White Knight Or White Elephant: The M1A1 "Abrams" In The Marine Corps AUTHOR Major Karl J. Gunzelman, USA CSC 1989 SUBJECT AREA - Operations EXECUTIVE SUMMARY TITLE: White Knight or White Elephant: The M1A1 "ABRAMS" in the Marine Corps I. Purpose: To ascertain the usefulness of the M1A1 "Abrams" main-battle tank (MBT) in its doctrinal roles: that of a combat support element; and, as part of a maneuver unit within the the Marine Corps division. II. Problem: Although the M1A1 is the premier western MBT, it was designed especially as a tank destroying system and not as an infantry-support weapon system. Its limitations in the infantry support role, and the Marine Corps inability to compliment its offensive characteristics, restricts an otherwise awesome and very expensive capability. III. Data: The Marine Corps requires a main-battle tank that can serve as an infantry support weapon, and that can operate as part of a combined-arms maneuver force. The Abrams, on the other hand, was designed by the U.S. army primarily to destroy tanks. It operates only in the Army's mechanized divisions which are force-structured to facilitate the tank s capabilities. The M1A1 has few of the features requisite of a good infantry support weapon. Even when compared to the older M-60 A1 tank, the M1A1 lacks certain essentials, such as ammunition variety, redundant communication capability and even physical protection, required of an infantry support weapon. While the M1A1 organization can be an excellent maneuver unit, the Marine Corps lacks the force structure to fully exploit the M1A1's capabilities as an offensive weapon system. Historical evidence substantiates the need for compatible and mutually supporting systems to ensure success on the battlefield. The Marine Corps risks repeating past mistakes. IV. Conclusions: The Abrams will perform inadequately in either of its doctrinal roles. It is neither the infantry- support weapon, so desperately needed by its infantry units, nor is it the Marine Corps' combat-arm-of-decision in combined-arms offensive operations. V. Recommendations: The Marine Corps must either change its equipment and organization to effectively employ its tank assets, or it must change its concept of operation. If the Marine Corps should change the former, it must be willing to accommodate a subsequent increase in strategic mobility requirements. If it should change its concept of operation, either the role of the tank should change, or the tank should be removed as an asset. White Knight or White Elephant: The M1A1 "ABRAMS" in the Marine Corps by Major Karl J. Gunzelman, USA Thesis Statement: The Marine Corps has procured a main- battle tank (MBT) that fails to adequately support its doctrinal missions as an infantry support weapon and as an element of a maneuver force. I. Extolling Its Virtues A. Operationally better than the M-60 A1 B. Role of the MBT in the Marine Corps II. Tanks as infantry-support weapons A. Historical purpose B. Most armies unsuccessful C. The Marine Corps enjoyed great success III. Today's MBT is a poor infantry-support weapon A. Primary ammunition is limited to two rounds B. The infantry-phone has disappeared C. Armored protection is no longer provided IV. Evolving MBT Doctrine A. The Marine Corps is adjusting B. It just can not support it V. Learning from History A. Offensive doctrine calls for compatible weapons B. Incompatible forces historically lose C. The Soviet threat is no longer incompatible VI Fire vs fire A. Marine Corps vs a Soviet-style force B. Borrowing from the U.S. army VII. Nothing is easy WHITE KNIGHT OR WHITE ELEPHANT? I. Extolling its Virtues To the delight of many, the Marine Corps recently decided to procure the same main battle tank as the U.S. Army: the M1A1 "Abrams" with some minor configurational differences. The Abrams is certainly a technological advance over the Patton (M-60)) series, incorporating significant increases in speed, in armored protection, and in armament. The recent literature on the M1A1, in fact, contrasts the pros and cons of replacing the M-60 A1 with the Abrams. An example, a comment by Col Lawrence G. Karch in the Marine Corps Gazette, refutes William S. Lind's remark that the Marine Corps does not need the M1A1, but an upgraded version of the M-60 series MBT. Among other things Col Karch remarks that, the M1A1 is superior to the M-60 A1 in performance, in spite of the fact that it is heavier and uses more fuel. It can be considered a "super tank" and is invulnerable to all direct fire ground weaponry (of today) ecept the Future Soviet Tank (FST). Operational availability is greater than 90%, Mean Time Between Mission Failure (MTBMF) is 640 kilometers and the gas turbine demonstrates a MTBMF of 10,000 kilometers. The supportability parameters are better than the M-60 A1 and overall are quite good. While the Marine Corps will receive 66 M1A1's in FY89, the Marine Corp could only afford 14 in the POM. Congress has decided on 66. COL Karch states that "This places the Marine Corps in the fortunate position of getting the best tank in the world at what amounts to a bargain basement price."1 When comparing one tank to the other, one would certainl agree that the M1A1 is technically superior to any of the tanks in the M-60 series. Vet, one would hope that the Marine Corps is looking at the M1A1 (at $3 million a copy), less from a machine versus machine viewpoint, and more from the perspective of how the tank can best serve as part of the division's tank battalion. The latest guidance in regard to this role is found in OH 6-1, where the tank unit is assigned two basic missions. The first mission calls for using tanks (platoon, company or battalion) to provide combat support to the Marine division; the second mission dictates employing them as a maneuvering force.2 An examination of MBT employment, with emphasis on the M1A1, in each of these roles will assist in understanding just how much utility the M1A1 has in the Marine Corps division. II. Tanks as Infantry-Support Weapons The primary role of the Main Battle Tank (MBT), towards fulfilling the combat support mission in the Marine Corps, is to serve as an infantry support weapon. Historically, a great deal of emphasis has been put on this mission. The first versions of the MBT were introduced in World War I for the specific role of physically breaking through obstacles covered by artillery and machinegun fire. Their rates of march were much the same as dismounted infantry, and they carried the infantry support weapons of the day. They were indeed infantry-support weapon systems. Both French and Russian doctrine prior to World War Two called for using tanks to support the infantry. In the defense, this normally entailed small units of armor dispersed about the infantry along a somewhat static line. The infantry support doctrine was greatly influenced by the events of World War One and the abortive attempts to use armor in the Spanish Civil War. Even the German army engaged in many an argument as to how tanks should be employed. As Von Mellenthin explains in Panzer Battles: "Between 1935 and 1937 a tense struggle was fought out within the German General Staff regarding the future role of armor in battle. The German Chief-of-Staff, General Beck, wished to follow the French doctrine and tie down the tanks to close support of the infantry. "3 During World War Two the British designed a number of their tanks to support the infantry. John Keegan explains that "the Churchill, for example, like the Matilda and Valentine, was an `infantry' tank, descending directly from the trench-crossing, wire-crushing Mother of the First World War, and designed like it to destroy by fire or intimidation the resistance of enemy infantry in strong points."4 The British, unfortunately, did not enjoy much success with these vehicles. The U.S. Marine Corps, conversely, very successfully employed U.S. tanks in the infantry-support role. Nichols and Shaw state in Okinawa: Victory In The Pacific that: Armor was used entirely as an infantry weapon on Okinawa, and the one time the tanks attempted to operate without infantry support, during the 27th Division's attack at Kukazu Ridge on 19 April (1955), the results were disastrous. The success of the tank-infantry team was due to the stress laid in training and in combat on mutual cooperation: the tank supported and protected the infantryman and vice versa.5 The importance of the tank in this setting probably can not be understated as the authors go on to say that: On Okinawa, in the judgement of General Sheperd, `if any one supporting arm can be singled out as having contributed more than any others during the progress of the (Okinawan) campaign, the tank would certainly be selected'. The Marine general was supported in his opinion by the commander of the Japanese Thirty-second army who issued a battle lesson which stated that `the enemy's power lies in his tanks. It has become obvious that our general battle against the American force is a battle against their M-1 and M-4 tanks'.6 Actually, these tanks were well suited for the infantry support role; they were, however, totally inadequate in the role of anti-tank weapon. The M-1 was little more than an armored machinegun carrier and the M-4, although the U.S. army's main battle tank of the day, has long been considered by some as performing disastrously in its primary role as an anti-tank weapon, but well suited as an infantry support system. 7 Even before the Marine's effective use of it in World War II. however, the tank was undergoing change. As early as the 1920's the tank began to be conceived as the dominant arm of the military; yet, it was not until well into the Second World War that the tank took on its present day configuration of heavy armor, large gun and operational mobility. Since then, the emphasis on tank design has led to the removal of all but the barest of ancillary systems (two or three small caliber machineguns for self-protection). The high explosive (HE) cannons (for soft targets) are gone as are the bow machineguns (against enemy infantry). The emphasis, firepower-wise, is the tank-killing main gun.8 III. Today's MBT is a Poor Infantry-Support Weapon An infantry support weapon system must be responsive to the infantry's need to move, shoot, communicate and survive, much as the MBT does for the "tanker." It should have space enougn for transporting the infantry and his gear where they both are needed; it should be capable of providing effective direct and indirect fires, and in calibers both large and small against a myriad of target types; communication between the infantryman and his vehicle should be simple and easy; and, finally, the infantry support weapon system should provide a degree of survivability to both the vehicle system and the infantryman. A casual inspection of today's main battle tank is evidence enough to conclude that the MBT fails to meet most of the criteria set above. The decrease in the utility of the MBT as an Infantry-support weapon system is clearly seen in the transition from the Marine Corps present MBT (the M-60 A1) to the Marine Corps newest generation tank (the M1A1). Granted, the M1A1 Abrams provides a 120mm direct fire cannon that will penetrate any known armored vehicle in the world. It provides its crew with an unsurpassed measure of mobility and survivability from both ballistic ordnance and chemical agents. Unfortunately, when it was designed, a number of essential elements for supporting an accompanying infantry force were left off. First of all and contrary to Captain Gudmundsson's assumption 9, the M1A1 has only two main gun rounds; High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) and armored Piercing Fin Stabilized Discarding Sabot (APFSDS) or "SABOT," both essentially anti-armor rounds. In addition to HEAT and SABOT, the M-60 A1 has a high-explosive plastic (HEP) round, an anti-personnel (APERS) round or "Beehive," and a white phosphorus (WP) round. Other considerations include the removal of the "infantry" phone and the inability to use the protection afforded by the tank itself. The HEP round is an anti-material ammunition that gives the MBT a capability to effect greater blast, concussion and fragmentation than either of the anti-armor rounds. It is especially effective against concrete. When the HEP round detonates against a concrete surface it creates a "scabbing" effect (the opposite side shatters into small pieces). The HEP round can destroy reinforced concrete up to 6 to 8 feet thick. In essence, the HEP has many of the characteristics of an artillery round, and it can be employed as a direct fire artillery round.10 The Beehive round is used primarily against troops in the open. Its mechanical time fuze can be set for muzzle action or to function at any range from 200 to 4,400 meters. This round significantly increases the infantry's ability to engage threat infantry at extended ranges. 11 The WP round provides a capability to mark and screen targets. Marked targets can then be engaged by other direct fire means, aviation delivered weapons and field artillery delivery systems. The WP round can also be used to ignite combustible material and for psychological effect (it burns). 12 The M-60 A1 also has an external phone, located on the left rear bumper that allows an individual to talk to the crew while they are "buttoned up." It allows an infantry command post or observation post to run wire to the tank and talk to the crew in a more secure means than afforded by the radio. Finally, the infantryman can no longer use the MBT to provide himself protection. Prior to the M1A1, the infantryman could stand to the rear of the tank and use the tank's armor to shield himself from fire to his front and oblique. Unlike the M-60 A1, which vented its exhaust skyward, the M1A1 vents its exhaust toward the rear. The gas turbine, which powers the M1A1, also produces an extremely high temperature exhaust capable of burning anyone who stands too near it. The trend towards specializing the MBT to defeat enemy armor will continue in the future. A recent decision to reduce the tank crew size to three and to increase the caliber of its main gun to defeat increasingly more resistant armors further substantiates the fact that the MBT will continue to deviate from any ability to serve as an infantry- support weapon. In fact, the Marine Corps would probably be better served by the M-60 A1 as an infantry-support weapon than by the Abrams. Perhaps, the Marine Corps is buying the the M1A1 primarily for use in its maneuver force role, since it will perform so poorly in its role as an infantry-support weapon. IV. Evolving MBT Doctrine Only recently has the Marine Corps changed its doctrine regarding the employment of the division's tank battalion. As mentioned above, the past concept for employment centered on using tanks in an infantry-support role. Doctrine underwent change in the late 1970's in order to take full advantage of the offensive characteristics of the M-60 A1 Main Battle Tank (MBT). By 1981, doctrine stated that the M-60 A1 battalion would serve as an independent maneuver unit, provide antitank protection, or conduct mechanized operations. 13 Today, the concept for employing the tank battalion has been further refined to parallel the army's practice of cross-attaching tank units with infantry units and vice versa, in order to have maneuver units comprised of compatible forces. 14 The revised doctrine, along with the new tank, is supposed to increase the Marine Division's ability to fight and defeat an enemy via combined arms operations. The Marine Corps willingness to evolve doctrinally, as new technology presents itself, is no doubt encouraging. However, the introduction of the M1A1 into the Marine Division will do more to inhibit the Division's ability to conduct offensive operations, than it will to promote that ability. Regardless of how well the concept of cross- attachment as a part of mechanized operations has served the U.S. Army, its adoption by the Marine Corps will lead to a misapplication of the "combined arms" principle. Forces must be compatible to effectively operate together, especially during offensive operations against a Soviet or Soviet- Surrogate threat, and the Marine Corps does not have this compatibility. There is no doubt that each Marine tank company equipped with the Abrams gives the task force an unsurpassed capability in firepower, armor protection, mobility, and shock action. However, these capabilities give the Abram's companies and battalion such a high-tempo offensive capability that the remainder of the division can neither operate with it nor support it during offensive operations. If all units cannot work together, then they are not really combined; and, if combined arms cannot be maintained during offensive operations, then the one who violates this principle invites disaster. A brief review of the division's lack of mobility and subsequent compatibility sheds light on the problem. The Marine assault Amphibian Vehicles (AAV), Light armored Vehicles (LAV), and trucks can move the infantry over various types of terrain, but they do not possess the Abrams' cross-country capabilities. Helicopter movement allows the transport of infantry, artillery, and other assets in an expeditious manner, but neither the CH-46 nor the CH-53 allows these assets to engage in combat while in flight. Helicopters, both assault and cargo, are also incapable of sustained operations in a hostile mechanized environment. Indeed, mobility problems abound. When not transported by helicopter, most of the division's artillery must be towed by a prime mover. Although the M-109 self-propelled howitzer assets may be given a mission of direct support to the task force(s), they are limited in quantity (only three batteries in each division). Their commitment to a direct support mission also deprives the division commander of flexibility in providing indirect fire support to other units. The other combat support and combat service support units essential to combined arms operations also depend on truck transport, much of which is an external asset that must be borrowed. Not only do the engineers, medical units, and logistical support units suffer from a compatibility problem due to the type of transport, they also suffer from a possible availability problem should those transportation assets be required elsewhere. V. Learning from History The problem the Marine Corps faces today is one that the most famous pioneer of mechanized warfare came to grips with many years ago. As early as 1929, Heinz Guderian saw the importance of compatibility among weapon systems. In Panzer Leader, Guderian says he "became convinced that tanks working on their own or (even) in conjunction with infantry could never achieve decisive importance...that tanks would never be able to produce their full effect until the other weapons on whose support they must inevitably rely were brought up to their standard of speed and of cross-country performance."15 He also understood "that the effectiveness of the tanks would gain in proportion to the ability of the infantry, artillery and other divisional arms to follow them in an advance across country. "16 Guderian's understanding was subsequently and empirically substantiated. Not only did Guderian experierce success with this doctrine (in France and Russia), but so did his adherents. F.W. Von Mellenthin attributes the success of the Panzer division, in all theaters of war and against all enemies, to this "balanced force of all arms. "17 When not overwhelmed by the opposition, the exploitation of this balanced and compatible force proved successful for Rommel in North Africa, for Manstein on the Eastern Front, and for Balck on the Western Front. For those who did not adapt to this style of maneuver warfare, defeat was inevitable. The British designed and employed their MBT's (different from infantry-support tanks) for operations independent of infantry. As Simpkin points out in Mechanized Infantry, the Cruiser Tank, with its subturrets and ball-mountings, right through to the Comet of 1944 indicated a response by the tanker who anticipated an absence of close infantry support.18 There is a certain degree of validity in this anticipation, as the British tankers often fought without their infantry support. John Keegan writes in The Face Of Battle that in Europe "(during) the final stage of the Goodwood offensive east of Caen, the British tanks which arrived at the foot of Borgubus Ridge, there to be destroyed by the heavier guns of the I SS Panzer Corps, had far outstripped their accompanying infantry by the speed of their advance;"19 In Northern Africa, Keegan portrays much the same picture as "... time and again in the Desert the Germans forced the British to throw their fragile Crusaders and Stuarts, unsupported by infantry escorts, on to the muzzles of their 88mm anti-tank guns (using their own not very superior Panzer Mark IIIs to bait the trap)."20 In fact, North Africa is replete with examples of British forces, superior in combat power, suffering defeat from the smaller, yet more compatible forces of Rommel. The initial successes of Guderian in France have as much to do with French tactics as with German ingenuity. The French insisted on using their armor forces in a piecemeal fashion to support the infantry, rather than as part of a mobile and combined arms counterattack force. The French army, with its superior tank forces and greater availability of transport, were capable of greater compatibility than were the Germans. However, the French simply chose riot to take advantage of the capability. The Russians also failed to grasp the importance of mobile forces working together. Stalin interpreted the disastrous employment of tanks in the Spanish Civil War in much the same fashion as the French. Having purged his premier maneuverists (to include Tukhachevskii) prior to the war, Stalin would have the Russian armor employed in the infantry-support role. In Mechanized Warfare, Simpkin states that even up to the battle of Stalingrad "the Red army no longer saw any need for mobile forces on the German pattern" and that "despite the excellence of T34/76 tank, there is little evidence that the Red army which faced Hitler's onslaught envisioned operations of a tempo and scope beyond those of dismounted infantry. "21 But, the Soviets learned. The Stavka (Supreme Field Headquarters) Directive of 10 January 1942, and other orders, radically altered the status quo with the reformation of tank and mechanized corps and a year later with the formation of tank armies.22 Van Mellenthin admits that "the Russians copied these (the German) tactics and soon became past masters of them, as we learned to our cost in Citadel (German operation name for battle of Kursk)."23 And it is that same battle of Kursk that has provided the Soviet Military of today with much of the data they continue to use to determine how they will fight the next war. Their present-day concept for operations and their organizations for combat are based on the intricate examinations of these data. VI. Fire Versus Fire The Marine Corps may one day fight either a Soviet-style Motorized Rifle Division or its derivative. If so, the opposition is organized to move all of its combat and combat support on some form of armored organic transport. This organization ensures more effective cooperation between arms than is possible with the Marine Division. As mentioned previously, the Marine infantry and support units must: borrow their transport, unless they walk, and in both cases little armored protection is available. Soviet infantrymen in their BMP's and BTR's, the artillerymen in their 2S1 (122mm) and 2S3 (152mm) Self-Propelled Howitzers, and the other support elements in their BRDM's ensure compatibility with the tank units; moreover, these units form a true combined arms force. The U.S. Army, which relies primarily on mechanized forces to combat a Soviet combined arms threat, uses the Abrams only in conjunction with compatible forces. Only the mechanized divisions and armored Cavalry Regiments are equipped with the M1A1. It is in the tank battalions and cavalry squadrons of these heavy organizations where the main-battle tank serves as the principal combat element. And it is the tank battalions, with the mechanized infantry, that share the burden of serving as the maneuver units of these mechanized divisions. The mechanized infantry fights from the Bradley Fighting Vehicle (BFV), which has replaced the M113 because it could not keep pace with the M1A1. The artillery is entirely self-propelled, and the organic medical and engineer support is provided some type of armored tracked-vehicle. Thus, the U.S. army's mechanized organizations are structured to successfully employ their tanks, in accordance with combined arms principle, against a Soviet-Style threat. It becomes clear that the Marine Corps has borrowed a concept of operation for employing the MBT from that part of the U.S. Army, the Mechanized Division, that it least resembles. The Army's Airborne, Air Assault, Infantry and Light Infantry Divisions, that operate in like fashion to the Marine infantry, do not even field the Abrams. The Light Infantry Divisions (LID) and the Air Assault Division do not have any tanks to speak of, and the armored Reconnaissance Vehicles of the Airborne Division do not qualify for consideration as main-battle tanks in definition or in operational employment. It is in fact the light infantry battalion, comprised principally of infantry and void of tanks, that serve as the maneuver units for these non- mechanized divisions. It is these divisions, whose whole being is centered around the infantryman, and not the mechanized divisions that the Marine Corps divisions most resemble VII. Nothing is Easy Since the M1A1 does not make a very good infantry support weapon, and since the Marine Corps does not compliment the offensive capabilities of the Abrams. something else must be done to synchronize the Marine Corps' fighting capability. The Marine Corps must either change its equipment and organization to effectively employ its tank assets, or it must change its concept of operation. If the Marine Corps should change the former, it must be willing to accommodate a subsequent increase in strategic mobility requirements. If it should change its concept of operation. either the role of the tank should change, or the tank should be removed as an asset. Both courses of action have benefits and problems associated with them. But to do neither is a roadmap to disaster. FOOTNOTES 1"He's Wrong on Tanks," Marine Corps Gazette, October 1988. p 30. 2OH 6-1, Ground Combat Operations, January 1988, pp. 2- 15/16. 3F. W. Von Mellenthin, Panzer Battles, University of Oklahoma Press. 1956. p. xvi. 4John Keegan, The Face of Battle. Penguin Books. 1976, p. 295. 5Charles S. Nichols and Henry I. Shaw, Okinawa: Victory In The Pacific. U.S. Government Printing Office. 1955. p 272. 6Ibid, p. 271. 7Richard E. Simpkin's Mechanized Infantry, 1980, p. 20. 8 Richard E. Simpkin's Tank Warfare, 1979, pp. 28-37. 9Bruce I. Gudmundsson, "New Tanks for Old: How Marines Should Think About Armored Vehicles," Marine Corps Gazette, (December 1988), 51-55. On page 52 Captain Gudmundsson makes the assumption that the M1A1 will have illumination and smoke rounds in addition to tank killing rounds. 10FM 17-12-1, Tank Combat Tables, 3 November 1986, p. E-1. 11Ibid, p. E-2. 12Ibid, p. E-3. 13FMFM 9-1, Tank Employment/countermechanized Operations, 9 December, 1981, pp. 1-2. 14IP 1-4, Fleet Marine Eorce, June 1987, pp. 4-19 - 4-22. 15Heinz Guderian, Panzer Leader (abridged), Ballantine Books, New York, May 1987, p. 13. 16Ibid., p. 26. 17F. W. Von Mellenthin, Panzer Battles. Ballantine Books, New York, October 1987, p. 29. 18Richard E. Simpkin, Mechanized Infantry, Pergamon Press Inc., New York, 1980, p. 13. 19Keegan, p. 291. 20Ibid. 21Simpkin, Mechanized Infantry, p. 16. 22Richard E. Simpkin, Red Armour, 1984, pp. 32&142. 23Von Mellenthin, p. 279. BIBLIOGRAPHY Guderian, Heinz. Panzer Leader (abridged). New York: Ballantine Books. 1987. Gudmundsson, Bruce I., Cpt, USMC. "New Tanks for Old: How Marines Should Think About Armored Vehicles," Marine Corps Gazette, 72 (December 1988), 51-55. Karch, Lawrence G., Col, USMC. "He's Wrong on Tanks," Marine Corps Gazette, 72 (October 1988), 30 Keegan, John. The Face of Battle. New York: Penguin Books. 1976. Nichols, Charles S. Nichols and Henry I. Shaw, Okinawa: Victory In The Pacific. U.S. Government Printing Office. 1955. Simpkin, Richard E. Human Factors in Mechanized Warfare. New York: Pergamon Press Inc., 1983. Simpkin, Richard E. Mechanized Infantry. New York: Pergamon Press Inc., 1980. Simpkin, Richard E. Red Armour. New York: Pergamon Press Inc., 1983. Simpkin, Richard E. Tank Warfare. New York: Pergamon Press Inc., 1979. U.S. Department of the Army. U.S. Army Armor School. Tank Combat Tables, FM 17-12-1. Fort Knox, November 3, 1986. U.S. Marine Corps. Marine Corps Combat Development Command. Fleet Marine Force, IP 1-4. Quantico, June, 1987. U.S. Marine Corps. Marine Corps Combat Development Command. Ground Combat Operations, OH 6-1. Quantico, January, 1988. U.S. Marine Corps. Marine Corps Combat Development Command. Tank Employment countermechanized Operations, FMFM 9-1. Quantico, December, 1981. Von Mellenthin, F.W. Panzer Battles. New York: Ballentine Books. 1987.
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