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Iron Man Underscores Critical Need For Armor Part One

The first and by far the most important lesson of "Iron Man," in both the movie and the comic, is that in war, armored protection is essential, and you can't get enough of it.
by Martin Sieff
Washington (UPI) May 21, 2008
The hit movie "Iron Man" teaches low-tech as well as high-tech lessons about preparing armies for modern war.

"Iron Man" was the most popular movie across the United States and the world in its first two weeks of circulation, and it is still going strong. The movie starring Robert Downey Jr. as genius, playboy inventor and arms manufacturer Tony Stark made $100 million at U.S. domestic box offices its first weekend out.

It is already the first and so far only movie to break the $200 million mark in the U.S. domestic market. By the end of last weekend, it had gathered in $225.5 million in revenues, and with ticket revenues over the movie's third weekend declining by only 39 percent from its second weekend, it looks set to easily break the $300 million mark within the United States.

From Tokyo to Toronto, toy stores are already bulging with Iron Man toys and video games. But Iron Man's lessons for modern war go far beyond the obvious one of how nice it would be to have an invulnerable steel alloy high-tech suit that could fire repulsor rays and let you fly at thousands of miles per hour.

The first and by far the most important lesson of "Iron Man," in both the movie and the comic, is that in war, armored protection is essential, and you can't get enough of it.

This is a lesson that has gone out of fashion through a half-century during which the only wars the United States and its main allies have had to fight have been either against low-tech guerrilla movements or small nations like North Korea, North Vietnam or Iraq.

Even when China launched a full-scale land attack with hundreds of thousands of soldiers against the U.S. 8th Army in North Korea in 1950, China was in no state to match the firepower or advanced weapons systems of the outnumbered U.S. Army and Marine Corps forces. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese were killed in their futile tidal wave charges against entrenched U.S positions.

The Iraqi army in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War took an even heavier toll on the hundreds of thousands of young, often just teenage, Iranian soldiers who were hurled at them with equally futile results. No "Iron Man" protection for them.

However, World War II on the Eastern Front, the longest, bloodiest and largest land war so far recorded in the history of the world, was decided by a clash of men in modern "iron" chariots. That was the Battle of Kursk, in which around 2 million men in all were directly involved.

Ilya Kramnik, writing for RIA Novosti on May 9, noted that the German offensive on both sides of the Kursk salient in July 1943, Operation Citadel, was carried out by more than 800,000 men. The number of Soviet troops opposing them was even larger- 1.3 million men.

In the climactic Kursk engagement on July 12, 1943, at Prokhorovka Field, 1,200 armored vehicles on both sides took part. British historian Norman Davies calculates German tank losses at Kursk at 3,000 and Soviet ones as even higher, but the Soviets had far more they could afford to lose.

Kramnik noted that the total "Soviet losses during the battle's defensive and offensive stages reached 600,000, including 180,000 killed in action. Germans lost about a half-million officers and men." No individual "Iron Man" armor for them.

Tank for tank, as William Manchester noted in his classic history "The Arms of Krupp," the most modern German Tiger heavy main battle tanks at Kursk were more than a match one for one against most of the Soviet ones deployed including the small, fast and skillfully armored T-34s. But the Soviets had succeeded in producing tanks in overwhelming numbers, and their communist quantity far outswamped Nazi quality.

The ultimate decision at Kursk, the military pivot and turning point of the entire land war in the east, was therefore decided not by one, or a few, superb pieces of ultra-high-tech armor- the "Iron Man" concept- but by scores of thousands of pieces of well-engineered but relatively low-tech armor- the mass-production concept.

From tank armor to personal armor
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