Category Archives: 120mm

Mortar Monday (I meant to post this yesterday)

So, 5/20IN hosted the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force to a mortar live fire at Yakima Firing Center recently. Lots of 120mm goodness going on.

Here’s the short PAO take.

And here’s the extended version. I love that piiiiiing! that 120mm mortars make when firing. Gives me a warm fuzzy.

And while I tend to think of the 120mm as a big mortar, the Soviets and the Israelis have used 160mm mortars. And then… there’s this:

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Filed under 120mm, ARMY TRAINING

Battle for Berlin, 1945

This week marks VE Day, commemorating the Victory in Europe over Hitler’s Third Reich.  The last and perhaps the most savage battle was for the German capital of Berlin.   This from the Battlefield series, which was aired weekly on Far East Network (“Forced Entertainment Network”) when I had an artillery battery in Okinawa in 1996.   The entire series is superb, and if you look, you can find most of them on line.  They are also available on DVD.   They contain a pretty good description of the higher tactical through the strategic picture, and have enough detail and technical stuff, but not too much.

Since the series was made, Russian archives have been explored more completely, and the number of Soviet casualties have been scaled up more than two-fold, from the 305,000 quoted in this episode, to nearly 700,000.   Note the ever-present use of artillery and mortars, rockets, and field guns, even in an urban environment.   The episode is 116 minutes, roughly the time one spends clicking on all of Mav’s aviation links and cool pictures and videos and stuff.   So get your Eastern Front geek on, and watch it.  You know you wanna.


Filed under 120mm, Air Force, armor, army, Around the web, Artillery, guns, history, infantry, planes, Splodey, Uncategorized, veterans, war

BIG! Mortars

We’ve written before about mortars being the infantry commander’s “hip pocket artillery.”* And in our Army, mortars are infantry weapons, separate from the Field Artillery.  Currently, our Army fields 60mm, 81mm, and 120mm mortars.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t larger mortars.  Israel and several other countries use 160mm mortars. And the current largest mortar in service is the Russian 240mm mortar.

That’s a pretty hefty tube.

It’s odd to see a weapon that has a rotary magazine and power loading and yet the each round has to have its primary and booster charges hand applied. I mean, really? Tying the “cheeses” on with string?

Looks like some guided and rocket assisted shells in there too.

*well, Infantry, Armor and Cavalry- basically each ground maneuver battalion has its own mortars.


Filed under 120mm, army, ARMY TRAINING, Artillery

The Care and Feeding of Co-authors.

Normally, I like to make fun of Marines. And I like to make fun of
Artillerymen. I especially like making fun of Marine Artillerymen.

But if I pick on URR too much, he pouts and doesn’t post much. Which means, I would have to, and what’s the point of having co-authors, but to pick up my slack?

And Roamy, bless her, likes some splodey/shooty. It’s not like I pay them for content, so once in a while, I have to be nice to URR and Roamy. Here, I’mma kill two birds with one stone.

The Marines will never have anything approaching the numbers of guns Army artillery has. Yes, in Iraq and Afghanistan, the need for tube artillery has been fairly sparse. But in a near-peer conflict, a war of maneuver, artillery will be as key as it always has been. One of the linchpins of a strategy of maneuver is denying that very maneuver to your enemy. And artillery fire is a key component of that. The old definition of maneuver was “fire and movement” and artillery provides the “fire” while infantry/armor provides the movement.

It’s not so much that the Marines are dim and not smart enough to buy a lot of artillery. They are. But they face two important constraints on the amount of artillery they can field. First, all their artillery pretty much has to be air transportable by helicopter. And given the very limited number of CH-53E’s available, if at all possible, they want systems that can be lifted by the smaller, more numerous MV-22B. Second, the Marines are an amphibious force, which means they have to travel on the amphibious shipping provided to them by the Navy. As big as those ships are, there aren’t a lot of them, and further, there is a fixed, finite space available for equipment. Finding a balance between tanks, artillery, amphibious assault vehicles, logistical trucks, Humvees and all the other stuff a Marine Expeditionary Unit needs to take along is one of the headaches Marine planners face on a regular basis. So finding an artillery system that uses less space, and weighs less and, in a perfect world, takes a smaller crew, is a key priority. So the Marines are buying the EFSS 120mm mortar system, in lieu of the traditional 105mm gun howitzer.

In the Army, all mortars, even the 120mm, are Infantry weapons, organic to Infantry and Armor/Cav organizations. But for the Marines, if you’re going to use a mortar as your primary direct support system, having the artillery man it makes sense.


Filed under 120mm, Artillery, infantry, marines, navy

One Very Dangerous Gerbil

When DPRK dictator Kim Jong-Il died in December of last year, his 27-year old (we think) son, Kim Jong-Un succeeded to the seat of power.  Believed to be a soft and callow youth unfamiliar with the dangerous intrigues of the power elite in North Korea, Kim Jong-Un was described by a Western intelligence analyst this way:   “In a pit of snakes, KJU is a gerbil”.     His long-term prospects were uncertain, to say the least.

Perhaps, just perhaps, there was significant underestimation of the Dear Boy who is now Dear Leader.  It would appear that some thirty senior DPRK officials, including a substantial number in Army leadership, have been “removed”.   We are looking at a full-fledged purge.   The latest, the Guardian tells us, is the execution of Kim Choi, former Deputy Minister of the Army.  His means of execution?  Mortar round.  No trace to be left.  (In all likelihood, if the 82mm pictured in the Guardian article was the ordnance used, there would be plenty of traces.  So maybe it was a 120 or 160?)  Reason?  Carousing during the official mourning period of his father.  (So much for lifting a Guinness, “for strength”!)

The West (and South Korea) had hoped that the young dictator would be more inclined to be a reformer who could reach out to the West and attempt to alleviate the miserable privations of DPRK’s populace, and lessen the pariah status of his country in the region and world.    Kim Jong-Un’s actions don’t necessarily rule out such an inclination, but they do show that he certainly was a fast learner in the game of power consolidation, and has no trouble employing the traditional tactics of political purge, prison, and execution of military and political rivals on flimsy charges.

My guess is that the snakes are considerably more nervous than they were ten months ago.   Young Kim has a semi-hot wife, apparently, and even if the family photo has a slight hint of mortal terror (whose don’t?), he seems to be getting comfortable with the trappings of his office as Brutal Dictator Dear Leader.


Filed under 120mm, guns, history, Splodey, war

The USMC Expeditionary Fire Support System (EFSS)

In February of 2011, the USMC Expeditionary Fire Support System was employed in combat in support of Battalion Landing Team 3/8 (26th MEU) in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.   The combat deployment was more than a decade in the making, the culmination of development which began in the late 1990s.  The requirement EFSS was intended to fill goes back at least another decade, to the final retirement of the venerable M101A1 105mm Light Howitzer from the USMC inventory, a cannon that had first entered service before World War II.

Concept of Employment

EFSS, along with the HIMARS rocket system and the M777A1 155mm Towed Howitzer, is intended to be part of the “triad” of ground fire support systems for the United States Marine Corps.   EFSS is conceived to be a part of the assault echelon of ship-to-shore movement, and provide maneuver forces with close ground fires until tube artillery comes ashore in the on-call waves, perhaps as much as 24-48 hours after H-hour.

The EFSS is being fielded in the Artillery Regiment of the Marine Division, which is a bit of a paradigm shift from more recent previous heavy mortar efforts by the USMC, but not unprecedented, as will be discussed below.

System Components

The EFSS is built around the RT120/M327 rifled 120mm mortar.    The mortar, carriage, and baseplate weigh 1,780 pounds, and has a crew of four.  Range with standard munitions is 8.5km.  GPS-guided Precision Extended Range Munitions (PERM) are capable of ranges of 17km, with a reported circular error probable (CEP) of 20m.  Projectiles vary in weight from approximately 36 to 42 lbs.

The prime mover for the RT120 is the Growler Internally Transportable Vehicle (ITV), based on a modified M151 Jeep concept, but with a sophisticated variable suspension system and dimensions tailored for internal transport, as the name implies, in the V-22 Osprey.  The Growler has a four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine that generates 180 horsepower, is equipped with four-wheel drive (with a selection for rear-wheel drive only), and is capable of towing 2,000 pounds cross country.

The EFSS consists of the above-mentioned mortar, two ITVs, with each respectively towing the mortar tube, and an ammunition trailer which has a bustle rack for 36 ready rounds.  Tactical and vertical mobility have been emphasized, in order to ensure equal mobility to the maneuver force being supported.


The EFSS has not been without controversy.  Much of it surrounds the Growler prime mover, which has been specifically designed to fit into the very restricted internal cargo area of the V-22 Osprey.    The cost per unit is estimated to be over $200,000.   With a narrow wheelbase and limited ground clearance, true cross country capability is in question.   The vehicle is prone to rolling in turns, and may have trouble navigating the rugged terrain in undeveloped areas in which employment is possible.   Additionally, the Growler offers no ballistic protection for its crew.  Open on three sides, it is vulnerable to small arms, fragmentation, and the IED threats that have become so familiar in the last decade.   All valid criticisms, and requiring of the assumption of significant risk in employment.

For my part, the EFSS is at best a hybrid and therefore suboptimal solution.  This is not the first foray for the Marine Corps into the idea that a heavy mortar might replace a light howitzer capability.  In the early 1960s, the M30 4.2-in (107mm) chemical mortar was mounted on a surplus 75mm pack howitzer carriage, and mated with a recoil system to ease emplacement and increase range.

The M98 Howtar*** was the result, and was briefly fielded in Vietnam with Marine Artillery units.  However, with its still limited range when compared to the howitzer, and with similar mobility requirements, the M98 proved significantly less suitable than the 105mm howitzers already in service, and not a substantial upgrade from the standard “four-deuce” in service with Marine Infantry units.

The EFSS has similar limitations.

First, the weapon is a mortar, and incapable of low-angle fire or direct fire.   High angle fire is a significant challenge in fire support coordination with fixed and rotary wing air assets that comprise fully half  of the USMC combined-arms team and will be of critical importance in supporting operations ashore before tube artillery and HIMARS can be landed.

Second, unless the preponderance of ammunition is of the PERM variety, which is a doubtful proposition due to costs, EFSS has limitations in range (8.5km)  that require it to be well inside the range fans of a host of threat weapons systems in order to successfully prosecute targets.

Third, the rate of fire of the RT120/M327 is around 6 to 8 rounds per minute, relatively low for a mortar system, which limits the volume and weight of fire that EFSS can provide.

A more appropriate solution to light and mobile fire support would seem to be that of a lightweight 105mm howitzer, using similar weight-saving materials (titanium) and designs that allowed the M777A1 155mm towed howitzer to weigh slightly over half (8,800 lbs) what the M198 155mm (15,780 lbs) system tipped the scales at.    A 105mm howitzer weighing 3,000-3,500 pounds, capable of firing more lethal and extended range modern munitions, equipped with course-correcting fuses, would be a great enhancement to the Landing Force Commander, providing a much more robust and capable fire support system for minimal additional logistic and mobility requirements.

That said, the EFSS is infinitely better as a fire support system than what existed for that niche previously, which was nothing.   It is a recognition that, despite our recent low-intensity conflict/COIN experience, the modern battlefield will see an increased emphasis on ground fires.  This  is already true of those areas in the littoral where our adversaries are building Anti-Access/Access Denial (A2AD) capabilities with an eye towards thwarting US power projection options.

(***Note, the above photo of the M98 Howtar was taken on the quarterdeck of 10th Marines HQ at Camp Lejeune.   The Notre Dame Leprechaun is undoubtedly the work of Col Chris Mayette USMC, who commanded the regiment at the time the picture was taken.   There is no substantiation to the rumor that the Howtar disappeared when he turned over command, or that a similar one now adorns his living room in his current location…)


Filed under 120mm, ARMY TRAINING, Artillery, guns, helicopters, history, marines, war


Esli writes:

Out of extreme boredom, I recently read through some of XBrad’s archived material. (Yeah, I know.) This post , combined with this one got me thinking about my own early experiences with the GPS. We have all wondered why some people are seemingly so stupid that they follow their Garmin right into a river, down a boat ramp, or even off a cliff. At first it is incomprehensible, but I know better because I have seen it in action.

First, a little background. The army has always extolled the virtues of land navigation. Pretty much all NCO schools, officer commissioning sources, and certainly combat arms schools teach land navigation. Even though often someone else actually does the navigation, if a leader can’t navigate, he has a hard time leading (either figuratively or literally!). It is all about credibility.

Basically, you navigate in one of two ways. The first method is dead reckoning. In this technique, you know where you are, and if you walk a given distance and direction, you know where you will arrive.

The other technique, called terrain association, simply says to follow the terrain. For example, I walk up this trail to the fork, turn right 90 degrees, and head downhill to the creek, and then up the far side to the right-hand of two hilltops that I can see. Plot your new location and repeat. Skilled navigators combine the two techniques.

Mounted navigation adds a whole extra layer of complexity due to speeds and distances. After all, a dismounted infantryman may have been lost for an hour, but he is still only at most 2 km away! Tank navigation, pre-GPS, included neat tricks like pointing the main gun in a given direction and stabilizing it so that it would always point that direction. Then the driver could turn as necessary. As long as he turned back to get the main gun over his head, he was driving the right direction. Now, just watch the odometer. But, since compasses don’t work while on the tank, someone had to get down and walk out a way to get an azimuth. Pretty slow work.

Terrain association requires an understanding of the terrain, called “micro-terrain” that is all around you. This extends to vehicle crewman. For example, I should be able to tell my driver, “See that big hilltop on the horizon? Get us there.” From that point, his own form of land-navigation, called “terrain driving” takes over, and he follows the terrain, both to navigate, and to drive in the most survivable terrain (i.e. keeping in low ground, but not soggy ground with cattails growing in it), leaving me free to “lead the unit.”


Mortar Platoon Leader. Working on the Battalion Command Net, the Mortar Platoon Net, and the Fire Support net is on the third radio that you can’t see at my feet. It is easy to get distracted, and a good driver can save you!

The GPS changed all of that. Appearing just in time for the Gulf War, the SLGR (Small Lightweight GPS Receiver and pronounced Slugger) revolutionized navigation. A more capable and widely-fielded variant, called the PLGR (or Precision Lightweight GPS Receiver or Plugger) was fielded in the mid -90s. The PLGR has been largely supplanted by the DAGR (the Defense Advanced GPS Receiver, or Dagger). But these items were not fielded without a learning curve by the force. The primary lesson of which is that a GPS does not replace a map!

So, how do they result in tanks driving into the river, down the boat ramp or off the cliff? A couple quick stories illustrate.

There I was…. It was 1994. I had just deployed to Kuwait and met with my first tank platoon, which was already there (Vigilant Warrior, Craig). I brought with me a box of 58 PLGRs as initial issue for the battalion. A couple of the “Geek-smart” platoon leaders quickly learned how to use them, but I was a bit slower. One day, we conducted a training lane consisting of a company attack. I followed in the right rear of a company wedge for about 20 Km. During the movement, I had limited success with my GPS, but had been so fixed on it that I had not used the map much. After the end of the mission, we went back to the assembly area to re-run it, at which time my CDR designated my platoon to lead the next run. I was pretty sure that I knew where I was, but had no idea how to get back to the objective for the next run, so I did what any quick-thinking tanker would do. When I rolled into the assembly area, I did a tight enough 180 degree turn that I got back on my own tracks in the sand. When we were ordered to move out for the next run, I unerringly led the company straight to the objective of the company attack. Score one for credibility.


You tell me how to navigate through this “trackless” desert without GPS! (XBrad: LORAN-C?)

A few months later, there I was…again. This time, I was at Fort Irwin, the National Training Center. It was about midnight. The commander of the infantry company I was attached to drove up to my tank, threw me a six-digit map grid, and told me to establish a screen line “now.” I alerted the platoon, we got fired up, and moved out promptly, heading directly for the grid I was given. This turned into one of the most torturous night movements I have ever been on, taking about 3 hours to move 3 Km to the east and including a near-rollover into a wadi and the blowing away of something into the night sky that I saw but never figured out what I lost. This was across what NTC insiders call “the washboard” which is a nightmare of up and down, washes, cuts, wadis, etc. In the morning, when I was called to collapse the screen and link up with the unit, it took me all of 15 minutes to look at my map, drive south into the open maneuver corridor, and link back up with the company. Score one for the GPS, but credibility took a big hit here! Never move without looking at the stupid map first….

Fast forward a year to my next NTC rotation where I was now the mortar platoon leader. While driving to the Tactical Operations Center to receive an order from the battalion, I called the platoon and gave them a six digit grid and told them to move there and establish the next firing position. I would link up with them at the firing point after the order. I drove to them and discovered the whole platoon sitting in the wide open, within 100 meters of a perfect defilade firing position (that is, below ground level due to the terrain). They had, I was told, just moved to the grid I gave them, following the GPS to the end…. Amid much grumbling, I directed them to shift to the new position and passed on a lesson -learned about not just following the GPS. Score one for credibility.

The very next mission, I again moved them to a new position while I was gone, this time on “Crash Hill” and in the dark. I drove up to the hill, straight to the grid I had given them. They were not there. I drove around that hillside for 60 minutes, searching that location, getting progressively more and more angry. For some reason, I ripped the wooden roof from my HMMWV and flung it into the dark and the wind whipped it away. Finally, sitting right on the grid that they were supposed to be at, I noticed radio antennas coming from a defilade position (pretty hard to see with night vision goggles on). Because I insisted on complete blackout, the mortar tracks were not flying the traditional chemlight Christmas tree from every vehicle, and they were literally invisible, even after I finally saw them.


Sundown at NTC. When it gets dark, with zero percent illumination (i.e. no moonlight), even 8 tracks will be really hard to find in a ten foot deep hole!!

The GPS got me where I needed to be; I just couldn’t find them. Because I refused to tell them I couldn’t find them, it appeared that I had driven right up on them it was a win for my credibility (and GPS technology…). Because they had used the GPS to get to the right area and then used the terrain to appropriately conceal themselves, it was a win for old-school map-reading skills. This lesson was firmly driven home, for me anyway.

Now, as for people that follow a GPS down a boat ramp, or off a cliff, that is just plain stupid, and we all know that.


GPS technology can give us precise locations and is one of the elements critical to get steel on target.

XBrad here- I too had an “early adopter/steep learning curve” experience with SLGR. The system gave your location via an alphanumeric display. That is, your coordinates were displayed as numbers. Not a graphic map representation like you might see in your cars modern GPS system. I had never used one before. Now, just having the ability to determine your location with great confidence was pretty nifty. But you could also program the system to navigate from one waypoint to another. It would give bearing and distance to the next waypoint. Simple, right?


Well, as Esli mentions above, looking at the map first is ALWAYS a good idea. I had to drop off a fire team for a recon mission. Again, only a few clicks away, but finding your way by night without doing a map recon of the route was a bad, bad idea. But on a simple mission like this… heck, we’ll even let the gunner have the night off, and just take the Bradley out with only me and the driver as the crew.


Finding my way home was every bit as challenging. And SLGRs had an antennae that meant the device had to be held outside the turret of the Bradley. And mine had a loose battery case. I had to take off my night vision goggles, hold the SLGR just right, stand way the heck out of the turret, and try to give my driver, Chuck,  directions left and right to head us back to our unit.


While I was focused on reading the little numbers, I wasn’t paying much attention to anything else. So I didn’t even notice the giant tree branch the driver headed under. Not until it hit me smack in the face, and dragged me out of the Bradley’s turret, and had me rolling off the back of Bradley’s hull. And my commo helmet got knocked off. And I was badly stunned. And my driver had no idea that I wasn’t just quietly enjoying the night. He kept driving along, and I was in terror that I would fall off and be crushed under the tracks, or at best left stranded in the middle of nowhere.


I finally found my CVC helmet rolling around on the back deck with me and screamed a while till Chuck stopped the track. Apart from some cuts and bruises, I survived. But I never again used GPS to navigate. Only to confirm where I really was.


Filed under 120mm, armor, army, ARMY TRAINING, Personal

Uniformly Stupid? Part 2

See Part 1 here.

I’m on the road, so I’ll be doing some “best of” posts. Right now, this is the most searched for post. 

While most people in the Army spend just about all their time in a working uniform like the ACU, there are occasions when something a little more formal is needed.

Since the late 1950s the standard Army Service and Dress uniform for most soldiers has been the Army Green Uniform. Folks in the Army almost universally refer to it as “Class A’s”.

When the uniform jacket is removed, the Army Green Uniform can be worn as the Class B uniform, suitable for most office environment jobs. When I served as a recruiter, most days we wore the Class B.

No, that's not me...

No, that's not me...

The problem with the Army Green Uniform was simple. It was ugly as sin in church. There was an alternative, however, one with a great history dating back practically to the first days of the Army. The Dress Blue Uniform.

Female Officer and Male Enlisted Service Dress Blues

Female Officer and Male Enlisted Service Dress Blues

There’s a reason why the trousers are a different shade blue from the coat. Back in the days of the Old West, when cavalry troopers wore the blue uniform as there work clothes, they would routinely remove their coat, roll it up and carry it strapped to the back of the saddle. The trousers faded from the sunlight and wear and tear, but the coat didn’t. Hence the difference.

Service Dress Blues were always an optional item for enlisted personnel. You could buy them, but you didn’t have to. Since they cost a lot of money and there were relatively few occasions to wear them, most junior folks did without.

Back in 2005 or so, the Chief of Staff of the Army made the decision to do away with the Army Green Uniform and modify the Blue uniform to replace it.The new variations are shown below.

The Army Blue Uniform

The Army Blue Uniform

Personally, I wish they had done this about 25 years ago. I always hated the Green Uniform, and as soon as I could, bought a set of Blues. And anytime I had a chance to wear them, I did. One fairly common occasion was the “Dining Out”. A Dining Out is when a unit, typically a battalion, has a formal banquet, with spouses and sweethearts invited*. This is a social occasion run on military lines- the colors are presented, the chaplain gives the invocation, there are a couple of (usually brief) speeches, and maybe some awards and recognitions. Then there is usually some dancing. The important thing is, your best girl gets a chance to put on her best dress and go out to be seen. Chicks dig that.  Since a lot of guys didn’t own Dress Blues, they made do with the Army Green Uniform with a white shirt and a bow tie.

Your author, center, in Dress Blues, flanked by two friends in Class A's.

Your author, center, in Dress Blues, flanked by two friends in Class A's.

Incredibly, I managed to save this picture, but lost the picture of my date. You’ll have to take my word for it that she was stunning. Really. The two guys in the photo were great friends and fellow warriors, but neither was all that attractive….

*You could invite your spouse, or your sweetheart, but NOT your spouse and your sweetheart…


Filed under 120mm, Afghanistan, anthropology, armor, army, ARMY TRAINING, Around the web, ducks, gaza, Georgia, girls, guns, history, infantry, Iran, iraq, islam, israel, Load Heat, marines, navy, obama, ossettia, Personal, planes, Politics, recruiting, SIR!, space, stolen valor, stupid, Uncategorized, war

Armored Assault

When I went from being a light infantryman to a mechanized grunt, one thing that quickly struck me we just how quickly the armored fight went. In light infantry, a firefight can easily last hours, battles last for days. In mounted warfare, the firepower and mobility of tanks and Bradleys mean the fight is over in minutes and huge battles may only last a couple hours. Operation Desert Storm showed this point, and the classic example in that campaign was the Battle of 73 Easting.

Battle of 73 Easting

CPT McMasters and his troopers of the 2nd ACR deserve every bit of the accolades they’ve received (and McMasters has since gone on to gain wide recognition both in Iraq as a commander, and as one of the leading intellectual lights in the Army).  They fought a desperate battle under trying conditions and won decisively and magnificently.

But the hidden side of the story that it took 50 years to win this fight. Almost immediately after the end of World War II the Army realized it was facing a huge Soviet Army with enormous numbers of tanks and other armor. The Army soon realized they would never be able to match the Soviets tank for tank, and would have to be able to win by fighting outnumbered. They would need forces that were not only physically faster, but mentally faster and more agile than any opponents they faced. They had to be able to fight in daylight, nighttime, and bad weather.

For a long time, the Army struggled to achieve this overmatch. It wasn’t until after the Vietnam War with the long evolution of AirLand Battle Doctrine and the fielding of the M1 and Bradley family that  this overmatch started to become reality. Combining doctrine with equipment and with the emphasis of tough realistic training provided by training centers like Ft. Irwin, CA and Hohenfels, Germany, complete with realistic opposing forces, provided McMasters and his troopers with the tools needed to not just defeat the Iraqis, but destroy them.

The Iraqis had laid a clever reverse slope ambush, and bad weather prevented US airpower from spotting them. What should have been a devastating ambush instead turned into a brilliant hasty attack. In 23 minutes, a US company eviscerated the heart of an Iraqi armored brigade.  Traditionally, you should attack with a three to one advantage in numbers. In this case, McMasters attacked outnumbered about six to one.

Ironically, Desert Storm was the swan song of the AirLand Battle Doctrine that laid the groundwork for this success. You could not pick a battlefield that was better suited for the US Army at the time. Wide open rolling spaces, plenty of room to maneuver, and little or no civilian infrastructure or noncombatants to get in the way.

Pretty quickly, even before the campaign in the desert was over, the Army realized it was ill prepared to face the challenges of dealing with civilians and built up areas, humanitarian relief, and what we now call stability operations. The Army was ill prepared for the insurgency in Iraq, but they at least had given it a lot more thought in the 90s than they had in the preceding 20 years.


Filed under 120mm, armor, army, ARMY TRAINING, girls, history, iraq


For over 50 years, the US Army had a simple doctrine for using tanks in urban combat-Don’t.

Oh, sure the manuals listed ways to use tanks in cities if you had to, but the emphasis was on avoiding towns and cities. Tanks bring three big assets to a fight- mobility, survivability, and firepower. Fighting in the close terrain of a city sacrifices mobility. And to a certain extent, survivability. Because ranges are so short in cities, and there is a lot of “high ground” readily available on rooftops, and potential ambush points from alleyways and such, tanks can become vulnerable to a lot of short range, man portable anti-tank systems such as RPGs. Reducing two of the three biggest assets of a tank is really changes the risk/reward calculation.

Also, during the Cold War, while the Army focused so much of its intellectual energy on a possible fight in Western Europe, they had a curious inability to honestly address urban warfare. There are few places on earth with as many cities, towns and villages as Western Europe. Yet the Army seemed to think all the fighting would take place outside of town. This in the face of all the evidence to the contrary. After all, the Army had to fight in all those very same cities and town when they defeated Germany in WWII.

In Desert Storm, you could hardly have designed a battlefield that was more suited to the way the Army hoped to fight. No cities,  very few civilians running around, and a mechanized, force on force fight. It’s no surprise the Army was happy to operate in the open desert, and leave the assault on Kuwait City to the Marines and our allies.

But the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the subsequent war there were another matter. By necessity, the Army wound up fighting in cities. The learning curve was steep. And city fighting is an infantry intensive form of warfare. Armor was no longer the “Arm of Decision” but another source of supporting fires, much like artillery and close air support.

After a couple years of fighting in cities, tankers started screaming about some of the upgrades their tanks needed to both do their job better, and protect their crews, and reduce the vehicle’s vulnerabilities. Enter the TUSK or Tank Urban Survival Kit.


Most of these are pretty minor modifications. The tank itself can still perform its regular hot-war mission of blasting other tanks at long range, and running around like crazy in the enemy’s back yard.

The tank/infantry phone is great because the team leader on the ground can tell the tank exactly what he needs. M1s never had it before, because it never made a lot of sense when the Army envisioned battalions of tanks and Bradleys charging across the field at 40 miles an hour. Again, they  didn’t want to hear anybody saying anything heretical like “tanks will find themselves creeping along at 3mph in a city.”

The loader’s shield didn’t make a lot of sense in Western Europe either. You want to keep the profile of a tank as low as reasonably possible. And in a tank battle, the loader is not likely to come under small arms fire very much. Indeed, his weapon was added almost as an afterthought. But in city fighting, having that machine gun is very handy. And since it is, and the ranges are so short, having a shield makes a great deal of sense, even if it does raise the profile somewhat.

Some other components, like the thermal site for the loader’s weapon, and the remote weapon station for the commander, weren’t really practical earlier, or anywhere near cost effective. Now that they are, they’re being added.

The additional armor on the sides and the slat armor on the engine compartment? Well, an RPG is unlikely to destroy an M1 on the side, but it could damage the running gear, and leave it immobile. This solves that problem. And the slat armor addresses the same issue.

Any tankers our there wanna add something?


Filed under 120mm, armor, army, ARMY TRAINING, ducks, guns

Need a little Hoohah! this morning?

My first assignment was with the 25th ID, and while it was a hard life, it was an excellent unit. I’ve still got a strong attachment to the Electric Strawberry. The division has changed in so many ways in the past quarter century, but they still know how to kick ass and take names.

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Filed under 120mm, Afghanistan, army, infantry

Davey, Davey Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier

So, I’m making my morning rounds of the internets this morning, and see YouTube recommended this video for me:

It’s a bit of a long watch, at 17 minutes and change. But it is interesting on a couple of different notes.

Ivy Flats

First, it has just about the only footage I’ve ever seen of a real Davey Crockett shot. The M65 Davey Crockett was a man portable recoilless rifle that fired a sub-kiloton nuclear projectile. It was conceived in an era when it was just assumed that small nuclear weapons would be used on the battlefield. By the time it was actually fielded, people began to realize that using any nukes would soon lead to larger and larger exchanges, until Armageddon was at hand. Plus, the range of the Davey Crockett was so short, friendly troops were as likely to be endangered as the enemy.

I was surprised by just how small the blast was. And I was really surprised by just how ineffectual it was. Tanks almost directly at the site of the blast could survive. With that minimal damage, what’s the point of shooting it?

It was a  bit of a trip to see M113s running around with troops armed with the M1 rifle. You’d think for a high visibility test like this, they’d pick a unit that also had the M14. Still, seeing M113s rolling around brought back some fond memories.

Finally, it was fun to see 1st Bn, 12th Infantry in action. I spent four very fun and rewarding years with The Warriors. It was then, and indeed, always has been, a good unit.


Filed under 120mm, armor, army, ARMY TRAINING, guns, history

Good News for 11C’s

The Army has been trying to come up with a workable guided mortar round for about 20 years now. It looks like the time has finally come:

The Army is fast tracking a GPS guided 120mm mortar round to Afghanistan in response to an urgent request for precision mortar fire from commanders on the ground there, and should be fielded by the end of the year. Called the Accelerated Precision Mortar Initiative (APMI), it improves upon the current round’s 136-meter Circular Error Probable (CEP) reducing it to about 10-meters.

That’s good news for grunts on the ground. The 120mm mortar is the battalion commander’s “hip pocket” artillery, and it packs a good punch. The problem has always been that mortars are not terribly accurate. Their high angle of fire and their low velocity leaves them vulnerable to wind drift, among other things. This, of course, addresses that.

There’s another consideration. Most of the time, if the first mortar round doesn’t drop right on the enemy’s head, he’s got some time to seek cover. Now, he’s liable to be caught in the open with the first round, which greatly increases the chances of killing them.

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Filed under 120mm, Afghanistan, army, guns, infantry, war


This looks pretty damn interesting.

H/T: Armchair Generalist

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Filed under 120mm, Afghanistan, army, ducks, guns, infantry, war

Flikr goes Green

Many of you have an account with Flickr, the image hosting site owned by Yahoo!

Did you know the US Army had a Flickr page? One of my consistent complaints about the Army’s public affairs efforts is that they have a ton of people taking great photos, but rarely do people find any good pictures. Yes, there are a ton of pictures of things less interesting, such as the Secretary of the Army watching the first day for cadets at West Point. But there are also some great photos of soldiers in their natural environment. You just have to dig a little to find them. Here’s a taste. Click on each to enlarge:

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Filed under 120mm, Afghanistan, army, ARMY TRAINING, Around the web, guns, infantry, iraq, war


Somehow, I don’t think they planned it to go this way….

By the way, kids- Don’t try this at home.


Filed under 120mm, armor, army, ARMY TRAINING, guns, iraq

HEAT Rounds and Sabots redux

I don’t know why I spent all that time typing about HEAT rounds and sabots when National Geo covered pretty much all the high points in just over two minutes.

H/T: From my position…


Filed under 120mm, Afghanistan, armor, army, ARMY TRAINING, Around the web, guns, iraq

Why? Because we love things that go “BOOM”

H/T: Theo


Filed under 120mm, Afghanistan, armor, army, ARMY TRAINING, Around the web, guns, infantry, iraq

Warheads on Foreheads, redux

We’ve seen a similar video before, and couldn’t resist stealing this one from the Armorer over at The Castle. There is, not surprisingly, a good deal of NSFW language, so you might turn down the volume, or wait till you get home to watch.

What we see is a mortar team firing their 120mm mortar at Anti-Coalition Forces that are (presumably) attacking their Combat Outpost. Since the idea is to suppress the incoming fire, they are laying down both High Explosive and White Phosphorus rounds on the enemy. The HE of course blows up real good, and while the WP may cause casualties, the primary effect is the dense white smoke makes it hard for the enemy to aim their weapons.

Note the professionalism of the crew. Just as soon as the fight is over, they start clearing up the pit, counting their ammo, cleaning their tube, and generally getting everything set for another round. Impressive.

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Filed under 120mm, Afghanistan, army, ARMY TRAINING, guns, infantry

How ’bout a little tanker pr0n?


Filed under 120mm, armor, army, ARMY TRAINING, guns

Time for a little Tanker Pr0n…


Filed under 120mm, armor, army, ARMY TRAINING, Around the web, ducks, guns, iraq


The Israelis have long sought to manufacture as much of their military hardware as possible at home.There are a couple good reasons for this. First, in the event of an arms embargo, they won’t find themselves without the weapons they need to fight. Having faced more than one embargo, they are somewhat wary of placing any faith in anybody outside Israel. Second, as an export industry, it can be very profitable, once they have an established production base. There are more than a couple countries that have no great love for Israel but have ended up buying military hardware from them.

One area the Israelis really wanted to establish some independence in was making tanks. A modern tank takes a lot more work to make than you might think. The armor itself is difficult to produce. You also need powerful engines, the delicate machinery to operate the turret, the precision milling to make the main gun, the specialized electronics and optics for the fire control system and an industry to make the ammunition.

After the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israel got serious about manufacturing their own tank. And based on the heavy casualties in tank crews during that war, one of the objectives was to make crew survivability a priority (the US Army’s design of the M-1 tank was also heavily influenced by the same factors).

The result of the development was the Merkava tank. The Merkava was a little unusual in several ways. Unlike just about every other main battle tank in the world, the Merkava had its engine mounted in the front, pushing the turret towards the rear. This provided an extra degree of protection in that if a round penetrated the front armor, it would still have to go through the engine to get to the crew compartment.  And because the crew compartment was at the rear of the vehicle, you could put a small entry to the vehicle in the back. By removing some of the ammo racks, you could provide space for a couple infantrymen or extra radios and operators for a unit commander or even put in medics and litters to use the vehicle as an ambulance. Finally, the wedge shaped turret was designed to cause most shells striking it to ricochet rather than penetrate.

Over the years, the Merkava has been developed in four main versions. Most of the early versions are being withdrawn from service. Some thought was given to converting them to armored personnel carriers, but as of 2008 the decision was made to build new APCs based on the Merkava 4 design.


Filed under 120mm, armor, army, ARMY TRAINING, guns, infantry, israel, Politics