The Marine Corps Must Have Tanks AUTHOR Major John R. Sykes, USMC CSC 1989 SUBJECT AREA - Operations EXECUTIVE SUMMARY TITLE: THE MARINE CORPS MUST HAVE TANKS 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 battalion. 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. TITLE: THE MARINE CORPS MUST HAVE TANKS OUTLINE 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 THE MARINE CORPS MUST HAVE TANKS 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 established. 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. (15:1) 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 clothing. 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 tanks. 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 warfare. 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. BIBLIOGRAPHY 1. Barrett, W.C., Maj, USMC. "Tanks?" Marine Corps Gazette, 43 (October 1959). 2. Batchelor,John H., and Kenneth Mackesey. Tank. New York: Charles/Scribner's Sons, 1970. 3. Dunstan, Simon, et al. Armour of the Vietnam Wars. London: Osprey Publishing, 1985. 4. Dunstan, Simon. 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Marine Corps Concepts and Issues, 3 February, 1987: Updated 7 March, 1988. 17. U.S. Marine Corps. Marine Division. FMFM 6-1, Washington, D.C., 1978. 18. U.S. Marine Corps. Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps. Point Paper: "Requirement for Main Battle Tanks (MBT's) In The Marine Corps". POG 0346D (December 1987). 19. U.S. Marine Corps. Tank Employment/Countermechanized Operations. FMFM 9-1, Washington, D.C., 1981. 20. U.S. Marine Corps. Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps. Subject Files, Reference Section, History and Museums Division, Marine Corps Historical Center. "Tanks in the Marine Corps." (June 1963). 21. Weeks, John. Men Against Tanks. New York: Mason/Charter, 1975.
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