy concepts as "whole of government approach" and building emotional relationships with local populations. The latter may of course be important, depending on the mission, but those kinds of competencies must be premised on combined arms and not the other way around.

Download the full article: The Death of the Armor Corps

The author is a serving Army Colonel. The views in this article are his own and not those of the Department of Defense.

About the Author(s)

Award-winning historian, associate professor of history, and director of the military history program at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Author of How Effective is Strategic Bombing? Lessons Learned from World War II to Kosovo. A serving Army Colonel, commanded a combat battalion in West Baghdad in 2006. Currently working on a study on four sets of generals in counterinsurgency as a visiting fellow at the Council for Foreign Relations.


I’ll echo what several folks have commented thus far – I think it’s a little premature (in 2010) to declare the death of the Armor Corps, and I think we’re holding our own just fine now. COL Gentile’s article does highlight some very cogent concerns regarding the emphasis on COIN and the supposed atrophy of combined arms competencies this triggered. The larger concern, in my opinion, and as others have accurately commented already, is that we have challenges to overcome in terms of opportunities for battalion and brigade command. That’s a separate discussion, so back to topic: we are unpracticed, still, at some basic MOS specific skills. COL Gentile is correct here and was when he authored the article. Clearly, though, there are efforts afoot to rectify this. The recent publication of ADP 3-0 Unified Land Operations addresses, directly, the possibility of hybrid threats on our future battlefields by re-emphasizing the necessity of combined arms maneuver and wide area security. CTC rotations have been given the unflattering but accurate moniker, DATE (Decisive Action Training Exercise) to reinforce the notion that a unit must maintain the know-how to execute Offense, Defense, and Stability operations all under one umbrella experience. Senior leaders are acknowledging a need to find time in our training schedules for some of our more high-intensity conflict oriented skills. Reference MG Michael S. Tucker’s article in Military Review, “Maintaining the Combat Edge.” It’s apparent to me that the pendulum is swinging away from COIN – and this is ok to some extent, but let’s hope it doesn’t go too far in the other direction.
My experience since 2003 has been that armor and infantry are finding a heretofore unacknowledged dependence on one another that was previously clouded by branch parochialism and the confines of our force structure in the years before OIF. Conducting a JRTC rotation in September of 2000 as the heavy company attached to a light infantry brigade was an eye-opening experience for all involved. Despite all the stereotypical growing pains <insert joke here about the support platoon bringing 5-gal fuel cans to the tank platoon’s LOGPAC>, the combined effort in mission execution made the brigade, as a whole, a more lethal and successful organization during the exercise. As we parted ways and returned to our segregated motorpools and battalion areas, most officers that I interacted with from both branches left asking themselves, “why don’t we train and fight like this all the time?” Why were two organizations in the same Army seeing each other as if they just had a close encounter of the third kind? The irony of our company’s inclusion in this particular rotation was that we were there to see if our new digital equipment “spoke” to the infantry set like it was supposed to as they tested theirs. It had nothing to do with training heavy/light integration. Since our endeavors in Iraq, at the lowest tactical level, and with frequency far beyond the odd training event described above, armor and infantry are fighting and maneuvering side by side in instances that this conflict has demanded and I’m not so sure our pre-conflict training glide paths would have mandated. Additionally, RTK, below, outlined several instances where armor was critical to mission success – specifically, 1/1AD in Ramadi in 2006 and I would add 2008’s concrete wall construction across Sadr City to the list (see the RAND Corp’s Occasional Paper: The 2008 Battle of Sadr City). If there were no armor on-hand, these missions may still have been accomplished, but at a casualty rate 10 times what it was. Additionally, these case studies, I think, have reinforced the need for heavy forces in irregular warfare rather than marginalize them. Read David E. Johnson’s “Heavy Armor in the Future Security Environment” and other Arroyo Center studies on this topic. The armor force remains relevant, albeit not in the form and formations that existed before, and this latter point is causing many to lose sight of the bigger picture. Our marriage to the infantry branch at Fort Benning has only increased our opportunities and put us side by side as we should have been all along because, get this… that’s how we fight.
That either Iraq or Afghanistan were “infantry conflicts” is a naïve, simplistic view of the situation. Especially in the case of the latter, the Soviets made wide use of armor during their experience and the US’s lack of its employment is a function of cost and indigenous infrastructure more so than confines of terrain or not needing the capability. True, cost and infrastructure remain shortfalls of the Abrams – it is expensive to operate and heavier than most bridges, roads, rails, etc. outside the US and Europe are rated (which feeds back into the first problem: it becomes expensive just to get the thing into theater.) Yes, counterinsurgencies are won with ground combat forces in sufficient number who have to be in tune with the population and therefore operating in a manner that allows that key person-to-person interaction. But, armor is part of this equation and an absolute combat multiplier when the situation calls for capability at the more lethal end of the spectrum. And, let’s be honest, the average rifle platoon in Afghanistan weighs in at 50 tons with the advent of MRAPs and other armored ground tactical vehicles. And why should this be considered bad? They offer an amount of survivability far beyond a mere SAPI plate.
Two things are true about our future battlefields that will always necessitate the use of armor – maybe not always the M1-series MBT (but probably until 2040), but something with a commensurate amount of protection. 1) The days of Stalingrad-like annihilation of even a place as small as a village are over. People matter. People tend to live in urban areas, and that means our combined arms forces will need to operate effectively in built up terrain. 2) There are few, if any, nations that can overmatch our Army’s size, equipment, or technology and if they can, rarely do they get all three together. Therefore, the way an adversary can attempt to gain a slight edge is through surprise. Ambush/hit-and-run tactics will remain a prevailing recipe to attempt to deliver an initial, devastating blow – knowing that in each minute after the first engagement, we can eventually bring to bear an overpowering and deadly mix of air and ground capabilities. Given these two themes, the nature of enemy contact will continue to be sudden and point blank. (Not 100% of the time, but often.) How do you survive that type of engagement? In an armored vehicle.
So the challenge is a training problem, not a struggle for self-preservation. I have faith that our future leaders, having grown up in combined arms organizations – be they organic or task-organized as such while deployed – and who have continuously operated in challenging environments, are up to the task.


Thu, 10/25/2012 - 3:03am

Well it's been over two years since the first comment. We are out of Iraq (for now). How has the rejuvination of maneuver warfare going? I'm retired and things surely have changed. My background is an air assault/mech infantry officer that also went to the Armor officer advanced course and both the Bradley and M1 courses. So I'm conversant.

Here are my concerns as the Army searches for the right focus and as an outsider I think that's what it's doing. Seems the latest rotations through the training centers work on skills from high intensity to COIN from austere forward locations. I'm skeptical that a unit can maintain proficiency on all those tasks along with all the "mandatory" training out there.

Organic combined arms battalions always concerned me for similar reasons. Sure makes sense to fight that way but training all those skill in one BN has to be tough. Infantry and armor skills are varied and just running gunnery for both Bradleys and M1s in the same battalions seems like its asking alot from one staff.

Finally how has the conglomeration of infantry and armor in the advanced NCO and officer courses come? Again, seems like a tremendous amount of material for one person to be an expert in and if we are having advanced maneuver courses vs. armor and infantry why are we maintaining branch identity at that level. It's the same course right?

Seems the Army can't make up its mind and as it tries to rejuvinate some of the skills that have waned from individual to BDE I'm concerned that a lot may be lost in the mix. Look forward to reading from the new breed's experiences...

Gary Reynolds (not verified)

Tue, 05/03/2011 - 7:39am

Whether you agree with the author or not, the UK seems to agree with him as entire tank divisions have been scrapped recently - we usually seen to follow the US in military doctrine so this was only to be expected - we have just lost our last carrier also so it's not just the army guys who are hurting.

anonymous (not verified)

Mon, 12/20/2010 - 8:20am

I am picking up on this argument late, but I think there may be a few things that are being overlooked. First, I would like to give a little background on myself, not to accredit my comments but to give an overview of my experience thus far. I am an armor officer that has spent the propensity of my time in the Army in cavalry organizations. I have a total of 38 months deployment time (all in Iraq). I have served as a tank platoon leader in Al Anbar, an executive officer and staff officer in Southern Baghdad and Tal Afar, and finally as a troop commander in Baghdad. I do not agree that the Armor Corps is dying for the following reasons:

1. Several of the people in this discussion have eluded to multiple "heavy" units that have drastically affected both the current conflicts we are working through and emerging doctrine i.e. 3ACR, 1AD, 1st CAV etc., while not necessarily being the best at our core competencies (and who really is these days) we are still providing decisive results in the current conflict and continue to evolve and contribute to the Army as a whole. We are not stuck in the tank on tank fight, or the traditional reconnaissance push v/s pull mentality.
2. The majority of "COIN Operations" as outlined by current doctrine are largely reconnaissance focused operations (population centric). The Armor Corps has always had the cavalry which is a reconnaissance focused organization. This being said Armor leaders have to understand the basic principles of reconnaissance and apply them to the environment that we are given i.e. human based reconnaissance versus terrain based reconnaissance. The principles do not change, just the reconnaissance objective.
3. As far as tanks go, they are by far not obsolete or in the throes of stage 4 cancer. Each unit I have been a part of has put due training focus on the necessary gunnery and maneuver skills to allow crews to utilize their assigned combat platforms. This gives armor units the unique ability to end kinetic fights very quickly through either shear intimidation or through precision fires, and in my experience that is precisely what has happened. As for leaving the tanks and BFVs at home station there will always be situations where the terrain and the threat dictate that is what we do (this doesnt matter whether you are armor or infantry).
4. Armor leaders tend to think with the breadth and depth that is required in the current operating environment. This is not because we are any better than anyone else, it is just based on the nature of operations that we are taught to conduct. Generally, we are required to make larger scale and more detailed plans based on physical terrain we can cover and logistical requirements. By nature we consider combined arms maneuver because we are historically put into situations where we have to work on our own with limited support. This is not just in the case of the days of the "Fulda Gap" but also today as we work from remote locations such as combat outposts. Additionally, armor leaders can more readily grasp the idea of a campaign plan designed along specific lines of effort and driven by a detailed targeting process with input from reconnaissance operations. In many cases it comes down to the size of the battlefield you are responsible for and this will not change in the Armor community anytime in the near future.

There are however three concerns that the branch, and the Army must overcome to be a viable force in the future in my opinion. First, there is a generation gap that has developed in the modern military between those with combat experience and those without. As our wars drag on this gap is closing, but opinions and good ideas are rampant and causing confusion. This results in soldiers and leaders in both the Armor and Infantry communities experiencing atrophy in critical basic and combined arms skills because of an overall lack of focus. We have often seen units attempt to train on both high intensity operations and COIN operations and ultimately train very little on any one task, effectively being a master of nothing. We as an Army have focused more on TTPs versus actual doctrine which causes units and leaders to "buy in" to the best practices rather than understanding the doctrine and training on the basic skills which are still vital and successful. This naturally causes branches that are specific, such as Armor, to have an identity crisis, when in actuality we are all doing the same thing to preserve our nations strategic interests and way of life.

Force modularity however does concern me over the branchs future. Armor and Cavalry units under the current model are not resourced either through manpower or equipment to conduct doctrinal missions required of them. For example, given task organization the ARS or the RISTA could effectively screen (with appropriate attachments) but not guard or cover, yet we are phasing out the ACR which was historically the only unit in the Army that could effectively do all three missions with little augmentation. It can be argued that this is an ancient task that will never be conducted again, but based on the hybrid threat there will be the need for high intensity operations (though short duration) which begs the idea that these missions can still be viable. If our current doctrine recognizes these as missions that must be conducted then why doesnt the force structure match the doctrine?

My final concern is not atrophy in combined arms skills but a loss of senior leadership voice for the Armor community. Do not mis-understand me, I am not accusing the senior leadership in the community of not doing everything they can to preserve the branch or making sound decisions, but we seem to be slowly edged out at the senior levels. The fusion of Armor and Infantry has been a root cause of this. While an actual good idea to pursue combined arms doctrine it has become detrimental to the senior level in my opinion. The amount of senior positions for Armor officers is quickly diminishing based on key positions that used to be 19 series slots now being open to 11 series officers as well, yet there are many more 11 series slots that have remained 11 series slots causing a decrease in Armor generals, brigade commanders, and battalion commanders overall. I may be wrong in making this statement since I have not conducted research or analysis over time, but I have noticed a decrease in Armor senior leaders over the last few command selection lists. If this continues the community will lack a voice at the senior level which can preserve the branchs interests and future.

The above comments are strictly my opinions and observations. I am not a SAMS graduate, FAO, or professor, but this is just the way I see things from my current battle position. I may be off the mark and I do understand that opinions are like... ..and that everyone has them.

Aces6 (not verified)

Tue, 08/03/2010 - 2:51pm

I think the more fundamental question is what the doctrine of the Army will be come following Iraq and Afghanistan. Will we become a COIN force focused on nation building while attempting to maintain some semblance of MCO ability? The Army has changed at a fundamental level by changing organizations and doctrine to meet the current threat. Will we continue that change beween wars and make the mistake that all wars will look like the last. In every armed conflict, reconnaissance has been key and as long as someone else can field tanks, we must have the abilty to do the same.

GI Zhou (not verified)

Sat, 06/05/2010 - 3:45am

Reminds me of the old recruiting campaign for the Australian Army that had the punchline of 'I'm a soldier'. One Armoured Regiment's retort was 'I'm not a soldier. We run over soldiers'.

JACK MUNDSTOCK (not verified)

Fri, 06/04/2010 - 1:49pm

COL Gentile bases his commennts on a false premise, that the Army of today will be the Army of tomorrow. I grew up in the Fulda Gap Army as a Light infantryman. I was referred to as a "speed bump". Airborne, walking infantry was an anachronism that time had passed by. Heavy would be with us forever more.

Times change, the world chamnges. We will need Armor again. The problem is that we don't need them today, just as we don't need nuclear weapons today.

Remain calm, this too shall pass.

LTC Mandes (not verified)

Mon, 05/03/2010 - 9:36am

I am not a SAMs, Army War College, or NDU graduate so I am probably not qualified to answer but here goes. I do however have experience in these matters.

The SECDEF has stated that "we need to fight/win the wars we're in" so I
would agree with his efforts to: 1. procure and field the MRAPs and
"forcefeed" them to the units...the bureaucratic footdragging at the Pentagon was shameful and a mini scandal......2. expand the Army 3. move more RW assets to Afghanistan 4.make the AF RW do MEDEVACs 5. And support the training of indigenous Armies and Police forces. So taking the SECDEF priorities at face value why do we need an entire Airborne Division if the last mass TAC was in Panama,1989 ? It is also ironic that the more innovative Commanders in Iraq before "the"surge" and
COIN became a recognized acronym were COL McMaster in Tal Afar and COL McFarland in Anbar; both Armor/Cavalry Officers.
We are currently fighting wars of insurgency (Asymmetrical, Irregular, COIN) vice a war of maneuver (MCO, HIC, Full Spectrum Ops) (LTG(R) VanRiper)...the nature and characteristics of which are markedly different.
My understanding of our "step brothers" in the USMC is they always have
embraced the Combined Arms concept with their MAGTF (Marine Air Ground Task Force) and want their artilleryman to be proficient at shooting155mm HE/DPICM and have used tanks, LAVs, and combat engineers with"farm implements" in Helmand province, Afghanistan....while SUPPORTING COIN OPERATIONS

The closest thing the Army has to a MAGTF is the old Armored Cavalry
Regiment (although with less infantryman)....Has everything: RW, tanks,
Scouts, artillery, engineers, MI...etc...Going to the modular BCTs I thought made us leaner but still lethal and look more like a USMC RCT

But we in the Army lurch from one gimmick to the next...Pentomic Army,
Airland Battle, Stability and Support, Remember Digitization in the 90s?,
Full Spectrum Ops, now COIN. .. I guess the question is what is the threat? If the Threat is Iran, PLA, or North Korea with a modern Combined Arms Army then maybe we are making a big mistake by not embracing the combined arms fight. Iran with Hezbollah (which has more Katyusha rockets than some nation-states)as its proxy has developed the capability to fight the "hybrid" war.... a robust conventional Combined Arms Force with a subordinate insurgent/terrorist arm that is population centric and
subversive in nature ...which is what the OPFOR did at the NTC back in the 90s.

Vo Nguyen Giap embraced phases of warfare that he transitioned to based on conditions i.e. insurgency, then battalion level operations, to large scale
conventional/ MCOs with combined arms operations.

1) Stage on Contention (predominantly organization and guerrilla warfare).
2) Period of Equilibrium (complex mix of guerrilla and mobile warfare).
3) Stage of Counteroffensive (mobile warfare with conventional forces
including some positional warfare in late stages)

I always remind people that it was an NVA tank that crashed through the
Gates of the Presidential palace in Saigon in 1975 and not a guerilla with
sandals and an AK-47. That said having our Company Grade Officers sit crosslegged on a carpet, drinking tea and building " trusting relationships" or engaged in training the National Police, Customs, and Border Police because the State Department and our Allies are incapable or do not want to do it is probably not the best use of our young Warriors. But I guess we have to do it.

I just think of the British, French, and Dutch militaries administering
their colonies and fighting "small wars" (as we did in the Philippines
circa 1900s and in the Caribbean/USMC Small Wars) in the post WW I years while the Japanese and Germans built their forces and studied the nature of naval and land warfare and planned campaigns to achieve national objectives (France -Plan Yellow/"Sickle stroke" ; the Japanese conquest of the Dutch East Indies, French Indochina, British Malaya). We all know what happened after that period.

We have to be able to do both..and probably need more manpower.

Scott Shaw (not verified)

Sat, 05/01/2010 - 4:26pm

I want to address the article directly and then some comments in that order. I write this post as a field grade staff officer in 1st BCT, 1st Cavalry Division (Ironhorse) on Ft Hood.

COL Gentile is correct in his warning of the decline in the skills of our heavy force. It's not just the Armor Corps, but also the infantry that it supports (or is supported by), the tracked artillery, the combat engineer, the ability to C2 on the move, and sustainer/maintainer that could set up ROM sites or move forward in a fight and pull downed vehicles back.

Having said that, I do think that his assessment is a little premature. We have been in the one year turn deployment cycle for the past seven years and that means that our junior NCOs and officers to the rank of captain have done little to maintain what they learned in the training base. However, our field grade officers including those in brigade command and our senior NCOs in the ranks of SFC and above still have the skill set to drag along, however painful it may be, the junior heavy force back into balance. The wisest statement that I have heard recently is that at the end of the day, we are judged by how we can function at the high end of combat. That is what will allow Americans to maintain our way of life - what we are doing in Afghanistan and Iraq is important too, but if we fail to carry Teddy Roosevelts big stick, then our allies wont be our allies for long. We have the know-how right now in the force to do missions that we are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan, so to come back into balance, we need to do some higher intensity conflict training and using our MTOE vehicles. So, sir, while I applaud you for being the guy who continues to remind us of our need to maintain competencies and hope that you continue, I do think that its a little premature.

Now on to hope for the heavy force. I am in a BCT that has been given, for now, a longer dwell time. We are using it to re-balance the BCT. This BCT has done three tours in Baghdad - Sadr City OIF II, Taji/Tarmiyah/Abu Ghraib 06-08, and Rusafa/Taji 09-10. We have a lack of master gunners, junior NCOs that can gun/maintain a BFV/tank, and battlestaffs that think that a pair of Apaches is a lot. On Thursday, my fellow planner and I sat with the S3 and brigade commander and laid out our ARFORGEN cycle and the training that we thought would get us ready for a Full Spectrum Operations rotation at a CTC followed by worldwide deployability as a Heavy BCT. His guidance was (dont want to use quotes since I took the guidance in my green notebook bullet style and dont want to misquote) 1. No multi-platform gunnery. Tankers do gunnery on tanks and infantrymen do gunnery on BFVs. 2. We use digital systems to do maintenance. 3. We train as an HBCT. 4. If we get a mission set, then well train against it, but for now we stay away from COIN tasks. (The culture, language, engagements type training) 5. We train lethal platoons capable of independent operations that can rapidly assemble as a company. 6. We do walk and shoot (indirect fire control exercise) mounted. 7. We do sustainment without returning to the BCT footprint. 8. Fire supporters are trained by the FA battalion to ensure that they learn/maintain their HIC skills. Theres much more, but I wanted to write the things that I thought were significant.

I hope that keeps some of you off the ledge.

I spent time @ Ft Sill 2005-2007 and saw first-hand what happens when a branch thinks that it is becoming irrelevant. Ryan Krancs points are enough for me, most people in the Army, and good for those that go to the Hill to take as talking points. (Kranc, I am not suggesting that you should be that guy, so if you get the job, dont blame me.) Armor Corps, please dont think that you are irrelevant and this is coming from a guy whos been light (25th ID and 10th Mountain) most of the time.

As a final point for COL Gentile, we had an OPD yesterday (Friday, 30 April) at Ft Hood (where the Heavy Force is alive and well - and not just comprised of 3rd ACR) with GEN Dempsey (the Commander of Army Training and Doctrine Command for those who dont know). While I dont want to speak for him, it wasnt announced as non-attributional. He countered the words of the "American Army General" that COL Gentile wrote about by recounting his remarks to a group of cadets at the Marshall Center at VMI - he told them to 1. Master their weapon systems, 2. Be an expert on land operations, and 3. Get your NCO relationships right (I was scrawling on the same green notebook in a very crowded Howze Theater, so I recount what is scrawled) I think that the TRADOC Commanders guidance refines what the anonymous general said and would give that advice to young officers (and I will) when asked.

Ironhorse and First Team!


Ben (not verified)

Thu, 04/29/2010 - 3:43pm

Having a different set of viewpoints based on your experiences is par for the course. As a Tank Platoon Leader, a Advisor in Afghanistan and a Mechanized Infantry Company commander, my views on the "death" of Armor show that it is probably well heralded and rather premature. I would guess that it looks good as a headline, but it is more of a case of seeing how much of a academically explosive headline you can get away with...
Anecdotally, I myself have only shot 2 tank gunneries and that in and of itself would be a horrible travesty only 10 years ago. But what is that direct skill set compared to the hundreds of hours my platoon logged in Bagdad in 2004-05? As a Mechanized infantry company commander, I would say that my LTs, even the ones that attended the Mechanized leader course, were less than prepared to use their Bradleys in conjunction with their squads. The gunnery skills atrophy is not nearly as important to me as the lack of maneuver experience. Bad habits of driving around in a column formation and dismounting at the first sign of trouble is not a recipe for success; but I suspect it is present in the majority of units, even today, no matter what the branch of service. But when do we practice anything else? As was pointed out, until the ARFORGEN process allows for a little more dwell time, something has to be cut.
When I went through the Armor Officer Basic course, we skipped over the token (3?) days on the Bradley (I think it was snowing at Knox that week) but it was widely understood that if you knew the capabilities of your vehicles and weapons systems, the same principles apply to each. That is why they started you out on the HMMWV exercise, as a kind of TEWT. If maneuvering on that piece of land the size of a postage stamp was difficult for you, whether in a HMMWV, a Bradley or in a Tank, I am not sure how successful you would be in any maneuver branch. I was an Armor officer in command of an infantry company, for 19 months and a deployment, I had an armor officer lead one of my platoons for about 4 months, and (gasp) we had a field artillery battalion commander (of a combined arms battalion, in combat). Personality and experience, not just what branch you no longer wear on your collar, is key.
COL Gentile could probably speak to it better than I, but prior to the introduction of the M1, the US did not have a significant overmatch in armored vehicles compared to its respective opponents. What rankles with me now is how we have decided to divide our allotment of armor and cavalry vehicles in a rather inefficient way, not giving the ARS enough mass, and losing a lot of tradition and senior like branch mentorship in the Combined Arms Battalions. No matter what future vehicle, with some variation on firepower, mobility and protection is turned out, we will need someone to support the infantry, and someone to be able to screen, and someone to be able to conduct a combined arms maneuver to close with and destroy the enemy. As far as to where the home of armor and cavalry is? I would posit that as my first battalion commander told me, my office was on the front slope of my tank. I would say that he is right and it is up to company and battalion and brigade commanders to pass on the traditions and ensure that we do not fall totally out of line.

When I taught Armor BOLC a couple years ago this was a question ("Did I, young 2LT of Armor, just enter a dead branch?") that was almost guaranteed to be raised in every class. My response was this:

In 1943 there were over a million lost in the Battle of Kursk, a battle with over 8,000 tanks on either side of the battlefield with such depth that it is said one could walk miles from turret to turret without hitting the ground. And critics proclaimed that tank-on-tank battle was dead.

After the Korean War where the tank was used by both the Army and Marine Corps on the Jamestown Line, near Chosin, and both Inchon and Pusan in restrictive, severely restricted and undulating terrain it was speculated that tank warfare had hit its terminal velocity , particularly in mountainous and defile terrain, giving way to an abundance of indirect fire technologies, counter-mobility efforts, and integrated combined arms engagement areas in preparation for future attacks to come. That stalemate is now closing on its 60th year and still both sides of the conflict continue to prepare for the final showdown. We have, for our part, removed a HBCT from the peninsula and taken away 2IDs (and every other division's) DIV CAV asset and brigade recon troops and replaced them with Brigade reconnaissance squadrons that have a limited ability to fight for information.

In Vietnam 11ACR, 1-69AR, and other units were employed, most after a 1967 feasibility study by GEN West for the Chief of Staff and SEC Army. GEN Starry wrote extensively on armor, cavalry, and air cavalry employment in his 1978 work "Mounted Combat in Vietnam." CPT Gerald Cossey wrote an excellent article on the Battle at Ben Het in 1969, the first American tank-on-tank engagement in 16 years, in the September/October 1970 issue of Armor Magazine.

In the 1980s the Iraqis and Iranians fought with heavy mechanized forces, as well as the Soviets in Afghanistan.

In 1991 the Battle of 73 Easting, the Battle of Phase Line Bullet, the Battle of Medina Ridge, and the Battle of Khafji proved combined arms operations were vital, effective, and decisive. It was rumored that no one would ever fight the Americans in an open-desert tank-on-tank battle again.

The Russians attempted to deal with Chechnyan uprising first with tanks in Grozny (105 of 120 tanks destroyed in 1995) in 1995, 1996, and 1999-2000.

We invaded Iraq in 2003 with a mechanized force that fought through a heavily mechanized Iraqi force.

2004s Battle of Kufa saw 2d ACR and 2-37 AR "Iron Dukes" prove the utility of armor in a volatile and uncertain environment, further illustrated by Crusaders piercing attack along with Iron Troop to demonstrate a contemporary application of the classic "hammer and anvil" tactic.

In 2004 The Battle of Fallujah was fought with both Marine and Army armored forces taking vital roles in both the April and November fights.

In 2005 3d ACR fought the Battle of Tal Afar with a heavily mechanized force alongside Iraqi Security Forces and augmented with a parachute infantry battalion.

In 2006 1/1AD conducted significant and successful counterinsurgency operations in both Tal Afar and Ramadi with a limited mechanized force.

In 2006 the Israelis fought Hezbollah and had significant anti-armor issues.

In 2007 1st Cavalry fought successful counterinsurgency operations in Baghdad with vehicles.

In 2007 the Russians invaded Georgia with a heavily mechanized force to stop uprising by Ossetian separatists.

In 2009 Huthi rebels from Yemen backed by Al Qaeda fought against Royal Saudi Land Force tanks and Bradleys in the southwestern corner of Saudi Arabia along the border.

We have discontinued the FCS platforms and stated at last years armor conference to be prepared to use the M1 platform as late as 2050. We and other countries around the globe, however, have a 65 year history of utilizing armor on the field of battle, sometimes effectively, sometimes not. China, the Russians, and other countries continue to pour money in investing in mobile ground combat systems that can move further, fire farther, faster, and more accurately, and acquire targets at greater range with success. And many times weve stated that well likely not engage in this type of warfare again.

To put things another way, we have a 65 year history of getting this wrong.

We, As GEN Starry said on page 220 of Mounted Combat in Vietnam, "cannot afford to make this mistake again."

Now fundamentals of tactics are basic and fundamental, meaning they do not change and platform is immaterial. Platforms affect TTPs, but actions on contact are the same dismounted as they are in a Stryker, Bradley, Abrams, or HMMWV - the menu of options at ones disposal may change, but the four steps to actions on contact remain the same.

I agree with COL Gentile in that weve lost sight of our core competencies as they once were. Im not sure if we ever decided what our new core competencies are for certain. I remember talking about establishing what our core competencies were and looking towards reshaping our lists as late as last January, but never heard resolution on whether consensus was made.

The see first, act first, destroy first mentality of technology proliferation, adaptation, and implementation into various systems of systems to replicate or replace individual Soldier skill discounts many of the cautions the 2009 Capstone Concept warns us about. We can debate whether future conflict will occur on tank battlefields or not, that future wars look more like Iraq or Afghanistan than Kursk or Karbala Gap, but perhaps it is not useful to discuss such contingencies or theorize on scenarios that may or may pan out, for it appears we have already made our decision. We are already executing our future course of action through transformation founded in a potentially flawed premise that we know how our future enemies will engage us. Those premises have shaped our vision of the future and affected force structure decisions in the past 8 years.

Army transformation has reduced the armor signature, increased the number of reconnaissance organizations without properly resourcing those reconnaissance elements with the ability to fight for information, diminished the Armys capabilities to guard, cover, or conduct thorough zone reconnaissance with the planned elimination of the last Armored Cavalry Regiment, reduced the ability to establish habitual air/ground unit relationships, and, finally, taken away Brigade through Corps Commanders abilities to fight for information, establish, explore, and answer CCIR by reducing ACRs, eliminating BRTs and DIV CAV and replacing them with brigade recon squadrons and BfSBs, two anemic organizations who may be able to perform given missions in context, but who were allocated excessively with technological assets under the guise that they replace the force structure that was reduced in their creation.

Perhaps a more pressing question should be "what does it mean if were wrong?"

MountainFox8 (not verified)

Sun, 04/25/2010 - 6:07pm

This is not news nor is it unwelcome. Having witnessed an entire Iraqi Division of Armor destroyed in place by aerial weaponry, I can say that the last place we want to be is shut up inside little boxes on a modern battlefield against a modern conventional opponent.

On the insurgent side, i have also seen what the asymmetric adversary can do with an IED against an M1. Not pretty.

I had a long discussion with an armor Colonel 10 years ago during CAS3 right after I had read a prescient book called Race to the Swift by Richard Simpkin... ...hard to find, likely because when he wrote it in 1983, it was considered heresy by all the combined arms community. Finally, 30 years later Richard is vindicated. The MBT is senile and obsolete in the face of infantry weapons like Javelin and PGMs from larger platforms.

What is really sad is that the Armor Corps didn't want to see a vision beyond General Patton's charge across open fields, oil stained faces and grime and the loud shouts of "Gunner! Tank! Sabot!" "On the way!"

So for 70 years they have been denying their future and providing nothing novel.

Armor is needed. Anyone who has witnessed the brilliance of a Bradley in urban combat when that 240 Bravo just isn't quite enough understands this, but where is the future offering? Where is Armor's understanding of how the world has changed? Frankly I was begging for my 113 in 2004 when the Army handed me a soft skin HMMWV and said, "There you go soldier, the best Uncle Sam can give you." WTF?!?

Armor needs to change its paradigm and understand that combined arms is not dead, just different and along with that we need novel platforms to tackle urban warfare and augment, not compete with, advances in light anti-tank as well as aerial anti-tank capabilities.

For the record, you can blame Special Forces for the new tasking of conventional forces. Their handbook is very clear that Foreign Internal Defense and "being nice to people" is their essential mission. Sadly "black ops" is sexier, well a heck of a lot sexier than going to DLI and struggling through months of Arabic or Mandarin and learning how to actually do your mission. Why learn Arabic when a Barrett renders that worthless? Oh, and you'll never get a hoohah badge or medal for fluency in Urdu but by golly you'll be immortalized on You Tube and the Military Channel if you can pull off a 1500 meter headshot double kill with your M-40.

Welcome to the new world where nothing is what it should be. Tankers without tanks doing FID, Green Berets doing what Rangers and Delta should be doing, the most dangerous job in the Army is an 88M, I mean its like Alice and it just keeps getting curiouser and curiouser...

COL Gentiles article and the subsequent comments remind me of making the mistake of attending a Pentecostal Revival out in Western North Carolina after not attending church for a while. By the time the preacher is done, you find yourself up in front of the crowd, confessing your sins, holding snakes in a show of faith, and buying "Jesus Saves" t-shirts.


As Armor does not have a monopoly on maneuver, SF does not have a monopoly on the indirect approach. The more I learn and see, the more I continue to be impressed from FAOs. Guys like COL Kinney, Mark Chakwin, Tom Odom, and yourself. I suppose it comes from the time that yall spend just listening and practicing the art of politics. That or yall get paid to drink a lot with foreign dignitaries.

But, 30 is the new 20. Jay-Z said so. I just celebrated my 32nd birthday. Im not getting set in my ways. My experience in life just confirms my generalizations :).


Fair enough young Jedi. I had a bunch of "did that really happen?" moments in my 20s as many of us have had in this war, and I learned to relax many of my traditional norms, values, and beliefs towards shades of gray rather than black and white. But, there are some things that I cannot shake to include my belief in a creator, the value of friends and family, the brilliant ingenuity of Jack Daniels, and the sanctity of command.

Ill try to further explain the rules of the game as they pertain to responsibility and accountability in command.

Having a platoon leader remove three TVs and Playstations from a connex to make room for the organic mortars before you deploy or reserving Thursdays as a sacred day where the staff sergeants pull out the TMs to do some training is not the same as higher directing that you deploy without your tanks. Just as you would never fly without doing a pre-flight inspection, us boys on the ground have to do our fundamental block and tackle drills. There is always time. Like you said, its all about priorities. Life is all about choices.

As you probably know, yesterday was three years removed from when Ali Latif Al Zaharie and the AQ boys from the ISI got one passed me, circumventing Zaganiyah and hitting a younger, less-prepared commander in As Sadah killing 9 paratroopers and wounding 20. That was not a news headline for me, that day plays back in real time and slow motion. I lost some friends and this time of year is still rough for me. I cope by doing a little writing, a little drinking, and a lot of thinking. Tomorrow, Ill go to church and talk to God about it. On Monday, Ill repeat the Serenity Prayer and head to the gym to sweat it out.

That day left a mark. As much as it sucked, it is what it was. As I replayed the before, during, and after, I realized that we did the right things. There was no culpability- the enemy just had a vote as overused as that phrase is. In rugby, when one fumbles a pass, we call it unlucky. So, it was.

But, there are rules to the game. How do all these war stories and rugby analogies relate to the alleged death of armor? I dont know, but theres something there.

"Two Points. First, who's fault is it that they didn't train? These excuses seem aa poor as leaders that decide to leave equipment (big guns and mortars) at homestation during deployments. Ultimately, that buck stops with the commander. Period. Thus the burden of command. You are directly responsible for everything your unit does and fails to do."


I'm not quite certain I agree here. If units have a short dwell time, there's simply not enough time to do all the administrative and logistical actions for a deployment, and train for both high- and low-intensity confict. Commanders, rightly so, feel the need to prioritize based on the mission requirements.

Can anyone answer exactly--who is giving the directive for heavy brigades to leave the tanks at home and pick up MRAPs?

Guardian (not verified)

Sat, 04/24/2010 - 4:02am


As you point out, maneuver is not the exclusive preserve of Armor, with SF using peshmerga in Iraq invasion etc. Small unit tactics are easily changed, because the officers and NCOs are fairly young, and can be re-oriented. Changing the thinking of officers in the mid-30s onwards - not so easy. This is coupled to the problem that actual combat is experienced first hand by companies and platoon, but only second-hand by staffs and planners at battalion and higher. As an Army, we are trying to re-orient these levels to COIN. This raises the question - are we an Army that can only do one thing at a time?

Thus, the question of FA and AR branch's death ties into questions of the Army's national purpose, which then links into our foreign policy. Since 1990, the Army has essentially been in constant use.

That constant use has focused on achieving political ends, usually beyond the defeat of mere enemy forces. COIN is essentially trying to re-orient to this broader reality. We have proven that we are rarely defeated at the tactical level. COIN matters because we have often failed to link those victories to an operational victory (i.e. favorable political outcomes in provinces, etc).

In the past, we had one branch (SF) that tried to teach these truths. We had other branches (IN, AR, FA, AVN) that focused on maneuver warfare to destroy enemies, leaving political questions aside. That fits neatly within the cultural history of the Army, which treasures wars where the political outcomes were subordinated to military victory (Civil War, World War 2, and the hypothetical Fulda-Gap). Today, the traditional branches are being forced into COIN.

Having an Army that can do both (COIN / Maneuver warfare) is perhaps not feasible (money, time, cultural integrity, etc). Now most of this post is my opinion, ie, not inherently valuable. My value to the Army today as a FAO is partly to show how foreigners tackle similar problems.

First: America can afford to have this debate.

Both India and Pakistan face the potential of conventional warfare, but the reality of COIN. Within the Pakistan Army, there is a deep-seated distrust of COIN, for various reasons. They would very much prefer re-fighting the '65 war, than dealing with the political complexities of the present. Similarly, the Indian Army re-learns COIN every decade (1980s - Punjab, 1990's - Kashmir), but still trains for a re-fight of 1965 against Pakistan, or 1962 against China. Essentially, they seek the idealized battle over the current problem.

Lower down the power scale - Nepal and Sri Lanka field armies whose only job is COIN / internal security. Basically, they have so little power or pretension, that they focus exclusively on the immediate task.

Second: Imperial Britain established a split military force. They employed the British Army for conventional warfighting, while using the British Indian Army for sub-conventional fights within the Raj. If we want to tackle both COIN and maneuver warfare, we might want to consider this approach.

OX (not verified)

Sat, 04/24/2010 - 3:06am

Training is the key!! When all else fails, train your Soldiers on the fundamentals, that gives them something to base everything else off of. If you start with a solid BGST/TGST/LGST program, and enforce the discipline of the basics, everything will be alright. Good crews make for good platoons.
What needs to be addressed is the training focus from our higher Commands. Is the Brigade Commander providing his guidance and emphasis to solid gunnery and maneuver training? Is he providing time and resources for that? In the light world I will tell you that the answer is NO. With Infantry officers taking command of RSTA Squadrons there has been a loss of focus on maintenance, mounted maneuver and gunnery skills. They culturally do not understand maintenance higher than boots and rucks. Infantry officers focus on light machine guns from a dismounted element. If it moves faster than three miles an hour or spans battle space wider than three Klicks theyre thrown off. There isnt even a MASTER GUNNER slot in a RSTA Squadron in a light Division.
Squadron CSsM and Senior NCOs should push organized, Gunnery qualifications. Time should be allotted and resources put against Mounted maneuver training. By now every Soldier can perform battle drill six. Monkeys can do battle drill six. To focus on such a simple battle drill instead of using it as a stepping stone to more complex maneuvers is what is killing our Armor force. Having been in the "light side" of the Cavalry since 2000 I have watched a steady degradation of these skills in both the officers and enlisted men of the force. It has been a constant struggle to maintain gunnery and Cavalry skills in a world without leaders that make this a priority.
I lay the challenge at the Brigade and BN/Squadron level. This is the level that dictates training objectives and provides guidance, time and resources. If you want expert technical and tactically proficient crews then provide the leadership to do it. Gunnery is the Commanders program.
Kudos to 2 BCT, 82nd ABN DIV.COL Gibson conducted an MRX in the spring of 2009 utilizing his BDE in a conventional manner. He put his RSTA Squadron in a doctrinal screening operation and used his two rifle BNs to maneuver. Very successful on all counts. He gave his CAV Squadron Commander the resources to conduct section and plt mounted gunnery tables XX and XII.
Your Brigade, Battalion and Squadron will focus on what you want and on your training objectives and standards. It is up to the commander to provide that.

Guardian stated, "Armor State of Mind is a Maneuver State of Mind." Sir, I want to agree with you, but I think we have to change the "is" to "should be." If I'm honest with myself, then I must admit that I did not learn art of maneuver from Armor. Instead, I learned it as a yuck (sophmore) on the rugby pitch under the tutelage of COL Kinney (Africa FAO) and COL Mike Mahan (FA). The rules of American Football were relaxed, and I learned to play a game where you can run, pass, kick, and tackle without pads. A game of 15 teammates of all different shapes and sizes that forces one to think broadly and deeply- strategerize I suppose.

Additionally, we do not have a monopoly on maneuver state of mind. One of my favorite stories is an SF buddy (former Chemo officer), his A team, and 5000 Peshmerga operating ICW with the USAF in Northern Iraq during the initial invasion. As I told him, it blows my mind that a freaking Chemo was able to take down an entire enemy division and confuse Saddam into believing that 4th ID was coming down from Turkey. Sometimes, branch and rank are irrelevant- talent is everything.

Unfortunately, if we're completely honest with ourselves, with great exception to the one's that did well, then we are forced to admit that there were many of us too tethered to their vehicles and FOBs to appropriately and effectively maneuver through the complex human and physical terrain of small wars. War and warfare is all about adapting to the situation,

Case in Point- a commentator from the Best Defense Blog.*

"I think it is imposturous for anyone to say that our Armys skills in Armor/Cavalry are not vanishing before our eyes. I left command of a Cavalry troop over a year ago, and I can tell you first hand we did not focus on TCGST/BGST regularly, nor did we concentrate on conducting Security Operations to be able to "Push or Pull" Reconnaissance. We are focusing on the 50 meter target (COIN), and we will pay the price over time if we fail to remember what the capabilities of the Armor/Cavalry CORP are. The Cavalry has always led from the front, providing critical intelligence to confirm PIRs, or to help develop COAs for higher HQs."

Two Points. First, who's fault is it that they didn't train? These excuses seem aa poor as leaders that decide to leave equipment (big guns and mortars) at homestation during deployments. Ultimately, that buck stops with the commander. Period. Thus the burden of command. You are directly responsible for everything your unit does and fails to do.

Second, ummmmm, the crux of small wars for the counter-insurgent IS intelligence collection and analysis to overcome the "comparative advantage in information that an insurgent holds at the start of the conflcit" (McCormick, NPS). This is supposed to be OUR bread and butter, the daily manna we provide the commander. Sometimes it can be done through movement to contact or the optics of an M1A2 Sep, but oftentimes, it is done through covert and overt reconnaissance and surveillance navigating through the physical and human terrain.

Same rules apply, but it's all about how you define the problem set and see the fight. Again, I think that we need to be good at wars of all sizes. The oath that we take does not specify just big wars.


P Arnett,

Let's look at other old and recent history and older/newer technology simultaneously:

- There was ample warning about Germany prior to 1941, and armor did not help much in the Pacific...nor would it today in defense of Taiwan or South Korea due to the time to sea deploy and the terrain. Proper interpretation that planes approaching from the northwest on new-fangled radar were NOT expected American B-17s coming from the mainland, might have resulted in a different 7 December outcome

- Germans ran out of fuel with their heavy tanks and some say that, and use of horse resupply was what led to Blitzkrieg to finish fast. We nearly ran out with smaller tanks and truck-mounted infantry were it not for the Red Ball Express that could have been sabotaged using today's insurgent and stay behind tactics. Did superior armor protection help the Germans or did we simply have too small a gun? Did superior German armor help beat WWII Soviets?

- Tanks/APCs and fighter aircraft cost far more today than in WWII or the Cold War accounting for inflation. How many threat nations have the defense budgets to finance large standing armored armies and high tech air forces today and in the next 20 years?? Even if China and Russia attacked neighbors ala Georgia, how could we stop them with heavy armor months away? Would we so attempt that intervention with heavy armor given the fait accompli?

- Weren't light M113s and other medium armor just as critical in the OIF I Thunder Runs? Did M113s not lead, and save one tank crew that got an RPG in the engine?

- Was Ghost Troop at 73 Easting a primarily tank unit or primarily mech with medium armor that still managed to acquit itself quite well? Was there heavy loss of moderately armored Bradleys in OIF I or Desert Storm?

- In the march to Baghdad, did 2nd Brigade need to turn around on marshy dikes because its armor was too heavy? Did LTC Marconi's Objective Peach armor unit nearly have trouble crossing bridges at two locations due to tank weight?

- Did lighter Marine armor not make it to Baghdad? Did heavy AMTRACS get stuck at An-Nasiriyah? If heavy armor and no technology is the answer, then why are Marines so invested in F-35B, V-22, EFV, a LAV replacement, and lighter JLTV alternatives?

- Did a armor company team out of Germany not airland by C-17 in northern Iraq with nearly the combat power of the airborne BCT that accompanied it? Did we not fly a BCT of Strykers from Diego Garcia to landlocked Afghanistan?

- Much is said about ISR technology not finding the enemy...which is true if OIF I is used as an example since a fraction of the UAS were available that exist now...not to mention current and future unmanned ground vehicles and other sensors. JSTARS still managed to find enemy units in a sandstorm, just as SAR/GMTI on UAS can detect change while flying above the clouds. Valiant Angel and bi-direction OSRVT are coming to disperse combat information to warfighters. Apaches/Kiowa Warrior and manned-unmanned teaming have been responsible for upwards of 70% of enemy kills in Iraq.

- Sensors are getting better everyday. Perhaps radars used for future active protection could feed grid coordinates to mortar units for automated fire solutions. XM-25 lasers could similarly feed fire solutions and on-board lasers on GCV and UGV could do likewise. Isn't automation of fire solutions and automated embedded simulation a means of circumventing training shortfalls due to lack of time and resources?

- Is reliance on adaptive leaders and heavy armor any less subject to uncertainty given IEDs and top attack than reliance on layered ISR and other technology? Can adaptive leaders not benefit from technology?

- Israel/Lebanon 2006 resulted in about 120 dead Israelis and 500-600 dead Hezbollah fighters. Does that mirror the types of unacceptable casualty rates, terrain, world-class enemy, lack of deployment, and short sustainment and maneuver distances the US would face nearly anywhere else? Can an M1A2 be made into a troop carrier with its rear engine?

- If Israel had Apaches and Predators/Army MQ-1C and Reapers flying its borders in 2006 it could have flown overwatch for numerous battles just inside the Lebanon border that caused numerous Israeli ground casualties, while avoiding killing UN troops. Gaza is 4.5 to 7 miles wide at most and only 25 miles long...hardly worth many lessons learned. Lebanon distances are not impressive by OIF I or OEF I or any other American contingency standards either.

Guardian (not verified)

Thu, 04/22/2010 - 5:53pm

Armor State of Mind is a Maneuver State of Mind

1. Comment Background: Infantry (ABN / MECH) and South Asia FAO.

2. While serving in a South Asian Staff College, I noticed that the students from Armor Regiments intellectually grasped DIV / CORPS operations faster than those from Infantry Regiments. My guess is that, from their first days of service, they had to think in terms of space / time / effects = the beginning of maneuver thinking. The Infantry officers understood terrain retention and enemy attrition.

3. Thus, the armor "state of mind" is a maneuver state of mind. Similarly, I would guess that COL Gentile's concerns reflect a loss of that "maneuver state of mind" within armor branch. Fighting combined arms warfare is not easy, and it gets rapidly complex at higher levels. Given the COE, the Army is preaching the "COIN state of mind."

4. The skillsets, such as maintenance and gunnery are much more amenable to correction than a mental mind-set, and are thus less important. Furthermore, that mental mind-set is harder to change, and has a greater effect on operations, at battalion and higher levels.

5. As with many other posters, I think platforms are less important than the mental mind-set. Having said that, platforms are still very important. Imagine yourself an insurgent - plan an attack against a tank platoon compared to a Styker MGS platoon.

I find myself saying "uh, huh" to many of the comments. I read back through again asking, "What is the Armor Mindset?" For every ten commentators, there are ten different answers each bounded by our direct experience, personal background, beliefs, norms, and values. In truth, maybe there is not a standardized mindset, but as SNLII noted, "a collection of cultures within the branch." That's one reason why many find it difficult to label hearts, minds, and souls to social groups, organizational structures, and open systems- People are people.

To be sure, there's light and heavy, wheeled and tracked, dismounted and mounted, and calvary and tanks. But, also, one would find many differences in tank companys from Camp Casey, Fort Stewart, or Fort Hood. Unit lineages, cultures, and mindsets are derived from the collective history, the terrain that where they train and fight, and the current leadership. Even in uniform, we look different ranging from stetsons, spurs, mustaches, sideburns, crew cuts, and jump boots.

So, again, what is the Armor mindset? I'm not sure if such a thing exist, but I know something is there. I saw the audacity of COL David Perkins and LTC Eric Schwartz sending us up to Baghdad to "take a look around" during the Thunder Runs, I talked to the 3ACR boys in Uday's palace right before COL McMaster sent them up to Tal Afar in his COIN classic presentation, and I saw my own uba duba 19D's find some solutions in Diyala back during the "Surge." So, something relevant is there. I'm just not sure what to call it.

Maybe we're just a big tent branch.

Maybe a better question is, what is Armor's role in Big, Medium, and Small Wars? If we can answer that one with direct funding, training, and resources, then maybe the other questions will fade away.

P Arnett (not verified)

Thu, 04/22/2010 - 2:46pm


Great points, this is exactly what I was attempting to allude to in my broad post above. There is a historical perspective that can, and well should, be looked at before decisions are made. This issue is nothing new at all. As you referenced TF Smith, the same cry was made during the 1960s during the Vietnam conflict, that Armor was dying. Well, we all know that Armor did not die.

As you have noted, and I fully agree, the issue at hand is time and resources. Individual skills can be kept honed to some degree, but the ability to move, communicate and place effective fires on an objective in adverse conditions is not easy to orchestrate, and is a highly perishable skill. While others have noted here that war as we once knew it is no longer relevant, I beg to differ. Just as we were caught off guard in 1941 and 2001, we can be caught off guard today. We should possess the wisdom to have learned the lessons paid for so dearly by our comrades who paid the price.


P. Arnett

APCreel (not verified)

Thu, 04/22/2010 - 12:28pm

Great discussion and good points made by all! It is refreshing to see somebody finally talking about this problem.
As a former Redleg and vet of two tours in Iraq, I have seen firsthand the deterioration of combat skills in the Field Artillery and Armor branches. But it is not the actual lack of technical skills that concerns me. They can be recovered through good leadership and a clear training regimen. Field Artillery, like Armor, is a team sport. No one tank or artillery piece is effective by itself. They must work together as large teams, spread out over vast areas. Like most teams, they cannot be formed overnight. It takes years of training and working together to build a cohesive team. If that team is to win the Super Bowl, it must train together. This is nothing new. It is not a new revelation. We as an Army understood this for years. It was built into our institutional memories and culture through years of bloody conflicts.
A close friend of mine in the 10th Mountain Division told me that one of his artillery battalions will be deploying to Afghanistan again without their guns. Now obviously the commander of this battalion will spend 90% of his precious training time at home station training on the tasks that he will be expected to conduct in theater. These don't include delivery of fires tasks. Instead they include critical COIN tasks that will save his soldiers lives and accomplish the mission. Unfortunately, this particular battalion is full of officers and NCO's that have never pulled a lanyard or written a fire support plan. Worse yet, they have never worked closely with their infantry and sustainment brothers.
At the heart of this issue is the eternal problem with armies: TIME and MONEY. Who do we train to fight? If the leadership of this nation wants us to prepare for all the conflicts laid out in the Spectrum of Conflict, then the Army needs the TIME and MONEY to train for these conflicts. With that said, the Army will have to act as a jack-of-all-trades force, but could sadly become a master-of-none. Unfortunately, as history has proven to us time and time again, conventional wars need large armies with all supporting arms working together as one team. These teams cannot be made overnight. If they are deployed into a conventional fight unprepared and untrained, many young men will go home in body bags and make Iraq and Afghanistan look like picnics. Task Force Smith in Korea comes to mind. And the Army in 1950 was only 5 years out of WWII and full of combat veterans! It took the Army over a year to get its collective head out of its ass and get back to the basics needed to defeat the North Koreans and eventually the Chinese. This all happened of course at a great cost in lives.
In closing, we must give this matter a lot of thought. All Army officers know that you only have so many days to train and limited budgets but are expected to perform to standard regardless. So where do we focus our finite training resources? COIN or conventional warfare? Or everything in between? Something has to give. My point is that conventional wars are far more costly and require large teams; infantry, armor, artillery, air, and sustainment, working together as one. These teams are not made overnight and they are not cheap.

Dennis (not verified)

Wed, 04/21/2010 - 6:50pm

This discussion is fascinating and I would like to thank COL Gentile for the thought provoking article -- one of many he has penned.

First, I grew up in the infantry, both light and mech. My complaint with the mech world was the total focus on fighting the BFVs to the exclusion of the squads that they carried. Admittedly, that may have been a fault of the leadership. However, that suggested a tendency among mechanized types to see the solution to every tactical problem as the application of more firepower. In my limited experience, that tendency can also be imputed to armor leaders.

If this what is meant by the "armor mindset"?

That tendency, by itself, is not a bad thing in certain circumstance. It is the way wars are won, if by war we are talking state-on-state conflicts. I am not under any illusion that such conflicts have disappeared for good. There is and will remain a need for the ability to conduct large scale, combined arms operations. As has been said, these types of operations require a lot of expertise.

The problem is that this is not the type of conflict in which we are now engaged, and such a conflict is not on the horizon. The types of conflicts in which we are now engaged do not require this type of operation. I would argue that the "armor mindset" (if I understand it properly) is not suitable for these types of conflicts.

Here is the rub. How do we maintain an organizational ethic with a tendency to apply overwhelming firepower as the first option when our army is now operating in an environment where that ethic is not simply not needed, but is actually harmful to our efforts?

I, for one, think that there should be a separation between infantry and armor so that armor can retain that institutional experience in conducted large scale combine arms operations. But I am not sure that serves either the army or the armor branch particularly well either. In the current climate, armor then becomes the red-headed step-child of the army. Besides that concern is the fact that the whole army needs to maintain that mindset to some degree.

It is not easy for an organization to turn on and off a particular mindset. Look at the recent history in Iraq and Afghanistan -- it took us years to rethink the way we fight those wars, to refocus on fighting an insurgency. And there are still many in the military who continue to argue that the best way to conduct these wars is through the application of the overwhelming force.

I just don't think the problem is so easily solved. On the one hand, maintaining the "armor mindset" is not helpful for the types of conflicts we are in now or will likely see in the foreseeable future. On the other hand, the mindset is critical for success in a more traditional force-on-force conflict. Unfortunately, it is not easy to switch the mindset of the army at the start of an operation depending on its character.

I guess that is why the professionals who have posted here above have these discussions. I look forward to following this discussion in the future.

P Arnett (not verified)

Wed, 04/21/2010 - 5:32pm

It is common knowledge that we train for the next war still planning conditions of the last. Whether it be human nature by simply embracing what we know, it has undoubtedly cost the nation many lives and resources. The French planned the defense of the German border based on the premise of conditions in 1914-1918. Their lack of agility and poor communications led to their overwhelming defeat. The United States Army, headed into Vietnam still planned and conducted operations as if it were 1950 on the Korean peninsula; once again, hard lessons had to be learned. Before September 11, 2001, the U.S. Army still trained as if we were going to meet the massive formations of the Soviet Army or the Republican guard on a barren and civilian-free battlefield, away from major cities. We learned the hard lessons of the first years of this conflict, and have somewhat successfully adapted to meet the challenges.

We must maintain the ability to adapt, innovate and defeat ANY enemy wherever we are called to battle, and yes this must include heavy forces. Light and portable anti-armor weapons have their role to fill on the battlefield, but if we rely on these weapons to meet every potential threat, we are leaving ourselves open, once again, to the hard and costly price which would have to be paid to meet the threat. Armor has its advantages and disadvantages, no doubt. But to assume that the next war will be fought on the same terms as the current conflict is ludicrous and dangerous.

Ken White (not verified)

Wed, 04/21/2010 - 3:26pm


Fear not, I've lived through two deaths each of the Marine Corps and Cavalry and three of Armor ... ,)


Good points all, Tanks. :^)


I think you're wrongly blaming the Generals for ills of the society from which they and their Army spring.<blockquote>"You give everyone a black beret; call everyone from the kid lubing the Stryker to the 11B shooting final protective fire a "warrior"; and, when they die umpiring an endemic civil war somewhere far from home, send them off by naming them "heroes," each one with a bronze star and a flag for mom."</blockquote>While I totally agree with your sentiments in that quote assuming that every item is pejoratively cited, all those things are a result of the Baby Boomer Self Esteem and Personal Agrandizement Enhancement Movement that overtook this nation in the 1970s. We haven't been the same since. The nation or the Army...

I also agree that the COIN delusion is dangerous. It is one of those myths that will not die, just as socialism will not. Both in spite of all evidence. Adherents to both share the delusion that "If only I were in charge, it would work." It won't. Fortunately, none of them are in charge. Yet. We can only hope it stays that way.

As do we all, the Generals have their flaws but they are truly captives of a society and a Congress where very few have really seen war and rely on the terribly ignorant media and the even more ignorant entertainment and TV news folks. This in a nation where the Football Awards Banquet at your local Elementary School makes sure that all students receive <i>something.</i> An indication things will probably get worse before they get better...

Luckily, as the current 20 somethings who've been to see the animal mature, things will likely get better. My sensing is that they, in and out of uniform and unlike the Boomers, will not go quietly into hedonism. Some of those who stay in may realize that Armor tactics are as important as Table VII and maintenance...

This is a good thing.

SNLII (not verified)

Wed, 04/21/2010 - 2:28pm

"So if we are not careful in so calling for a jack of all trades army we end up blurring the lines between specialties to the point where we have no specialization at all."

You give everyone a black beret; call everyone from the kid lubing the Stryker to the 11B shooting final protective fire a "warrior"; and, when they die umpiring an endemic civil war somewhere far from home, send them off by naming them "heroes," each one with a bronze star and a flag for mom.

It's not a shared misery, but it's a shared decision to lump them together. Not for efficiency. Not even because a small coterie of influential current and former officers believes the nature of the war has evolved to COIN.

No. It's because of human vanity, the compulsion of the powerful to bring to their crypt like a sick pharaoh all their beautiful possessions, human and material, together, within clutch.

The complexity of branches, the leveling hands of fickle war -- all these must be disregarded so that the few might proclaim the rectitude of their hubris, gussy it into policy. Finally, or still, the best of the class at USMA.

There are cultures within the branches, but no one seems to want to explore the culture of those who decide their fates. Who are these generals, and how do they order this world? Do they do so in their own image? Or does their image depend on their ordering?

gian p gentile (not verified)

Wed, 04/21/2010 - 7:53am

To reiterate I do firmly believe that my impressions are correct and that the armor corps--or armor state of mind--in the American Army is dead.

Again, for many readers of this blog, I am not dreaming of Fulda, sending secret letters to General Dynamics asking them to build an M1A8 (main battle tank) and viewing everything that Russia does today with its foreign policy as evidence of a future attack on Munich.

To be sure the American Army needs transformation. But as I have argued in numerous places that transformation needs to be based on a reasonable amount of specialization of branches (without stove piping) and more importantly competency at combining those specialized branches with other arms to create an army built around all-arms integration. Doug Macgregor's model I still think is the most appealing as a goal for the army to transform toward.

I am suspect, though, of this notion of a "jack of all trades" army. To be sure and back in the day when I commanded a tank company in Korea I think it was accepted that any infantry or armor officer worth his salt, if called upon, should be able to command either type. But we would never go so far, nor should we today, to think that maneuver officers could easily command a more specialized unit like artillery or signal. Moreover in this regard we should be worried when we have artillery officers command infantry companies as captains, or artillery field grades as operations officers for cavalry squadrons since they will be missing out on learning at any given level the key and essential functions of their branch. This was one of the essential points made by the three colonels a few years ago in their piece "The King and I."

So if we are not careful in so calling for a jack of all trades army we end up blurring the lines between specialties to the point where we have no specialization at all. Now for missions like passing out humanitarian supplies in Darfur or nation building in Iraq perhaps these lines dont really matter.

But in the face of a sophisticated enemy who fights beyond three to five man cells laying IEDs and ambushes those lines of specialization might in fact prove very necessary. For folks who think that the future holds only irregular warfare amongst the peoples of the world with no combined fighting above platoon level, I think they are misguided just like one of Stalins Generals who told him in the late 1930s that there was no future in mechanized warfare. I am not saying the future holds world war III with China, but we can imagine a future where the American Army will have to deploy and fight. To be sure it will do many other things as well, but we better train, organize, and optimize ourselves for combined arms. I would rather take risk in not optimizing our army for other forms and types of operations and conflicts. But my assessment of risk is based on the idea which runs counter to many Coin experts that just because an Army is built on combined arms and the integrated use of firepower does not make it prone to fail in Coin and irregular warfare. Such notions have become stock thinking among some historians and intellectuals who have used irregular warfare as a bludgeon to force change and transformation on the American military, especially its army.

Every study that I have read on the Israeli Army in summer 2006 acknowledges that one of the significant problems that led to their drubbing on the ground was the atrophied state of their combined arms competencies.

After both Word Wars, substantial unresolved disagreements were evident that could lead to a next WW with large tank battles. The Soviet Union and its large tank reserves have disappeared. The Chinese have few quality tanks and few could envision attempting to fight tank battles in China...due to mutually assured economic destruction. South Korea is not tank terrain. The Israelis can take care of themselves and Lebanon/Syria/Iran.

You could make an argument for securing Iranian lands near the Straits of Hormuz. That is something accomplishable by Marines and Army Strykers out of Afghanistan or Pakistan, coupled with airpower/seapower. A similar force composition could support Taiwan's security by landing air-deployed forces on the east side of the mountains prior to or during a Chinese amphibious assault. Please show me other potential threats with major armored forces requiring an armor branch as large as infantry branch.

The joint fighter community, air defenses, and stealth have rendered air combat too expensive for large threat air forces in all but a few nations. Likewise, the M1A2's success and the number of U.S. and allied top attack and laser/radar/GPS-guided air-ground antiarmor weapons have made enemy armor short-lived. What is the point in building lots of armor that won't survive against the U.S.

Friendly armor is looking at new threats they were not designed to withstand even at M1A2 size. An IED can take out an M1A2 just as readily as a MRAP. Top attack can kill our tanks too. Do we continue to add more armor to the M1 tank so that it cannot cross any bridge and burns more than the current 2 gallons per mile? Given the decision to abandon Mounted Combat System and its three 120mm guns air-deployable per C-17 in contrast to one M1A2...the prospect of air-deploying and logistically-supporting large armor contingency forces is diminished.

Army aviation has proven its ability to support both high-and-lower-end combat. Armor requires a makeover to achieve similar versatility. Stryker BCTs are probably on the right track to a different mix of armor and infantry. A two Infantry company/two Armor company combined arms battalion no longer makes sense from a threat, logistical, and deployment standpoint.

The Marines are designing smaller, more independent units based on Infantry. If the Army wants armored forces to be more relevant, it might consider smaller mechanized company "team-plus" task forces based on a tank platoon, two Stryker or GCV or M-ATV platoons, an armed aerial scout/UAS platoon, a "special troops" platoon with engineers, GPS mortars, HIMARS, NLOS-LS, signal, and MI; and a sustainment/medical section. Tailor it to a pre-planned number of C-17 sorties and Joint High Speed Vessels. Preposition other equipment sets near forward deployed airstrips for "battalion-plus" air-deployable task forces.

But the Armor community must learn to recognize that warfare is no longer a game of "Stratego" where seizing the enemy's flag is sufficient. It was not "mission accomplished" following OIF I or OEF I. It was not "mission accomplished" following Desert Storm. Initial battlefield success is a short-lived victory with much longer stability operations to follow. Armor must make itself more relevant in that context.

The concepts of reconnaissance and security also need to change from the traditional armor/cavalry/recon squadron standpoint. A short-duration reconnaissance/patrol seldom finds enemy disguised as civilians or hiding in complex terrain. They wait until you pass...then wreak havoc. Two-man OPs and single-vehicle OPs are seldom feasible in a casualty-averse urban/complex terrain battlefield. The enemy masses on your undermanned OPs or plant IEDs on what they think is your mounted patrol's return route that kill civilians even if they guess wrong. How do you sneak up on anyone in a large diesel and metal-track vehicle?

Surveillance assets have the potential to revolutionize both ground and air security/reconnaissance using unmanned assets. Armor should embrace control of unmanned ground vehicles...a niche in which armor could retain greater future relevance and force structure.

Just my personal views.


"If you go back to the brief essays Patton wrote in the Army's inter-war publications, one can find similarly structured pieces."

Good catch. I deliberately left his writings out in my last post.

"Well, MikeF, you get to the heart (if not the mind) of my quibble with Gian's essay, too."

Heart, mind, and soul as I alluded to in my previous comments. This is something that we're missing whether it be small wars or TBI/PTSD. I hope to capture the distinctions in forthcoming essays.

"By nature, I'm interested in the facts, Gian. If you're going to pronounce the patient dead, well, I want to read the autopsy."

That's on COL Gentile. The beauty of SWJ is that it's peer-review. I'm sure he's taking our comments and critiques into consideration for future publications. And, hopefully, the big wigs are paying attention.




Tue, 04/20/2010 - 8:39pm

By nature, I'm interested in the facts, Gian.

If you're going to pronounce the patient dead, well, I want to read the autopsy.

If I'm going to fault Ricks for being too brief and failing to employ empirical reasoning, then I've got to carry through with you.

Giving a nod to the genre and your mission (op-ed, provocative call to arms), I'm also being unfair to what you did. If you go back to the brief essays Patton wrote in the Army's inter-war publications, one can find similarly structured pieces.

Some were prescient. Others were cranky. But it's part of a wider genre of military discourse that I should have acknowledged.

gian p gentile (not verified)

Tue, 04/20/2010 - 8:15pm

Quite provocative, Carl. I agree with what you say about competence and winning the wars we are in. However, I am sure the Coin Experts would just roll their eyes and say we are doing that but of course these kinds of wars are generational endeavors where we will not be pulling the Champaign out of the frig anytime soon.

But seriously your post does bring to mind a thought that I should have brought out in the piece that Bacevich has written on lately: the fact that the American army has lost the sense of military victory. Nowadays military victory is subsumed under a never ending process of Counterinsurgency operations. Military victory in this sense has become the operation and its existential, never ending nature.

Your criticisms of my piece are fair. It was a very short piece in "oped" form without substantive supporting evidence. I wrote it in response to some events I attended recently at my place of duty which suggested to me, at a visceral and admittedly impressionistic level, that the armor corps as a state of mind in the army is gone. I think I am right, and I will try to put together a more extended piece in the near future to back up this assertion with a developed argument.

But oh what the hey Carl, if Tom Ricks can write a short 500 word oped in the Washington Post last year calling for the elimination of the Military Academies and War Colleges should I not be allowed to write an 800 word piece on the death of the armor corps for the SWJ Blog?



Tue, 04/20/2010 - 7:09pm

Well, MikeF, you get to the heart (if not the mind) of my quibble with Gian's essay, too.

As a j'accuse, provocative thesis it makes a statement, but I guess I want more than a statement.

I want him to back it up with empirical investigation beyond mentioning some concerned but anonymous cav officers.

Moreover, when he raises the issue of a "culture" of warmaking in the branch, he should make some attempt to define what he means by that.

As for the supposed brilliance of armored officers in the COIN game, I'd like to see some actual competence they bring to winning wars within, say, a decade or so.

If they prosecuted combined arms operations as they do so often COIN enterprises (substituting unproven doctrinal mumbo-jumbo cribbed from texts now a half-century old), with the middling results to show for it, they would be sacked as rank incompetents).

Too often we assume that rank, credentials and a supposed expertise substitute for results on the battlefield. As a democracy, perhaps we should be rid of the armored officers who have so brilliantly guided our COIN efforts, lest they continue to guide them into the next century.

Now, Gian, how is that for provocative?


Hi sir. Your insights and wisdom, along with others like COL Gentile, Ken White, and John T. Fischel, continue to remind me of the great experience and foresight of SWJ that Dave Dillege, Bill Nagle, and Robert Haddock have provided.

This is our modern day version of the private talks that CPT Robert E. Lee and Gen Winfield Scott had in Mexico City and the discussions of CPT Dwight D. Eisenhower and GEN Fox Connor had in the Panama Canal Zone.

SWJ is complimented by the academic heat and prominence of guys like COL Michael Meese and the SOSH department at USMA and the Gordon McCormick's and Defense Analysis Department at NPS.

Back on point and more to the point which you stated well.

"To my mind, the armored corps is about understanding and emphasizing the value of shock, rapid maneuver, and overwhelming firepower at the point of attack. If armored officers have some advantage in adapting and innovation, it possibly has to do with the relative speed of action which they are conditioned to leverage, as well as their understanding of the fundamentally psychological impact of their operations (which many times can outweigh the immediate tactical physical effects)."

Conditioning and leverage...Seems to go back to Ken White's paradigm of METT-TC, personnel, and training.




Tue, 04/20/2010 - 2:19pm

"or its size, Armor is driving the COIN discussion. Gentile, Nagl, Chiarelli, McMaster, McFarland - all Armor background."

Yes, those of us in the infantry gave you the luxury of navel gazing about COIN while we went out and did it.

Yes, I'm kidding.

For the record, Im not a Marine tanker, but an infantryman (and that long ago before staff billets became my norm).

Id just highlight that I think Col. Gentile worded his title for a specific reason. Its the death of the armored corps, not the death of tanks. While there is an obvious connection, the history of 20th century major conflict shows a struggle not over the utility of tanks, and mechanized forces in general, but how they should be utilized and integrated into a combined arms construct and as derivative, how the individual systems should be designed. As a non-tanker, I found Bruce Gudmundssons "On Armor" discussion on how armored vehicle design progressed from multiple specialized vehicles for different missions (infantry tanks, cavalry tanks, etc.) , to single "multi-mission" vehicles (Abrams). He makes the case that the trend seems to be moving back towards multiple platforms.

I think that finding effective uses for tanks and other armored vehicles in COIN, and in every conflict for that matter, is good and correct (and it should not take much searching to realize that tanks can be a key part of the force in COIN). However, I dont think this equates to the "mindset" or philosophical approach that an armored corps provides the Army. For an analogy, I look at the difference in outlook and employment between the individual tank battalions attached to infantry divisions in WWII, and the armored divisions. Same tanks, different employment concepts and philosophies.

To my mind, the armored corps is about understanding and emphasizing the value of shock, rapid maneuver, and overwhelming firepower at the point of attack. If armored officers have some advantage in adapting and innovation, it possibly has to do with the relative speed of action which they are conditioned to leverage, as well as their understanding of the fundamentally psychological impact of their operations (which many times can outweigh the immediate tactical physical effects). There could be obvious downsides with this approach in a COIN environment, but Im talking generalities. Just a guess, however, from a guy who walked a lot.

Good comments Niel. I was wondering when you were going to show up. I guess there's nothing like a war to shake up some of pre-conceived notions and beliefs. As a young commander, I used to joke that I have to teach my 11Bs to get in the trucks and my 19Ds to get out of them.

Existentially, different branches are having the same "come to Jesus meetings." The real debate is over the fight for our soul. Who are we? What is our purpose? Where is our fit? Artillery, Intelligence, and SF have all struggled with identity so now it's our turn.

Following COL Gentile's provactive title, from a biblical perspective, one must start with a figurative death in order to accept the Creator's grace. So, maybe the Armor mentality of the 1990's is dying. If so, then I think that can be a good thing.

My experience in big wars and small wars made me a better leader period. So, maybe that's a start point. From St. Vith to Ramadi there's a time when we say a quick prayer that the tanks show up. In those times when hope can become forlorn, there is just something psychologically uplifting to feel the ground quake and the whine of the turbine engine coming up to give you some help.

But, we as Armor officers cannot limit ourselves to such specialization. As Niel highlights, we have a comparative advantage in deep thought, critical analysis, and big ideas. We learn to think broadly as we train to move over long distances and secure areas in short periods of time. Additionally, we are extremely competent in reconnaissance and surveillance.

So, where do we go? How do we renew? I think PhilR and the Marine tankers give us a clue. The mentality of infantry first is a start. BG McMaster preached this to his cavalrymen as a troop, squadron, and regimental commander.

Finally, as Niel rightly asks, who are our apostles preaching the good news? Who among us with the necessary rank and prestige are securing our place at the table?


Tue, 04/20/2010 - 1:14am

Funny, for us Canadians Afghanistan has seen the rebirth of our Armoured Corps, with new (much needed) MBTs being purchased and our tanks being employed on the battlefield for the first time since the Korean War.


Good comments above. Short comments:

1) For its size, Armor is driving the COIN discussion. Gentile, Nagl, Chiarelli, McMaster, McFarland - all Armor background. Legions of more junior officers. Cav and Armor leaders remain some of the most forward thinking and adaptable we have, and are contributing to these discussions at a much higher rate than any other branch for its size ...

2) Armor has proved its COIN utility over and over in OIF. Thunder runs, Sadr City, Najaf, Kerbala, Diawaynah, Al Kut, Fallujah, Tal Afar, Ramadi, etc. etc.

3) Canada brought 20 LEO II's to A-Stan and have written several articles on how they markedly increased their effectiveness/mobility in RC-S.

4) Armor branch is failing to make the case for Armor as not only relevant to major war but also to the full spectrum of combat. Case after case demonstrates Armor is highly useful in COIN and urban environments, yet somehow a myth gets perpetuated it isn't despite the huge stack of historical evidence to the contrary.

5) Armor isn't dead, but we're making some serious WTF decisions, especially on the Cav end, and failing to make the case for Armor's utility full-spectrum. Many wonder who is advocating for Armor in the force design debates.


"Ironically, my writing on the wall said something totally opposite. I just put a 4187 to go from Infantry to Armor... .HRC denied my request."

JP- After two years of rote memorization, indoctrination, and disciplined regurgitation of the Serenity Prayer, I just have to compartmentalize this action into the box of things from the creator that I will neither understand nor control. This box is broad to include the perpetual inefficiency of bureaucracies, desk jockey lawyers rules of engagement that will not allow warning shots to save lives, Army Generals preaching non-violence to West Point cadets, distinctions between theory and practice of life, and Fiddlers Green turning into a sports bar.

Many moons ago, back when I was high speed and low drag unabashed, unafraid, and oblivious, we were playing rugby on a pitch just south of COL Gentiles PhD alma mater in a village called Santa Cruz celebrating a day of remembrance for the honored, revered patriarch known as Saint Patrick. This village, emphasized by their Banana Slugs mascot, is an amalgam of artistic and creative cultures venturing far from the values taught to me at the South Hudson Institute of Technology. After the game and festivities at the home teams fraternity house, we made our way back to the National Guard barracks where we were staying. Having tried to integrate and immerse with the indigenous culture, I consumed my fill of Guinness and Dewars. Needless to say, I was spent. As I prepared to rest, my teammates barged into the room waving a newspaper proclaiming, "Dude, you gotta see this!!!" Through the cloudiness of the fog that covered my eyes grasping for sleep, I stared at the paper. It was the Santa Cruz Times, and the headline was "Baby Killers come to town." Directly underneath the headline, a picture showed an Army rugger running through three defenders. The article went on to describe how the graduates of West Point would go on to kill women and children in foreign lands. I was unimpressed.

"Dude, Mike check it. Thats you," exclaimed my teammate. So there I was, twenty years old having spent my life in academics, sports, and church, and now I was generalized as a baby killer. My mother still has a copy of that article. I realized that sometimes, no matter who you are, no matter what you do, people are people constrained by conceptual blocks and limited understanding and trapped in their own limiting norms, values, and beliefs.

So what? WTF does this story tell us about the death of Armor or the rise in interest of small wars? Paradoxically, nothing and everything. The challenge for us as Army officers is to transcend these limitations. We must force ourselves to see the world as it is not as we wished it to be.

COL Gentile, Phil R, Mike B, PatMC, Ken White and others across the SWJ world attempt to do that every day. As Emerson reminds us, the Creator, in his infinite wisdom, will show us solutions in his own time of war, science, mathematics, and nature. We just have to listen.


I believe that there is a problem, but Im not sure we are all talking the same language or have the same sight picture. I agree with much of what Col. Gentile says, but Im not sure we should assume a natural connection between combined arms, the existence of an Armor Branch/corps, and tanks on the battlefield. Im inclined to believe that the existence of an armor corps is a "mindset" issue. From what I see, the Army takes Tanks, infantry, infantry fighting vehicles, artillery, etc. and really operates them with different flavors based on different missions and balances of forces/weapons (for instance, Cavalry, Mech Inf, Armor, etc.). As a Marine, I was brought up with Combined Arms ingrained in my thinking, but it had more to do with close integration of ground and aviation (both rotary and fixed wing) capabilities, as well as the combined arms resulting from different ground combat capabilities. I would assert that we are doing "combined arms" in current conflicts, but that the balance and mix of capabilities is different than how doctrinally "Heavy" armored and mechanized formations were designed to conduct. As Mr. Owen outlined in his recent "Toyota Horde" article, combined arms is not the sole province of a Bradley-Abrams force mix. Thus, I think we should move the conversation away from decrying a gap in combined arms training and capability and get to specifics that would be more useful in advancing the issue and developing solutions.

Repeating myself, where I see the importance of an armor corps is in a certain mindset. Beyond the immediate tactics of fighting a tank, the armored community has a mentality and approach to organizing and employing the combined arms force that is arguably different than other Branches (or services) who have the same or similar capabilities. Im intensely interested in our capability to fight in higher end conflicts against more capable foes. My concern with the focus on COIN, and COIN vs. Conventional debate, is that it has placed "conventional" into a single category as an "other"--only referenced as what isnt COIN (and implied as what isnt relevant). We are not having the necessary debate about what those higher end capabilities really need to look like and how they should be employed. Is it the Tank-Mech mix we have had since the 1970s? Should it be a broader mix? What about the Marine Corps model of General Purpose infantry that can be mechanized, airmobile or footmobile, supported by tanks or not, and relies on close support by aviation? How could you integrate lower end capabilities/operations in the same battlespace where higher end combat is ongoing?

Im not convinced that the Hizbollah model of hybrid warfare is actually the likely model of future opponents, but it does provide an interesting challenge to design the force against. I also think we should be careful of basing the perceived relevance of our "conventional" capabilities on wars (Desert Storm, OIF I) in generally open terrain with 5th rate armies. We havent had to fight a competent for in Asia in a number of years. Our lessons may be different there. In any case, I would welcome the thinking and debate that moves beyond COIN vs. Conventional.

JP (not verified)

Mon, 04/19/2010 - 11:41am

Ironically, my writing on the wall said something totally opposite.

I just put a 4187 to go from Infantry to Armor.

Since we've gone from one extreme to the other, I'm hedging my bet that there will be a need for Armor again in the near future and I want to be a part of the preservation of that art.

HRC denied my request.

gian p gentile (not verified)

Mon, 04/19/2010 - 11:28am

Mike F;

Me too and I am proud to be associated with armor leaders like you, Reggie Allen, Mike B, Niel Smith and so many, many others. To be sure your comments were thoughtful and I took them in the spirit of lively debate as I do your always worthwhile remarks as well. Beers at Fiddlers Green would be great sometime; although sadly the last time I was there a number of years ago Fiddlers Green had been turned into a sports bar.

Also, Reggie thanks for the clarification that you still have your tanks and have trained on them but as you say have not turned them in "yet." This of course is part of the larger problem of either what is happening or what soon will happen to the armor corps. I would respectfully say though, Reggie, that as fine as it is that you were able to train your tankers and scouts on their Brads and Tanks, that focus of effort might prove fleeting as your troopers return from their upcoming deployment and move back out into an army where I have tried to argue that the Armor Corps as an intellectual state of mind is no more.


COL Gentile,

Hi Sir. This conversation would be so much easier if we were all just having some beers and talking this out at Fiddler's Green. In reality, I agree with you and Mike Burgoyne. In fact, Chris Mahaffey is an old mentor of mine who brilliantly negoitated a peace for his boys in Sadr City back in 2004 long before we could spell COIN. I've posted my comments to expand the debate and possibly find some better truths. Actually, I usually agree with most of your writings to an extent. At a minimum, I learn something, and I have to think. So, thank you for continuing to write. I believe what you're doing is a great service to our military and country.

This weekend, I got a call from one of my old PL's. He's dropped his 4187 branch transfer request from Armor to Infantry. He's the fourth of my friends, peers, and subordinates to do so. . He (and the others that switched) are top 5%- some of the best, brightest, and most gifted officers that I've EVER served with. We've discussed his dilemma over the last couple of months. Finally, after he made his decision, I asked him why. He stated, "the writing is on the wall, sir." Frankly, I was disappointed and frustrated. He called me this weekend ashamed in the same manner that one's dog might be when you get home and he's pooped in the living room. So, the timing of your article was impeccable. Last night, an old 1SGT of mine (light infantry type) and I discussed his decision and your article in detail over some beers. So, take my comments in that context.

I love tanks. I graduated in 2000 and chose Armor precisely for that reason. If we were going to war, then I wanted to ride in style. I love the thrill of rolling at 40mph over open desert, the challenge of diagnosing and dissecting a faulty transmission or malfunctioning breech, and the thrill of nailing my commander's engagement during TT VIII. Moreover, I am still in awe of the firepower of the 120mm. Just as if it was yesterday, I remember a Fedayeen soldier vaporizing from the Heat round that I put into his bunker during the Thunder Runs. Six years ago, as a cocky tank XO in 3rd ID, I would have been on the Gentile band wagon after this article rattling my saber with my stetson adorned on my head. Any fool that contends that there will never be another big war because we're only doing small wars is just that- a fool reminiscent of the over-indulgent optimistics that contended WWI was the war to end all wars.

Any amateur historian such as myself with a limited understanding can realize that we're only one major economic disaster away from a major war. In some ways, the inter-connectiveness of our global economy is as fragile and fickle as the political treaties and alliances that allowed the assasination of one archduke to bring the whole system down. If that powder keg goes boom, then the Islamicist and small wars will be as irrelevant as the anarchist at the turn of the 20th century. So, I feel you on that one. Duh, we need tanks.

But, but, what extent? This is where our thoughts may diverge. In the past six years, my experience shifted. Branch sent me to Bragg to work light cavalry in the airborne world. Division sent me to the Special Forces world for a while. I got off my tank, learned how to sneak around in the woods during the middle of the night like we used to do as kids, learned how to jump out of an airplane and seize an airfield, and learned how to conduct FID, coaching and assisting foreign security forces. Finally, my boss sent me to school to study small wars. I studied rebellions around the world, worked drug/gang problems in Salinas, CA, and tackled wicked problems ranging from education to water rights.

So, a lot happened that I'm still absorbing. I've had good and bad leaders, easy and rough physical and human terrain, and complicated problems of various size and shape, but as much as I learned, as much as things were different, as I reflected and continue to ponder, the fundamentals taught to me as tank platoon leader training in the Kuwaiti desert persist.

So, I am proud to be Armor. I love tanks and understand that we need heavy units, but we must adapt and adjust in order to grow. I'll stop my long-winded post with that, and hopefully, the discussion will continue. And, I'll continue to consider why our best may be jumping ship. But, I wouldn't worry too much about us losing the Big Brains. We're still here :).


Anonymous (not verified)

Mon, 04/19/2010 - 10:01am

Death of Armor starts here...

"The Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) 2005 recommendations became law on Nov. 9, 2005. One of the many elements of this law is that the U.S. Army Armor Center and School will relocate from Fort Knox to Fort Benning. As part of TRADOCs transformation, the activities relocating from Fort Knox along with activities currently at Fort Benning, Georgia, notably the U.S. Army Infantry Center and School, will integrate to establish the Maneuver Center of Excellence (MCOE)."

R. Allen (not verified)

Mon, 04/19/2010 - 9:32am


While I agree with many of your comments, just to be clear - the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment has not turned in its tanks - yet . In fact we just completed a full up level I gunnery firing every Tank and Bradley crew in the Regiment both stabilized and unsterilized IAW the new HBCT Gunnery Manuel . We made the time to do that so that we would not have another generation of scouts and tanks who have not fired their primary weapon system in years or ever. As for the Regiments future that remains to be seen...


Brave Rifles!
73d Colonel of the Regiment
3d Armored Cavalry Regiment

gian p gentile (not verified)

Mon, 04/19/2010 - 8:56am


I disagree. Branches are relevant for a balanced army that relies on a reasonable amount of specialization in light infantry, mechanized infantry, armor, artillery, etc.

If we go so far as you seem to suggest doing away with branches because they are "irrelevant" and rely only on "leadership" then in our army today that has become decidedly light infantry centric, then where does that leave us?

Combined Arms competencies will not just magically appear. They are grounded at least partially in the skills and intellectual framework provided by each branch and its role in the overall combined arms team. To be sure branch parochialism can go too far, but to say that they are irrelevant is pushing it a bit.

Also Mike the notion that "platform" is irrelevant too is a bit of a stretch, at least in practice, dont you think? I mean you cant really be saying that a scout platoon manned with light skin humvees even with the best platoon leader and platoon sergeant in the Army could have gone up against a defending republican guard battalion, performed its reconnaissance role, stayed alive, and lived to report and maintain contact? Come on, that is why the BRT platoons in the march up were mostly placed on the flanks or rear to do movement control.

Platforms do matter and to think otherwise seems to have bought into the Zen version of war that taps into the force that can overcome basic physics. This is one of the pernicious effects of the Coin movement: the notion that learning and adapting leaders who have read the starfish and the spider can overcome any tactical problem simply because they pray at the altar of "learning and adapting."

At some point cant we agree that Branches and Platforms still matter? If not we seem to be drifting in a morass of fuzzy concepts that will be severely tested and blooded when our Army drives into the teeth of an enemy who fights beyond cell-like IED emplacement and small arms ambushes.


I'll bring it home in another manner...

In combat, I directly observed,

- a Combat Engineer Commander maneuver heavy and light forces during the intial invasion to include an ad-hoc river crossing.

- a light infantry commander fail to prepare an adequate defense and strongpoint that resulted in 10 US KIA.

- a tank company commander seizing enemy strongpoints despite overwhelming odds

- a tank platoon leader stricken by fear and refusing to move

- a light infantry commander storm and conquer an AQ stronghold.

Branch is irrelevant. Platform is irrelevant. Leadership is everything.

"Close with and destroy the enemy by firepower, maneuver and shock "

Dude, that's what we do. I'm sorry if it doesn't fit nicely in some box of how the world should be, but that's what we're here for.

"Another cause for concern is the move of the Armor Center from Fort Knox to Fort Benning. Maneuvering vehicles is not the same as maneuvering infantry and Armor should remain a distinct and separate institution. I have yet to read a convincing argument for the move which seems to me an opportunity for the Infantry branch to take a greater role in Strykers, mounted reconnaissance and the Bradley."

Mike B- with great exception to parochialism and budgets, the move is a good thing. In short, a good commander should be able to lead an infantry squad or Div Cav. That's just simple combat calculus and leadership.

Furthermore, you are wrong in stating that "Maneuvering vehicles is not the same as maneuvering infantry." That is a false generalization from the 1990's army.

Finally, we're going to merge the maneuver branches. We've started integrating 19D's into observer controller roles in Ranger and RSLC. If egos subside, the 19Ds, LRRS boys, and SOF guys may actually collaborate.

If we get past the BS mindset of the 1990's that armor leaders are big thinkers and infantry pound sand, then we can all actually grow.

Keep in mind, in historical context, Rommel was an infantryman.



Cannoneer No. 4

Sun, 04/18/2010 - 8:39pm

<i>Close with and destroy the enemy by firepower, maneuver and shock</i> sounds bloody-minded and politically incorrect to American ears in 2010. The "armor state of mind" started to flicker out when the Strykers came in and 19K's became Mobile Gun System crewman and airlift became the preferred method of transporting fighting vehicles, and besides, major mounted combat between near peers is so 3GW.

Faster, lighter, more agile. The advocates of the Main Battle Tank failed to strategically communicate to the American taxpayer that we <i>needed</i> a Next Generation Main Battle Tank, so we keep upgrading the Abrams, maybe eventually to Mark I Bolo standard, but in the end our beloved panzers will be replaced by Unmanned Ground Vehicles, and the last tankers will be TOC Rat gamers.