As recently as last week, General Dynamics Land Systems announced it had won a new contract to upgrade 435 U.S. Army Abrams M1A2 Main Battle Tanks.
"The U.S. Army TACOM Lifecycle Management Command has awarded General Dynamics Land Systems, a business unit of General Dynamics, a multi-year contract to upgrade 435 M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks. The vehicles will be converted to the M1A2 Systems Enhancement Package Version Two configuration. The first increment of the multi-year contract is valued at $39 million and will fund the upgrade of 20 M1A1 Abrams tanks," the company said in a statement.
"This multi-year procurement contract will complete the modernization of all remaining M1A1 tanks which have been in the Army's inventory for more than 20 years," General Dynamics said.
"The most technologically advanced digital tank, the M1A2 SEP V2 includes improved displays, sights, auxiliary power and a tank-infantry phone. It also can accommodate future technology improvements to ensure compatibility with the U.S. Army's Future Combat Systems," the company said.
Critics claim that the U.S. Army's continued commitment to maintain a large, state-of-the-art armed force is obsolete in a world of Improvised Explosive Devices and guerrilla war. There is certainly no doubt that the U.S. armed forces lack of adequate experience, military doctrine and senior officers grounded in the history of anti-terrorist and guerrilla conflicts cost it had heavily in Iraq. It took nearly four years following the invasion and occupation of Iraq in March-April 2003 for Gen. David Petraeus, a top commander with serious expertise in such kinds of war, to be sent out to re-shape U.S. tactics, and combat doctrine and conditions have improved remarkably ever since.
But even more than in other militaries, the U.S. tradition has always been to focus obsessively on the lessons to be learned from its most immediate past conflict, and to forget or throw overboard capabilities or experience learned -- usually at a high cost in lives and suffering, in other wars.
The Clinton administration obsessed for eight years on peacekeeping military models and ignored the grim admonition of Britain's great poet Rudyard Kipling that iron "is master of all." The Bush administration under Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for his first six years obsessed about space-based assets, though it willfully ignored the abundant evidence of how vulnerable they were. Current Defense Secretary Robert Gates is moving as fast as he can to remedy that negligence.
However, the current, long-overdue and so far highly successful focusing on the problems of guerrilla war should not obscure the need to maintain other, more traditional heavy armor and state-of-the-art artillery forces that can be used in more conventional conflicts. Gates and his top Army and Marine Corps officers realize that, which is why they are working hard to maintain the Army's massive heavy tank force in peak condition.
Even in Iraq, the lessons of so-called low-intensity conflicts show that heavy armor is necessary to protect supply lines and military convoys and to prevent unduly heavy casualties. Bradley Fighting Vehicles were not up to the job. The new Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles are vastly better, and the Army and Marines want as many as they can get as fast as they can get them.
Therefore even in fighting guerrilla conflicts, there is no alternative to having a large force of state-of-the-art battle tanks and armored personnel carriers. This wisdom is not unique to the U.S. military. It is also shared by the top military planners of India and China.
Next: Asian potential for large-scale land war