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A Future for Armor in an Era of Persistent Conflict | Small Wars Journal

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In addition to being utilized in its traditional role, since the end of the Second World War, armor has been deployed to crises to provide important capabilities despite a lack of enemy armor or other threats armor might have been otherwise expected to engage.  In 1958, when the US Army intervened in Lebanon, a small contingent of M48 tanks and M42 anti-aircraft vehicles were deployed with the force, never operating above platoon strength.  During the conflict in Vietnam, M48 and M551 tanks assigned to three tank battalions and numerous armored cavalry units provided dispersed support to units across the country.  They rarely operated as organized and in the face of institutional reticence toward their deployment.  In fact, the organic companies of 1st Battalion, 77th Armor were so rarely under its operational control that the headquarters was used to control multi-company task forces, sometimes without any armor at all.  In the twilight of the Cold War, a limited number of M551 tanks were again utilized during Operation Just Cause in Panama, where, like in Lebanon, they operated at platoon strength.

In spite of these historical examples, after a decade in Afghanistan, the Army has deployed no tanks or infantry fighting vehicles there.  A common retort is, as expected, that such vehicles are not broadly useful in the Afghan terrain or for the type of fighting there.  This, however, stands in stark contrast to the historical record, where small amounts of armor have been deployed to support similar contingencies and have been found to be useful as a specialized capability.  It is as a specialized capability that the armor can best serve the Army.  This is not a new concept either.  For instance, during Operation Just Cause, Lieutenant General Carl W. Stiner, at the time commander of XVIII Airborne Corps and commander of Joint Task Force – South viewed the M551s available to him as a means of providing “surgical firepower,” just like the AH-64A helicopters available to the task force.

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