Heavy Armor in the Future Security Environment

by David E. Johnson

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The U.S. Army is under pressure to demonstrate a valid need for heavy brigade combat teams in the future security environment — an environment in which many believe that such units will be largely irrelevant. Do heavy armored forces have a place in the U.S. military of the future?

The paper examines the capabilities of irregular, state-sponsored hybrid, and state adversaries in the context of recent experiences in Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza, and Lebanon. It concludes that heavy armored vehicles have been key enablers for light and medium armored forces engaged in irregular warfare and that they are the only vehicles able to maneuver on the battleground when adversaries have standoff weapons. To minimize future risk and cost, the author therefore recommends that the United States base much of its future capabilities on heavy armored forces that can scale down to confront irregular adversaries and serve as a hedge against challenges presented by a very complex and lethal future security environment.

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The research described in this report was sponsored by the U.S. Training and Doctrine Command and conducted in the Strategy, Doctrine, and Resources Program within the RAND Arroyo Center.

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