One of the Army's top armored vehicle modernization generals said Wednesday that the service would be needed to face down China's massive armored force in a Pacific land war.
China has 7,000 tanks and 3,000 infantry fighting vehicles, "so 10,000 vehicles that will be decisive if we are not there," Maj. Gen. Richard Coffman, director of the Army's Next Generation Combat Vehicle Cross Functional Team, told an audience at a Center for Strategic & International Studies event.
"In order to be decisive, we have to be there with armor to prevent the Chinese from getting into a position of relative advantage," he added.
But his comments come two days after China's Central Military Commission Vice Chairman Xu Qiliang made a provocative statement about the likelihood of war with the United States.
"The top uniformed soldier in China, chairman of China's Central Military Commission, stated that war with the United States is inevitable," Coffman said. "That is the first time China has made that statement publicly."
Coffman, who oversees development of armored vehicles in the Army's modernization effort, such as the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle, warned that the Chinese are known for using armored forces and that they are likely to be the aggressor in a potential future conflict.
"If you are the head uniformed general in the Chinese military and you say 'it's inevitable,' what does that mean?" Coffman said. "I think that means that you are willing to strike first because, if it's inevitable, why would you wait for your adversary to strike first?"
The Marine Corps, which is preparing for island-hopping missions in the Pacific, began getting rid of its M1A1 tanks last year, a move that some experts say will put the burden on the Army to back them up with armored support.
Coffman argued that Chinese military forces "use armored vehicles every time."
"The reason why you need the land component in [the Pacific] is because it's the only component that will be decisive," he said. "If you want to take land, if you want to hold land, if you want to clear land, you need the ground element."
Nothing sends a message of a will to win like tanks and armored vehicles, Coffman added.
"When you send an armored brigade combat team anywhere in the world, you just voted; you voted that you have made a strategic decision to fight and win," he said.
Part of the Army's modernization plan is to field lighter armored vehicles that are easily deployable but still protect soldiers in battle.
"We want to go lighter; we want the lightest vehicle we can [get] while protecting our soldiers," Coffman said.
The current version of the M1 tank weighs approximately 80 tons, making it more difficult to transport by air.
"But an M1 can be flown with the [C-17 Globemaster]," Coffman said. "Four C-17s for a platoon of M1s, in the right spot -- decisive."
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.