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– by Scott R. Gourley

One ubiquitous presence among the lessons learned from the coalition
experiences in Iraq has involved the value of armor. The most obvious of these lessons – and one that seems to be most easily grasped by the public – involves the “uparmoring” of light skinned vehicles. These programs
continue to garner increasing emphasis in light of continuing insurgent /
terrorist threats.

However, armor was also a common factor in another set of lessons learned. Specifically, many seemed surprised by the flexibility of contributions made by conventional armored platforms. From the U.S. perspective, the open desert value of the M1 series Abrams tank and M2 / M3 series Bradley Fighting Vehicle were well known, having previously been proven more than a decade earlier in Operation Desert Storm (ODS).

Moreover, experiences in that earlier conflict prompted their own series of enhancements. Following the conflict, the Army had assembled a blue-ribbon panel of generals, master gunners and Soldiers to look at operational issues of training and doctrine and materiel issues. Among the results of that panel was a series of upgrades to the M2A2 Bradley, known as the “ODS package.”

The first 2,200 ODS models were upgraded within the next few years, with a second phase of upgrades addressing items that lacked sufficient technical maturity for incorporation in the earlier program. As a result of these upgrades, the majority of the Bradleys in the Army inventory are now the A2 ODS models, modified as a direct result of lessons learned from desert combat during Operation Desert Storm (The newer A3 Bradleys have been fielded to the Fourth Infantry Division and are now being fielded to the First Cavalry Division).

Because of this lessons-based materiel planning it came as little surprise that the latest models of these systems performed so well as U.S. units like the Third Infantry Division (Mechanized) [3ID (M)] successfully attacked over 600 kilometers (km) from Kuwait to Baghdad, through storms of biblical proportion and constant enemy resistance.

In terms of raw lethality, one 3 ID after action report noted that “Tanks were effective against most enemy direct fire targets, however, they were overkill in many cases. The armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot (APFSDS)/high explosive antitank (HEAT) mix was adjusted in the ammo basic load (ABL) at the outset and was continually refined as the target array of trucks, BMPs, bunkers, and buildings became better known. Toward the end of offensive operations, ABLs consisted of about 60% HEAT and 40% APFSDS. The 25mm on the Bradley Fighting Vehicle (BFV) was highly effective against armored personnel carriers (APCs), enemy tanks, and the vehicles employed by the paramilitary forces in open and urban terrain.”

The U.S. report also highlights survivability issues, explaining that “The M1 and M2 proved to be not only lethal, but exceptionally survivable as well. Throughout the conflict, M1s and M2s took thousands of hits from small arms and rocket propelled grenades (RPGs). Rarely were the vehicles affected, and even the few times they caught fire, nearly every soldier walked away unhurt. Even as the division moved hundreds of kilometers, 3ID (M) was able to maintain above a 90% combat capability for M1s and M2s. The M1 and M2 protected soldiers and proved to be the most survivable and durable equipment on the battlefield.”

High lethality and survivability were largely expected. But it is
notations about performance in urban terrain, like those cited above, that set the stage for what seems to have been the greatest surprise for military observers. While many military analysts were busy crafting a notional “Battle of Baghdad” that would feature months of house to house fighting by light infantry units, the fact was that the city itself fell to a series of rapid armored strikes that were administered during the period

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