A US Marine refuels an Abrams tank. Credit: Lance Cpl. Reine Whitaker.

In late February, Turkish forces launched an operation targeting Syrian regime army troops, decimating more than a hundred tanks and armored vehicles, dozens of artillery pieces and hundreds of Syrian forces.

Posted videos highlighted the mixed role of drones, Paladin artillery systems and aircraft pounding Syrian armor from the skies over the course of several days.

The Syrian army appeared helpless to defend from the onslaught of long range systems. Even tanks camouflaged by buildings and bushes were no match for sensors and thermal imaging watching from the skies.

The lesson was not lost on US Marine Corps officials, who have decided to divest the force of tanks, cut ground cannon artillery and light attack air platforms.

According to report by Shawn Snow in the Marine Times, a series of wargames conducted between 2018 and 2019 helped inform the Corps’ decision to drop outmoded units and equipment that will have trouble surviving fights with peer adversaries like China.

The advisory was contained in a Marine Corps force redesign report, where it was learned that the unit that shoots first has a “decisive advantage” on the battlefield, the report said.

Also, forces that can operate inside the range of enemy long-range precision fires “are more operationally relevant than forces which must rapidly maneuver to positions outside the weapons engagement zone,” the report said.

The Corps’ decision has stoked some criticism. Tanks historically have had success in high-end and urban warfare for decades boasting devastating firepower.

But tanks and armored vehicles have had trouble surviving against the threat of precision strikes and the plethora of drone and reconnaissance systems flooding conflict zones across the Middle East, the report said.

The problem is exacerbated by the number of sophisticated anti-tank systems flooding counterinsurgency conflicts across the globe. Access to long range drones once only in control by state actors are now being operated by militia groups.

In Libya, the Libyan National Army has the upper hand in its drone war with the UN-backed Tripoli government, the report said. It’s equipped with a UAE-supplied Chinese drone known as the Wing Long II that boasts a 2,000 kilometer range through a satellite link and is reportedly armed with Chinese manufactured Blue Arrow 7 precision strike air-to-surface missiles.

“Mobility inside the WEZ [weapons engagement zone] is a competitive advantage and an operational imperative,” the Marine Corps report reads.

The Corps instead is looking for mobile systems and units that can survive within the reach of precision fires to “attrit adversary forces,” create dilemmas for the enemy and “consume adversary ISR resources,” according to the report.

“The hider-versus finder competition is real. Losing this competition has enormous and potentially catastrophic consequences,” the report reads.

But tanks aren’t disappearing from the fight. The Corps says heavy ground armor will still be provided by the Army.

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