Marshaling America's heavy armor forces for Iraq may take time, but there are tangible benefits beyond giving the State Department some diplomatic breathing room. The ability to terrify ones enemies by slowing forming your units in front of his troops has been well documented, as has the habit of letting him know you're coming long before he can see you. One good example can be found in Japanese tradition, where the rumbling roar of Taiko drums was used to scare enemies before battle. The 21st century equivalent to Taiko drums is the rumbling roar of Abrams and Bradley tracks.
The 37,000 American soldiers of "Task Force Ironhorse" started their ponderous move towards Iraq in January 2003. The sharp point of this lance will be 12,500 soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division, plus nearly 4,000 from the Division's 3rd Brigade at Fort Carson, CO. They will be backed by 20,000 troops from at least ten other bases. The 4th Infantry had to pack its Abrams tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and AH-64 helicopters at Fort Hood, then truck or rail-move them to ports for the two-to-three week voyage to the Persian Gulf. Observers have surmised that this indicates that any invasion of Iraq won't begin until at least late February or early March, since it would take that long to assemble the heavy ground forces.
The 4th Infantry is the core of the Army's "FORCE XXI" digital battlefield concept and is equipped with M1A2 System Enhancement Program (SEP) tanks and M2/M3A3 Bradleys, although the 3rd Brigade still has M1A1s and M2A2s. While the 4th ID has an 'experimental' status and some of the equipment may not be fully debugged, it is a fully combat ready unit capable of stomping the living daylights out of an Iraqi ground force. When linked up with the 7,000 men of the British 7th Armored Division, this presents any Iraqis who chose to meet them on open ground with a terrifying armored force.
During the last week of January, the commanders of the 1st Armored Division, the 1st Cavalry, the 3rd Infantry, the 4th Infantry and the 101st Airborne are scheduled to take part in Germany in a computer simulation of an invasion of Iraq. These units are the bulk of the Army's III Corps (also known as the Counterattack Corps or CATK), which originally consisted of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, the 1st Cavalry Division, the 4th Infantry Division and the 3rd Infantry Division. However, in real life only the 3rd and 4th have orders to move.
What happens after the war may be more telling on the future of America's armored fleet than any furball with T-72s in the desert outside of Baghdad. The CATK is supposed to be the Army's warfighting insurance policy while the service transforms to the Objective Force, yet the Pentagon seemed willing to slash the CATK long before the Objective Force is ready to fight.
Originally slated to be three and one-third divisions, there were rumors in 2002 that the Army would shrink the CATK to two and one-third divisions in order to save money for other, higher priorities. In mid-January, it was reported that the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment would not receive the latest versions of various important platforms, such as the M1A2 Abrams tank and the M2A3 Bradley fighting vehicle. Facing a bewildering array of bills to be paid, the Army decided to "rob Peter to pay Paul". The 3rd ACR became Peter.
Instead of the M1A2 SEP and M2A3 Bradley, the 3rd were slated to get the less expensive M1A1D Abrams and the M2A2 Operation Desert Storm Bradley. Now even those options are out and the unit will get basic M1A1s refurbished through the Abrams Integrated Management program, while retaining its current M2A2s. Additionally, the 3rd ACR was to get only the appliqu version of the Force XXI Battle Command, Brigade and Below system, which provides digital command and control.
The difference in equipment and capability between a non-modernized 3rd ACR and the two fully modernized CATK divisions could have repercussions, since overall battlefield effectiveness could be effected. Having apples and oranges in the same basket means that warfighting tactics and procedures could require alteration. Such a mixed CATK force also could make sustainment and maintenance more difficult and more costly.
Additional rumors are that officials are planning to reexamine 3rd ACR modernization during the next budget cycle (covering FY-05 through FY-09) to see if the Army can "buy back" the upgrade program. Current Army plans hold that the CATK will remain a part of the force structure until 2032. Should the 4th Infantry provide the "proof of concept" by leaving a path of burning Iraqi armor all the way to Baghdad in record time, funding for the 3rd ACR's mobilization might take a higher priority. - Adam Geibel