- As the coronavirus spreads, images of trains packed with military equipment are hitting social media.
- While authentic, shipments of military vehicles merely shows business as usual in America.
The ongoing spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus has ordinary people concerned that the U.S. military is preparing to lock the country down. People are taking to social media to show videos of tanks and other armored fighting vehicles being shuttled by trains, with many worried and some even speculating it is part of preparations for nationwide martial law.
The movements, while real, are actually part of normal military operations completely unrelated to the viral pandemic or any conspiracy theory.
10 minute long train just rolled by work LOADED with tanks. Feels like this is a bad sign. pic.twitter.com/yXMemPd9Mo— Doc Trilliday IIV (@ctalford9) March 18, 2020
Across America, people are sharing videos of military equipment in civilian areas. The above video shows M1A2 Abrams tanks, M2A3 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, a M992 field artillery ammunition support vehicle, and a M88A2 Hercules armored recovery vehicle. The presence of all four types of vehicles suggests it is part of a U.S. Army armored brigade combat team.
Another video shows a train loaded with armored vehicles allegedly moving through San Diego, California. The video quality—and the photography—is bad, and it’s hard to make out what the vehicles even are. They appear to be M2A3 Bradleys, but also freshly painted. The lack of tanks in the mix suggests some U.S. Army unit is about to get new vehicles.
The U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps move heavy equipment by rail across America every month, and maybe every week. M1A2 Abrams tanks and M2A3 Bradley fighting vehicles typically travel long distances by rail because a train can carry hundreds of vehicles at once, and because it reduces wear and tear on heavy trucks that otherwise carry them around. A single U.S. Army division has about 700 Abrams and Bradleys and coordinating a cross-country movement of hundreds of trucks, each hauling a single 50- to 70-ton fighting vehicle, would be a logistical nightmare.
The vehicles are moved for various reasons. Sometimes units trade old equipment for new equipment, which means civilian bystanders will see two different sets of armored vehicles. Some units, particularly Marine Corps tanks and amphibious vehicles, will travel to ports for overseas deployments.
There’s also the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, and the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana, sprawling facilities where the U.S. Army conducts realistic combat training. Each post rotates up to ten Army units a year through to conduct exhaustive training cycles, with units from across the country often shipping their equipment by rail. In 2019, the Fayetteville Observer reported on the 30th Armored Brigade’s shipment of vehicles from North Carolina to California in preparation for a NTC rotation.
A lot of the posts on social media simply express a feeling of unease, and the sight of army tanks speeding through cities and towns across America strikes a chord. Some conspiracy theorists are seizing upon these transports to warn that the military is preparing to impose martial law, but there’s no sign so far of any unrest that would warrant such drastic action.
Could the federal government send the military out to impose martial law? It’s possible, but unlikely. The U.S. Army numbers 1,019,000 uniformed personnel, active duty and reserve, with only about 150,000 troops trained for combat. That number is far too small to police a country of 327 million people to any meaningful extent. Most troops are not trained for law enforcement and, coupled with the high cost of mobilizing the armed forces, it’s simply not worth it. For now, law enforcement during this time of national crisis will remain in the hands of the 900,000 sworn law enforcement officers in America.
Of course, some people are also having a bit of fun at the worry being expressed online.
This was yesterday in Gary, Indiana pic.twitter.com/oXXiqTIGgO— Nadler’s Zipper (@AMF2440) March 21, 2020
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