The Uncertain Role of the Tank in Modern War: Lessons from the Israeli Experience in Hybrid Warfare

July 6, 2016

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In this monograph, the author examines the past role and the uncertain future of the M1 Abrams tank. With current fiscal constraints and the requirement for expeditionary maneuver, the U.S. Army is under pressure to demonstrate the need for its Armored Brigade Combat Teams and specifically for its main battle tank, the M1 Abrams. An extrapolation from the past 13 years of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan could lead to the conclusion that future conflicts are likely to be limited unconventional engagements. The implications of this reading of recent history influence Army thought in multiple spheres, bringing into question the relevancy of combined-arms warfare—and, as a result, the role of the main battle tank.

This paper presents a case study of the Israel Defense Force experience during Operation Protective Edge (2014) in order to inform the role of the M1 Abrams by analyzing hybrid threat trends, examining Army force-structure challenges and assessing the relevancy of combined-arms maneuver—in which the M1 Abrams tank is a key element—in the future operating environment. Based on this case study, the author argues that the role of this tank in the Army of 2015–2025 is to provide a mobile and survivable precision firepower platform to execute effective combined-arms operations against a sophisticated hybrid threat in urban and conventional environments.

The Army must consider modernizing its armored platforms with an active armor protection system and improved munitions. Current enemy capabilities are surpassing the protection offered by current armament. Given the nature of the military profession and the increasingly limited resources provided by our nation to execute combat, the responsibility to properly allocate resources, direct training and develop force structure is great. It is with fervent discipline, focus and creativity that our military and civilian leaders must consider the future of the Army.

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