This Tank Doesn’t Need a Gun
A taxonomy of armored vehicles, volume one—the Assault Breacher
The U.S. occupation of Iraq is over. The Afghanistan war is winding down. Today America faces “emerging threats in an increasingly sophisticated technological environment,” according to Gen. John Campbell, the Army vice chief of staff.
For the U.S. ground combat branches that means a renewed emphasis on fast-moving armored warfare. The Army and Marines are dusting off heavy vehicles that played a minor role in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In this series, we spotlight some of the more obscure, and fearsome, armored behemoths. The battle wagons of a new era of warfare. First up—the Marines’ Assault Breacher. An M-1 tank that doesn’t need a gun.
During World War II, the Allies fitted tanks with a bewildering array of plows, flails and demolition mortars to help clear German minefields and smash through terrain and fortifications. “Funnies,” the Allies called them.
The concept proved eminently useful. And throughout the Cold War, all the major armies on both sides of the Iron Curtain built special engineering vehicles—often based on their dominant tank types.
The U.S. military modified M-60 tanks. But when the M-1 replaced the M-60, the Americans needed an engineering vehicle to keep pace. Enter the Grizzly, a two-man M-1 with no main cannon and an added nine-foot bulldozer blade. “With the fielding of the Grizzly in … 2004, the U.S. Army will have a survivable, mobile, complex-obstacle-reduction system,” the official Armor magazine predicted in 1998.
But the Cold War’s end—and commensurate budget cuts—compelled the Army to kill off the Grizzly in 2001. That left the Army using what one Armor contributor described as a “a ballet of farm implements” such as traditional bulldozers to shove through defensive walls, dunes and barricades.
Fortunately, the Marines kept working on Grizzly—and even added a mine-clearing system that throws an explosive line up to 150 yards to set off buried munitions. The Corps bought around 50 Grizzlies.
“The tank chassis are used Army M-1s that are overhauled by Anniston Army Deport,” Defense Industry Daily noted, “but the turret is fabricated and added in-house by civilians working for the Pentagon.”
The Marines put the breachers to good use … in Afghanistan.
“On Dec. 3, 2009, the Marine Corps’ newest vehicle detonated its first path-clearing line charge in Afghanistan,” the Marines boasted, calling the vehicle’s debut a “happy occasion.”
That happy occasion was Operation Cobra’s Anger, the Marines’ attack on a Taliban stronghold in Now Zad in southern Afghanistan. The breachers fired their line charges to clear IEDs. “Assault breacher vehicles ensure Marines can get to the battlefield without going through a minefield,” the Corps explained.
Observing the Marines’ success, the Army looped back around and uncancelled its own Grizzlies—purchasing a combined 17 in 2013 and 2014 and requesting another seven in 2015, at a cost of around $5 million apiece. As recently as 2010, the Army said it wanted 187 Grizzlies.
Finally, the Army can punch through barriers and minefields as well as the Marines can—and clear paths for formations of M-1s and other vehicles.