“In NATO tank competition, U.S. comes up short against Germany” Washpost


"Germany took top honors in the competition, followed by Denmark and Poland in second place and third place respectively.

The challenge, co-hosted by U.S. Army Europe and the German Bundeswehr, is a nod to the Cold War era and a tacit acknowledgment that NATO will need well-trained conventional forces if it ever has to go to war with a newly-emboldened Russia.

“You’ve got to continue to train; you have to invest the time and resources in the training to have the best possible deterrent force,” Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commander of U.S. Army Europe, told Stars and Stripes.

Earlier this year, the Pentagon announced it was quadrupling the 2017 budget for its “European Reassurance Initiative” and has indicated that the United States will soon rotate additional troops into the region in an effort to deter any future Russian aggression."  Washpost


Kudos to the Bundeswehr!

I am not at all surprised.  I have been bleating for at least a decade that the organizational skills needed by an army to fight an actual war have atrophied to the point of disappearance in the US Army.

The mass delusion of the COIN cult has done this.  The notion that being nice to the natives was all that was needed caused leadership at all levels to think of themselves as half baked versions of the Green Berets.  (I am one) 

The result could be clearly seen in the GWOT wars in defeats at such places as Wanat in eastern Afghanistan where platoon or half platoon positions were poorly sited, poorly constructed, poorly supplied, poorly provided with fire support from artillery and air.   Military officers are like all others in that they listen carefully to learn what the boss upstream wants.  In the GWOT wars what was wanted was a belief that even if the villagers want to kill you en masse you are their freinds and protectors, no matter what.  Well, pilgrims, that may work for at least some of the 5,000 highly empathic and simultaneously untrusting Green Berets in the world but to chase that rabbit down the hole for the whole army is to invite a developed incompetence in warfighting skills, including those of  COIN.

In this contest you see the end result.  This was not a contest about tank quality.  It was not about equipment quality.  It was about unit quality and the US Army failed.  Welcome to 5th Generation warfare.  pl

Look in the SST archive for related material on Wanat and the movie Restrepo.




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65 Responses to “In NATO tank competition, U.S. comes up short against Germany” Washpost

  1. Haralambos says:

    I am chuckling at your reference to “5th Generation warfare,” given your jaundiced view of its predecessor generation. I presume, and I hope I am not being presumptuous, that you hold the same attitude to the offspring but did not feel the need for your personalized snark/scare quote convention of a few months ago.

  2. turcopolier says:

    The notion that there are “generations” of warfare is absurd and always was. it was ginned up by Bill Lind after 9/11 to make ignorant generals feel absolved of responsibility for their ignorance of history. If you think that is “snark” so be it. http://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2008/05/4th-generation.html

  3. Fred says:

    “Each platoon included four tanks manned by four men.”
    Snark would note that we sent two platoons but none were women. I’m sure our gay Secretary of the Army will find some combat capable lesbians soon. Problem solved!

  4. Haralambos says:

    I do not think that your post or comment was snark, but I took the whole reference to generations as an alert to readers to your view considering it to be nonsense. My apologies for not writing more clearly.
    I believe my comment implied that the reference to generations of wars, given your oft-noted jaundiced view of the 4th Generation, did not need a snark label due to your final sentence: “Welcome to 5th Generation warfare.” I read that, correctly I believe, as irony and a warning.

  5. Walrus says:

    Col. Lang, I agree 100%. We did ask the question some years ago about what happens when the U.S. Army meets a comparably equipped rival in a contested air superiority environment after decades of shooting at poorly trained and equipped brown people.
    My opinion is that this event “should” focus attention on the training and capabilities of senior officers and the General Officer Corps because once you start talking this kind of warfare we are not talking exclusively about small unit tactics as we have with COIN. I think we are talking Battalion, Brigade, Division and bigger tactics and manoeuvre which calls for tactically aware General officers which must be as scarce as hens teeth now.
    To put that another way, when was the last time an American General leading his troops got killed in battle?

  6. Walrus says:

    P.S. I love the sound of Leopard tanks! Provided they are on my side!

  7. Robert C says:

    Couldn’t this just another article to be used by the Pentagon to demand more money, men, and machines to fight a threat that may not exist?

  8. Ranger Ray says:

    You’ve hit one of the nails squarely on the head. Another nail which unfortunately is now protruding is the introduction of women into the Infantry. That particular social experimentation is guaranteed to undermine the esprit de corps and morale of the tip of the spear. It’s just a matter of time.
    In reference to your comment on a lack understanding of military history on the part of many if not most of our senior officers, I just returned from a visit to my alma mater on the Hudson. Sadly, I was informed that next semester Military History will be reduced from its current paltry two semesters over four years to one. I find this unbelievable.

  9. turcopolier says:

    Yes. You are right. We should get rid of the army. It is a waste of money and a temptation to war. (That was irony). pl

  10. turcopolier says:

    I don’t find Afghans or Arabs to be “brown people.” I suppose that is a Brito/Australian idea. “The wogs start at Calais,” etc. We had 7 US Army GO dead in VN. How about Australia? pl

  11. YT says:

    Col. sir,
    What gives?
    Guys like “Blood n’ Guts” Patton were intimately familiar with History & more – spoke Frog with a flair (like no other descendant of proud Confederates) back-in-the-day.
    To-day however, they seem unfamiliar with the brown people (or other Asiatics) & what passions that drive them.

  12. turcopolier says:

    George Patton was an aristocrat and a gentleman. These are not. They are the product of a relentless levelling that has brought the officer corps low. pl

  13. robt willmann says:

    I have not seen the documentary Restrepo. I will do so, and there appears to be a followup called Korengal–
    Over the last few years I have gotten some documentaries (and books) about the Vietnam War, but it has turned out to be not very easy to find those that can be considered generally to be authentic and describe things accurately. A man who became a friend was a Special Forces medic in Vietnam, and after leaving the Army went back as a reporter and was there until the end, and for a few weeks after. I have given him a few of the books to read, as he reads a lot anyway, and his opinion of them of course varies.

  14. Dubhaltach says:

    In reply to YT 18 May 2016 at 08:19 PM
    Different ethos, now it’s officering by MBA a disease that has spread to other armies.

  15. Ulenspiegel says:

    The interesting aspect for me is that the German tank platoon came from the Mountain Panzer Battalion 8 of the Gebirgsjägerbrigade and the crews were mainly reservists. 🙂
    I would have expected that the experts would come from Munster, however,only the trainer came. 🙂

  16. Looks like both Houses in Congress will pass bills prohibiting the drafting or registration of women under the Selective Service Act!

  17. Are we up to the Leopard III or IV?

  18. b says:

    Not sure this is a sign of atrophy.
    The predecessor of this tank competition during the Cold War was the biannual Canadian Army Trophy which was regularly won by Germans (or Dutch). The U.S. won once (under somewhat disputed conditions).
    At that time I found that the U.S. army and its tankers were depending on overwhelming firepower and cover from elsewhere. Whenever depending only on their tanks they lost on the (simulated) battlefield. The tactical training on group, platoon and company level wasn’t just up to much.
    This loss is thereby not really a sign of some change. Just the usual way the U.S. army is run.

  19. Cortes says:

    The Saker’s latest essay contains much of relevance to this and the last piece about angling for budget, I believe.
    The conclusion that a generation of senior officers more pliable in the hands of neocon ideologues has succeeded the Cold War I professional and sceptical officers the author refers to is rather worrying.

  20. turcopolier says:

    Robert Willman
    We did not make this kind of mistake in VN. Deliberate defensive positions were very strong. I speak of the Army. The USMC were famous for their reluctance to strongly fortify positions, something was said by USMC officers about that taking the offensive edge off the men. pl

  21. Babak Makkinejad says:

    I read somewhere that the Mexican newspapers referred to the 1991 Iraq War as the war of “Whites against the Browns”.
    I agree with you, I am Beige.

  22. ThomasG says:

    The German unit was a reservist unit.

  23. C Webb says:

    Based on recent news reports it’s looks to be the Germany army who have been caught short.
    Germany To Buy Back Tanks Amid Russia Threat
    Germany only has 225 Leopard tanks. (of 3480 built)
    German defense minister wants to remove Bundeswehr personnel limit: report

  24. YT says:

    ‘Tis a most sad state-of-affairs indeed…
    Instruction with colourful PowerPoint slides.
    Illustrations divorced from reality.

  25. thepanzer says:

    We’ve been “punching down” for opponents for several decades plus, as others have noted, armies that get into the occupation business seem to give up on the war fighting business. (but I’m an Air Force puke, what do I know)
    Ol’ Hillary is itching for a fight with the Russians. I sincerely hope that doesn’t happen as I expect the conventional losses for both sides to be very high. The Russians will be fighting for national survival and they’re a tough people. We’ll be fighting for…bragging rights or something? And the American public is in no way prepared for the old-school types of casualties we’d incur.
    Lose a few aircraft carriers and a chunk of our sub fleet and it’s no longer fun and games.
    Anyone seen any recent non-cold war era wargames held for Russia vs. Blue? I don’t mean the goofball ones that assume Russia is going to try to conquer Europe, but legit exercises with Russia playing D and Blue on O? Naval, Air, etc?

  26. Old Microbiologist says:

    It is a huge problem. We have a military run by civilians and designed for over 25 years to support LIC. We have only enemies that we create to justify spending nearly 60% of our GDP on defense. Even the word defense is idiotic as we have not defended home soil since 1812. The latest 15 years have been an expensive disaster which have been a neocon’s dream and yes HRC will start a war immediately for supposed Russian aggression which will likely be yet another idiotic false flag operation by the US or it’s minions. As you say Russian’s (with a few rare exceptions) are noteworthy as successfully defending the homeland against invaders and have the experiences to back that up. They know nothing short of all in and nuclear will be rapidly deployed using the same doctrine the US held in Germany for over 50 years. The new supersonic missiles and Topal which can steer mid course are designed to defeat our (mostly unproven) ABM system. Everyone seems to have forgotten that Russia has an old but still effective nuclear based ABM system. They see it as something truly life threatening and don’t too much care bout some relatively minor casualties in the process. As I said it is all or nothing for them unlike the US who seem to be able to think that ever-increasing pressure on Russia can be won peacefully. Clearly they do not understand either Russians or Russian history. Apparently, they fail to understand how in the midst of the escalating assaults on Russia that Putin’s popularity grows with each mounting effort. Also, the next front with the Chinese is essentially identical so prodding them like the Russians is not going to end well for the US. We seem to be being led by madmen. The world’s hope lies with Putin maintaining a level head. But, how long can that last is anyone’s guess.

  27. Matthew says:

    Col: If someone knows a lot about Gen. Creighton Abrams, this would be great time for an appreciation.

  28. YT says:

    And I’m a [proud] Yellow.
    Everyone here thinks I’m a “Whitie”.
    (Maybe the reason Tyler never replies to me ‘coz he knows I’m one of ’em “slit-eyed Chinks”.)

  29. Tyler says:

    The Army has become a jobs program for single moms and a social Petri dish, all because the field and general grades who call themselves warriors acted like sock puppets for every hair brained liberal fantasy from the DoD. Only gonna get worst before it gets better.

  30. Tyler says:

    The Asians are the natural allies of the Whites.

  31. Tyler says:

    At this point I don’t even know if the loss of a major maneuver unit would change things, or if they’d just delude themselves so far up their own asses they’d double down on the policies that got us to this point.

  32. Babak Makkinejad says:


  33. Neil R says:

    Until unit selection process, rules adjudication etc are fully revealed I would hold off on using this result to pass judgment on the current state of the Army in toto. This is no more indicative of how the Big Army fights today than assessing the quality of various “commando” units such as Delta, ST9, KSK, SAS etc through the final results of The Annual Warrior Competition.
    From what I can gather this competition is a mix of elements of Table VIII, Table XII and the old CAT rules (post 1987) and the old Boeselager Cup from the Cold War days. If this news sends a warning shot to line officers, that would be fine with me as it would serve a purpose. Tankers and cavalrymen who came up during the hollow army years have been shouting about the “Death of the Armored Corps” since OIF. You can restore core competencies a lot more easily than operational competency, and all indications are they have been improving for the past five years. Unfortunately they’re just not up to the level of late 1980s and early 1990s as old artillerymen tend to point out these days.
    At the operational level we won’t find out about the impact of having promoted so many 0-4s in 2005-2008 until a number of years have passed. We’ll see if the Army will retain the right people as they managed to do after 1973.
    BTW back in the old days of CAT, BAOR units usually ranked among the last. Only a fool would have believed that indicated how good/bad British tankers were in terms of their legendary gunnery skills, fieldcraft and tactical competence. The Belgians and the Dutch usually “packed” crews for CAT competitions. Again only a fool or a blind man would’ve thought their competitive results were indicative of the general quality of their line units. Also, the Germans were smart to pick a reserve unit provided Lehrbrigade.9 platoons were forbidden from entering the competition. As I’ve mentioned before tank crew efficiency tends to correlate with time spent together. In 1973 the Israeli reserve tankers achieved superior kill ratio than line units for a reason. We see that even today (as it also happened in the mid 1990s) with good NG tank crews outperforming active crews in NTC rotations and TTVIII and TTXII metrics. In fact the winner of this year’s Sullivan Trophy was a North Carolina Guard crew over active Army, USMC, RCAC units.

  34. turcopolier says:

    Neil R
    IMO opinion the old timers (like me) who have harped on the degeneration of general warfighting skills are essentially correct. This contest outcome is, IMO, symptomatic. As you know people come and go in the military and unless specific skills are trained for in each iteration of people departure and arrival, those skills are lost just as COIN skills were lost in many years of purposeful amnesia after VN. To re-build those capabilities then takes a long time. After OIF the brass were so ignorant of insurgent warfare that they were incapably of discussing it as other than “urban warfare,” i.e., a rear area (behind the lines) security problem. I know that is true because I participated in a lot of consulting at the time in which this was patently true. Also, the institution is slow to change. I remember a young BG in charge of institutionalized change at TRADOC saying at a meeting that actual change in anything less than five years should not be expected. OTOH, I have seen the US Army put together phony demonstrations in the way that you imply the Europeans did so I won’t dispute that. Perhaps LTG Hodges was looking for an example with which to motivate is people. IMO you are correct in pointing to the grossly high selection rates for field grades during the GWOT. There has to be a lot of dead wood out there. pl

  35. SmoothieX12 says:

    Last weekend, National (in)Security Adviser Susan Rice “revealed” in her interview to another hack–Fareed Zakaria–that “almost whole Russia Air Force is deployed in Syria”. We are talking about absolute collapse of the competence on the top political level. This is dangerous because it leads to wrong assumptions and, as a result, decisions.
    I write about a dismal state of the US Russia’s “expert” community for years. With some minor exceptions, which do not make much of a difference, we are talking about people in power who have no clue. I myself was an eyewitness many times of a true cultural shock for Westerners when they had an encounter with Russia’s realities. The shock was, usually, because of the complete cognitive dissonance. And then there are purely military issues.

  36. turcopolier says:

    smoothiex12 What is your estimate as to % of RUAF in Syria at any time since beginning of intervention? pl

  37. SmoothieX12 says:

    From the top of my head–very very roughly–we are looking at something like 70 combat aircraft of all types at the height of the deployed forces: helos, Su-25SMs ground attack, Su-30, 35S, Su-34 and Su-24. In all, we are looking at about 5-6% of combat aircraft and about 2-2.5% of all aircraft in Russian Air Force.

  38. Could the explanation be that the Germans have been training in earnest for what the believe will be inevitable and fought on their home ground while our armies for the most part play war games at the NTC out west?

  39. Hank Foresman says:

    Walrus, you ask a good question. I believe the last General killed was in Afghanistan but by an insider. Before that it was Vietnam.
    Except for a few, one of whom I encountered today, H. R. McMaster General Officers in the Army are not well read they much prefer the Sports Illustrated Swim Suit Edition or Guns and Ammo to studying any history all let alone military history. Ben Hodges the Commander of USURER would fit that bill.
    It is worth noting the U S has never done well in these international tank gunnery competitions. A good friend Commanded a Company in the 2nd Armor Division that either won or came in second in the Canadian Cup during the cold war. He was shooting M60A1 Rise tanks and not Abrams–why did he do well because of the individual skills of his soldiers.
    Me thinks we believe too much of our own press.

  40. Hank Foresman says:

    You can’t be serious. Whose bright idea was this. If it was Castlen I am not surprise he strikes me as a knuckle dragger.

  41. Hank Foresman says:

    The German Army still uses the Leopard II 5; there is a Leopard III in development.

  42. Danny says:

    The US Army sadly is poorly trained these days. Lack of maintenance, motivation and tactics skills. It seems these days all the leaders care about is given the soldiers time off. I am a civilian contract taking care of the equipment that the Government spent millions of dollars on for the soldiers to not give a crap about. The Tanks that I have seen are a disgrace and don’t see how any leader could allow as such. Infact a unit that I have assisted with just came back from the field from a Gunnery and they got a four day weekend instead of starting recovery. The piss poor leadership shows. Don’t believe, then drive to the motor pools and take a look for yourself.

  43. Neil R says:

    “Infact a unit that I have assisted with just came back from the field from a Gunnery and they got a four day weekend instead of starting recovery.”
    Which outfit?

  44. Neil R says:

    “Could the explanation be that the Germans have been training in earnest for what the believe will be inevitable and fought on their home ground while our armies for the most part play war games at the NTC out west?”
    Well since the Germans have everything in good order, I think it’s high time we “amateurs” come home and just “play war games” in our own backyard. Do you even have a clue as to what goes on at the NTC?

  45. Neil R says:

    “If someone knows a lot about Gen. Creighton Abrams, this would be great time for an appreciation.”
    His youngest son Robert is the CG of ARFORGEN. The Army doesn’t lack people who know how to fight a “big war” at the senior leadership level. They all came of age during the ALB era. The question is whether the current field grades are capable as they neither have the experience nor the necessary professional education to capably serve as staff officers or maneuver COs.

  46. Ulenspiegel says:

    I wrote the same in my message got lost in transition two days ago. 🙂
    Interestingly the platoon is from a Gebirgsjäger unit and the guys were reservists. However their trainer was from Munster. 🙂
    Is there an explanation why the PzLehrBt93 did not send a team? Would have my first bet.

  47. bth says:

    When rate of change takes longer than a world war to fight you know there is a problem.

  48. coboarts says:

    Losing wars is bad for morale. Oh wait, we’re not 0, 1 & 1 anymore. We had Grenada.

  49. A.I.Schmelzer says:

    For what its worth, the Bundeswehr is currently in a pretty dismal state.
    We are down to just 2 Panzerdivisions, which is basically a joke. Training in anything larger then Batallion sized units has become incredibly rare, and the pov. from my contacts still in the army is that the Russians would eat us for lunch.
    Current challenges:
    1: How to increase the Bundeswehr towards a sane level, without making the American powers that be go “oh, the Bundeswehr is back! lets piss of the Russians even more for no reason because one of our little vasalls got a real army now!”
    2: Bundeswehr is hugely deficient in cyber capabilities, attracting appropriate specialists is so far really hard, since the pay isnt great. Especially because big brother demands that we randomly participate in the pretty senseless blowing up of random third world nations (our politicans can refuse in theory, but it may cost them their career because the US lobby in Germany makes Aipac look like a Kindergarten).
    3: How to install a modicum of common sense in the leaders of our new Ukrainian dependency. The problem is that the very very legitimatly pissed Russian bear may well see any attempts to rein Kiev in as weakness and pounce. And well, the problem is that the “sane” Maidanites now how fucked up their political position actually is, and that peace could well kill them, while a perpetual continuation of the war in Donbass mostly kills other people. One way to solve the impasse would be to offer Ukraine a deal that a non puppet government would accept, but that would get really expensive and our supreme leadership apperantly saw it fit to disappear our reserves in greece (for noones benefit) until they magically reappeared in the coffers of some well connected (generally not greek) people.

  50. Ulenspiegel says:

    “We are down to just 2 Panzerdivisions, which is basically a joke. ”
    If these six brigades were well equipped and had money for realistic training, these 6 brigades would be more than sufficient. Please check the number of Russian brigades against central Europe or against Turkey.
    The reality is that the maximum size of the German army according to treaties is around 300.000 men, not more. This prevents the reintroduction of the draft.
    OTOH the Bundeswehr has in times when the economy is humming difficulties to attract more than 150.000 men.
    We do not need more men, we need a concept how to spend the money in a more efficient way. E.g. providing high end hardware for Poland would be a more attractive way IMHO.

  51. A.I.Schmelzer says:

    Thing is, the 2 are basically Panzerdivisions in name only.

  52. Lord Curzon says:

    You should see the state of the Royal Armoured Corps in the British Army. Appalling isn’t the word…

  53. turcopolier says:

    Lord Curzon
    The RAC must be very small these days. pl

  54. Lord Curzon says:

    It is. Eleven regiments were cut down to nine, as a result there are only 227 tanks left. There’s currently an upgrade programme (Life Extension Project) to keep the Challenger 2 going but we have more horses in the Army than tanks.
    The MoD simply doesn’t have the cash to spend on a new tank, which is what’s really needed. Nor, as I understand, is the kind of ammo the Chally 2 uses, being a rifled gun rather than a smoothbore like other MBTs being produced any more. Once stocks are used up, a decision will have to be made to go over to a smoothbore barrel.
    For once-proud Regiments to have been treated in this fashion is appallingly short-sighted, as once you lose the capacity/capability, it’s incredibly difficult to get it back.

  55. Procopius says:

    Funny, I seem to remember this happening back in 1969, during my first tour in Germany. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it didn’t start happening until 1979, my second tour. The Germans consistently beat the U.S. Technical evaluations of the Leopard consistently showed it was better than the Abrams. I just assumed this was continuous. It’s a feature, not a bug. It provides more profits for the contractors.
    Lack of historical knowledge is not new. There were widespread complaints during the Vietnam excursion that generals had become managers, not warriors. Anybody who thought Gen. Westmoreland’s “strategy” of fighting a war of attrition at the end of a 10,000 mioe supply line in the enemy’s home country was a good idea could not have been very knowledgeable. I’ve never read Xenophon’s Anabasis, but I know what lessons it taught.

  56. turcopolier says:

    There was no shortage of anything in VN. Nothing. Were you there? The French ran their war on a shoestring. We did not. People like Morley Safer won the war for the communists. pl

  57. Procopius says:

    Errr… we don’t spend 60% of our GDP on “Defense.” Total tax revenues are only 16% of GDP (used to be 18% but Obama has brought it down by increasing GDP). It’s hard to guess what percentage of that is spent on “Defense” if you try to include the security/intelligence classified black budget, but there’s no way it’s 60% of GDP.

  58. Procopius says:

    I was at Pleiku from ’69-’71, but I was a Personnel Sergeant in a Signal Battalion so I don’t know how things were with the combat units. I came from Germany, and I do know that there were lots of shortages there because everything was going to Vietnam. The Armored Infantry battalion I was with couldn’t even get blank cartridges — they were doing field exercises shouting “bang bang.” I’ll agree the long supply line problem was overcome, but at a cost.

  59. Tel says:

    “I have been bleating for at least a decade that the organizational skills needed by an army to fight an actual war have atrophied to the point of disappearance in the US Army.”

    Not only in the US Army. It’s all about eating capital.
    Please have a think about Bob Murphy’s “sushi model” of an economy, and the similarities with our modern predicament. Remember, capital includes human capital, organizational capital, trust, and other things.

  60. turcopolier says:

    Oh, yes, the situation in USAREUR was terrible in every way but all that went to VN and we really were short of nothing. pl

  61. turcopolier says:

    OMB must have add a zero to the end of the number. I think the number is more like 6%. pl

  62. Ulenspiegel says:

    “Thing is, the 2 are basically Panzerdivisions in name only.”
    Sorry, they still have much more tanks than a German Panzerdivision in WWII.
    You assume that the tank heavy NATO division is good and up to the task, actaully that is debatable.
    I do not like the situation of the Bundeswehr, but much more tanks are not the solution IMHO.

  63. YT says:

    Qual meraviglia . . . richiesto tal uno delle cose necessarie alia guerra, egli rispondesse, tre esser quelle : Danaro, danaro, danaro!
    Raimondo of Montecúccoli
    What wonder that a certain person, being asked what were the things necessary for war, should reply that there were three, to wit, money, money and money.

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