Commandant's Hatch:
Armor’s contribution to unified land operations

by COL Paul J. Laughlin
Commandant, U.S. Army Armor School

Our Army and the armored force brings three critical inflection points in Armor history to mind. The first is the “interwar years” between World War I and World War II, when men like GEN Adna Chaffee championed mechanization, Armor and Cavalry. Those efforts sowed the seeds of American and Allied success in World War II. In the 1970s, the Army sought to determine what the Vietnam experience and the Israeli wars for independence meant for the future of Armor and Cavalry. Men like GEN Creighton Abrams and GEN Donn Starry led the debate and made lasting changes to the Army structure, organization and doctrine. Finally, in the 1980s, GEN Starry and others led the adoption of Air-Land Battle, force modernization and a new focus on combined-arms training that allowed our Army to decisively win Operation Desert Storm.

In all three cases, there were bright, visionary and competent Armor and Cavalry leaders who brought about change in the Army that shaped the future for decades to come. Although we do not have the privilege of hindsight, today’s Army may be at a similar critical time, and we must be prepared to take the reins to help shape the Army’s future.

Today’s debate focuses on what our strategy should be as we end combat operations in Afghanistan by the end of 2014. We anticipate having our forces regionally aligned to support geographic combatant commands, but details and implications are still forthcoming. There is a feeling by some that Air-Sea Battle is the way of the future because we know there will be a strategic shift to the Asian-Pacific theater, and that means the Department of Defense will focus solely on naval and air power. However, serious analysts recognize that while this theater is largely water, people live on the land and that is where the nation must employ ground forces to accomplish its goals.

In the Asian-Pacific, most nations’ largest military component is their armies, and we should be prepared to partner with them. Armor has an important role to play in the Pacific since there are more than 51,000 armored vehicles in 19 Asian-Pacific nations. The friendly Asian nations that do not have armored forces will rely upon the United States to provide armor. We must critically examine Air-Sea Battle and point out that the terrain in the Asian-Pacific region is ideal for concealing armor from aerial reconnaissance and attack, once again requiring armored forces on the ground to shape and possibly fight in the Pacific area of operations.

Finally, those who say there is no role for armored forces in the Pacific are neglecting to learn from our own history. In World War II, Korea and Vietnam, armored forces proved critical to providing maneuver capability to light-infantry organizations with lethal results. In the time since these conflicts ended, the terrain, operational distances and threats have not changed enough to render armored forces obsolete. As such, our readers understand that we will shape operations and will win combat only by maintaining a strong and competent maneuver force composed of infantry, armor, fires, aviation and engineers … the combined-arms team.

The question that we in the Armor and Cavalry community must answer is, “What is our contribution to unified land operations?” It is our assessment that we must: (1) provide versatile forces that are expert in providing mobile, protected, precision firepower in support of combined-arms maneuver and wide-area security; (2) keep quality Soldiers and troopers in the force while focusing on leader development as the Army draws down to a smaller endstrength; (3) continue to improve our systems, our platforms and our doctrine to ensure we can meet any future challenge in any environment; and (4) most importantly, once we have answered the question, we must enter the debate vigorously and keep it going.

This issue of ARMOR should generate some debate in the Armor and Cavalry communities. We have included some very candid articles about our future role in the U.S. Army and on the future battlefield – I am certain that the authors will challenge your beliefs and assumptions, but our nation, Army and branch are at an important point in our history. As such, please read this issue critically and thoughtfully consider each author’s points. Then, enter the professional discourse to help shape the future of our branch and the Army.

I propose that we use the pages of ARMOR and the monthly Armor newsletter, Thunderbolt Blast, to host and shape the dialogue on the future of our branch and the Army in general. Write letters to the editor and articles, and enter the on-line debate to ensure we get the right answers to some very tough, yet critically important questions.

Great Armor and Cavalry leaders in the past have risen to shape the future of the Army during critical points in history. I know we are up to the challenge to honor them by leading the Army’s way forward during this next great transition in our history, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Forge the Thunderbolt!

Giddyup! 47

Reply to this Article

Send us your Feedback