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U.S. Forces in Korea Get an Armor Upgrade

by John Reed on December 22, 2010

With tensions on the Korean peninsula at a boiling point, the U.S.’ Second Infantry Division stationed there is set to receive upgraded M1A2 Abrams tanks and M2A2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles starting this month.

“While this is not an increase in the number of U.S. combat vehicles on the Korean Peninsula,” said Lt. Gen. John D. Johnson, 8th Army commander. “It is a significant increase in combat capability.”

The A2 version of the legendary Abrams features improved depleted uranium armor mesh, digital situational awareness tools, improved radios and navigation gear, an extra thermal sight for the tank commander and improved fire controls allowing the tank to engage multiple targets in short order.

Meanwhile, the A2 version of the Bradley comes with an improved, 600 horsepower transmission, better armor including the option for reactive armor and spall protection. Newer versions of the Bradley A2 suite also feature the same digital situational awareness suite as the Abrams, a GPS navigation system, missile countermeasures, a laser range finder, a thermal sight for the driver, better internal stowage capacity and even a heater to warm up MREs

The division currently operates the original M1A1 and an older version of the M2A2, and expects to fully swap out its older vehicles for the new ones by May 2011.

An Eighth U.S. Army announcement on the upgrade says its “a key indicator of the importance our Army places on troops here in Korea.”

I’d say the fact that the forces in Korea are just now getting the nearly 20-year-old upgrade kit (for the tanks, at least) might be an indication of how much the fights in Afghanistan and Iraq have pulled resources from other critical flash points around the globe.

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{ 84 comments… read them below or add one }

Tim December 22, 2010 at 12:34 pm

Surprising they're getting A2 upgrades only now given that a war on the Korean peninsula would have more likely resulted in tank on tank battles than anywhere else. But glad the troops are getting them.


JustinH December 22, 2010 at 5:40 pm

NorKor's tanks suck, to put it simply.


Justin H December 22, 2010 at 5:50 pm

Most of their stuff is from the 50s-70s, only a small amount is from the 80's. Doubt they have gotten much since the fall of the Soviet Union.


Project Thor December 22, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Why the hell are my posts being deleted, Mr. Admin?


Project Thor December 22, 2010 at 3:28 pm
praetorian December 22, 2010 at 4:26 pm
Project Thor December 22, 2010 at 3:30 pm

So, no comments allowed about SK's armor…


brian December 22, 2010 at 3:31 pm

M1 is definitely in need of an upgrade. It seems like we are ignoring a perfectly good platform because its not fashionable to have heavy armor anymore. Its true that we will eventually move to medium/light armor with active defenses, but for the next decade or so, a new Abarams would a great thing.


praetorian December 22, 2010 at 5:04 pm

Brian, I think they have upgraded the M1 all along. Prototypes for the M1A3 are under development. We also have the TUSK 1 & TUSK 2 Tank Urban Survival Kit. Also the
M1A2SEP (System Enhancement Package). The U.S. may have dragged thier feet on
swapping units out in SK because really the NK armor is not that good.


praetorian December 22, 2010 at 5:05 pm

Whoops sorry about the double post


Blue1 December 22, 2010 at 5:37 pm

Well the K1 was designed by GDLS and based heavily off the original M1. Assuming the K2 is an evolutionary design parallel to the A2 and Sep versions, it should far out-strip anything the Norks could field


praetorian December 22, 2010 at 5:56 pm



Justin H December 22, 2010 at 5:47 pm

Speaking of upgrading… whats up with our next-gen GCV?! So far its just a blank canvas with a price limit. Seems like the Army really doesnt know what they want, just how much they are willing to spend. And dont even get me started on an overdue replacement for the Paladin.


Cosmoskitten December 22, 2010 at 6:57 pm

It would be nice if USA had superior armor in the second Korean War.

Keeping south korea independent and capitalist was beautiful effort by the USA, imho as a swedish social democrat.


crackedlenses December 22, 2010 at 8:34 pm

At least we kept half, unlike later in Vietnam……


Blight December 23, 2010 at 1:58 am

Surprised we aren't buying better arty for KW2. A Crusader buy would send a message that the DMZ would be defended with a curtain of steel. Crusader is dead and wont return though. Any chance we cant send more MLRS systems over?


@Joe_Schmoe12 December 23, 2010 at 10:40 am

To be honest, there is no better arty than the MLRS. Having seen it in action, it is one of the few weapons that actually truly terrify me. This is a weapon that one MLRS unit can wipe a battalion off a map, not to mention what a battery can do.


blight December 23, 2010 at 11:22 am

So in OIF we learn that our tube artillery aren't likely to get as much play as before, to the point of using artillerymen as infantry. However, they will probably be useful on the Korean peninsula. The Paladins spec-wise may not be as good as the K9s, but tube and rocket artillery is better than nothing. Any chance we should be detaching artillery forces from units heading to Afghanistan for duty in South Korea?


elgatoso December 24, 2010 at 1:37 am

Crusader was replaced for XM1203 NLOS cannon . XM1203 NLOS cannon was planned to be fielded in 2009 as part of the FCS but was cancelled too.


William C. December 24, 2010 at 2:46 am

So we're back at square one. Yay US military procurement!

John Johnson December 27, 2010 at 4:16 pm

SK has K-9 (and K-10 ammo carrer) which supposedly is 2nd best SPH after PZH-2000


13ECHO December 28, 2010 at 4:21 am

MLRS? I think the new HIMARS would be a better choice. But they both have pro's/con's.


STemplar December 23, 2010 at 3:05 am

My read on this is that it's a way to bolster the amount of equipment in theater for the the short term. They say they will rotate the older equipment back to the US to be refurbished over the next few months. So for the short term, 2ID on the ground gets their new gear, and with their old gear waiting to transit out that's another BDE set in country, with the other BDE set maintained in reserves there as well. Coincidentally what we would need to gear out a whole division, not related to what is going on at all…..I'm sure…..right…..


DomS December 23, 2010 at 4:30 am

Maybe they've just been confident for a long while that the A1 is such an overmatch to the NorK armour that upgrading wasn't a priority.


Robert December 23, 2010 at 9:33 am

We are only talking about a battalion or so of American tanks. The Norks may only have T-55s but they have a whole lot of them.


Blight December 23, 2010 at 9:47 am

Abrams was designed to fight against Fulda Gap swarms, so the worry is if the other arms will do fine in wartime. 40 main gun rounds might not go far against tank hordes but I suspect it wont go that far…


STemplar December 23, 2010 at 11:43 am

American air power would savage any Nork advance. A single US A-10 destroyed 40+ Iraqi T-72s in the first gulf war as the Iraqis withdrew from Kuwait city. We have 2 squadrons in Korea, along with 2 squadrons of F-16s, 2 squadrons in Japan, the Washington's carrier air wing, marine aviation from Okinawa, and the forward staged bombers at Guam.


ziv December 24, 2010 at 9:42 am

The Air Force would savage the NoKo's but the NoKo's arty would be pasting the hell out of the civilians while the Air Force was just getting warmed up. I am not sure that Korea would be able to allow us a day or two to wipe out the DPRK armor when Seoul is getting destroyed and millions of South Korean citizens are under the gun with thousands of them dieing every hour. The DPRK has buried a lot of their arty in the hills and just roll it out to fire. Can you imagine the Prime Minister of the ROK taking that many civilian casualties? I know that no President for the past 20 years would have had that kind of nerve.


STemplar December 24, 2010 at 11:33 am

The artillery would be the first targets.

Justin H December 23, 2010 at 4:52 pm

Yea and no fuel to run them. No fuel = no training


Sean December 23, 2010 at 9:49 am

The North definately has the numbers. Here's where technology works to our advantage, in the conventional warfare sense


vok December 23, 2010 at 10:45 am

This arrangement is weird. Army has this pure fleet initiative going on. Armored formation either become full digital (M1A2 / Bradley A3 pairing) or half-analog half digital (M1A1 / Bradley A2 pairing designed for many guard units) . Now they want to mix M1A2 with Bradley A2?


crackedlenses December 23, 2010 at 10:51 am

At least the numbering matches up now ;) …..


brian December 23, 2010 at 11:13 am

They say they are developing a new variant to be deployed by 2017 with an initial prototype by 2014. Considering how almost a decade went by without serious talk of an substantial upgrade to the platform, I wouldn't hold your breath.

The issue stems from the US no longer sees itself fighting enemies head up in battalion vs battalion engagements, instead opting to design it weapons to fight mostly against guerilla insurgents carrying light weapons and panting shaped charges. The Abrams design is obsolete in that philosophy, and should be replaced. When it comes time to decide, I expect them to build something else.


crackedlenses December 24, 2010 at 11:50 am

You keep assuming that all we will have to fight and/or deter for the next x number of years will be terrorists hiding in caves in deserts……


brian December 24, 2010 at 12:20 pm

Not saying that, its just not how our military works. Instead of figuring out new and devious ways to fight our enemies on our terms, it spends its resources how to fight our enemies best on their terms.

As for the armor comment I do stand by it, heavy armor as platform is not going to be around for 40 years. Our ability to develop penetrators has far outstripped our ability to build better passive protection. Active defenses are going to take us out to 2050, but beyond that when we shift to energy weapons over the next 50 years after that, not even that will help.


Blue1 December 24, 2010 at 2:21 pm

The fate of armor is decided by those who choose not to understand what it can do for them. As for defense, lasers are coherent beams of light, what happens if a type of dispersion armor is made? Sounds ridiculous? No more ridiculous than man portable laser cannons capable of killing tanks. The ability to kill heavy armor has increased because that’s where the focus of R&D is at, Detect and Kill First, not Protection. Need proof? It was called FCS at one point…


Brian December 24, 2010 at 9:05 pm

dispersion armor? mirrors you mean? yeah at the levels of energy, battlefield conditions, heat etc, it's dead. fantastical, not really, we are already fielding lasers, and we are mounting airborne tactical lasers that can do just that. but you don't have to penetrate a target with a lase to kill it. just a few moments exposures will do the trick.

Blue1 December 24, 2010 at 10:30 pm

Mirrors reflect, not disperse. I’m talking energy dispersion, you hit the target with energy and the skin absorbs and disperses the energy over the whole layer, disrupting the ability of the laser to do what it does best, pin point thermal transfer, causing the secondary effects we all crave. Current lasers don’t work like the movies. It’s not the laser that causes the target to explode, it’s the rapid thermal transfer to electronics or payload. Dispersion would counter. Also, the airborne laser is WAY to expensive to fly just for a few dozen tanks.

William C. December 23, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Good news for our armored forces in Korea. Typically the M1A2 would be grouped with the M2A3 but that won't matter too much in this scenario. I believe the latest A2 specs these Bradleys are being upgraded too are very similar to the A3 but without the CITV and some minor differences.

Even with their numbers North Korean armor doesn't have a chance against these or South Korea's new K2 and K21.


ServingTea December 23, 2010 at 4:23 pm

Just a reminder, ROKA still has significant number of M48A5K. I don't think that K2 tank has been fielded yet. Probably just recently started production. If ISR assets work/used they are supposed to, then there is no way an armored column of DPRK in one of three avenues of approach to Seoul would go unscathed. The allied tanks would just pickup up the stragglers. I think that the bigger question is how the frontal armor of K1 and K1A1, along with the Abrams, would hold up against Kornets or other atgw, if DPRK have them, in offensive pushes north of the dmz, in some sort of a major retaliatory strike.


blight December 24, 2010 at 12:27 am

The US probably has plenty of M1's courtesy of our peace dividend. Wonder if the ROKA would be interested in them. And if not those, the M60's?

The info on DPRK equipment is kind of spotty, so not sure what they'd have for ATGMs…


crackedlenses December 24, 2010 at 3:24 pm

Probably lower-tech versions of TOW, Dragon and maybe Javelin. Just a wild guess…..


blight December 24, 2010 at 10:07 pm

TOW and Dragon would probably come (if they did) from Iran. I don't know where'd they get the Javelin from. Dragon would compare similarly to Soviet equivalents (Sagger et al).


crackedlenses December 25, 2010 at 10:45 am

The Iranians have TOW and Dragon? Just how advanced are their weapons?…..

William C. December 25, 2010 at 2:29 am

For some reason my other comment was deleted but I believe we don't have many M60s left in depots anymore. South Korea probably hasn't bought M1s because of national interests (they want their own manufacturing capability) and whatever modifications that would be needed.


blight December 26, 2010 at 11:42 pm

I'm kind of curious where they store tanks: The AF stores their extra equipment around Davis-Monathan, but where is the Army's equivalent of The Boneyard?

If there were M60s, would they be near Anniston?


4thTanksUSMC December 24, 2010 at 9:19 pm

The USMC has been fielding m1a1's since we got them back in desert storm. Upgrading them with newer techonology as it comes along such as fire control systems, thermal sights for the TC, etc. The army is into this whole technology race and has alot of stuff jammed into the M1A2. Did you know they added additional batteries so they can run even more electronics inside such as a blueforce tracker, etc. My experience has been limited with M1A2's but as some of you know the more gadgets inside these beasts the more likley they will fail, and a tank mech wont always be there to help! I like the way the USMC has fielded and upgraded our tanks. We have put upgraded electronics, and the necessities needed to keep up with the times and the ever changing battlefield. For example from what i know there is air conditioning inside the M1A2's….do you know the reasoning behind it, I can tell you that it is not for the comfort of the soldiers inside but to counter act all the heat that is generated from all the bells and whistles put into the M1A2…maybe the army should stick to "keep it simple stupid"

4th Tank Battalion A. CO. USMC
Tank Gunner


blight December 24, 2010 at 10:13 pm

And you could turn off the AC in the winter and stay warm if there's fighting in the cold…

I wonder if TUSK upgrades will help if tanks are supporting infantry along the DMZ.


Blue1 December 24, 2010 at 10:39 pm

I love that A/C, and the A2 already had a heater for crew. And not to rag on the Marines, but have you tried the CITV? Yeah it’s another piece of gizmo but it’s something I’m surprised the USMC hasn’t adopted sooner. Blueforce is a waste, I use my IPhone


4thTanksUSMC · December 30, 2010 at 11:36 am

@Blue1 – Like i said i've had limited exposure to the CITV from what i understand it is a good piece of kit, but we did fine with a loader and NVGs and our TC with the upgrade .50cal thermal sight…..just saying maybe the Army should concentrate more on crew integration rather then more technology..and yes there is a heater in the A1's but damn if I've ever heard of a person using one…maybe a boot but that gets corrected fast :)

@Crackedlenses – Im not saying get rid of everything but get the essentials relying on technology has been in my opinions one of the factors that is causing the army to choose quantity over quality


regular_reader December 26, 2010 at 2:16 am

Finally, they updating weakness of inferior M1 Abrams design. ERA armor could help to protect extremely poor armor on the sides of turret.


John Johnson December 27, 2010 at 4:23 pm

IMO US didn't upgrade the tanks in USFK until now because in reality the tanks that will stop the NK tanks will be SK's K1 (and K1A1) tanks. Hopefully enough will be destroyed by SK and US's air force before they are met by SK and US tanks.

There just aren't enough M1 tanks in 2nd Div.


blight December 29, 2010 at 2:54 am

Wiki gives ROKA tank numbers as ~1400 K1 type tanks and ~800 M48's. There are probably 100-200 M1's in ROK tops.

I imagine if they strip tanks and artillery from American units going to Afghanistan and send them to ROK you could put together a fairly impressive tank force. However we would benefit with combined operations with ROK/Japan simulating a reinforcement of an invaded Republic of Korea. You never know when things will hit the fan…though I wonder if Japan would agree to rehearsing a deployment type that is very much not called for in their constitution.


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Wildcard December 22, 2010 at 1:43 pm

The A2 Abrams / Bradley' have a singnificant capability over what NK is fielding (T55 / T59/Pok'Pung'Ho).


crackedlenses December 22, 2010 at 2:14 pm

Just as long as the SK doesn't field better equipment than us……


STemplar December 22, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Why? It's their country. They're going to do the brunt of the ground fighting. Lots of countries have technically 'better' equipment per specs, but where the rubber meets the road is logistics and training. Can they maintain ops in the field deployed, and do the troops actually practice on the gear. That's what really makes the US stand alone.


Jeff Fraser December 22, 2010 at 2:38 pm

What better equipment does SK have than us, anyway? Do they have any self-designed/ manufactured equipment? If not, I thought that they just had the standard U.S. Goody Bag of M16A2's and M81 woodland fatigues.

Agree w/ STemplar, though.


praetorian December 22, 2010 at 4:25 pm

They have a new tank, K2 Black Panther. But I wouldnt call it better then an
M1A2. No dought better then anything in North Korea.


Time will tell, might be better then a T-90


Justin H December 22, 2010 at 5:42 pm

South Korea's new tank and GCV are supposed to be the most high tech in the world.


ServingTea December 22, 2010 at 7:43 pm

All frontline units use K-2 instead of M16s. Perhaps those with better knowledge can chime in, but the upper half of the K-2 has the gas operated system (non-direct impingement) copied/influenced from the AK-47 and the lower half is copied/influenced from the M-16. I believe that the gas operated system of AK-47 is generally viewed as being more robust than M-16's direct impingement….although the benefits of the foldable buttstock of the K-2 can be a physically weak point.


praetorian December 22, 2010 at 5:55 pm

Justin, I dont doubt that at all. Im just not going to say thats it's better then ours.


Justin H December 22, 2010 at 6:06 pm

Same here on that last part


ServingTea December 22, 2010 at 7:44 pm

ROK self-propelled artillery of recent fame, K-9, is veiwed in the same class as the German PzH2000, and both the K-9 and the PzH2000 are viewed as being superior to the US M109A6.

K-21 IFV is good, although it's going through its growing pains, including a design which could result in water flowing into the engine inlet.

Most widely issued uniform is a variation of the US woodland, as the ROK flavor has more blacks. Not sure how the, now older, USA acu grey/white would work in woodland environments in Korea. ROKA now introducing their version of multicam.

But then again, it's the indian, not the arrow. But I do want to point out that what appears as US GI is actually heavily localized variations, or even outright newly designed equipment (K-21 ifv, K-9 SPA). Read up on the K-1 tank, aka "Mini-Abrams" and there are significant differences in engine and suspension.

FYI, I always got the impression that the USA in Korea to their goodies late, especially when compared to Europe-based USA.


Justin H December 23, 2010 at 4:03 am

North Korea has very little forests left, they have cut down the majority of them for timber.


ziv December 24, 2010 at 12:00 pm

We will target them with everything we have, but there are more than 8,000 artillery systems along the North side of the DMZ, many of them underground and impossible to spot until they fire, and then they are back underground while they reload. Seoul will be getting pounded from H-Hour on, the only way to try to stop it fast would be to counter attack over DPRK territory which would be problematic, to put it lightly.
The question remains, will we be able to destroy enough of the DPRK artillery so that the ROK government will be able to hang on despite their special/capital city being subjected to a horrendous attack, plus all the NoKo special ops teams that will hitting all over the peninsula?
What would President Lee do if he was getting reports of heavy civilian casualties among the 14,000,000 citizens of Seoul/Inchon? Tell them to wait for the USAF to finish the job? Rep of Korea is in a horrible situation if the DPRK attacks. They would win, if they could hold on, but the first couple days would be a bloodbath for everyone involved.


Tom December 24, 2010 at 1:38 pm

Absolutely right. So far for the artillery. And I guess many of you'd be surprised how many T-55's a single M1 can destroy without being seriously hit (Fight at Night is the key).


STemplar December 24, 2010 at 2:53 pm

I'm well aware of the Nork artillery and I'm sure the South Koreans are as well. You make it sound as though the South Koreans are going to just sit and be bombed. The North Koreans will suffer just a vicious counter attacks and at the end of the day there is nothing else to North Korea. They don't have lights on at night, they have cut down their forests, they have zero ability to feed or fuel their own nation, and they couldn't afford to re-build what they would lose in a war. An attack would be the end of North Korea and they know it.


ziv December 24, 2010 at 6:59 pm

The ROKs know about the DPRK arty, but there isn't a great deal they can do about it given the short range between the DMZ and the north side of Seoul and Inchon. You are thinking that the NoKo's think like us, they don't. They think that we will continue to respond as we have for 50 years. They rattle the cage, kill a few of us, we ask them to apologize, they don't and then we send them oil and food. If we 'viciously counter attack' the DPRK on the ground it will be a bloody mess, for both sides. Think Okinawa with similar levels of defensive spirit and lack of supplies on the part of our opponents but with anti tank weapons and even more spider holes. North Korea doesn't have to win. They just have to murder enough South Korean civilians to force the ROK government to give in. I think the DPRK could possibly win by forcing the South to capitulate. And it is possible that they are nearly convinced of the same thing. They know that they can't keep going if they don't get much larger amounts of aid. A war wouldn't be nearly as destructive to their infrastructure as their own policies have been. You have seen the pictures of the night sky of North Korea, there simply isn't a lot for us to destroy. What is valuable is nearly all underground.
They have been pretty successful as a robber baron state for the past 50 years, it isn't like running for office is on Kim Jong Il's calendar of things to do.


STemplar December 24, 2010 at 8:53 pm

You also seem to think I am calling for some kind of attack, I'm not. Quite frankly I think the Norks will potentially do something very stupid or just start it themselves. All of your observations are nice posts of the obvious in regards to the consequences of a conflict. The South Koreans are in a pickle to be sure. In regards to a war, I'm not sure I'd bother invading at all, I would probably just bomb their transportation and petroleum infrastructure and starve and freeze the north to death. The South with US help can easily hold back the Norks and at that point they'll lose the attrition war much faster.


crackedlenses December 25, 2010 at 10:47 am

Dispense with all technology and maintenance will become a non-issue. Of course, your casualty rate will go through the roof…..


@Joe_Schmoe12 December 25, 2010 at 11:38 am

They have the Kornet, one the most advanced anti-tank missiles in the world.


Blight December 25, 2010 at 12:29 pm

TOW and Dragon from the Shah, Kornet et al from the Russians.

Returning to DPRK…


crackedlenses December 25, 2010 at 2:13 pm



Brian December 25, 2010 at 11:25 pm

reflection is a form of dispersion, and it's better then trying to take all that energy and storing it locally, or transferring it to the ground. a laser primarily transmit energy not heat, heat is a byproduct of photons transferring energy to armor. and lasers are dropping in prices and in increasing in capability all the time, so I think it's feasible in the 90 year time table I laid out.


ziv December 26, 2010 at 11:57 am

TS, you are missing the point. All of your posts were about what we would need to do and none of them reflect what the DPRK will try to do or just how successful the NoKo's have been as a robber baron nation. They won't simply fight us in the western mode of war. They will distract us with tanks and units emerging behind the lines from tunnels and commandos landed my minisubs while their real attack will be against the civilians of South Korea.
Defeating the DPRK tanks will gain us nothing if the Sourth Korean government is forced to ask for terms because Seoul/Kimpo/Inchon is in flames and civilians are being killed by the thousands. You seem to be thinking that bringing a gun to a knife fight will work. But Kim Jong Il is going to sneaking behind our back to murder the very people we need to protect and the news media will help him to drum up the hysteria needed to force the ROK's to ask for terms.
The DPRK has studied how we fight and they know how we can be defeated. Their schwerpunkt isn't on the DMZ, it will be on 6 oclock news.


Blue1 December 26, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Are you Also assuming a cheap form of armor to counter lasers won’t be developed in 90 years?


brian December 26, 2010 at 8:01 pm

maybe, but probably not in our lifetime. personal armor went the way of the dinosaur when the musket was invented, taking a few hundred years to develop an alternative. to this day a revolutionary era musket could pierce most personal armor. I think what's owing to happen is the development of masess disposable robots armed with energy weapons will dominate wars in the new century, bu who knows someone might invent a force field which can circumvent the laws of quantum mechanics, but even then it will be energy based not mass based so it may not be heavy in any physical terms


crackedlenses December 27, 2010 at 10:11 am

You forget the sudden technology boom that started about 100 years ago. Things no longer take 100 years to develop. If things keep advancing at the present rate, we will have the armor to stop lasers by the time we get around to usable laser weapons….


John Johnson December 27, 2010 at 4:49 pm

Actually cut down for use as fuel from what I hear, which was a perpetual problem of Korean peninsula…


John Johnson December 27, 2010 at 4:52 pm

K-21 has a rudimentary anti-air capability, being able to shoot down a straight flying UAV with a quick 3 round burst. I saw a youtube clip of it. 40mm rounds are kept in a circular fashion under the turret, allowing auto/quick changing of the magazine. I think the airburst will be particularly deadly to enemy infantry.


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