Category Archives: armor

The Maintenance Team

When I went from Light Infantry to M113 APC mounted Mechanized Infantry, one big cultural shift I wasn’t prepared for was the obsessive attention paid to mechanical maintenance on the company vehicles.  An H-series TO&E M113 equipped Infantry company had three platoons of four M113s, plus an M113 for the Company Commander, and one for the Company XO. It also had a Humvee for the CO, and one for the company 1SG. The company also had two M35 series 2-1/2 ton trucks, one with a 3/4 ton trailer, and one with a 400 gallon water trailer.

And every Monday morning, the vast majority of the company would head to the motor pool, and spend the day performing maintenance on the vehicles. For instance, I was in the 1st Squad, 1st Platoon, and my squad “owned”  the M113 marked with the bumper number A-11. The assigned driver and I (I was the track commander) would whip out the operators technical manual (commonly called the ‘Dash 10’ from the alphanumeric TM number assigned) and visit the chapters on daily and weekly Preventative Maintenance Checks and Services, or PMCS. All deficiencies found (and there were always deficiencies) were carefully annotated on DA Form 2404.

Much like caring for your family car, a great deal of the work is done by the operator. But sometimes, there are issues that you need to take it to the shop for repairs.  For instance, if the automatic transmission is slipping, you probably would let your mechanic work on that.

You’ll notice in the brief discussion on the organization of the company, no mechanics were mentioned. That’s because the maintenance platoon belongs to the battalion Headquarters and Headquarters Company.  The maintenance platoon provided organizational level maintenance to all the tracked and wheeled vehicles in the entire battalion, about 130 pieces of rolling stock. Further, the maintenance platoon tasked a Maintenance Contact Team of five or six mechanics, typically under a Staff Sergeant, to habitually support each company. So, while our mechanics were always in another company, they were also always our mechanics.

Our mechanics were also the folks in charge of ordering parts as required for the vehicles. For instance, if I needed to replace a headlight on my M113, I’d write up the deficiency on the 2404, take it to the mechanics, and have them issue me one. The issue, from stocks on hand, also generated an order to the Division Main Support Battalion to requisition another part, to replace the stock. 

When deployed to the field, the Contact Team collocated with the supported company.  The team had an M113 APC, an M578 Light Recovery Vehicle or VTR, and an M35 series duece and a half, which had a plywood shelter on the back, and was used to carry the spare parts, known as the PLL or Primary Load List.  The PLL truck was usually located at the field trains, with the battalion kitchens and other logistics were, leaving just the M113 and the VTR forward with the company.

The VTR was fine for virtually all maintenance and recovery chores for the M113. The problem was, Mechanized Infantry companies typically swapped out a platoon of infantry for a platoon of tanks. The VTR was far to small to tow a tank. And the arrival of the M2/M3 Bradley exacerbated matters. The VTR was also underpowered to tow a Bradley.  And so, with the introduction of the Bradley, the VTR was set out to pasture, and Mechanized Infantry battalions were issued the recovery vehicle Armor battalions had long been using, the M88.

The M88 had been introduced to support (and built on the chassis of) the old M48 and M60 Patton series of tanks. It had only the thinnest margin of performance to support the much heavier M1 tanks, and later M1A1 and M1A2 tanks were just too heavy for it. And so, the Army procured the upgraded M88A2 Hercules variant for its Armor battalions. And indeed, the Army has decided that all heavy battalions will be equipped with the M88A2. 

The mechanics don’t exactly have the most glamorous job in the Army. Virtually every wrenchbender I knew was always covered in grease and grime. But they also, as a general rule, took great pride in the work they did, and put in long hours in the field repairing the vehicles that careless grunts had managed to break.

I did learn to embrace the Army’s obsession with maintenance. It costs a lot of time and money to keep a vehicle well maintained. But it also means that the Army can routinely expect its vehicles to last a quarter century or more, even when subjected to some of the harshest treatment possible.

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Tanker Boots

Reader Samuel Suggs in the previous post about 120mm ammunition has a sharp eye:

This is an off topic and possibly stupid question but: why does the soldier in second photo have buckles on his boots?

One of the things about the Army that I liked was that for a “uniform” service, there was considerable scope for individuality.  From the way one wore their patrol cap, the how they bloused their trousers into their boots, there was a surprising array of styles and techniques. From the outside, to civilians, troops look mostly indistinguishable. But as an insider, you could tell a lot about a troop by his sense of style.

And then there are those traditions among the various arms and services. Perhaps best known is the Cavalry’s attachment to Stetsons and spurs. There was also the famous “jump boots” which, by the time I was in, was authorized, and indeed pretty much expected of every troop to have  pair for ceremonial use.

But tankers too have their own institution- the tanker boot. For many years, armor crewmen have had either tacit or explicit permission to wear boots using straps and buckles in lieu of the more traditional laces.

Tanker_boots

Back when the Army wore black leather boots.

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Current tan rough side out version.

As far as I know, their adoption by armor crewman has never been universal (after all, the Army will issue lace up boots, but tanker boots came out of your own pocket).

Wiki tells us that the idea of the tanker boot in the US Army originated with George Patton in World War I.

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120 MM ammo

We’ve mentioned before, in the very early days of the blog, the difference between HEAT rounds and Sabot.  The M256 120mm main gun of the M1A2 Abrams tank uses semi-combustible ammunition.

Here’s a cutaway image of a HEAT round.

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And here’s the base stubs left after firing, taken from inside the turret of an M1.

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You need a couple of inches of length on the stub in order to provide a good seal at the breechblock of the gun.

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Abrams Desert Live Fire

Marines from the 1st Tank Battalion conduct a live fire maneuver at 29 Palms, aka The Stumps.

Honestly, I had to read the description in the video because a live fire at NTC Fort Irwin would look virtually identical.

Designing and maintaining a target array for platoon and company sized tank and mechanized infantry units takes a lot of space, time and money. Special machines, target lifters, raise and lower sheets of plywood cut out in the outline of a tank. Most ranges also have moving targets.

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The Army and Amphibious Warfare- Repost

Here’s a repost of one of the earlier works on the blog, but that might seem fresh to newer readers.

When you mention the words “amphibious warfare” most people think immediately of the US Marines, and rightly so. But during WWII, the Army invested huge resources into the ability to land on a hostile shore and conduct operations.

There are two general types of amphibious operations: ship-to-shore and shore-to-shore. Ship to shore operations are those in which the landing force is transported to the objective in large, ocean going vessels, then landed via small craft onto the shore. Shore to shore operations take place over relatively short distances, and generally the troops are carried in smaller craft, rather than large transports. Obviously, the anticipated objectives will dictate which approach is taken.

In the late 1930s, with war clouds clearly on the horizon, both the Army and the Marines came to the conclusion that they would need to develop a serious amphibious capability, but they reached different conclusions because of very different assumptions about what type  of war they would be fighting.

For 20 years, the Navy had forseen war with Japan in the Pacific. And the cornerstone of the Navy’s strategy to defeat Japan was to defeat the Japanese fleet in a battle, likely somewhere near the Philipines. Since it would be impractical for the fleet to steam all the way from San Diego or Pearl Harbor and fight in those waters, the need for advanced bases was clear. And the Marines understood that as a consequence of the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, any islands that could serve as an advance base would almost certainly be held by the Japanese. That meant the Marines had to be ready to travel the huge distances of the Pacific, land on remote islands, and seize relatively small objectives. For the Marines, this was a raison de etre.

The Army faced a different challenge. The Army had no desire to get into the amphibious warfare business. But watching the rise of Nazi German power, the Army leadership was convinced that sooner or later, they’d have to go fight in Western Europe again. And, unlike 1918, they weren’t at all sure the French ports would be available to land the huge armies planned. After the fall of France in June of 1940, the cold realization came that just to get  the Army to the fight would mean sooner or later, landing somewhere in Western Europe, under the guns of the enemy. And not only would the Army have to land there, they would have to build up their forces and simultaneously supply them over the beaches until a suitable port could be seized. Fortunately for the Army, England was still available as an advance base.

The Army didn’t completely ignore the ship to shore model of amphibious warfare, mostly because they couldn’t. When it became apparent that no cross-Channel operation to invade Europe would be possible in 1942 (mostly because of a lack of landing craft) President Roosevelt made the decision that a front in the Atlantic theater would be opened in North Africa. A combined British and American force would be landed in the French occupied territories of North Africa, then drive east to engage the German forces in  Tunisia. Due to the distances involved, this could only be a ship to shore movement. Many forces sailed from England, but a significant portion sailed all the way from ports on the East Coast of the US. Even against only fitful French and German resistance, the invasion fleet lost five large transports. One of the lessons the Army learned was that transports waiting to discharge their troops and cargoes were extremely vulnerable. In response, the Army wanted to make sure as many ships as possible had the ability to beach themselves to unload, minimizing the reliance on small craft such as the Higgins boat, LCVP, and the LCM.

LCM(3) (Landing Craft Mechanized Model 3)

LCM(3) (Landing Craft Mechanized Model 3)

Higgins Boat (Landing Craft Personnel Light)

Higgins Boat (Landing Craft Personnel Light)

LCVP (Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel)

LCVP (Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel)

These craft were carried near the objective by transports, and lowered over the side by booms or davits. That took time, time during which the transports, only 5-10 miles offshore, were vulnerable to submarines, airplanes and even coastal artillery.  While they were fairly good for getting the first units of lightly armed troops ashore, they were less efficient at getting ashore the huge numbers of follow-on troops needed, and importantly, the massive numbers of vehicles the troops would need to break out from any beachhead. Further, they just weren’t capable of bringing ashore the cargoes of supplies, fuel and ammunition the troops would need.  Something bigger was needed. And the first of these bigger craft was known as the LCT, or Landing Craft Tank. An LCM3 could carry one tank, barely. An LCT was a much bigger craft and could carry from 3 to 5 tanks. Five was an optimum number, as that was the number of tanks in a platoon, and keeping tactical units together on a landing greatly assisted in the assualt. As you can see from the picture, the LCT was essentially a self-propelled barge with a bow-ramp.

2lctmk5pageThe LCT could easily sail from England to France, or from Mediterranean ports in North Africa to Sicily and Italy. And while it could carry real numbers of tanks, something even better was in the works- the Landing Ship Tank, or LST. Early in the war, espcially as the Allies were first gearing up  for the invasion of North Africa, the Army (and especially the British) realized they had no way of shipping tanks overseas and landing them across beaches in any numbers. The LCT couldn’t handle the voyage, and loading LCMs over the side of a transport was problematic in anything but a flat calm. Worse, tanks kept getting heavier and heavier, faster than the booms on transport ships could grow to handle them. The idea arose of converting vessels originally built to carry rail cars from Florida to Panama as tank carriers. But while they could drive the tanks on at the embarkation point, the problem of discharging them remained. To unload them, the Army would need to seize a port. Indeed, this limitation was precisley why Casablanca was a target of the invasion. Enter the British. They had built a series of very shallow draft tankers to serve the waters around Venezuala. The reasoned that the design could quickly be adapted to build a large vessel that could safely beach itself, unload tanks held in what had formerly been the holds via a ramp in the bow, and then retract itself from the beach. Unlike an LCT, the LST might be ungainly and slow, but it was a real seagoing vessel.

LST (Landing Ship Tank)

LST (Landing Ship Tank)

While the LST was very valuable in bringing tanks, up to 20 at a time, it turns out the real value was in trucks. The Army in WWII was by far the most mechanized and motorized army in the world. And that meant trucks. Lots of trucks- to move people, supplies, tow guns, you name it. And the LST could carry a lot of trucks, already loaded, both on its tank deck, and on the topsides. And unlike the hassle of unloading a regular transport, all they had to do was drive down a ramp. After making an initial assault, as soon as an LST had discharged its tanks, it would turn around, go back to England (or where ever) and load up on trucks to build up the forces on the beachhead. To say the LST was a success would be a bit of an understatement. The US built roughly 1100 of them during the war for our Navy and the British.

While the LST was great for carrying tanks and trucks, it didn’t do so well at carrying people. One thing the Army really wanted was a small ship that could carry a rifle company from England and land them on the shores of France, non-stop and as a unit. The trick was getting the size just right. It had to be small enough to be built in large numbers, but big enough to cross the Atlantic on its own. It wouldn’t be expected to carry troops across the Atlantic. Those would come across on troopships. But any vessel large enough to do the job would be too large to carry aboard a transport. Pretty soon, the Navy designed and built the Landing Craft Infantry, or LCI. This was a vessel designed almost entirely with the invasion of Normandy in mind. It carried about 200 troops, roughly a reinforced rifle company, for up to 48 hours, which is about the time it took to load and transport them from ports in the Southwest of England and discharge them over the beaches of Normandy.

LCI (Landing Craft Infantry)

LCI (Landing Craft Infantry)

The Army had one other great tool for bringing supplies across the beach. In the days before the LST was available, the only method of getting trucks ashore across the beach was to winch them over the side of  a transport into an LCM. Someone at GM had the bright idea of doing away with the LCM part, and making the truck amphibious. That way, the truck could swim ashore, then drive inland to the supply dumps.  The result was basically a boat hull grafted onto a 2-1/2 ton truck, known as the DUKW, and commonly called a “duck.” Thousands of DUKWs, almost all manned by African American soldiers, brought wave after wave of critical supplies ashore across the beaches of Normandy and at other beaches the Army invaded. Unlike most landing craft, these were bought by, and operated by the Army, not the Navy.

DUKW Amphibious 2-1/2 ton truck

DUKW Amphibious 2-1/2 ton truck

Finally, in the Pacific, when you speak of amphibious warfare, again, you rightly think of the Marines. But in fact, the Army had a huge presence there as well. Indeed, it was always a larger prescence than the Marines. The Army made over 100 amphibious assualts in the Pacific theater, many in the Southwest Pacific in and around New Guinea. In conjunction with the US Seventh Fleet, MacArthur’s forces in the Southwest Pacific became masters at the art of amphibious warfare, striking where the Japanese least expected them, and routinely conducting sweeping flanking movements that left Japanese garrisons cut off and useless. Dan Barbey, the Commander of 7th Fleet became known as “Uncle Dan The Amphibious Man.” All this with a fleet mostly composed of tiny LCTs, a few LSTs and LCIs.

The Army also fought alongside the Marine Corps in some of their most storied battles, such as the invasions of Saipan and Okinawa. Indeed, if the atomic bomb attacks had not lead to the early surrender of Japan, the invasion of the home islands would have been mostly  an Army affair. Largely as a result of the Army’s preocupation with the European theater, these magnificent efforts have received little attention from the public at large.

After WWII, the Army’s focus again turned to Europe and the Cold War. For several reasons, including the vulnerability of shipping to nuclear weapons, amphibious operations fell out of favor with the Army. The Marines of course, continued to maintain that unique capabilty. Currently, the Army has no capability to conduct a landing against opposition. Current doctrine does still provide for limited ability to sustain forces by what is known as LOTS or “Logistics Over The Shore” and for the rapid deployment of troop units to hot spots via Afloat Prepositioning Squadrons. Basically, sets of unit equipment are mainained aboard large ships just days sailing from their possible objectives. If needed, they can sail to a friendly port or harbor, and unload their cargoes to meet up with troops flown in by either commercial aircraft or military transport planes. Alternatively, they can serve as a follow-on force to reinforce a beach seized by Marine amphibious assault.

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The New Russian Armata Tank

It’s actually a family of fighting vehicles.

The prime variant is the T-14 tank. Finally some pics of it without  a tarp over the turret are coming out.

The big innovation here is that the turret itself is unmanned. That has the advantage that you can make it significantly smaller, in that you don’t need to leave space for people. That means a given weight of armor provides more protection, as it has less surface area to cover. But it also means any failure of the autoloader is much more difficult to remedy. The gun is basically the same 125mm smoothbore the Russians have been using for nearly 40 years. The flat panels suggest either composite armor similar to the M1 series, or integrated Explosive Reactive Armor panels. The bulky side sponsons along the hull suggest ERA. The prominent boxlike projection on the left top of the turret appears to be an independent thermal viewer similar to that of the M1A2 tank. What level of sophistication the fire control has is unknown. Interestingly, there are reports the tank will field a radar based fire control channel.
http://img2.goodfon.su/wallpaper/big/1/87/armata-t-14-boevoy-tank-4929.jpg

The tank reportedly uses a 1500hp diesel engine, downrated to 1200hp for normal operation, on  a tank with a combat weight of 48 tons. Even at the downrated horsepower, that yields a very respectable 25 horsepower per ton.

The T-15 Heavy Infantry Fighting Vehicle variant uses the same chassis and engine, but apparently reverses the arrangement, with the engine in the front, and the troop compartment in the rear. This is actually a fairly common adaptation of tank hulls. Many early US self propelled artillery series used this trick. The T-15 likewise has a remote controlled turret, with a 30mm autocannon, and an anti-tank missile launcher. The troop compartment has space for 6-8 troops.

 

The first “public” display of the Armata family is expected Saturday, during the parade in Moscow celebrating 70 years since the victory over Nazi Germany.

Other variants ordered include a 152mm self propelled artillery piece.

Once you’ve developed a successful vehicle chassis, it makes sense to adapt it to other roles, to reduce development costs, and to benefit from commonality of production, spare parts, logistics, and training.

Of course, the downside is that an IFV on a tank chassis is much more expensive than one on a lighter chassis. The trend however, suggests most future IFVs will be tank chassis based, and have much higher levels of protection than those of today.

The Armata family appears to be quite capable, certainly near peer to our own M1 and Bradley series.

Having said that, virtually every vehicle produced so far will be in the parade Saturday, a force of somewhere around two dozen vehicles. And while Russia claims that some 2300 will be produced, the economic challenges Russia faces may make that production schedule difficult to keep. There are suggestions that the T-14 and T-15 will be specialized units, and that a less ambitious IFV will be the main replacement for legacy BMP-1, 2, and 3 series. The Kurganets 25 has been touted as the main replacement for older IFVs.

Kurganets-25 30mm gun variant with turret covered

The numbers of T-14s scheduled for production also suggest older T-80/T-90 series tanks will remain in front line use for many, many years to come.

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Spall

Courtesy of Think Defense.

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When armor is struck by a projectile, the kinetic energy is transferred through it. Depending on the type of projectile, that can cause armor on the far side of the impact to detach and turn into projectiles on the protected side. In fact, during the 1950s, a type of projectile called HESH was designed and fielded to exploit this possibility. HESH was a High Explosive Squash Warhead. Basically a lump of plastic explosive would flatten out on armor then explode. It was never intended to actually penetrate the armor, but instead generate a lot of spall on the inside.

Fortunately, there’s a relatively simple way to counter spall, called, amazingly enough, a spall liner. A prime example is on the M2/M3 Bradley fighting vehicle. Bolted to the inside of the hull’s armor is about a half inch thick layer of Kevlar sheeting. Kevlar has only modest capability against HEAT rounds and kinetic penetrators, but it is more than sufficient to stop spall (which both HEAT rounds and kinetic penetrators also generate). A Bradley might suffer badly from  a hit, but minimizing the spall tends to make the crew much more likely to survive.

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