Armor: It's What's Inside That Counts


November 17, 2008: If you look at the history of armored vehicle design over the last 70 years, you'll note that victory tends to come to the side with the better crews, not the superior vehicle designs. For a long time, this played little role in the design of new armored vehicles. But now it is becoming a crucial factor.

We are living in a watershed era as far as armored vehicle design is concerned. The vehicles that entered service at the end (1991) of the Cold War are still with us. Little new is in the works. Older designs, especially wheeled armored vehicles, are coming back into fashion. The U.S. Army Stryker is a variant of the LAV vehicle the U.S. Marine Corps acquired two decades earlier. Europeans have been building and selling (worldwide) such vehicles since the end of World War II.

There is plenty of talk and speculation about radical new tank designs, but nothing has really been done. Part of the delay is financial. The end of the Cold War led to a sharp drop in military spending, especially the funding of armored vehicle design and development. Then there is the flood of new technologies, many of which have been difficult to combine into a convincing new vehicle design.

In short, the big tanks, and high tech infantry fighting vehicles of today are difficult to replace. The current vehicles get the job done, and proposed new designs offer high risk (of battlefield failure) and low probability of successfully replacing what is already available.

Meanwhile, we have a nagging problem with superior people always beating superior technology. There are many examples. Early in World War II, the Germans had inferior tanks, yet they won spectacular victories using better trained and led crews, in 1940 and 41. Then comes 1944, when the U.S. was fighting the Germans in France. There, superior American crews, using inferior tanks, defeated the German tanks. In the 1956 and '67 Arab-Israeli wars, the Arabs had superior tanks, and more of them, but were quickly defeated by superior Israeli crews. At the very end of the Cold War, in Kuwait, the world saw what superior tanks, and crews, could do.

Thus the future of armored warfare would appear to depend more on crew, than vehicle, quality. Given the current lack of radical new tank designs, and budgets to move them through development, crew quality has become the new decisive weapon for armored forces.




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