America’s ground supremacy in the 21st century is due primarily to the “Big Five” Army acquisition of the 20th century. These five systems, although designed and procured with fighting the Soviets in mind, first proved their combined might in the Middle East during Operation Desert Storm. Despite being built to stem a communist tide in the Fulda Gap of Germany, these five systems were instrumental in pushing the Iraqi Army out of Kuwait in 1991 and then toppling the Iraqi regime in 2003.

The ‘Big Five’ systems that helped win Desert Storm
M1A1 Abrams tanks of the 3rd Armored Division during Desert Storm (U.S. Army)

1. M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank

The M1 Abrams is to the Army what the F-15 Eagle is to the Air Force: iconic. Since the Marine Corps divested its tanks in 2020, the Army is now the sole American operator of the Abrams. Built to slug it out with Soviet T-72 and T-80 tanks, the Abrams entered service in 1980 to replace the M60 Patton tank. Despite being one of the heaviest tanks in modern service, its multi-fuel turbine engine can propel it to a limited top speed of 45 mph.

Originally equipped with a 105mm rifled main gun, the M1A1 tanks that took part in Desert Storm were upgraded to a 120mm smoothbore main gun that fired an armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding-sabot round. Combined with advanced Chobham composite armor, night vision optics, and modern rangefinders, the Abrams easily outclassed the Iraqi T-55, T-62, and T-72 tanks. Of the nine Abrams tanks destroyed during Desert Storm, seven were destroyed by friendly fire. The other two were scuttled to prevent their capture after being damaged. Abrams tanks were also used in the Iraq War where they saw more close-quarters urban fighting in support of infantry house-to-house clearing operations.

The ‘Big Five’ systems that helped win in the first gulf war
An M2 Bradley of the 24th Infantry Division (U.S. Army)

2. M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle

The M2 Bradley had a troubled development. It was mainly a response to the Soviet BMP infantry fighting vehicles which served as both armored personnel carriers and tank-killers. The existing M113 armored personnel carrier lacked offensive capabilities in its troop-carrier configuration and was too slow to keep up with the new M1 Abrams tank. The Bradley was given the M242 25mm autocannon for its main gun and a complement of two TOW anti-tank missiles.