It looks like heavy metal is making a comeback. The US Army has just announced that the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team of 3rd Infantry Division will be re-roled as an armored brigade combat team next summer. This will generate a US-based armored brigade to replace 3 ABCT, 4th ID, which will be moving to Europe in January.
This ORBAT change looks like a sensible response to the changing global situation. Over the last 15 years, the Army’s focus has been on light infantry operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus the creation and expansion of “medium” Stryker BGTs. The cost of this was a relative decline in heavy armored formations, which have lost out in equipment projects and taken a heavy share of force reductions.
Now the spotlight is starting to shift back to conventional war fighting. Right now, there isn’t much risk of Russia making a move into NATO’s eastern flank, but that could change if the Kremlin senses there isn’t the resolve to stop them – and, given the pathetic state of most European members’ armor fleets, this needs a stronger US presence. The US Army’s European component is still a tiny fraction of what it was during the Cold War, when there were two US Corps in CENTAG, but it’s steadily climbing back up from the token force it had been reduced to.
When 3 ABCT gets to Germany there will be the core of a division-size force, although it will still be missing a lot of division assets. With one armored brigade, a Stryker brigade and the 173rd Airborne it won’t be the heaviest of divisions, but the addition of 3 ABCT’s tanks will stiffen it a lot.
The problem now is that the US Army’s heavy equipment is getting old. The M1 Abrams and Bradley are both 1980s systems; the M109 howitzer dates back to the early 1960s, and was replaced long ago by non-US users like the UK and Germany. All three systems have been extensively upgraded, but the blunt truth is that the M1A2 is good, but no longer state of the art; the Bradley was never great anyway and is less so now, and the M109A7 is an obsolete gun on a vehicle that’s pushed its upgrade potential to the very limit.
Some “experts” are predicting the end of main battle tanks, and suggesting that the M1 can be replaced by a lighter protected gun system. Well, maybe not. The death of the tank has been announced with monotonous regularity since 1919, and none of the prophets have ever been right. A new tank will be needed to replace the Abrams sometime in the next 15 years, and development needs to start now. As for the Bradley and M109, there are some excellent alternatives out there. The British Army’s new Ajax/Scout SV is decades ahead of the Bradley; it’s also a General Dynamics product, so there’s no need for Not Invented Here syndrome. The PzH2000 or long-barreled Braveheart version of the AS90 are both huge advances on the M109.
For now, the main combat systems of the US Army’s armored brigades are capable of holding the line in Eastern Europe. But when Putin’s forces start taking delivery of their new T14 tanks, Kurganets-25 IFVs and 2S35 guns, the US edge will be severely eroded. It’s time the heavy armored forces got the same investment the rest of the Army has seen since 2001.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.