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Armor In Low Intensity Conflict: What Is The Best

Armor In Low Intensity Conflict: What Is The Best

Tactical Doctrine For Armor In Counterinsurgency?


CSC 1992






Title: Armor In Low Intensity Conflict: What Is The Best

Tactical Doctrine For Armor In Counterinsurgency?



Author: Major Jeffrey L. Wilkinson, United States Marine




Thesis: Since the Marine Corps has invested so much of its

combat power and force structure into mechanized forces, it

should plan to use those forces in LIC.



Background: This monograph uses J. F. C. Fuller's five combat

functions: protect, find, fix., hit, and destroy, to examine

the proper role of armor. Vietnam is analyzed as a case study

of the employment of mechanized forces in LIC. In this con-

flict, the Army and Marines found it necessary to modify their

conventional doctrine for armor. U.S. forces successfully

used mechanized forces to hit and protect. A look at current

doctrine reveals the need for a combined arms doctrine for

heavy and light forces in LIC. Current doctrine also does not

address the most effective armor organization for the conduct

of operations in LIC--the armored cavalry regiment. The study

concludes that the most appropriate tactical doctrine for

armor in LIC depends upon the combat function it serves within

the combined arms team. These functions can vary with ter-

rain, organization, and the operational plan. At the very

least, armor can protect and hit. When properly organized and

employed it can also be used to find, fix, and in combination

with other arms, destroy insurgent forces. Mechanized forces

are best employed in small-scale cordon and search operations,

from battalion to brigade, and their mobility and firepower

are best used in encirclement operations or as a reaction




Recommendation: The Marine Corps should continue to develop

the concepts and techniques of the combined arms regiment in

support of our most likely threat of the future--the low

intensity conflict.








Thesis: Since the Marine Corps has invested so much of its

combat power and force structure into mechanized forces, it

should plan to use those forces in LIC.



A. LIC and foreign internal defense

B. Armor's constraint; terrain and the nature of LIC



A. Vietnam, an overview

B. A test case, the armored cavalry regiment

C. Developing doctrine the hard way

1. Operation CEDAR FALLS

2. Operation JUNCTION CITY

3. Chanh Luu



A. Function now identified

B. New initiatives

1. Combined arms heavy brigade

2. Heavy/light force mix



A. The role defined

B. The Combined Arms Regiment (CAR) can

find, fix, hit, and destroy insurgents






Armor came into existence to fulfill a tactical role on the

high intensity battlefield. Since World War II this role has

been well understood and continues to drive the development of

armor organization, eguipment, and tactical doctrine.1 Since

1945, however, wars of low intensity have increased in fre-

quency. Unlike high intensity warfare, armor's role at the

lower end of the spectrum of war has not been so well under-



Both the United States and the former Soviet Union

(Soviets) have gained experience with employing armor in low

intensity conflict (LIC). In each case, the expectation of

armor's role on the low intensity battlefield was different

than the tactics finally hammered out in the field. For

example, the planners in the U.S. Military Assistance Command

in Vietnam originally saw no need for tanks for forces

deploying to that country. When tanks first arrived in Vietnam

in March of 1965 it was by accident. In fact, when informed

that American tanks had been deployed, Ambassador to Vietnam,

Maxwell Taylor, was upset that such equipment "not appropriate

for counterinsurgency operations" had been sent.2 Despite

the apprehension of the planners, once having proved its value,

the number of armor units in Vietnam steadily increased. By

the end of the war, 24% of the combat maneuver battalions

deployed to Vietnam were either mechanized infantry, armor, or

armored cavalry.3


The Soviet experience with armor in LIC began with the

invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Unlike the U.S., the Soviets

overrated the role of armor. In a number of articles prior to

the invasion, which discussed mountain warfare, several mili-

tary authors writing in Voennyi Vestnik confidently asserted

that tanks could operate "jointly with motorized rifle and

artillery units, and even sometimes independently."4 By

1982, after three years of fighting, articles discussing armor

operations in mountainous terrain were much more cautious.5

In the same year the popular press in the West was claiming

that the Soviets had changed their tactics in Afghanistan.6


In both wars each army found its prewar tactical doctrine

for armor needed some adjustment or change when applied to

LIC. Each country developed different solutions to tactical

problems based on a host of differing circumstances. Although

there may be many similarities, it is perhaps more important to

determine what function armor served on the low intensity

battlefield because then it may be possible to determine the

most appropriate offensive tactical doctrine.


The tactical doctrine for armor in LIC is significant for

several reasons. First, the M1A1 main battle tank, during FY

91-92, was the largest single weapon system buy in the history

of the Marine Corps and is certainly too great a percentage of

the Marine Corps combat power not to be included in bringing

the enemy to battle. Next, the failure to include armor in LIC

would seriously fragment this "combined arms team." Finally,

LIC is likely to continue to be the most frequent military

action involving the U.S. military.7 The combining of arms

has been the single most important trend in successful warfare

in the twentieth century.





"LIC is a limited politico-military struggle to achieve

political, military, social, economic, or psychological objec-

tives."8 LIC cuts across the spectrum of violence "up to,

but not including" combat between regular forces."9 U.S.

doctrine organizes our response to LIC into four categories:

foreign internal defense; terrorism counteraction; peacekeeping

operations; and peacetime contingency operations. Of these

categories, only foreign internal defense involves large-scale

military action against insurgent forces, which is our concern



Foreign internal defense (FID) operations are aimed at each

of the three stages of insurgency. In Phase I, a latent or

incipient insurgency, insurgents form a shadow government and

begin attacks on police and other government targets. In Phase

II, guerrilla warfare, the insurgent government is established

in a guerrilla controlled area. The insurgent's military goal

in this stage is to gain control of more territory while tying

down government forces in order to seize key geographic and

political objectives.10


Normally, only in Phase II, when the government has demon-

strated an inability to defend itself, would American combat

units be committed directly to fight the insurgents.11 The

defeat of the enemy on the battlefield is only a part of the

total FID strategy to defeat the insurgency; however, other

efforts to counter the insurgency include civil affairs and

psychological operations and programs designed to eliminate

popular support for the antigovernment forces. Once committed,

the objective of U.S. military forces is "to destroy or

neutralize insurgent tactical forces and bases to establish a

secure environment in which balanced development programs

can be carried out."12


Armor's ability to contribute to this objective is con-

strained by several factors, primarily terrain and the nature

of LIC. Insurgents seek security for their bases by estab-

lishing them in remote areas, commonly in difficult terrain,

where the employment of armor is limited. Additionally, the

low intensity battlefield is nonlinear and located within the

country we seek to assist. The battle is fought among the

people in urban as well as rural areas; therefore, there is a

desire to limit the violence. Finally, the enemy usually holds

the initiative, making and breaking contact at will. Obviously,

the factors of terrain, enemy, and the nature of LIC under-

score the limitations of armor in limited war.


It is wrong, however, to conclude that these factors influ-

ence the employment of armor simply by limiting it. Rather,

these peculiarities affect the function of armor only within

the combined arms team. As early as 1927, J. F. C. Fuller

insisted that the traditional arms be viewed and developed in

accordance with their tactical function on the battlefield. He

listed these functions as: finding, holding, hitting, protecting,

and smashing.13 Of course, the great armored theorist

maintained that mechanized arms were capable of fulfilling

all these functions. Fuller did recognize that certain conditions,

primarily terrain, could affect the function of an arm of service

and therefore its employment.


The combined arms team consists of complementary arms

and weapons which contribute to victory by matching those

arms with the tactical functions described by Fuller. On the

high intensity battlefield armored cavalry may find, the artillery

may hit, and the mechanized forces may protect themselves

with armor while they hold and eventually smash the enemy.

In different conditions, such as rugged terrain, it may be more

appropriate for the infantry to find and smash, while the

artillery and armor hit. Few conditions can be imagined which

would call for completely fragmenting the combined arms team.


Terrain alone has never separated armor from the combined

arms team. In the Pacific during World War II, the U.S. Army

and Marines committed twenty tank battalions to fight campaigns

in some of the world's most rugged jungles. Even in the moun-

tainous terrain of Italy, Greece, and Korea, armor formations

achieved notable successes. The function of armor in these

areas was different, however, than that of armor in less

restrictive theaters. Indeed, in difficult terrain, armor was

most often used as mobile assault artillery. The infantry

served to find and fix while armor and artillery hit. In

combination, the arms would smash or destroy the enemy.


Unlike the enemy on the linear battlefields of World War

II, the enemy in LIC will not only be elusive but will also

normally possess the initiative. Thus, in addition to terrain,

the nature of LIC will also affect the function of armor. On

the high intensity battlefield, Fuller believed mechanized

forces could do it all--find, fix, hit, protect, and destroy.

The conditions in LIC often preclude this happy state of

affairs for the mechanized warrior.


Difficult terrain will inhibit the mobility of armor on the

battlefield. Providing there is even a primitive road network,

however, it will not significantly reduce armor's ability to

get to the battlefield, The noise of armored vehicles and

their reduced mobility on the battlefield will inhibit

mechanized forces from finding the enemy. The tremendous

firepower which armor brings to the battle will be a key

advantage in hitting the enemy. Armor will still provide

protection from small arms and shrapnel through armor plating.

Destroying the enemy will be much more difficult. Reduced

battlefield mobility means that armor by itself will be rarely

able to fix and finish the enemy. The initiative and ability

of the insurgent to break contact can only be taken away by

forcing him to fight. This can be done through encirclement,

traps, or incentive. If the insurgent can be provided suffi-

cient incentive to fight, for his bases or through deception,

enough firepower may be quickly massed to destroy him.

Therefore, a key to success will be a combination of firepower

and maneuver that must be used.


In many ways, J. F. C. Fuller anticipated the role armor

would play in what we now call low intensity warfare. In 1927,

Fuller conceded that the older arms of light infantry and

cavalry could best fulfill the tactical functions in very

difficult terrain.14 But, by 1932 he was more inclined to

grant a greater role to the mechanized arms in "warfare in

undeveloped and semicivilized countries."15 Fuller had his

eyes on the northwest frontier of India but commented not only

on mountain warfare but also on bush fighting. He stressed the

combined role of the airplane, motor vehicle, and scout tank

along with the need for a grid system or zones to facilitate

command and control. The chief value of mechanized forces

here lies in their ability to react quickly, moving from zone to

zone wherever needed and the quick use of an extended laager

(circling the mechanized vehicles) to form a defensive



By 1945, however, the role and importance of armor was

enshrined on the high intensity battlefield. Fighting in rugged

terrain all over the world had also confirmed the role of armor

as a member of the tactical combined arms team. Not until

the wars of revolution swept the Third World, in the wake

of World War II, did regular armies face modern low intensity

warfare. Following the initial offensive employment, the United

States' involvement in Vietnam struggled to find the appropriate

function for armor on the battlefield. Armor's role in the combined

arms team in the LIC environment caused a reconsideration of

tactics. Therefore, the theory of the function of armor must be

examined in light of our experience in this low intensity war.







The first U.S. tank unit to move to Vietnam was actually a

platoon from the Marines' 3d Tank Battalion. This platoon was

part of the Marine battalion landing team (BLT) sent to Da Nang

in March 1965. These were the tanks Ambassador Taylor deemed

inappropriate for counterinsurgency operations, a feeling shared

by many senior officers, including Army Chief of Staff General

Harold K. Johnson. When the 1st Infantry Division was scheduled

for deployment to Vietnam, General Johnson decided that it would

deploy without its two organic tank battalions or mechanized infantry.

The Chief of Staff believed, "The presence of tank formations tends

to create a psychological atmosphere of conventional combat . . .,"17


As a test case, General Johnson approved the deployment of the

1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry, with its tanks in October 1965. In November

1965 at Ap Bau Bang, Troop A, 1st/4th Cavalry, demonstrated that the

firepower of armor units was a valuable asset in defeating determined

Viet Cong attacks. With this positive example, the Army approved the

requests of Major General Frederick C. Weyand, the 25th Infantry

Division commander, to take his mechanized units to Vietnam.18


Even more significant was the decision to send the 11th Armored

Cavalry Regiment (ACR). As early as 1965 General Westmoreland,

Commander of the U.S. Military Assistance Command in Vietnam,

requested the cavalry regiment to provide highway security along

Route One. With the arrival of the 11th ACR in September 1966,

it became the largest U.S. armor unit to serve during the war. With

substantial armor forces in Vietnam the question was, "How would

they be used?"


The doctrine brought to Vietnam was for high intensity

warfare. FM 17-1, Armor Operations, published in 1963 and also

subscribed to by Marine forces was the first to mention "opera-

tions against irregular insurgent forces." However, the manual

dedicated only three pages to the subject, mentioning the

primary offensive operations as encirclement, attack, and

pursuit.19 This caused early armored units to "literally

invent tactics and techniques, and then convince the Army that

they worked."20


In 1962, the Combat Development Agency at Fort Knox pro-

duced a study entitled Role of Armored Cavalry in Counterinsur-

gency. This farsighted report suggested that a properly

modified cavalry regiment would be well suited for counter-

insurgency operations. After conceding that traditional

concepts of employment would not necessarily apply to such

operations, the report discussed offensive operations including

the encirclement, raid, pursuit, ambushes, and counterattacks.

When distributed for comment, the Infantry Combat Development

Agency at Fort Benning nonconcurred. The infantry stressed

that cavalry was more suited for route and base security.21


In February 1966, an Army concept team delivered a report

entitled Armor Organization for Counterinsurgency Operations

in Vietnam. This report was based on the observation of U.S.

advisors to six South Vietnamese armored cavalry squadrons.

The report concluded that the M113 (Light Armored Personnel

Carrier) was well suited for counterinsurgency operations and

that envelopment and pursuit were solid missions for mechanized

units in counterinsurgency operations.22


Lieutenant Colonel Raymond Battreall, the senior armor advisor

in Vietnam, observed that "armor is of little use for reconnaissance;

it is best employed when used in offensive operations to strike,

encircle, or sweep. In these operations armor provides the

necessary firepower to destroy the enemy." Lieutenant Colonel

Battreall further noted that the M113 was used essentially as a

main battle tank.23 Clearly, this observer believed that the function

of armor was not finding but hitting. The Army did not begin to

doctrinally address these issues until almost a year after U.S. armor

units deployed to Vietnam. Senior decisionmakers, General West-

more land among them, believed the Vietnamese terrain unsuitable

for tanks. In fact, a survey later showed that 46% of Vietnam could

be traversed by armored vehicles year-round.24 It took another six

months to convince General Westmoreland that tanks could and

should be used on combat operations.25


In executing Operation ATLANTA to clear Highway #1 in 1966,

the 11th ACR conducted search and destroy, route security,

reconnaissance, and base security missions. Of those missions

mentioned in the after action report, 39% were search and destroy.

Significantly, the report mentions only four reconnaissance missions

out of a total of 70 operations.26 Almost from the moment it arrived,

the squadrons of the regiment began to be used as regular combat

maneuver battalions rather than in the traditional manner of cavalry.


The tank battalion which deployed to support the infantry

could also hit. The firepower of the tanks was in great demand

and as a consequence, the tank companies and platoons were

"farmed" out to the infantry. In one notable case, a tank

platoon from the 1st Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, was placed

under the operational control of the 173d Airborne Brigade and

operated 250 miles from its parent battalion.27 In combat

operations, tanks often led the way through the jungle because

they could protect. The tanks crushed their way through the

antipersonnel mines and booby traps so injurious to the

infantry.28 However, tanks could also be used to protect

routes and bases. In fact, the tank battalions were more often

used defensively than offensively. In the after action report

of the 1st Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, for the quarterly

period ending 31 July 1966, 60% of the missions mentioned

consisted of either base or route security.


In October 1966 the Army published new field manuals on

armor operations which finally began to address, in detail, the

role of armor in counterinsurgency. The new manuals reflected

a good deal of change from the earlier neglect of low intensity

warfare. FM 17-1, Armor Operations, of 1966 expanded the

coverage of internal defense to 25 pages. The offensive

operations listed for armor included: encirclement, pursuit,

search and clear, raid, and counterattack. The manual indi-

cated that air cavalry or other observation helicopters would

conduct reconnaissance. There was an extensive discussion

of encirclement, stating that it is "the best method of fixing

insurgent forces in position."29 The manual stressed

combined arms and stated that "armored cavalry units are

particularly suited for sustained operations against tactical

insurgent forces... "30 FM 17-1 was a good start, but the

doctrine still overlooked some key aspects of the pattern which

emerged early in the war and was later confirmed in subsequent



By 1967 the U.S. buildup provided considerably more armor

units. In January the U.S. Army undertook large-scale offen-

sive operations beginning with Operation CEDAR FALLS. A month

later the Army launched a multidivision operation, JUNCTION

CITY. Reminiscent of Fuller's advice, Vietnam had been divided

into four corps tactical zones and further subdivided into

alphabetical war zones. These large-scale operations took

place in the III Corps tactical zone. The target of CEDAR

FALLS (Map 1) was an extensive enemy base area in the Iron

Triangle northwest of Saigon. Participating in the operation

were several armor formations: Two mechanized infantry battal-

ions, a tank battalion, and a divisional cavalry squadron

helped seal off two sides of the triangle. The 11th ACR (-)

attacked west from the point of the triangle to cut the area in

two. Then, from all sides, the U.S. forces began to close in

and conduct search and destroy operations.




Although CEDAR FALLS failed to "bag" many insurgents, it

did facilitate the destruction of a large enemy logistics

base. Perhaps even more significant was the demonstration of

the value of mechanized forces in LIC. Mechanized infantry

battalions, often fighting mounted in their M113s, provided, to

some degree, the same advantages of firepower, mobility, and

protection as other armored units. Brigadier General Richard

T. Knowles, commander of the 196th Infantry Brigade, stated,

"Mechanized infantry has proven to be highly successful in

search and destroy operations. With their capability for rapid

reaction and firepower, a mechanized battalion can effectively

control twice the terrain as an infantry battalion."31


Operation JUNCTION CITY (Map 2) further demonstrated the

utility of mechanized forces. This operation called for the 1st

and 25th Infantry Divisions to establish blocking positions in

the shape of a large horseshoe in War Zone C, northwest of

Saigon along the Cambodian border. Once blocking positions

were established, the 11th ACR and a brigade of the 25th ID

attacked north into the open end of the horseshoe. The target

of the operation was the headquarters of the communist insur-

gency Central Office of South Vietnam (COSVN), the VC 9th

Division, the 101st North Vietnamese Army (NVA) regiment, and

enemy bases within the area. The operation went as planned and

brought on several engagements. When the smoke cleared, the

bases were destroyed, the VC 9th Division was battered, but the

COSVN escaped.



As impressive as these actions might have been, they pointed

to some significant problems. JUNCTION CITY had attempted to

find, fix, and destroy the enemy. Although numerous insurgent

bases were destroyed, the enemy simply moved into sanctuaries

in Cambodia. Essentially, a very large encirclement operation

failed to find or fix the enemy. The VC were destroyed only to

the extent they were willing to offer themselves up to destruction.

But mechanized units again had demonstrated they could conduct

combat operations in a counter-insurgency environment. They

could react quickly and bring substantial firepower to bear when-

ever the enemy could be made to fight, but they could not materially

assist in finding or fixing the enemy.


It is the inability to fix the insurgent which grants him the initiative.

Referring to the enemy in the CEDAR FALLS-JUNCTION CITY

operations, General Bernard Rogers noted, "It was a sheer physical

impossibility to keep him from slipping away whenever he wished if

he were in terrain with which he was familiar--generally always the

case."32 This was not a problem unique to Operation JUNCTION

CITY. In 1966 88% of all fights were initiated by the enemy. En-

circlement still appeared the best means of fixing the insurgent, but

large-scale operations were not the solution, so they were rarely

attempted again.


At the same time CEDAR FALLS-JUNCTION CITY took place, a

team of officers and civilians conducted a comprehensive study of

armor operations in Vietnam. The Mechanized and Armor Combat

Operations in Vietnam (MACOV) study confirmed the pattern of

offensive employment which began to emerge in 1966. The cavalry

squadrons were most often used as combat maneuver battalions.33

The study emphasized that the advantages of mobility and firepower

were so great that foot infantry was often cross-attached to mechanized

infantry.34 Cross-attachment was frequent among all of the combat

arms. In this way all the arms could complement the function(s) of the

others. The very fact that armored cavalry was a balanced combined

arms team encouraged its employment as a regular maneuver battalion.


The functions which the combat arms filled in Vietnam made for

inherent strengths and weaknesses in their employment. Helicopter

units attempted to find, airmobile infantry attempted to fix (block and

encircle), while mechanized units attempted to hit. Invariably, artillery

and tactical air assets were used to finish or destroy the enemy. This

arrangement minimized American casualties and played to the U.S.

technological advantages.


The weakness in this tactical doctrine was that it often handed the

initiative to the enemy. Most of the offensive contact with the enemy

took the form of a meeting engagement. Once contact was made,

the immediate maneuver force attempted to fix the enemy while it

summoned all the available artillery and tactical air assets. In order

to safely use indirect fires, units would, at best, not press the fight;

at worst, they would withdraw. Thus, the attempt to finish or destroy

the enemy by artillery and air often resulted in breaking contact.35

This is one key reason why the enemy retained the initiative--he

could escape.


Another problem with using indirect fires to finish the

enemy was its destructiveness. In LIC, the counterinsurgency

force has a vested interest in limiting the destruction in a

nation it intends to save. As U.S. forces attempted to

restrict the employment of indirect fires, they weakened the

system upon which their tactical offensive doctrine was based.


The most effective use of this doctrine was in cordon

search operations in which the devastating fire of artillery

was not needed. A classic cordon search demonstrates the

potential function of armor within the combined arms team

occurred at Chanh Luu (Map 3) in August 1968.



The plan called for a deception effort, a quick cordon by

U.S. units, and a search by ARVN troops. The deception effort

aimed at convincing the enemy that a nearby village, Binh My,

was the target. False messages were sent and troop movements

were planned to support the deception. On 8 August, K Troop

was 25 kilometers from Chanh Luu. Starting its move at 0600,

K Troop moved to Firebase Normandy II and picked up D Company

by 1600. Mounted in K Troops' M113s, the force moved north in

the direction of the deception target. At 1400, B Company was

airlifted northwest of Normandy II and also began a sweep away

from the real target. I Troop, with two tank platoons, began a

sweep from Firebase Normandy I south, away from Chanh Luu.

During the night all four elements turned back to converge on

Chanh Luu and by 2300 the cordon was established.


At 0700 the next day elements of the 5th ARVN Division

airlanded, advanced on the village, and conducted the search.

Sporadic fights erupted and later that night the VC attempted

to break through the cordon. Firepower of the mechanized units

defeated every attempt and by 10 August the village was

declared clear. The results were impressive: 22 VC killed

(including one NVA general), 122 VC prisoners, and a great deal

of equipment and supplies.36 In this case, intelligence

found the enemy and the encirclement fixed him. It was a prime

example of how mechanized forces can be used to function within

the combined arms team to fix, hit, protect, and contribute to

the destruction of the enemy in LIC.


Despite the problems, mechanized forces were effective in

Vietnam.37 Armor's ability to quickly bring tremendous

firepower against the enemy is undeniable. Armor's inability

to do more to fix and destroy the enemy was not so much the

result of terrain, but the product of the functions it served

within the doctrine. The tactical doctrine was fashioned from

a number of influences not all of which stemmed from an opera-

tional concept to achieve our strategic goals. The desire to

save American lives and avail ourselves of our strengths were

among these. Regardless of the outcome of the war, U.S. forces

were able to win the tactical battles!38 Undoubtedly,

mechanized forces might have been more effective if they had

been used to fulfill more tactical functions.





The current doctrine for the tactical employment of mecha-

nized forces in LIC is contained in FM 90-8, Counter-Guerrilla

Operations, and FC 71-100, Armored and Mechanized Division and

Brigade Operations. Both manuals discuss armor in LIC but do

not agree on some key points.


FM 90-8 is restrained in its treatment of the employment

of armor with the exception of armored cavalry. The manual

implies that the employment of mechanized forces will be

limited primarily because of terrain and the need to minimize

the destructiveness of its firepower. The manual discusses

the military operations in LIC according to the phase of

insurgency. In phase II, guerrilla warfare, "armor forces

are not particularly suited for use as a maneuver combat

element. .. "39 Mechanized infantry will also be of limited

utility and, if used, will most likely be dismounted. The

offensive missions for forces in phase II include: raids,

patrols, ambushes, and encirclement. In phase III, mobile

warfare, operations become more conventional and the scope of

mechanized operations may increase. In this phase, the

offensive tactical doctrine calls for movement to contact,

hasty/deliberate attacks, exploitation and pursuit operations.

In fact, the reader is referred to FM 17-95, Armored Cavalry

Operations, and FM 71-2, The Tank and Mechanized Infantry Task

Force, for details. The manual does emphasize that armored

cavalry "when properly used and tailored can accomplish all

missions in all phases."40


In contrast, FC 71-100 more accurately reflects our

experience in Vietnam with some noteworthy improvements. The

manual devotes an entire chapter to mechanized operations in

LIC. It does not distinguish between phases but in keeping

with FM 90-8 and FC 100-20, Low Intensity Conflict, prescribes

military action for consolidation and strike campaigns.

Offensive operations will normally be conducted during strike

campaigns. Tactical missions range from reconnaissance in

force, raids movement to contact, and hasty/deliberate attacks.

In these operations, tanks provide valuable support to infantry

heavy task forces. Terrain permitting, tank heavy task forces

and teams may also be used. Mechanized infantry may fight

mounted and frequently will do so in attack and pursuit opera-

tions. Aviation assets will also be key in finding the



FC 71-100 prescribes a better balance between the use of

firepower and maneuver than was evident in Vietnam. Encircle-

ment is the preferred method of fixing the enemy. When the

insurgent is fixed, "combat forces maneuver to kill or capture

the guerrillas."42 The manual states that this is done with

an "emphasis. . .both on engaging the guerrillas with organic

means of fire and maneuver and on employing supporting

artillery and air support.43 Clearly, the intent here is to

destroy the enemy by closing with him. Destruction will not be

achieved by firepower alone.


Current doctrine contains both strengths and weaknesses in

dealing with the offensive employment of mechanized forces in

LIC. Certainly, FC 71-100 does a good job and indicates that

in certain conditions armor can not only hit and protect but

serve the other combat functions within the combined arms

team. Unfortunately, the armor organization which enjoyed the

greatest success in counterinsurgency, the armored cavalry, is

not adequately addressed anywhere. FM 90-8 simply mentions the

fact and refers the reader to FM 17-95. FM 17-95, however,

does not mention LIC or any of the tactics and techniques

pioneered by the 11th ACR in Vietnam. Curiously, FC 71-100

devotes an entire chapter to the role of heavy forces in LIC

while FC 71-101, Light Infantry Division Operations (July

1984), does not address LIC at all. The reader is simply

referred to FM 90-8 and FC 100-20. Although Vietnam demon-

strated the absolute need for combined arms, even to the extent

of cross-attaching light and mechanized infantry, the doctrinal

requirements for all the combined arms are not addressed.


Currently, a number of initiatives dealing with armor support,

in both the Army and Marine Corps, are underway. The next

edition of the FC 71-100 and FM 71-123, Tactics and Techniques

for Combined Arms Heavy Forces: Armored Brigade, Battalion/

Task Force, and Company/Team, will include appendices which

discuss the employment of heavy and light forces together.

FMFM 6-11 also addresses mechanized forces in the LIC and

heavy-light issues. The Directorate of Combat Developments

at Fort Knox has proposed a light armor regiment to support the

light infantry. The regiment would include a cavalry squadron

and three light armor battalions. The battalions would be equipped

with a combat vehicle weighing between 15 and 20 tons. The

battalion would be organized with four companies, three of which

would be equipped with a combat vehicle with a gun system, the

remaining company would be armed with a missile system.44


This concept is designed to provide light infantry with mobile

firepower. Like other light forces, the armor battalions must be

capable of rapid worldwide deployment. As a result of this

required rapid deployment, the weight of the combat vehicle

will be critical, resulting in limited armor protection. The light

armor battalion is not designed to close with an enemy armed

with large antitank weapons. The function it serves on the battle-

field is primarily to hit the enemy, providing limited protection.

The function of the cavalry squadron within the regiment is

traditional, "find the enemy."45 At the moment, the organization

of a light armor battalion appears promising, but the organization

of an entire regiment is more doubtful.


The 1991 Marine Corps Force Structure Review, approved by

the Commandant, recommended the development of a Combined

Arms Regiment (CAR) for 1st and 2d Divisions. Each regiment

would consist of one tank battalion (58 M1A1s), two LAI battalions,

and one light armored reconnaissance (LAR) company.





Even as J. F. C. Fuller foresaw many years ago, and as

military operations in Vietnam and Afghanistan have demon-

strated, mechanized forces have a role to play in LIC. The

importance of the combining of arms remains as valid for LIC

as for all other levels of war. Each arm within the team fulfills

a combat function, and the function of mechanized units will

depend upon the terrain and operational plan. Since its

inception, armor has shown that it can be employed in all but

the most difficult terrain. As we look at the Third World, and

the most likely low intensity battlefields, the Army and

Marines should not assume that terrain will completely limit

armor's ability to contribute to the combined arms team.


Additionally, it is entirely appropriate in LIC for the tactical

doctrine to be influenced by the operational plan. Operational

planning links tactical engagements and battles to campaigns

which achieve strategic goals. A good operational plan will

employ combined arms to the fullest, but may also determine

which arm performs which combat function. In this way,

operational planning influences the employment of each arm

and ultimately ensures that tactical doctrine assists in

reaching the strategic goal. Much more so than in high inten-

sity warfare, how a force fights in low intensity warfare can

have immediate effects on its long term chance for success.


The most appropriate tactical doctrine for mechanized

forces in LIC depends upon the combat function it will serve

within the combined arms team. As noted, these functions will

vary with terrain and the operational plan. At the very least,

armor has demonstrated that in the LIC environment it can

protect and hit. Properly organized and employed it may also

be used to find, fix, and, in conjunction with the other arms,

destroy insurgent forces. To make the most of armor on the

LIC battlefield the Army and Marines must have a good com-

bined arms doctrine before it is committed to fight. The evidence

suggests that mechanized forces are best employed in small-

scale cordon search operations from battalion to regimental size.

Their mobility and firepower are best employed in encirclement

operations as a reaction force or reserve.


The recent initiatives in armor support of light infantry

is significant, but like light infantry, they seek to address

war at all levels. The competing requirements for strategic

deployability and the need for a force capable of fighting at

all levels of war may invariably lead to the compromise of

force design and doctrine. In military operations the battle

in LIC is a brigade or battalion commander's fight. Light

armor battalions may be a good solution for the support of

light infantry, but the optimum organization of mechanized

forces in LIC is a combined arms brigade-size (regiment)

force. At the brigade level all the arms necessary to fulfill

the combat functions can be brought together in an organic

unit. The need to synchronize the arms calls for a high order

of training which can best be achieved in a single cohesive

unit. The illusive nature of the insurgent demands that the

commander have available, immediately, all the arms necessary

to find, fix, hit, and destroy the enemy. The U.S. Army

already has a combined arms brigade (the Armored Cavalry

Regiment (ACR)) with a demonstrated ability to contribute to

the LIC battlefield. Now our Corps has that same capability

with the development of the Combined Arms Regiment. To the

extent armor can contribute to the LIC battlefield, its best

weapon is the Combined Arms Regiment.


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1. The author considers armor to consist of those forces

which fight mounted. This includes tank units, armored cavalry,

and mechanized infantry.


2. General Donn A. Starry, Armored Combat in Vietnam

(Salem, New Hampshire: The Ayer Company, 1982), p. 55.


3. A total of 93 ground combat maneuver battalions served

in Vietnam. Of that number 71 were infantry, 10 mechanized

infantry, 3 tank battalions, and 9 cavalry squadrons. Shelby L.

Stanton, Vietnam Order of Battle (New York: Galahad Books,

1986), p. 333.


4. Larry A. Briskey, "Soviet Ground Forces in Afghanistan:

Tactics and Performance," (unpublished graduate paper, George-

town University, 1983), p. 5.


5. Ibid., p. 6.


6. Aernout Van Lynden, "Soviets Change Tactics Against

Afghan Rebels," The Washington Post, 27 December 1982, p.



7. A survey of military history between 1945 and 1975

reveals that 26 of the 36 major conflicts were of low intensity.

Ernest R. Dupuy and Trevor N. Dupuy, Encyclopedia of Military

History from 3500 B.C. to the Present (New York: Harper & Row,

1986), pp. 1259-1345. The senior Army leadership also believes

LIC will be the most frequent wars of the future involving U.S. forces.

General John A. Wickham, "Vision and the Army of Today and

Tomorrow," Army Greenbook, 1986-87 (Assn. of the U.S. Army,

October, 1986), p. 32.


8. U.S. Army, Field Circular 100-20, Low Intensity Conflict

(Ft. Leavenworth, KS: 1986), p. v.


9. Ibid.


10. Ibid., pp. 2-8 to 2-10.


11. Ibid., p. vi.


12. Ibid., p. 4-13.


13. J. F. C. Fuller, "Tactics and Mechanization," Infantry Journal

(May, 1927), p. 461.


14. Ibid.


15. J. F. C. Fuller, Armored Warfare (Westport, CT: Greenwood

Press, 1988), originally published in 1932 under the title Lectures

on F.S.R. III, p. 164.


16. Ibid., pp. 166-170.


17. Starry, Armored Combat, p. 56.


18. Ibid., p. 63.


19. U.S. Army, Field Manual 17-1, Armor Operations (Washington, DC:

June, 1963), p. 197.


20. Starry, Armored Combat, p. 65.


21. Combat Development Agency, Role of Armored Cavalry in

Counterinsurgency (Ft. Knox, KY: October, 1962).


22. Army Concept Team in Vietnam, "Final Report, Armor

Organization for Counter Insurgency Operations in Vietnam,"

dated 9 February 1966.


23. LTC Raymond Battreall, "Armor in Vietnam," Armor (May-June, 1966),

pp. 7-8. The M113 was modified by attaching a shield for the

.50 caliber machine gun and adding two side-mounted M60 machine

guns also shielded. The modified M113s were called armored

cavalry assault vehicles (ACAV).


24. Department of the Army, Evaluation of U.S. Army

Mechanized and Armor Combat Operations in Vietnam (MACOV),

1967, p. I-15.


25. Starry, Armored Combat, p. 57.


26. 11th ACR, After Action Report, dated March, 1967.


27. LTC T. S. Riggs, "We Need a Few Tanks To . . ., Armor

(May-June, 1969).


28. MG Arthur L. West and COL Donn A. Starry, "Armor in

Area Warfare," Armor (September-October, 1968), p. 36.


29. U.S. Army, Field Manual 17-1, Armor Operations (Washington,

DC: October, 1966), p. 230.


30. Ibid., p. 222.


31. LTG Bernard W. Rogers, Cedar Falls, Junction City: A

Turning Point (Washington, DC: Department of the Army, 1974),

p. 77.


32. Ibid., p. 157.


33. MACOV, p. I-18.


34. Ibid.


35. Ibid., p. I-67.


36. LTC John W. McEnery, "Mainstreet," Armor (January-

February, 1969), pp. 36-39.


37. GEN Bruce Palmer, Jr., The 25 Year War: America's

Military Role in Vietnam (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984),

p. 157.


38. Harry G. Summers, On Strategy, A Critical Analysis of

the Vietnam War (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1982), p. 1.


39 U.S. Army, Field Manual 90-8, Counterguerrilla Opera-

tions (Ft. Benning, GA: November, 1985), p. 5-7.


40. Ibid., p. 5-8.


41. U.S. Army, Field Circular 71-l00, Armored and Mechanized

Division and Brigade Operations (Ft. Leavenworth, KS: May, 1984),

pp. 9-4 to 9-6.


42. Ibid., p. 9-11.


43. Ibid., p. 9-13.


44. Directorate of Combat Developments, "Armor Support of

Light Forces," transcript of concept briefing, 17 January 1984.


45. Directorate of Combat Developments, "U.S. Army Opera-

tional Concept for Employment of Heavy, Light and Mixed Heavy/

Light Forces in Combat Operations," transcript of draft concept

paper, 16 January 1986.







Ambrose, Stephen E. Eisenhower, The President, Vol. II. New

York: Simon & Schuster, 1984.


Dupuy, Ernest R., and Trevor N. Dupuy. Encyclopedia of Military

History From 3500 B.C. to the Present. New York: Harper

& Row, 1986.


Fuller, J. F. C. Armored Warfare. Westport, CT: Greenwood

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House, Jonathan M. Toward Combined Arms Warfare: A Survey of

Twentieth Century Tactics, Doctrine, and Organization. Ft.

Leavenworth, KS: Combat Studies Institute, 1984.


Palmer, GEN Bruce. The 25 Year War: America's Military Role

in Vietnam. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984.


Rogers, GEN Bernard W. Cedar Falls-Junction City: A Turning

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Ground Forces in Vietnam, 1965-1973. Novato, CA:

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Bacevich, LTC A. J. and LTC Robert R. Ivany. "Deployable Armor

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Battreall, LTC Raymond. "Armor in Vietnam. " Armor May-June



Briskey, Larry A. "Soviet Ground Forces in Afghanistan: Tactics

and Performance." Unpublished graduate paper, George-

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Fuller, J. F. C. "Tactics and Mechanization." Infantry Magazine

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McEnery, LTC John W. "Mainstreet." Armor January-February



Riggs, LTC T. S. "We Need a Few Tanks Too . . ." Armor May-

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and Armor Combat Operations in Vietnam, (MACOV).



Directorate of Combat Developments. "Armor Support of Light

Forces." Transcript of concept briefing, 17 January



Field Circular 71-100, Armored and Mechanized Division and

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Field Circular 71-101, Light Infantry Division Operations. Ft.

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quarters, Department of the Army, June, 1963.


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Department of the Army, 1986.


11th ACR. "After Action Report." March, 1967.


1-69 AR. "After Action Report." July, 1966.

Armor (May-June, 1966), pp. 7-8.


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