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The Marine Corps Must Have Tanks
AUTHOR Major John R. Sykes, USMC
CSC 1989
SUBJECT AREA - Operations
                   EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
I.  Purpose:  To present the history of the tank in the
Marine Corps, compare the current and future Marine Corps
tank, depict antitank weapons, discuss the tank battalion
mission and the most effective organization of the tank
battalion, and to demonstrate the Marine Corps' need for the
M1A1 Abrams tank.
II.  Problem:  Some Marines question the need for the Marine
Corps to have tanks in its inventory.  Some Marines believe
that other antitank weapons alone can accomplish the mission
of antitank defense and can provide sufficient offensive
antitank and antimechanized firepower.  Some Marines believe
that the number of companies in the tank battalion should be
reduced from four to three.
III.  Data:  The Marine Corps has fielded tanks since the
1920's, and has employed tanks in every major combat action
in which Marine forces have been involved.  The current
M60A1 tank is at the end of its service life, and is no
longer an effective weapon on the modern battlefield.  The
M1A1 Abrams is superior to the M60A1 and all potential
adversary tanks, in terms of survivability, lethality, and
mobility.  The M1A1 Abrams has the capability to decisively
influence combat operations throughout the spectrum of war,
including low-intensity and mid-intensity warfare.  Although
other antitank weapons can be helpful in defeating enemy
armor, they must be used in addition to tanks in order for
the Marine Division to field Marine Air-Ground Task Forces
(MAGTF) with sufficient combat power and flexibility to
defeat enemy forces.  Only the missions of tank and infantry
units require Marine forces to close with and destroy enemy
forces, and the Marine Corps can ill-afford to reduce its
capability to gain ground and to aggressively and rapidly
exploit tactical advantages.  The Marine Division must
maintain the flexibility to form three armored-mechanized
battalions by continuing to authorize four companies per
tank battalion.
IV.  Conclusions:  The Marine Corps has an established need
for the M1A1 Abrams.  Additionally, the most effective
organization for the tank battalion is four companies per
V.  Recommendations:  The procurement of the M1A1 Abrams
and its fielding to all tank battalions must be accomplished
as soon as possible.  Furthermore, the tank battalion should
continue to be authorized four companies per battalion.
Thesis:  The Marine Corps must have tanks, specifically the
M1A1 Abrams, if the Marine Corps expects to win in combat
when fighting outnumbered.
I.   Tanks in the Marine Corps
     A.  When tanks were first introduced
     B.  Introduction of new tanks
     C.  Wars in which USMC tanks fought
II.   The M1A1 Abrams tank
      A.  Advantages
      B.  Disadvantages
III.   Other Antitank Weapons
       A.  TOW
       B.  Dragon
       C.  TOW Cobras
       D.  Recoilless Rifles
IV.   The Role of the Tank Battalion
      A.  Mission
      B.  Organization
      C.  What the M1A1 tank is expected to do
             by Major J. R. Sykes, USMC
     The Marine Corps has an established need for a main
battle tank.  The armor forces of the Warsaw Pact nations
outnumbers those of the United States and NATO by great
numbers.  Furthermore, in the most probable war scenario, in
which the Marine Corps will fight Third World nations
supplied with Soviet tanks and equipment, the numerical
superiority of armor and mechanized forces continues to
favor the enemy.  Therefore, if the Marine Corps expects to
fight when outnumbered and win, then highly mobile and
extremely lethal forces are required.  The M1A1 Abrams is
the appropriate tank for the Marine Corps due to its superb
survivability, mobility, and lethality as compared to the
current Marine Corps M60A1 tank.  When matched against the
armor threat in mid-intensity and low-intensity warfare,
which are the most probable combat operations Marine forces
will conduct, the M1A1 Abrams is clearly the best tank for
the job.
     The following discussion presents the history of the
tank in the Marine Corps, provides a comparison of the
current and future Marine Corps tanks, depicts weapons which
can be used against tanks, discusses the mission of the
Marine Corps tank battalion, and outlines the most effective
organization for the Marine Corps tank battalion.  The
genuine need for the Marine Corps to field a main battle
tank, specifically the M1A1 Abrams, will be clearly
     The history of tanks in the Marine Corps begins soon
after the inception of armor development in the United
States, and extends through every major combat action in
which the Marine Corps has been involved.  According to
information found in the Reference Section of the Marine
Corps Historical Center, the first experimentation with
tanks was to provide a mobile platform for a machine gun.
In 1923, the Light Tank Platoon, East Coast Expeditionary
Force, was established at Marine Corps Base, Quantico,
Virginia, and was equipped with the 6-ton, model 1917 French
Renault tank, which mounted a 30 caliber machine gun.  In
1927, this platoon was assigned to the 3d Marine Brigade in
China, where it conducted operations for approximately a
year and a half.  Upon return to the United States in 1928,
the platoon was disbanded in San Diego, California. (13:1)
     The Reference Section information further describes
how, as a result of the field test in China and during the
1930's, the Marine Corps began using the Marmon-Harrington
tankette.  This two-man, 5-ton vehicle, equipped with a 50-
caliber machine gun, was unreliable, but it was adaptable to
the emerging doctrine of amphibious warfare because it was
light enough to be landed by the 1930's era landing craft.
The Marmon-Harrington tankette was dropped from the
inventory in 1941. (15:1)
     During World War II, the Marine Corps expanded the role
of tanks and fielded three types of tanks which added a
variety of armament not existent in earlier tanks.
This expansion consisted of the M2A4, M3 and M3A1, all
mounting a 37 mm main gun; the M4A2 Sherman tank with a
75 mm main gun; and the M4A3 Sherman mounting a 105 mm
main gun.  Although the Marine Corps had M2A4 tanks
ashore at Guadalcanal, the Marine Corps first used
tanks in combat in the battle for Bougainville, where
the M4A2 Sherman proved highly successful.  Although
the M4A3 105 mm Sherman was used in the battles for Iwo
Jima and Okinawa, the M4A2 90 mm Sherman became the
primary tank of Marine forces during the Pacific
campaigns.  The Marine Corps further expanded the role
of tanks during World War II by introducing flame-
thrower tanks against enemy caves on Saipan and
bulldozer tanks against enemy bunkers on Iwo Jima.
     During the Korean War, the Marine Corps was equipped
with the M26 Pershing and the M46 tank, both of which
mounted a 90 mm main gun.  From 1951 until the end of the
war, the M46 tank was used "in coordinated tank-infantry
attacks, defense and counter-attack missions, and extensive
tank-infantry patrols...." (15:1)
     By the time of the 1958 landing of Marine forces into
Lebanon, the Marine Corps had fielded the M48A1 tank
equipped with a 90 mm main gun.  Tank units accompanied the
landing force into Lebanon during this operation.  The
Marine Corps also had fielded the M103 heavy tank, with a
120 mm main gun, and the M67 tank, which was a flame-
throwing M48 variant.  The M48A1s and M103s were deployed
ashore and afloat during the the 1962 crisis in Guantanamo,
Cuba. (15:1-2)
     In the 1960's the Marine Corps conducted a program of
modernization in which the M48A1's were converted to the
M48A3 version.  The M48A3's maintained a 90 mm main gun, but
were equipped with a diesel engine and an improved fire
control system.  The same modifications were applied to the
M67A2 flame tanks and the M103 heavy tanks.  These were the
tanks deployed by the Marine Corps in the late 1960's and
early 1970's on routine operations throughout the world,
as well as the 1965 landing in the Dominican Republic. (6:2)
     Although Vietnam was not considered a good area in
which to operate tanks due to the poor trafficability of the
terrain, the Marine Corps quickly introduced a variety of
tanks into Vietnam.  "In support of the first Marine landing
at Da Nang on 8 March, 1965, were the M48A3 Pattons of ...
3rd Tank Bn....  In the following weeks other platoons of
the Battalion were landed, and by 8 July all of 3rd Tank Bn.
was ashore -- the first US tank battalion in Vietnam. ... By
the end of 1965, 1st Tank Bn. was also part of the III
Marine Amphibious Force in the I Corps Tactical Zone."
(3:16)  The M67A2 flame tank also saw service in Vietnam.
The versatility of the tank was displayed through the
variety of missions it performed.  These missions included
leading road convoys, acting as artillery by firing indirect
fire or harassing and interdiction fires, providing outpost
or strong point security, improving perimeter defenses,
recovering wounded and dead, and crushing or incinerating
enemy bunkers. (3:16)  After the Vietnam War, the M67A2
flame tank and the M103A2 heavy tank were dropped from the
inventory, and a fourth company of M48A3s was added to two
of the three tank battalions in the active Marine Corps.
     The delivery of the new M60A1s, which mounted a 105 mm
main gun and two machine guns, was scheduled for the 1972 -
1973 timeframe.  Their delivery was delayed until 1975
because the tanks which were scheduled for delivery to the
Marine Corps were diverted to the Israelis to support the
1973 Yom Kipper War. (10)  The M60A1 is the current Marine
Corps tank.  It is scheduled to be replaced in the early
1990's by the M1A1 Abrams. (16:30)
     The reasons the Marine Corps needs the M1A1 Abrams are
technological and tactical.  The technological superiority
of the M1A1 Abrams over the M60A1 is impressive.  The M1A1
Abrams can effectively influence the battlefield through
high mobility, survivability and lethality, whereas the
M60A1 can not survive due to inadequate armor protection,
poor lethality and limited survivability.  More importantly,
the technological superiority of the M1A1 Abrams over
current and projected threat tanks is vital to the Marine
Corps' capability to win when outnumbered.  The tactical
enhancement of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF),
which is gained by the addition of the M1A1 Abrams in terms
of mobility, lethality and survivability, is critical to the
capability of the Marine Corps to successfully conduct all
levels of warfare.
     The ability of the Marine Corps to successfully
establish a force beachhead is dependent on its ability to
focus sufficient combat power at the critical landing point.
In order to secure the force beachhead and to exploit
tactical advantages achieved by the amphibious landing,
forces which are highly mobile and which provide highly
lethal and survivable firepower are required.  The M1A1
Abrams is ideal for the purpose of providing the necessary
rapid reaction and heavy firepower with which to counter
enemy forces.
     A technical comparison of the M1A1 Abrams and the M60A1
will demonstrate the technological advantages of the M1A1
Abrams.  The M60A1, which is reaching the end of its service
life (16:30), mounts a 105 mm rifled main gun, with a
coincidence rangefinder and a mechanical ballistic computer.
The primary gunners sight is an image intensifier, the
effectiveness of which is degraded by periods of low
visibility due to battlefield obscuration or darkness.  The
M60A1 is equipped with a main-gun stabilizer system which
permits accurate firing of the main-gun while the tank is
moving at 5 - 10 miles per hour. (11:20)  The M60A1 is
powered by a diesel engine which enables the tank to travel
at speeds up to 30 miles per hour on improved roads and 20
miles per hour cross-country.
     This unfavorably compares to the M1A1 Abrams, which
mounts a 120 mm smooth-bore main-gun, with a state-of-the-
art CO2 laser rangefinder and a solid-state digital
ballistic computer.  The primary gunners sight is a thermal
sight which can effectively see through dust, fog and
darkness.  The tank commander has an independent thermal
viewer through which he can see the same image that the
gunner sees, and with which the tank commander can fire the
main gun.  The M1A1 Abrams is equipped with a main gun
stabilizer system which permits accurate firing of the main-
gun while the tank is moving at 25 - 30 miles per hour.
(11:20)  The M1A1 Abrams is powered by a gas turbine engine
which enables speeds above 40 miles per hour on improved
roads and 30 miles per hour cross-country. (7:50)
     The survivability of the M1A1 Abrams and the protection
it provides its crew is one of its main strengths.  Improved
armor throughout the vehicle, especially in the frontal 60
degree arc, provides a protected environment for the crew
which can defeat current and projected future Soviet
antitank ammunition.  The design of the M1A1 Abrams has
incorporated crew protective measures by separating the
ammunition storage compartment from the crew compartment
with heavy armor-plated doors and by positioning blowout
panels on the top of the ammunition storage compartment. If
penetration occurs into the ammunition compartment, the
blowout panels explode upward, thereby venting the
detonation away from the crew compartment. (7:52-53)
     In addition, the M1A1 Abrams is equipped with an over-
pressure type nuclear-biological-chemical (NBC) defense
system which seals the crew from the outside environment,
thus allowing the crew to continue to function effectively
inside the tank without wearing bulky NBC protective
     The mobility and shock effect of the M1A1 Abrams is
superior to that of the M60A1, as demonstrated by the higher
speeds, better agility, and improved rough-terrain
maneuverability, which the gas-turbine engine of the M1A1
Abrams provides.  The gas-turbine engine creates little
noise or exhaust smoke, which enables the M1A1 Abrams to
remain undetected for a longer period of time.  Together
with the low silhouette height of only eight feet, these
features combine to present the M1A1 Abrams as a much more
elusive target than the M60A1. (7:53)
     The lethality and firepower of the M1A1 Abrams is a
major improvement over that of the M60A1.  The M60A1 mounts
a 105 mm main-gun and two machine guns, a .50 caliber tank
commanders weapon and a 7.62 mm machine gun coaxial mounted
with the main-gun.  The M1A1 Abrams mounts a 120 mm main-gun
and three machine guns, a .50 caliber tank commanders
weapon, a 7.62 mm machine gun coaxial mounted with the main-
gun and a 7.62 mm machine gun mounted at the loaders
position.  The higher muzzle velocity of the 120 mm gun over
the 105 mm gun improves accuracy and the probability of a
first-round hit, and enables accurate engagement of targets
in excess of 2500 meters with ammunition that can
effectively destroy all current Soviet made tanks. (8:52)
     The M1A1 Abrams does present some disadvantages which
are not found in the M60A1.  The cost of the initial
procurement of the M1A1 Abrams is very high, and this
effects the quantity that the Marine Corps can afford.
Additionally, the M1A1 Abrams is heavier, longer and wider
than the M60A1, which affects the sealift requirements and
adds to the difficulty of deployment.  Although all current
and projected amphibious shipping can accommodate the M1A1
Abrams, its additional width and length reduces the number
which can be embarked in the cargo space allotted for tanks,
as compared to the M60A1.  Furthermore, the M1A1 Abrams uses
more fuel than the M60A1 uses under the same operating
conditions, which increases the already considerable
logistical burden for refueling.  Finally, the M1A1 Abrams
presents a disadvantage when, due to its high speed and
superior cross-country mobility, other vehicles in the
Marine Corps' inventory experience difficulty in keeping
pace with the M1A1 Abrams.
     While the most effective weapon to fight against a tank
is another tank, other weapon systems are available with
which to attack tanks, and under some conditions these
weapons can be highly effective.  However, some Marines
mistakenly consider these weapons as possible replacements
for tanks, due to the lower cost and lighter weight of
smaller antitank weapons.  For example, antitank guided
missiles are light weight and can be mounted on a variety of
launch platforms on the ground and in the air, and can be
deadly if fired by a well-trained gunner.  When fired by a
infantry tank-killer team or from an unarmored or lightly
armored vehicle, the effective ranges of the various
antitank guided missiles offer flexibility of engaging armor
targets at ranges from 150 meters, in the case of Dragons,
to almost four thousand meters with the TOW II. (8:49-50)
     However, a significant disadvantage of antitank guided
missiles is presented by the requirement of the gunner to
maintain his sighting cross-hairs fixed on his target
throughout the time-of-flight of the missile, which is
several seconds at longer ranges.  During this time, the
gunner is exposed and vulnerable to direct and indirect
fire.  Even if the direct and indirect fire fails to hit the
antitank guided missile gunner and merely lands nearby, the
gunner's concentration and accuracy will be reduced.
Additionally, the dust and debris on the battlefield adds to
the gunner's difficulty in maintaining proper sight
alignment on the target.  If the antitank guided missile
gunner is airborne in a UH-1 Cobra helicopter, a near-miss
with direct or indirect fire could cause him to miss the
target and to crash the helicopter.
     Improvements in recoilless rifles and the introduction
of smart antitank mines and laser-guided missiles which can
be delivered by artillery, aircraft or rockets offer
additional threats to the battlefield survivability of the
main battle tank.  Improvements in the ammunition and
warheads for antitank weapons compliments the effectiveness
of the improvements to the weapons themselves. (8:49)
     However, the available antitank weapons all require a
significant amount of practice under stressful battlefield
conditions before the gunner can develop adequate
proficiency with the weapon.  Although not as expensive as
the main battle tanks at which they fire, antitank weapons
are sufficiently expensive to prevent the gunners from
firing enough of the weapons to develop reliable
proficiency. (8:50)  Although antitank weapons are helpful
when used in addition to tanks, none of the antitank weapons
are as effective against tanks as are tanks themselves.
Antitank weapons must not be considered as replacements for
tanks, as none offers the flexibility, survivability or
mobility of tanks.
     The mission of the tank battalion is an important
element of the the Marine Corps' capability to defeat enemy
forces, and the M1A1 Abrams will fill a vital role within
this mission upon its arrival in the Fleet Marine Forces.
The mission of the tank battalion is "to provide combat
power to the Marine Division in the amphibious assault and
subsequent operations ashore, utilizing maneuver, armor
protected firepower, and shock action to close with and
destroy the enemy." (19:1-5)  As such, the tank battalion is
one of only two types of units in the Marine Corps that has
the mission  "to close with and destroy the enemy". (19:1-5)
Only the missions of tank and infantry units require Marine
forces to come face-to-face with enemy forces for the
purpose of combat.  Although the infantry has a formidable
array of supporting arms to help defeat enemy forces, none
can assist the infantry in the face of the enemy as can
     The capabilities of the tank battalion makes it ideal
for use in fluid, fast-moving combat situations.  The tank
battalion can operate as a part of a larger force or as an
independent maneuver force as a tank pure unit or with
cross-attached mechanized infantry.  In offensive
operations, tank forces can attack to destroy or seize enemy
positions or can penetrate and overrun enemy defenses in
order to conduct exploitation and pursuit operations in the
enemy's rear areas.  In defensive operations, tank forces
can delay in assigned areas or from a chain of prepared
battle positions, as well as participate in a strong point
defense.  Both offensive and defensive operations can be
conducted continuously under all weather and visibility
conditions, including night operations, NBC conditions and
an electronic warfare environment.
     A major advantage which tank forces provide in
amphibious operations is the capability to move combat power
ashore rapidly and from place-to-place as the tactical
situation dictates.  Rapid seizure of initial landing force
objectives, quick penetrations to secure deep landing force
objectives, and creation of maneuver space for the landing
force are crucial to the success of an amphibious landing.
This capability is vital to Marine forces during an
amphibious landing and during the expansion of the force
beachhead.  Tank forces will be needed at many places around
the force beachhead line at the same time in order to
counter enemy armor forces and prevent penetration of the
force beachhead line.  The limited number of tanks in the
landing force will require that tanks be shifted rapidly and
often throughout the force beachhead.  The M1A1 Abrams is
ideally suited for these tasks.
     In addition to the genuine need of the M1A1 Abrams in
the Marine Corps inventory, the organization of the tank
battalion is an another important factor to the
effectiveness and flexibility of the Marine Division.
Although the current tank battalion organization authorizes
four tank companies, some consideration has been given to
reducing the number of companies per battalion to three, in
view of the high cost of procuring and maintaining tank
forces.  The reduction of the tank battalion to three
companies would be a mistake, and would limit the capability
of the Marine Division.  Four companies per battalion
provides the Marine Division the most effective and flexible
tank battalion organization.
     With four companies per tank battalion, the Marine
Division can afford to detach up to two tank companies to
infantry battalions in order to form two mechanized-infantry
battalions with tank support.  At the same time, one or more
infantry companies can be cross-attached to the tank
battalion to form a tank-heavy battalion with mechanized
infantry support.  Thus, the division is capable of forming
three armored-mechanized maneuver battalions; two mechanized
infantry battalions with tank support, and the tank-heavy
battalion with a significant number of tanks with which to
decisively influence the battle.
     If the tank battalion is comprised of only three
companies, the capability of the Marine Division is limited
to forming only two armored-mechanized maneuver battalions;
one mechanized infantry battalion supported by one tank
company, and one tank-heavy battalion with two tank
companies and one mechanized infantry company.   If all three
tank companies of the tank battalion are detached to three
separate mechanized infantry battalions, then no credible
massed tank force is available to counter enemy armor forces
or to aggressively and rapidly exploit tactical successes.
     It is clear that in order for Marine forces to fight
outnumbered and win, either during an amphibious landing or
during sustained combat ashore, they must have the
capability to provide a heavy volume of firepower using
highly mobile and survivable weapons systems.  Therefore,
the Marine Corps cannot afford to deny itself the most
dominant and flexible weapon on the modern battlefield.  The
main battle tank must remain a part of the Marine Corps, if
the Marine Corps expects to be able to form MAGTF's that are
capable of successfully conducting all levels of warfare,
including the more probable low-intensity and mid-intensity
     The Marine Corps has effectively employed tanks since
the 1920's.  Moreover, tanks remain a vital component of
potential enemy forces throughout the world, and will remain
so for a long time.  The M1A1 Abrams is designed with
superior mobility, lethality and survivability, and is
capable of decisively influencing combat operations.  The
M1A1 Abrams is the tank with which Marines and the Marine
Corps can survive and win for many years to come.
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