I remember when I was young airborne artillery officer assigned to the 4/325th Airborne Battalion Combat Team in Vicenza, Italy and we would deploy to Germany for training rotations. Our prime mover for our 105mm howitzers was the ol’ “Gamma Goat” vehicles. It was always a little dicey being out on range roads in “black-out drive” — meaning no headlights. Why? Because a column of Bradley fighting vehicles, or especially M1 tanks, would just feel a slight bump if they ran over us — not to mention all the heavy self-propelled artillery vehicles that were out and about.
Back then, we had several heavy tank divisions stationed in Germany, along with armored cavalry regiments. And of course those tankers and others were always out doing their gunnery qualifications. Fast forward to my second tour of duty in the Army, the 1st Infantry Division (Mechanized) at Ft. Riley. And let me tell ya, gunnery training as well as maneuver exercises were paramount. Those National Training Center rotations paid off because when we deployed to Operation Desert Shield/Storm, man, we were lighting up the Iraqi armored forces from 1000m. It was a sweet sound to know the commands, “Gunner, Tank, Sabot” were being delivered, and off in the distance you would see the fireball. That crack boom sound of the M1 Abrams tank main gun was just plain awesome.
However, fast-forward to today, and it appears we’ve lost a competitive edge with our venerable American Army tank corps — we certainly have shared stories about readiness issues.
As reported by Popular Mechanics, “A recent competition hosted in part by the U.S. Army and designed to test core tank crew skills saw European crews take the top honors, while crews from the U.S. Army failed to place. The results raise the question of whether the Army—after more than a decade of focusing on guerrilla warfare—has devoted adequate training to address “big war” skills.
Held from May 10 to 12 and jointly hosted by the U.S. Army and the German Bundeswehr at the Grafenwoehr Training Area in Germany,the Strong Europe Tank Challenge included challengers from six NATO countries: Denmark, Germany, Italy, Poland, and Slovenia—which sent tank platoons of four tanks each to compete— and the United States, which sent two platoons.
The competition involved tank crews conducting both offensive and defensive operations, and both mounted and dismounted activities. Crews fired ten main gun rounds from various positions. In one event, crews had to correctly identify 25 friendly and unfriendly (read: Russian) vehicles while traveling a course. Other events involved operating in the aftermath of a chemical weapons attack, dealing with improvised explosive devices, and medical emergencies.
A German tank crew from Mountain Panzer Battalion 7, Panzer Brigade 12 took top honors, followed by a Danish crew from their country’s 1st Tank Battalion in second. Third place went to a Polish crew from the 34th Armored Cavalry brigade. It’s unknown where the American crews placed, only that they weren’t in the top three.”
Maybe y’all don’t see this as a matter of concern, but I truly do. Our military must be prepared to conduct operations along the full spectrum of combat from low to heavy intensity. We cannot become an armed force that only focuses on the conflagration soup du jour — Islamic jihadism — which is low intensity conflict. If we fail to realize that Russia is rebuilding its force and capability, while we decimate ours, we set ourselves up for a potential Kasserine Pass or Task Force Smith embarrassment — and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, study and learn. Being successful in global strategic operations means having adaptive deterrent capability – but it appears we don’t have that. And such a catastrophic loss could happen to our force — we shared this video and testimony of Army Chief of Staff General Milley which clearly lays out the dire situation we’re in.
“The results in both competitions echo recent comments made by Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley and published in last Sunday’s New York Times. Milley stated, “Today, a major in the Army knows nothing but fighting terrorists and guerrillas, because he came into the Army after 9/11. But as we get into the higher-end threats, our skills have atrophied over 15 years.”
The primary “higher-end threat” is Russia. Russian land power is clawing back from two decades of neglect. Moscow is building several new families of armored vehicles, including the T-14 Armata main battle tank, T-15 heavy infantry fighting vehicle, Kurganets-25 infantry fighting vehicle, and Bumerang family of wheeled armored personnel carriers. Russian campaigns in Ukraine and Syria, and aggressiveness against border states, has shown that President Vladimir Putin can and will use his army to achieve state goals.”
Last year we shared a story of how the Army had to refit its forward deployed Strykers in Europe with a heavier main gun — not exactly a good thing when you realize how Russia is updating its force. And it’s not just Russia, but also know that — as we’ve also shared here — Iran is looking to purchase Russian tanks. And they can certainly afford to do so thanks to the lies of Ben Rhodes and President Obama releasing billions of dollars to the militant Islamic sponsor of terrorism.
The tank competition in Germany at Grafenwoehr, a place we affectionately called Graf, isn’t the only indicator of this readiness issue. “This isn’t the first time U.S. Army tankers have found themselves in an embarrassing situation.
North Carolina National Guard tankers beat their Regular Army counterparts—and crews from the U.S. Marine Corps and Canadian Army—at the U.S. Army’s 2016 Sullivan Cup. A tank crew consisting of an insurance adjuster, Pepsi truck driver, college student, and aspiring police officer beat fifteen other reserve and active duty tank crews to place first.
Not for nothing, and I’m certainly not gonna take away anything from the North Carolina crew that won, but what does this say about the status of tank crew training for our active duty force? Remember, our National Guard only trains one weekend a month and two weeks normally during the summer. I offer high accolades to the National Guard tank crew; they should hold their heads high.
However, as a nation, we should be concerned about the readiness of our armored corps — as we learn more about failing readiness for F-16s, Marine F/A-18s, B-1 Bombers, an aged B-52 bomber, and lack of flight training hours for our combat and helicopter pilots.
Just so you know, the American Army only has one remaining tank division, “Old Ironsides,” the 1st Armored Division at Ft. Bliss Texas. We continue to embrace a belief that we can solve our fiscal woes and irresponsibility in America on the backs of our military. That folks is morally wrong, and will yield horrible dividends at some point. Just remember that coming on the heels of Jimmy Carter we got Ronald Reagan who gave us the M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank, replacing the tired M60. It was central in our 96-hour destruction of the Iraqi Revolutionary Guards armored force. It appears that history is repeating itself. Let’s pray we have a new commander in chief who is less concerned about where folks use the bathroom.