Tank Wars Are Coming: How the U.S. Army Plans to Fight Russia or China

May 9, 2019 Topic: Security Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: U.S. ArmyRussiaChinaGreat Power ConflictWar

Tank Wars Are Coming: How the U.S. Army Plans to Fight Russia or China

A new doctrine explains it all.

While naturally focused upon what would be needed in a massive, full-scale land war scenario — the new doctrine also explores contingencies, scenarios and strategies needed to assess circumstances short of armed combat, Creed explained.

The U.S. Army will release a new combat “FM 3.0 Operations” doctrine designed to better position the service for the prospect of large-scale, mechanized warfare against technologically advanced near-peer rivals — such as Russia or China — able to substantially challenge U.S. military technological superiority.

(This article originally appeared at Scout Warrior in 2017.)

The new “Operations” doctrine, to be unveiled in a matter of days at the Association of the United States Army Annual Convention, is intended as a supplement or adjustment to the Army’s current “FM 3.0 Full Spectrum” Field Manual, a doctrine which first emerged more than several years ago.

Authors of the new doctrine explain that while many elements of the Army’s previous “Full Spectrum” doctrine are retained and updated, “FM 3.0 Full Spectrum” was written when the Russians had not attacked Ukraine, the Army was immersed in war in Afghanistan and the current tensions in the South China Sea had not yet emerged to the extent they do today, Col. Rich Creed, Combined Arms Director Ft. Leavenworth, told Scout Warrior.

“The Army needs to be prepared for large-scale combat operations against potential near-peer capabilities within a regional context,” Creed said. “The operational scenario is different now. We are retaining lessons and experiences from prior doctrine, but we need to address the tactics and procedures conducted by large-scale units to conduct land combat.”

“We update doctrine when the situation requires it.”

Creed explained the new adjustments represent the natural evolution from the Army’s “Unified Land Operations” concept articulated in 2011-2012 as well as a Cold-War strategy known as “AirLand” battle designed to defend Western Europe using initial air attacks in tandem with conventional ground force assault.

“AirLand Battle was devised to address a specific threat large-scale land combat on the European continent — large forces and it was a bipolar world,” Creed said. “We live in a multi-polar world now. We may still be the lone superpower but there are other forces in the world that have improved significantly. We don’t have the luxury of focusing on one kind of threat or one kind of operation.”

AirLand Battle, not surprisingly, envisioned massive U.S. Army ground assaults across the Fulda Gap in Europe heavily supported by large-scale coordinated air power.

One senior U.S. Army official told Scout Warrior that the new “operations” doctrine was necessary given the extent to which potential adversaries have studied U.S. military techniques and technologies first used during Desert Storm in the early 1990s. “Desert Storm showed the world AirLand battle. We unleashed something they had envisioned or heard about. They have studied our military,” the senior official said.

Creed added that the new doctrine is indeed cognizant of both future and current threats to U.S. security, including North Korea, Iran, Russia and China.

While the emerging “operations” doctrine adaptation does recognize that insurgent and terrorist threats from groups of state and non-state actors will likely persist for decades into the future, the new manual focuses upon preparedness for a fast-developing high-tech combat environment against a major adversary.

Advanced adversaries with aircraft carriers, stealth aircraft, next-generation tanks, emerging hypersonic weapons, drones, long-range sensors and precision-targeting technology present the U.S. military with a need to adjust doctrine to properly respond to a fast-changing threat landscape.

For instance, Russia and China both claim to be developing fifth-generation stealth fighters, electronic warfare and more evolved air defenses able to target aircraft on a wider range of frequencies at much farther distances. Long-range, precision-guided anti-ship missiles, such as the Chinese DF-21D, are able to target U.S. carriers at ranges up to 900 miles, presenting threat scenarios making it much harder for American warships to operate in certain areas and sufficiently project power.

When it comes to land combat, the new doctrine will accommodate the current recognition that the U.S. Army is no longer the only force to possess land-based, long-range precision weaponry.

While JDAMs and GPS-guided weapons fired from the air have existed since the Gulf War, land-based precision munitions such as the 155-millimeter GPS-guided Excalibur artillery round able to reach 30 kilometers emerged within the last 10 years. This weapon first entered service in 2007, however precision-guided land artillery is now something many potential adversaries now possess as well.

In addition, the Army’s Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System is a GPS-guided rocket with a range of up to 70 kilometers. The kind of long-range precision evidenced by GMLRS is yet another instance of U.S. weapons technology emerging in recent years that is now rivaled by similar weapons made by other nation-states. Drones, such as the Army’s Shadow or Gray Eagle, are also the kind of surveillance platforms many nations have tried to replicate, adding to a high-threat, high-tech global marketplace.

Given all this, the Army is now looking to harness new technologies for future platforms — all while emphasizing upgrades to major Army land war vehicles such as the Abrams tank, Stryker, Paladin and Bradley; for instance, many Army weapons developers explain that a series of high-tech upgrades to the Abrams tank make the platform superior to the emerging Russian T-14 Armata and the newest Chinese Type 99 main battle tanks.

The Army’s current doctrine, Field Manual 3.0, emphasizes what the service calls “full-spectrum” operations to include state and non-state threats. The manual addresses the importance of a “whole-of-government” approach aimed at counter-insurgency, combined arms and stability operations as well as anticipated future developments.

The existing doctrine is, among other things, grounded upon non-linear, asymmetrical warfare versus insurgents who deliberately blend in with civilian populations. And while incorporates a need to address modern threats such as “hybrid warfare,” much of the focus stops short of recognizing the extent to which other rival militaries are developing platforms and technologies comparable or superior to some U.S. weapons systems.

Enemies such as Islamic State and state-sponsored groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah are equipped to fight with a blend of terrorist tactics and advanced weaponry such as sophisticated sensors, surveillance networks, and some precision munitions such as anti-tank guided missiles. This blended threat, requiring a mixture of both combined arms and counterinsurgency tactics, is the kind of scenario the Army has been preparing to confront.

The new manual also incorporates a fast-evolving Pentagon strategy referred to as “multi-domain” warfare. This focus includes accommodating the need to address fast-changing threats in the cyber, electronic warfare, precision weaponry, space, drones and C4ISR domains. Rapid developments in these areas underscores the importance of cross-domain connectivity and warfare, such as an ability of a sea-based F/A-18 Super Hornet to cue land-based artillery from tactically difficult distances.

“Space or cyber-enabled capabilities are not geographically bound but rather extend to an infinite amount of range. Commanders and staff need to be able to think about that when conducting operations,” Creed said.

Another example of multi-domain warfare includes the Army’s ongoing effort to test and prepare for maritime warfare scenarios such as using land-based rockets to attack and destroy enemy ships. The Army is currently working with the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office on upgrades to ATACM missile sensors to enable the weapon to successfully attack moving ships at sea.

This concept is especially important given that potential adversaries are becoming more adept at being able to disrupt U.S. military joint operations with jamming tactics, advanced sensors, cyber attacks and long-range precision weapons.

While naturally focused upon what would be needed in a massive, full-scale land war scenario — the new doctrine also explores contingencies, scenarios and strategies needed to assess circumstances short of armed combat, Creed explained.

Image: DVIDS.