For over 50 years, the US Army had a simple doctrine for using tanks in urban combat-Don’t.

Oh, sure the manuals listed ways to use tanks in cities if you had to, but the emphasis was on avoiding towns and cities. Tanks bring three big assets to a fight- mobility, survivability, and firepower. Fighting in the close terrain of a city sacrifices mobility. And to a certain extent, survivability. Because ranges are so short in cities, and there is a lot of “high ground” readily available on rooftops, and potential ambush points from alleyways and such, tanks can become vulnerable to a lot of short range, man portable anti-tank systems such as RPGs. Reducing two of the three biggest assets of a tank is really changes the risk/reward calculation.

Also, during the Cold War, while the Army focused so much of its intellectual energy on a possible fight in Western Europe, they had a curious inability to honestly address urban warfare. There are few places on earth with as many cities, towns and villages as Western Europe. Yet the Army seemed to think all the fighting would take place outside of town. This in the face of all the evidence to the contrary. After all, the Army had to fight in all those very same cities and town when they defeated Germany in WWII.

In Desert Storm, you could hardly have designed a battlefield that was more suited to the way the Army hoped to fight. No cities,  very few civilians running around, and a mechanized, force on force fight. It’s no surprise the Army was happy to operate in the open desert, and leave the assault on Kuwait City to the Marines and our allies.

But the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the subsequent war there were another matter. By necessity, the Army wound up fighting in cities. The learning curve was steep. And city fighting is an infantry intensive form of warfare. Armor was no longer the “Arm of Decision” but another source of supporting fires, much like artillery and close air support.

After a couple years of fighting in cities, tankers started screaming about some of the upgrades their tanks needed to both do their job better, and protect their crews, and reduce the vehicle’s vulnerabilities. Enter the TUSK or Tank Urban Survival Kit.


Most of these are pretty minor modifications. The tank itself can still perform its regular hot-war mission of blasting other tanks at long range, and running around like crazy in the enemy’s back yard.

The tank/infantry phone is great because the team leader on the ground can tell the tank exactly what he needs. M1s never had it before, because it never made a lot of sense when the Army envisioned battalions of tanks and Bradleys charging across the field at 40 miles an hour. Again, they  didn’t want to hear anybody saying anything heretical like “tanks will find themselves creeping along at 3mph in a city.”

The loader’s shield didn’t make a lot of sense in Western Europe either. You want to keep the profile of a tank as low as reasonably possible. And in a tank battle, the loader is not likely to come under small arms fire very much. Indeed, his weapon was added almost as an afterthought. But in city fighting, having that machine gun is very handy. And since it is, and the ranges are so short, having a shield makes a great deal of sense, even if it does raise the profile somewhat.

Some other components, like the thermal site for the loader’s weapon, and the remote weapon station for the commander, weren’t really practical earlier, or anywhere near cost effective. Now that they are, they’re being added.

The additional armor on the sides and the slat armor on the engine compartment? Well, an RPG is unlikely to destroy an M1 on the side, but it could damage the running gear, and leave it immobile. This solves that problem. And the slat armor addresses the same issue.

Any tankers our there wanna add something?

10 thoughts on “TUSK”

  1. TUSK is awesome, but they only procured enough for Iraq, so they are installed and removed in theater. The infantry phone was an issue because infantrymen (hereafter known as “crunchies) that hang around behind a tank tend to 1) get burned by the hot turbine exhause; or, 2) run over by the tank which is apt to shift into reverse very often and quickly. There is no truth to the rumour that tankers deliberately use crunchies as track grease, though on any given day, particularly at stand-to, large crowds of them gather behind the tank to dry out and warm up.

    1. I’m actually working on a post about a time my boss commandeered a tank to use as a heater.

      But yeah, stand to the side when using the phone.

  2. The M60s and M113 series offered a modified C-box with push posts for connecting field phones. Was not a standard set, but rather one of those “special” boxes that sort of got buried in the land of lost NSNs. In my early days in Korea, most of our fleet had one of these boxes. At first I figured it to be the last thing in the world we’d use in the field. After all, everyone in a cavalry squadron has a radio, right?

    Well that may be so, but there are advantages to a field phone hookup. For one, cutting down on the radio transmissions. Second, reducing the number of times the track crew has to roll over the engine. Lastly, thinking from the days of the old SOIs and COMSEC variables, field phones were simple comms that worked without excessive coordination. And if you were in *my* perimeter, chances are we’d “engineered” some hookup into the DSN so you could call home to mama from your pathetic fox hole. We did wonderful things with a multi-channel rig and a SB-22.

    1. There was actually a set of internal/external pushpoles by the back ramp on Bradleys, but I’ll be damned if I know if there was a way to hook into the intercom system. So in effect, the dismounts had phones, but had to call us on the radio.

  3. The mods make a lot of sense. Frankly, I’d leave ’em on for western Europe type combat as well. WE has built up a lot since WW2 and urban combat would not be avoided. The IDs took tanks into towns for their direct fire capabilities, and it makes sense now.

    Since when did Infantrymen become “crunchies?” They don’t go crunch when a turkey runs over them. Call ’em “Legs.” Straight, bent or Air Assault, they is all “Legs.”

  4. Having spent 5 years as an 11B before becoming a tanker, I have to admit that I leave my tank running when the infantrymen come around. Always willing to hook them up with a little heat.
    Regarding the comment above about leaving TUSK on for Europe, that would be great, with the exception of the reactive armor on the skirts. When you put the reactive armor on, you are actually taking off the ballistic armor, which would be VERY bad in tank-on-tank figthing.

    1. Really? I just figured the ERA bolted on to the skirts. Who knew?

      **gets out canteen cup and makes a cup of coffee on the rear deck of Esli’s tank**

      **dries out sleeping bag while I’m at it.**

  5. ‘ve been out for more than 20 years and never heard Legs called “crunchies” while I was in. We called ’em “legs,” a term which has been around quite awhile. Predates me by a lot.

    I didn’t know the skirts of an Abrams had ballistic armor. The M-60s I played with didn’t. I guess slat armor would be the way to go if you ended up in a WW2 style Tank melee so you can keep the heat rounds the Infantry shoots at you away from the ballistic armor.

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