Key point: These high-tech weapon systems are what gives America its force-multiplying edge.
When it comes to lethal weapons, the U.S. Army has no shortage. Some may be too expensive, some too complex and others may be desired by politicians and defense contractors, but not the troops on the field.
Nonetheless, today's U.S. Army can generate an astonishing amount of firepower and deliver it in a variety of settings from small-war counterinsurgency to big-war mechanized combat. With that in mind, here are some of the best U.S. Army weapons:
Ironic it is that the best weapon of America's premier land force is an aircraft. But given the conflicts the U.S. military has recently fought and is likely to fight, airpower is the most decisive factor.
Equipped with a 30-millimeter cannon, Hellfire missiles and sophisticated sensors, the Apache combines speed, firepower and range that allows the Army to strike enemies long before they come within firing distance of Army ground troops. It is equally useful at hunting down insurgents or decimating enemy armored columns. The Apache has fought well in conflicts from Desert Storm to the current Afghan war.
Perhaps more important, the Apache is airpower that the Army itself controls, rather than having to rely on the Air Force or Navy aircraft for close air support. An attack helicopter is not, and will never be, a substitute for infantry on the ground. But the ground troops will appreciate the support an attack helicopter can provide.
Whether the M-1 Abrams is the best tank in the world depends on who you talk to, and more important, what country they are from. But it is indisputably among the world's best.
Weighing in at 60 tons, the M-1A2 has a 120-millimeter cannon, depleted-uranium armor up to three feet thick and a top speed of more than 40 miles per hour. It decimated Iraq's Soviet-made armor in 1991, and quite possibly would do the same to China's advanced Type 99 tank. Very few Abrams have been destroyed in combat; the fact that ISIS has destroyed or captured Iraqi government M-1s says more about the quality of the crews than the tank.
The U.S. Army's hard-hitting, self-propelled howitzers have taken a backseat in America's recent small wars. Nonetheless, they remain highly potent weapons.
The Paladin is the latest version of the venerable M-109 self-propelled gun. It can shoot a 155-millimeter shell up to 20 miles using rocket-assisted projectiles. It can also fire the GPS- or laser-guided Excalibur shell.
TOW Anti-Tank Missile:
Russia (or the Soviet Union) seems to be the king of anti-tank missiles, though this probably reflects the pattern of arms sales, as well as how great a threat Western-designed armor posed to Russia and its clients. So it is easy to forget that the U.S. Army is no slouch, either, at the anti-tank missile game.
The Army's TOW (tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided) anti-tank missile is still going strong after nearly forty-five years of service. It has destroyed tanks—mostly Russian—in Vietnam, the Arab-Israeli Wars, the Iran-Iraq War and now Syria. The newer TOW 2B comes in several versions, including a bunker-busting missile, as well as the Aero model, which explodes above a tank to penetrate its thin top armor.
M-2 .50-Caliber Machine Gun:
It may sound strange to classify an eighty-year-old machine gun as one of the Army's best weapons. But the fact the M-2 "Ma Deuce" is still blasting away after nearly a century and countless wars is testament to the fact that it is a remarkable gun.
Developed when Franklin Roosevelt had just become president and Hitler was just taking power in Germany, the M-2 has seen service all over the world as an anti-aircraft, anti-vehicle and anti-personnel machine gun that's closer in power to a small cannon. A recently upgraded version, the M2A1, features a quick-change barrel and a night flash suppressor.
Michael Peck is a contributing writer at The National Interest. (This first appeared in 2014.)