Why the U.S. Army Needs Armor

The Case for a Balanced Force

Ever since World War II, the United States has depended on armored forces -- forces equipped with tanks and other protected vehicles -- to wage its wars. General Omar Bradley, the senior field commander of the U.S. ground forces that conquered Nazi Germany, noted in his official after-action report that tank warfare, especially when combined with airpower, proved essential in defeating the Wehrmacht. "The air-armor team is a most powerful combination in the breakthrough and in exploitation," he wrote, adding, "the use of this coordinated force, in combat, should be habitual." In the decades that followed, the U.S. military frequently employed armored forces, relying on them during the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the Afghan war, and the Iraq war.

Organized into units called "armored brigade combat teams," which consist of about 4,500 soldiers outfitted with Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles, the U.S. Army's armored forces are among the most expensive ground formations to train and equip. They require more time to deploy and a considerable amount of resources to sustain. Yet they have been invaluable on the battlefield. Thanks to their speed, protection, and firepower, along with their ability to work in concert with many other types of ground forces, armored forces have played crucial roles in defeating enemy militaries, toppling hostile regimes, fighting insurgents, and establishing security. Their ability to keep pace with fast-moving aircraft has made them particularly useful when operating as part of an air-ground team. Against enemies concentrated or dispersed, they have delivered rapid, successive blows, turning tactical gains into strategic successes.

Despite their utility, however, some critics have begun to question the value of armored forces. They argue that the United States' "pivot" to Asia relies more on naval and air forces and that the use of NATO airpower in Libya foretells a future way of war that has little need for ground forces, particularly armored ones. Meanwhile, looming budgetary constraints, along with the army's ongoing downsizing after Afghanistan and Iraq, have enhanced the appeal of lighter, smaller, and cheaper forces.

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