Did President Donald Trump reveal a new secret tank or make a slip-up?
That was part of the military conversation Monday after he told reporters that his Fourth of July extravaganza in Washington would feature a “new” Sherman tank.
Trump brought up the tank as he discussed the difficulty of driving heavily armored vehicles on city streets.
“But we have the brand new Sherman tanks, and we have the brand new Abram tanks,” he said. “And we have some incredible equipment — military equipment on display — brand new. And we’re very proud of it.”
The Army said it was unfamiliar with Trump’s new tank. It’s sticking, for now, with its 72-ton M-1 Abrams, a 1980s invention that through upgrades remains the world’s best heavy tank.
The last Sherman in the Army inventory was the venerable M-4 of World War II fame. That tank weighed in at a diminutive 30 tons and was powered by an old-fashioned gasoline engine.
That fuel source gave the Sherman a derogatory nickname and a widow-maker reputation. When hit, the Sherman would often burst into a gasoline fire.
But for all its shortcomings, the Sherman had two features that made it beloved. It was the fastest tank on the battlefield, topping 30 mph even on rough terrain. It was also available in quantity, with nearly 50,000 of them built during the war.
While Trump likely mistook his nation’s tanks, the president may be prescient.
The Army has been working to acquire a new tank since the 1990s. And the requirements for the new rig mirror those set for the Sherman: lightweight, cheap and fast.
Those were the traits of the M-8, the Army’s last major attempt to replace the Abrams.
The Abrams, driven by a jet-fueled turbine, is also not exactly an economy car when it reaches the battlefield.
That’s why the Army announced in December that it plans to spend more than $300 million for prototype light tanks. The first prototypes are due for trials next spring, with manufacture expected by 2022.
When it comes to naming a new light tank, the Army should take advantage of Trump’s faux pas. Sherman is a solid name with a deep history that has served the Army well. The Sherman II could put that legacy to good use.