The M1A1 Tank:  Its Role In The Marine Corps
AUTHOR Major Dennis W. Beal, USMC
CSC 1991
 SUBJECT AREA - Warfighting
                   Executive Summary
Title:  The M1A1 Tank: Its Role in the Marine Corps
I.   Purpose:  To demonstrate and establish the necessity
for the Marine Corps to purchase, employ and maintain the
M1A1 Main Battle Tank as opposed to alternate armored
II.  Problems: With the prevalent Low Intensity Conflict
(LIC) mentality inundating the Corps, there has developed a
mind set that small and light is good, and big and heavy is
bad. The truth be told, small and light equates to weak and
dead. The Light Armored Vehicle (LAV) is being heralded as
the Corps armored "answer" in future conflicts. The LAV is
probably the worst made armored system the Marine Corps
could adopt. The only answer to success on the battlefield
is a system that has proven to be the best in the world, the
M1A1 Tank.
III. Data: Throughout history the tank has been the
battlefields most decisive and devastating-weapon. It has
played a significant role in the outcome of every Marine
Corps engagement from World War II to Grenada. Its value to
the Corps is without question, if the Marine Corps objective
is to win the conflicts it fights in. The tank is the
fastest, most deadly ground combat weapons system available
today. It has innumerable advantages over the lighter
armored vehicles that some would have us accept. The M1A1 is
so superior to the LAV or any existing ground weapon that
comparisons are not possible. The M1A1s primary strengths
are: sustainability, speed, target acquisition, gun
stabilization, upgraded 12Omm gun and NBC survivability. In
all of these areas the M1A1 has no competition. Modern
battlefield equations demonstrate that the M1A1 delivers 20
times the projectile weight and destruction ratio of the
LAV. The M1A1 carries more rounds, can shoot farther with
more accuracy and is more survivable than the LAV. The LAV,
unlike the M1A1, cannot survive even heavy weapons, much
less ATGMs, kinetic or chemical energy munitions.
IV. Conclusion: No ground combat weapon available today
has the capabilities or survivability of the M1A1 Tank. As
long as the Marine Corps has a charter to wage violent,
offensive operations against an enemy it must have the
ultimate ground weapon to be successful, the M1A1 Tank. The
employment of the M1A1 will ensure victory in any future
conflict regardless of its intensity level.
V.  Recommendations: Procure, purchase and field all
476 M1A1 Tanks needed for the Marine Corps. Maintain the
current force structure and Table of Organization to allow
for maximum effectiveness and flexibility in employment and
to ensure supply support continuity. Scale back and
eventually phase out the LAV.
                             THE M1A1 TANK:
                        ITS ROLE IN THE MARINE CORPS
Thesis: The tank has played a significant role in the
outcome of every Marine Corps engagement from World War
II to the Persian Gulf War, therefore, the Corps must
procure its full allocation of M1A1 tanks if it intends
to win the conflicts it fights in.
I.   Historical Significance of Tanks
     A. The Evolution of Armor
     B. The History of Modern Tanks
        1.  Tactical advantages are realized
        2.  The broad and new capabilities given to the
            field commander
     C. World war II to the Present
        1.  Defeat vs victory
        2.  The uncompromised advantage
II.  Why the M1A1 for the Corps
     A. Capability Comparisons
        1.  The M1A1
        2.  The M6OA1
III. The M1A1; Modern Battlefield Equations
     A. Gunpower Equivalents
        1.  Projectile weights on targets
        2.  Hit accuracy
        3.  Target acquisition
        4.  Speed of engagement
     B. Armored Vehicle Comparisons
        1.  M-50 Ontos
        2.  The LAV
        3.  The light tank
     C. Survivability
        1.  Armor protection
        2.  Assault sustainability
        3.  Offensive necessity
               TABLE OF CONTENTS
Table of Contents                                      
Chapter I:    Historical Significance of Tanks         
Chapter II:   Why the M1A1 for the Corps               
Chapter III:  The M1A1 Modern Battlefield Equations    
                                   CHAPTER I
     The tank, the battlefield's most decisive and
devastating weapon, has a unique history. Since the
development of the first tanks at the turn of the century
the significance and worthiness of the tank has made the
difference in the tide of battle, from the Battle of the
Somme (1916) to the Persian Gulf War (1991). Since the very
first tank battle (The Battle of the Somme, September 15,
1916), field commanders have seen the need for large,
sustainable vehicles with massive firepower that would be
the perfect instrument of war, one that would give them the
decisive edge on the battlefield. This feeling has been
prevalent throughout history.
     The Assyrians, the dreaded conquerors of the period
before Christ, used large, protected chariots. The crew of
these vehicles was composed of a driver, an archer, and two
shield-bearers who protected the other two members of the
crew from the missiles of the enemy.
     In the Bohemian Wars of 1410-1420, Ziska, a great
warrior of his day, fought off the Catholic crusaders by
employing his "wagon-lagers". These wagon mounted cannon
and were so devastating that German commanders were forced
to develop mobile artillery to defend against them.
The Scots, in 1456, invented a wooden cart that encased
its crew and protected them from the weapons of the day.
Motive power was provided by horses (Fig. 1). However, this
cart had its shortcomings, since the enemy soon learned that
the cart was rendered useless when the horses were
destroyed. The Scots, therefore, went a step further and
encased the horses in wood to make it more difficult for the
enemy to destroy them (Fig. 2).
     Although armored vehicles have been around for
centuries it has not been until the last 80 years that
actual tanks have been the key to the outcome of battles.
The differences between armored vehicles and tanks will be
discussed later. Since that first Battle of Somme in 1916
tanks have been the deciding factor in combat engagements
throughout the world, as this account from that very first
tank action indicates:
          The infantry was held up by wire and machine gun
          fire and the tank moved into position where he
          could enfilade the trench from which the fire was
          coming. He then moved his tank along the trench
          and is credited with having caused the surrender
          of about 300 of the enemy troops. Another tank
          destroyed a 77mm gun in Guedecourt. A tank is
          walking up the High Street in Flers with the
          infantry cheering behind it. Although Flers was
          known to contain a great many machine guns, it
          was taken out by this tank without casualties to
          the infantry. 1
Only nine of the original 32 tanks committed to the battle
actually fulfilled their mission on that day, but their
presence was the decisive factor in the victory.
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     The evolution of the tank on the battlefield went from,
"do we need it?" to, "how many do we need to win?". From the
early days of the Mark V (Fig. 3) and the Mark IV (Fig. 4),
commanders wanted larger, faster, and more devastating
tanks. They no longer wanted a vehicle that could simply
crush wire, move slow enough for the infantry to follow, and
withstand small arms fire. In effect, they wanted a
sustainable vehicle that could deliver FAMS (Firepower,
Armor Protection, Mobility, Shock Effect), the factors that
would make the tank the dominate ground assault weapon with
the greatest battlefield survivability.
     The evolution of war has seen the nature of conflicts
increase in intensity and speed. The fast paced nature of
modern warfare (since 1920) has made speed, surprise and
crushing force the decisive keys to victory. It is the tank
that provides the armor, mobility, shock effect, lethality
and mounted combat capability that is essential for
conducting a war of movement. Survivability from artillery
and small arms makes tanks superior to infantry in the
assault. The combination of its tremendous firepower, armor
protection, speed and mobility produces an effect that
crushes and demoralizes the enemy.
     Perhaps the most dramatic example of the crushing,
devastating use of tanks was the German Blitzkrieg of the
Second World War. Tanks spear-headed the penetration of the
static defenses of Poland, France, the Balkan States and
enabled the Germans to take the war deep into the Soviet
     Tanks were the critical major end item in the
strategist evaluation of force combat capability: The more
tanks you had the stronger you were! Infantry, artillery and
engineers were minor considerations because of their lack of
     Germany invaded Poland in 1939 with ten armored
divisions. They effected a breakthrough and advanced 40
miles a day completely overrunning the country in 18 days.
On the western front in 1940 the armored divisions were
organized into corps level units which outflanked the
Maginot Line through country that was considered unsuitable
for tanks, and raced to the English Channel in 11 days. The
battles of Sidi-Bou-Zid, Kasserine Pass and Sbiba Pass were
largely decided by tank forces.
     Another telling example of the necessity of the tank on
the modern conventional battlefield occurred on 25 June 1950
when South Korea was attacked by North Korea. The U.S. Army
infantry divisions that had been on occupation duty in Japan
went immediately into action, but without their organic tank
battalions. The lack of tanks was not initially thought of
as a major drawback, for the rugged, mountainous terrain of
Korea with its few level areas covered by marsh-like rice
paddies was not considered suitable for tank employment. The
North Koreans, however, employed tanks and on 5 July the
American Task Force Smith was over run by T-34 Russian-made
tanks. It was not until 16 September 1950 when four
battalions of U.S. tanks arrived that U.S. forces were able
to break out of the Pusan perimeter. As German General Heinz
Guderian said, "Whenever in future wars the battle is
fought, panzer troops will play the decisive role".
     In Vietnam the Army used armor extensively for
defensive operations, route reconnaissance and offensive
actions. The Marine Corps used its tanks to support the
infantry, for perimeter defense, reaction force operations,
strongpoint security and convoy escort. They also provided
harassing and interdiction fire, destroyed field
fortifications and bunkers and thwarted many ambushes by
"reconnaissance by fire" (Figs. 6,7,8 & 9). Tanks marked
targets for air-strikes, and provided LZ security (Fig. 5).
During the battle for Hue City, tanks pivoted in the middle
of the street providing cover to the infantry as they moved
from one side to the other (Fig. 9). Tanks often provided
the only means of evacuating the dead and wounded from
bullet-swept streets (Fig. 10). Although Vietnam was
primarily a guerrilla war fought on the platoon level, tanks
still contributed significantly to the outcome of many
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     Even in minor skirmishes like the Grenada invasion of
1983, tanks proved to be valuable. The initial Army Ranger
units dropped into the southern portion of the island took
five KIAs the first few hours of the battle. They were
engagd by Soviet-made BRDM's and BTR-60's. The lightly armed
Ranger unit did not have sufficient weapons to defeat these
vehicles thus their advance north was halted. The embarked
tank platoon from the 32nd MAU (Marines) was landed and the
enemy vehicles were defeated.
     The 1991 Persian Gulf War was an overwhelming example
of the necessity to employ heavy tank units and the decisive
results they can achieve. As General Hans Joachim Loser so
correctly stated, "Whenever the tanks were employed
imaginatively and boldly they were a decisive factor in the
land battle".
                                  CHAPTER II
                          WHY THE M1A1 FOR THE CORPS
     Since the Marine Corps has a charter to defend and
protect the United States, we must win in the event we go to
war. The variables involved in winning a war are many but
none more critical than quality equipment. Discipline,
dedication and tenacity are all admirable traits but they
simply do not negate superior firepower delivered by the
deadly weapons of war. This was evidenced by the Iran-Iraq
War (1980-1987). The Iranians were without question
dedicated, disciplined and totally devoted to their cause,
but they died by the thousands in their infantry assaults on
Iraqi tank positions.
     It is evident from the Desert Storm Operation that
having tanks is essential to victory, but having just a tank
is not enough. As the world becomes more high-tech,
increasingly it is the quality of a piece of equipment that
is important. Since the Marine Corps has national
contingency missions to fight in every theatre in the world,
we must be prepared to fight adversaries that will most
probably be armed with Soviet-made versions of the T-62,
T-72, or the T-80 Soviet Main Battle Tank (Figs. 11 & 12).
     The current M-60 Al (RISE) Main Battle Tank used by the
Marine Corps is capable of defeating the T-62 and the T-72
Click here to view image
but not the T-80. The only tank capable of defeating the
T-80 is the M1A1 Tank. The M1A1 Tank is simply the best
state-of-the art tank in the world. What makes the M1A1 so
superior to the T-80 and the M-6OA1 is a list of features
almost too long to mention, however, its primary strengths
are: Sustainability, Speed, Target Acquisition, Gun
Stabilization, Upgraded l20mm Gun and NBC Survivability. In
all these critical areas the M1A1 is light years ahead of
its closest competitor. Here's why.  (M1A1 Tank Fig. 13)
     Sustainability: The reactive armor on the M1A1 is
virtually non-penetrable by any ground launched round or
projectile in existence today. The specifications and
chemical composition of the actual armor is classified and
cannot be discussed in this paper, however, suffice it to
say that the results of the ballistics tests conducted on
the M1A1 are so superior to any other tank that the M1A1
Tank's sustainability is beyond question. When we speak of
sustainability, we are referring to the ability to take a
hit from a chemical energy round or other type of
displacement munition and not be rendered ineffective. This
has nothing to do with supportability in regards to
logistical matters. The M1A1 tank can engage, close with and
destroy the enemy without fear of being destroyed or
ballistically compromised. The entire vehicle is sloped,
streamlined and contoured so that an external flat surface
is not exposed. This causes anti-tank guided missiles
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(ATGM'S) and anti-tank main gun rounds to hit at angles that
reduce their ability to penetrate. While the streamlined
design makes it more ballistically sound, its low silhouette
and higher ground clearance gives greater ease of movement
and presents less of a target on the modern battlefield.
     Of course armor designed to stop penetration can and
eventually will be compromised as technology develops new
rounds to defeat it, but the gap between the ability to
design impregnable armor and the ballistic ability to defeat
it is narrowing; the advantage is swinging toward the side
of armor protection. The M1A1 Tank will remain for at least
the next decade the most unstoppable force on the
battlefield. Although mines and suspension detonations
remain a problem, the vehicle will not suffer a catastrophic
kill and the crew will survive.
     Speed: Like any tracked vehicle, the M1A1's speed is
dependent upon the terrain it is required to negotiate. The
M-60A1 has a top speed of 30 MPH on a hard surface road and
can operate off road at speeds of 15 to 20 MPH.  In
comparison the M1A1 can easily operate off road in rough
terrain at speeds between 30 to 35 MPH with on-road speeds
of 50 to 55 MPH. This gives the field commander a mobility,
shock and surprise factor heretofore unheard of. This single
improvement immeasurably enhances the tactical potential of
the M1A1 Tank over the M-6OA1. While the weight of the tank
increased by 20 percent, the horsepower increased by 50
percent, from 750 HP (M60A1) to 1500 HP (M1A1). 6
     Target Acguisition: This is perhaps the most notable
improvement over the M-60A1. The target acquisition system,
or the sights and range finder on the M1A1, are so superior
to that of the M-60A1 that comparison is all but impossible.
The M-60A1 has a coincidence range finder that requires the
tank commander to manually crank the superelevation on the
gun tube, until the double image of the target is brought
together or zeroed-out, much like a pair of binoculars. The
problem with this system is that it is time consuming and
the tank commander can over-crank the target. The existing
range finder is more affected by temperature, moisture and
needs constant adjustments. A well trained crew can get a
round on target at 2000m, or closer, in approximately 7 to
10 seconds.
     The M1A1, on the other hand, with its laser range
finder eliminates all of this by the use of a constant laser
beam that bounces off whatever the gunner is looking at
through his sights, and automatically puts the proper
superelevation on the gun, thus instantaneously ranging to
the target. This enables the gunner to simply see a target
and fire immediately. The round on target time is reduced to
2 to 3 seconds once the target is acquired. This quick kill,
multi-target engagement ability is especially critical in
today's fast-moving environment, where it could mean the
difference between life and death. The laser range finder
has a range of 7,990 meters, or three times that of the
     The M1A1 also has dual day optics (wide and narrow
view), night infared optics and sight stabilization, none of
which are found on the M-60A1. The M1A1's thermal night
sight, effective to 4000m, gives it a night fighting
capability equal to its daylight capability. 6 The M-6OA1 has
a passive night sight that uses available ambient light and
is only effective to some 1500 meters. Since the current
passive system depends on moon light, it is virtually
ineffective on extremely dark nights. The M1A1, however,
uses a thermal infrared sight that works off heat
displacement and is not affected by the available moonlight,
thus the night gunnery capability of the M1A1 presents the
field commander with an unprecedented tactical flexibility
that is unobtainable with the M-6OA1. The enhanced target
acquisition systems on the M1A1 also significantly increase
the tank's rate of fire, which could prove to be the
deciding factor in a combat situation.
     Gun Stabilization: The stabilizing of the gun tube to
facilitate firing on the move is not a new concept. The
M-60A1 has a gun tube stabilization system that allows the
tank commander to lock onto target and regardless of the
direction the tank goes or the up and down movement of the
hull, the gun will hold on the target. This is accomplished
by the stabilization system traversing the turret and
raising or lowering the gun tube to compensate for the
degree of deflection. This is done automatically and only
requires minor adjustments by the gunner. The ability to
shoot while moving is critical to survival on the modern
battlefield. Over rough terrain the M-6OA1 has a stabilized
hit probability of approximately 75 percent at 1500 meters,
at 15 MPH. Under the same conditions the M1A1 has a hit
probability of 95 percent at 2200 meters at 25 MPH, a
significant improvement. Of course the accuracy of both
systems decreases with the increased ruggedness of terrain
and the speed of the vehicle, but the M1A1 is clearly
superior to the M-60A1 in this respect.
     The l2Omm Gun: The M-60A1 has a 105mm rifled bore that
has an effective range of approximately 2500 meters. The
M1A1 has a smooth bore l20mm gun with an effective range of
approximately 3000 meters. The single greatest advantage for
the M1A1 is the increased range and penetrating ability of
the l2Omm gun as opposed to the lO5mm.
  NBC Survivability: In an NBC environment the M-60A1 Tank
will not survive since it has no sealing or detection
capability. The M1A1, however, is "NBC pure" and can be
sealed to protect the crew in an NBC environment. It will be
the only ground combat weapon system in the Marine Corps,
presently, with this capability.
     Survivability: All of the above factors make this the
most survivable vehicle in the U.S. arsenal. The clear
superiority of the M1A1 Tank and the enhanced capability it
gives the battlefield commander is more than evident. It is
especially suited for the Marine Corps because of its
ability to survive in the assault and because of its
adaptability in virtually any climate. No ground combat
weapon available has the ability to move as far, as fast,
deliver as much firepower and be as survivable as the M1A1
Tank. As long as Marine Corps combat operations require us
to conduct; penetrations, envelopments, exploitations,
pursuits, covering force tasks, etc., etc., then the M1A1 will
be needed. It can perform these missions with significantly
more success than the LAV or the M-60A1 because it is
     It is the advent of the Soviet T-80 Tank (a vehicle
comparable to the M1A1) and its eventual dissemination
throughout the world that requires the Marine Corps to
acquire, maintain and field the M1A1 Tank. Put simply, if
the Marine Corps is to maintain the ability to fight
anywhere, anytime, and under any conditions it must be able
to defeat any potential threat it encounters.
                              CHAPTER III
                                   THE M1A1
                         MODERN BATTLEFIELD EQUATIONS
     The M1A1 Tank is a very expensive and costly weapon. As
a result, it is an easy target for budget slashers and those
misinformed individuals who question the need for tanks. As
we have already seen, tank forces are the combat arm of
decision and more often than not the difference between
victory and defeat. The question may still arise as to why
the M1A1? Besides the reasons already cited, there are more
tangible reasons the Marine Corps should acquire and
maintain the M1A1.
     The mere fact that the M1A1 has a l2Omm gun upgrades
its punch factor significantly when compared to the M-60A1's
l05mm. One simple equation is that the projectile weight of
a l05mm High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) Round is 22 pounds.
The M1A1's l2Omm HEAT Round projectile weight is 30 pounds.
This is an increase of 8 pounds of punch for every round
fired by the M1A1. When this is put in terms of 30 rounds in
one battle, the M1A1 has delivered 240 more pounds of
ordnance on target and it has done it faster, more
accurately and at a greater range. The M1A1 has a total
round capacity of 40 main gun rounds. With a battalion of
Marine Corps M1A1 Tanks the field commander is potentially
capable of putting 69,600 pounds of ordnance on a single
target by direct fire means. The equivalent infantry unit
with its organic direct fire weapons would require a force
almost twice as large as a division to equate to the
firepower of just one round fired out of each of the
battalion's 58 tanks. All the LAV's in the Marine Corps
would have to fire six rounds each, simultaneously, to
achieve the same results. So employment and superiority of a
tank battalion of M1A1's from this prospective is clearly
     The light tank or armored vehicle advocates fail to see
the gross inadequacies of armored vehicles vis-a-vis tanks.
The telling difference is the survivability factor. Once
again, the LAV, AAV and the PC 113 cannot sustain a hit from
a chemical or kinetic energy round and survive. Ballistic
test conducted on these vehicles demonstrate that even 7.62
and 50 caliber munitions will defeat these systems. If mere
heavy machineguns can destroy or neutralize an armored
vehicle, its value is negated.
     Since the LAV appears to be the armored vehicle of
choice by some lets look at it and other armored-vehicles of
the past and see how they fared when compared to tanks. Our
current LAV cannot mount a large enough gun to compete with
tanks because of its helo-transportable requirements. Its
light weight and thin armor causes it to be vulnerable to
artillery fire and most direct fire ground weapons. These
shortcomings have been common to light armored vehicles
throughout history, and largely accounts for their poor
performance in battle.
     The Germans employed many types of armored vehicles
with little success (Fig. 14). It was the Tiger Tank (Medium
Battle Tank) that proved the most effective and sustainable
in combat (Fig. 15). While the tank can be used in the
assault, armored vehicles only transport, "clean-up" and
escort.4 The Marine Corps experimented with the M50A1 Ontos
(Fig. 16) but, as with many armored vehicles, found it to be
to light to fight the very enemy it was designed to destroy,
the tank. The current Marine Corps LAV succumbs to many of
the same shortcomings it predecessors experienced. It has to
small a gun, inadequate range, carries too few rounds and
can be penetrated by heavy weapons. None of these
shortcomings befall the M1A1 Tank, however, and since the
Marine Corps will continue to have a viable role in the
defense of NATO and other global U.S. interest it must have
the ability to defeat Soviet equipment. We must be able to
deploy heavy armor to assure success
     Although the tide is changing in Eastern Europe the
greatest single threat to NATO remains the massing of 19
Soviet Tank Divisions on the Soviet/German border
threatening NATO's Northern Army Group. Limited in-place
forces, lack of operational depth and relatively flat
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terrain make defense of this sector difficult with anything
less than heavy tank units.8
     While the Soviets themselves may pose less of a threat
than ever their equipment is spread worldwide. Since we will
fight what the Soviets produce it belies common sense not to
have Marine Corps forces that can defeat his best weapons
systems. The Soviets are fielding newer tanks i.e.the T-72M1
and the T-80, while retiring older models. Soviet
improvements in armor and protection systems for their tanks
has seriously diminished the effectiveness of NATO anti-tank
missiles. Their is factual evidence that the Soviets are
exporting all but their most modern tanks and with world
arms sales being necessary to a fledgling economy they will
most likely sell even their best equipment to anyone willing
to pay for it. Since this is inevitable and our adversaries
will have state-of-the art weapons, the Marine Corps can ill
afford to be unprepared.
     In light of this the Marine Corps cannot afford to
sacrifice it tank forces. They cannot be reduced in numbers,
depleted in quality, scaled down, or be substituted for
armored vehicles. As for a tank, the only answer is the
M1A1. The Corps must have it to stay on the modern
battlefield. Anything less will be measured not only by U.S.
Marine casualties in the next conflict but a less favorable
outcome in the battle as well.
1.Ellis, William. "The Tank Corps". Great Britain:
     Nerthwood Dalton & Co. Ltd., 1985; 2-3.
2.History and Role of Armor; "The Future of Armor". The
     Marine Corps Tank Crewman Proficiency School
     Publication. 1.
3.Hogg, Ian. "Fighting Tanks". Great Britain: Phoebus
     Publishing Company, 1977; 27.
4.Barker, A.J. "Panzers at War". Charles Scribner's Sons,
     New York, 1981, 6-10.
5.Dunstan, Simon. "Vietnam Tracks, Armor in Battle 1945-75".
     California, Osprey Publishing Limited, 1982, 132-159.
6.Department of Defense Publication, Technical Manual
     55-2350-255-14, M1A1 Tank, 1.
7.Department of Defense Publication, Technical Manual
     9-2350-264-10-3, Ammunition Tables, 22-24.
8.Department of Defense Publication, Defense 89 Magazine,
     November/December, 1989, 23-25.

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