As a result, an even more dominant Abrams returned to Iraq a decade later for the second Gulf war – Operation Iraqi Freedom – which opened with masses of heavy armor sweeping across Iraq, from staging areas in Kuwait to the capital city of Baghdad and beyond.
“The Abrams and other elements that spearheaded the drive into Baghdad answered a lot of questions from the 1990s about whether tanks were necessary at a time when the emphasis was on stabilization and support operations,” Cameron noted. “The drive to Baghdad, through urban environments against lots of adversaries, probably would not have happened if we had only been using Humvees, even though engagement ranges sometimes were down to 50 meters.
“For heavy armor, the level of protection made it possible to survive in an incredibly lethal environment. No platform is invincible, but Abrams has proved very resilient, with great survivability. And a lot of commanders requested more tanks be sent in to replace Humvees.”
The Abrams also provided hard combat proof of the value of the evolution in armor, from a cast hull to segmentation and modularity, but especially for the use of composite materials and layers of armor types.
In some ways similar to Vietnam, once the armor threat was ended in Iraq – and Afghanistan – tanks were employed to protect ground forces, smash through enemy barriers, provide long-range artillery capability and, with continued improvements in precision fire, even operate in urban environments where collateral damage has become a top concern.
The Abrams also provided hard combat proof of the value of the evolution in armor, from a cast hull to segmentation and modularity, but especially for the use of composite materials and layers of armor types, what Col. Bryan J. McVeigh, program manager for Manned Systems Integration at PEO-Integration, calls the “a-plus-b approach.”
“You put on the base armor, but as technology advances, you can replace that with a new base armor to meet emerging threats,” he said. “So you no longer have the parasitic weight of having to put on more and more armor – you can defeat the same or a greater threat with replacement armor. I think that concept is the most important advance in recent years.
“We no longer look at just trying to defeat threats with thicker and heavier armor, but with an integrated solution, not only passive but integrating passive with active. The active protective system, for example, is intended to defeat the threat before it reaches the vehicle. Sensor technology advancement has been a cornerstone in allowing us to develop that. The vehicle can defeat an RPG in hundreds of thousandths of a second using capability that was not available to us a decade ago.”
Editor’s note: This article was first printed in The Year in Defense: Review Edition in an abridged version as “Armor: Three Decades of Advances.” It is now appearing online in its original form, in four parts.