military has for some time been
pursuing a path of “lightness”. The
Marines have drastically scaled back their tank companies and dropped the 120
mm towed mortar, for example. The navy
has totally abandoned armor for ships and considers the non-survivable LCS to
be a warship. The Army pursued a vision
of lightly armed Strykers. All manner of
light “jeeps” have been pursued.and procured. US
I guess the theory is that our speed of movement will cancel out and overcome the enemy’s firepower, numbers, and armor – a questionable proposition, at best.
We’re now trying to mount 20-30 mm guns on top of jeeps. We’re looking seriously at developing light/medium “tanks” that have large guns and only lightly armored bodies. Hit hard, move fast, I guess.
Is this trend to lightness viable on a modern battlefield?
Well, consider this. The Russians and Chinese are developing artillery that fires submunitions that are far deadlier than previous conventional artillery shells. These submunitions include enhanced fragmentation and thermobaric explosives.
“Over the past 20 years the Russians have improved on our steel rain technology by developing a new generation of bomblet munitions that are filled with thermobaric explosives. These munitions generate an intense, blast wave of exploding gasses that are far more lethal than conventional explosives. A volley of Russian thermobaric steel rain delivered by a single heavy-rocket launcher battalion produces a lethal area 10 times greater than an American MLRS battalion firing conventional, single-point detonating warheads.” (1)
Imagine that firepower being applied against a bunch of US soldiers running around the battlefield in essentially unarmored jeeps.
Or, consider the prospects of a bunch of light tanks when confronted by a bunch of heavy main battle tanks like the new Russian and Chinese ones.
So, are we saying that a light, mobile, unprotected force can’t win on the modern battlefield. This is probably going to surprise you but the answer is that they can win, however, there is a massive caveat. The caveat is numbers/attrition. If the light force has sufficient numbers and is willing to accept significant attrition, they can win. Those light tanks will suffer massive casualties (and their crews with them) but with sufficient numbers can eventually kill the heavy tanks. Those soldiers running around in JLTV (Joint Light Tactical Vehicle) “jeeps” will suffer massive casualties when exposed to firepower but with enough of them they can achieve their objectives.
|Joint Light Tactical Vehicle|
The degree of attrition will be massive but victory can be attained. The problem is that the
military has neither the requisite
numbers of vehicles nor personnel to absorb the kinds of losses that such a
force would suffer. Neither do they have
the transportation capacity to get such numbers to the battlefield even if they
had the numbers. Further, the degree of callousness
required to plan for and accept that level of attrition is beyond any mentality
the US has shown in recent times, if
ever. The closest we’ve come to
accepting that kind of horrifying attrition is the Civil War and that’s because
we didn’t know any better way of fighting. US
The other approach, the heavy approach, will also work and with a lot less casualties. A thermobaric bomb, or heavy artillery, or cluster munitions, or armored divisions can prevent a lot of friendly casualties and seems the far more sensible way to approach war.
We need to carefully evaluate our approach to war and make sure that we are fully committed to whichever path we choose and we need to thoroughly understand the ramifications if we choose the path of lightness.
(1)Breaking Defense website, “Bring Back Artillery Submunitions; Russian Threat Too Great” Bob Scales,