Asia Defense

The Comeback of Armor in the US Military

Armored forces still have a role to play in future conflicts.

The Comeback of Armor in the US Military
Credit: US Navy

Time and again, obituaries on the world’s tank forces have been composed by analysts, who cite shifting priorities in acquisitions, shrinking defense budgets, and the obsoleteness of heavy armor in the age of cyberwar, drone strikes, and “light footprint” operations. The United States Army, while still fielding one of the largest tank forces in the world – the number of main battle tanks alone is around 6000 – cancelled its most prominent replacement for armored fighting vehicles, the Ground Combat Vehicle, at the beginning of 2014.

Yet, as Breaking Defense reports, this trend could now partially  be reversed. The 2016 budget request contains a substantial increase in funding for various tracked vehicle programs, which according to Breaking Defense have a good chance to exit the contentious budget debates unscathed due to overall strong congressional backings of the programs and the relative small amount of money asked for. Breaking Defense lists the following programs:

  • $368 million for upgrades to the M1 Abrams tank, up 50 percent from $237 million in fiscal 2015.
  • $225 million for upgrades to the M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle, up 65 percent from $136 million in 2015.
  • $230 million to begin detailed design of the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV), a turretless support variant of the Bradley, up 150 percent from $92 million.
  • $152 million to further refine the upgraded M109 Paladin howitzer — known blandly as Paladin Integrated Management or PIM up 90 percent from $80 million.
  • $308 million to buy 450 Joint Light Tactical Vehicles (JLTV) – which replaces the old workhorse of the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, the Humvee – up 86 percent from $165 million.

The budget request would also contain money for the upgrade of 87 Stryker armored fighting vehicles. The AMPV is designed to replace the 53 year old M113 armored transport (during the Iraq War M113’s were mostly confined to bases due to weak armor) and the U.S. Army plans to acquire almost 3000 new such vehicles. Over the next years, the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps plan to purchase around 54,000 new JLTV. However, no other new acquisition programs are planned.

Overall, Stars and Stripes reports that the 2016 budget request contains around $ 2.5 billion for tactical, combat, and support vehicles. In comparison to the previous year, the overall baseline budget of the U.S. Army for the fiscal year 2016 would rise from $ 120.8 billion to $ 126.5 billion, according to the budget proposal.

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Far from ringing the death bell for armor, recent developments have in fact confirmed the continuing utility of armored vehicles — including the main battle tank — in the conflict zones of the world.  The threat of sequestration can still substantially change the defense funding landscape over the next few weeks. Despite that, the U.S. Army will be able to continue to field the most deadly armored force in the world.