Category Archives: army

Saturday morning random thoughts

Roamy here, holding the fort until XBrad gets some internet access. Just thinking out loud this morning over a second cup of coffee.

1. I hope to have some homecoming pics of my nephew to post here soon.

2. I’m putting together a care package for my other nephew who’s still in Afghanistan. What was the best thing you ever got in a care package?

3. I don’t quite know what to think of our sending troops to Uganda. My feeling is that we have enough on our plate as it is. I understand the humanitarian aspect of the mission but tend to think that that’s what the UN is for, right? (I’ll wait until you quit laughing.)

4. Speaking of the UN, I KNOW I don’t want to pay nearly half a billion dollars for them to squat on more real estate in NYC. Move ‘em to Geneva.

5. Mike Durant has a speaking engagement near here later this month.

6. Also speaking here later this month is retired Marine Corps Gen. Jim Jones at a fundraiser luncheon for Support Wounded Warriors Week. I’ll definitely be following up on that.

Your thoughts?

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Filed under army, marines, Personal, Politics

Valor Flight

Roamy here. Hopefully you, dear reader, are familiar with Honor Flight, which brought a number of WW2 veterans to DC to see their memorial. Now Valor Flight is doing the same for Korean War veterans. The Redstone Rocket newspaper has an excellent article on this mission and one of the veterans being honored.

Raymond Benfatti joined the Marines at 17. He mentions cold weather training at Pickel Meadow, the Marine Corps’ Mountain Warfare Training Center south of Lake Tahoe.

Despite the excellent training, nothing could prepare him for the subzero temperatures he would experience in his deployment from 1951-52…To this day Benfatti can remember the moonlight glistening off the snow, the frozen C-rations, how difficult it was to reach his unit as he slipped and slid on the snow and ice, and the rats he shared an underground bunker with for a year. Many mornings he awoke to find billboard size photos constructed and left for the Americans by the Chinese and North Koreans that said things like, “Go home,” “This is not your war,” and “Your wife is out with your best man.”

Benfatti also served two tours in Vietnam, was wounded by a RPG to the face (!), and received the Silver Star. He retired after 24 years of service.

Valor Flight is a nice way to honor Benfatti and others like him. Semper fi, sir.

Updated with my pics of the Korean War Memorial (click to embiggen).

1 Comment

Filed under army, history, marines, war

Silly story for Saturday

Roamy here. XBrad has previously posted several times on MRE’s. So here’s my story on my first MRE.

I was co-opping at NASA and living in a boardinghouse. I was supposed to share an apartment with another co-op student, but she backed out less than an hour before we were supposed to sign the rental agreement, and I had to scramble to find a place to live. The boardinghouse wasn’t too bad – the landlady was a divorcee with three grown kids and two cats. My only complaints were that she limited how long I could be on the phone (okay, I talk a lot), and she heated the house with a couple of kerosene heaters rather than the central heating system in the wintertime. I had run of the kitchen, a cheap place to sleep, and company in the evenings.

Speaking of run of the kitchen, she had one refrigerator for her food and another for the boarders. Reasonable enough. Most of the time I lived there, there was only one other boarder (hi Bill!), and he didn’t cook much. I cooked for myself all the time, as cheaply as possible, because I was trying to save enough money for the next college tuition payment. I used to make a chicken, rice, and peas casserole (like arroz con pollo but without the pimento) that was less than $4 to make and would last for 4 meals, sometimes 5. Meat, starch, veggie, glass of milk, got it covered. No food pyramid here.

One of the landlady’s sons was serving in the Army at the time and came home for a week. He knew that one fridge was his mom’s but mixed up which one. He saw my chicken and rice casserole and devoured the whole thing. Holy cow, you ate my dinner for the next 3 nights! Because he was just as broke as I was, he offered me a MRE as a replacement. It was a chicken a la king MRE. Yes, I ate it. I can just imagine XBrad shuddering at that. IIRC, it wasn’t that bad, but I can certainly understand how much better a home-cooked meal would be.


Filed under army, Personal

Pictures from Bronco Brigade

Roamy here. Bronco Brigade posted some photos from the field yesterday and today, and I picked these out for posting.

A Soldier holds the American flag close to his chest after it is lowered and folded for the day at Forward Operating Base Shinwar, headquarters for 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, Task Force Raider, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Task Force Bronco. (photo by Enrique De Castro, Reuters photographer)

Soldiers of 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, Task Force Raider, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Task Force Bronco, walk into the horizon of a sunset outside of Forward Operating Base Shinwar after a successful day of foot patrolling.


Filed under army, war

Short Landing – Turbo Caribou

Last Saturday we braved the weather to watch an airshow.  The show included a pair of skydivers jumping from a Turbo-Caribou.   My son loves watching the jumpers run through the stunts.  But I don’t get excited since they closed out my DA 1307.   The rest of the show was rain-shortened.  But I did get a short video of the Turbo-Caribou landing in the cross-wind.

Brings to mind another topic of discussion.  Brad and I pontificated some months back about the Army’s attempts and failures to obtain fixed wing CAS from the 1950s through today.  There’s another story line there too – the Army’s parallel efforts to field a in-theater cargo plane.

Leesburg Air Show 033

The Turbo-Caribou is a descendant of the most successful of the solutions offered.

Leesburg Air Show 011

The Turbo-Caribou is for the most part a re-engined civilian version of the original DHC-4 Caribou.  The original Caribou used two 1,450 hp Pratt & Whitney radial engines, which the “turbo” replaced with turbo-prop engines (duh!).

The Caribou’s first military customer was the US Army.  Initial deliveries came after the prototype assessments in 1958. The DHC-4 met the Army’s requirements for a Short Take-off and Landing (STOL) aircraft which could operate on rough airfields, providing cargo support inside a theater of war (and not to interfere with the intra-theater roles supported by the Air Force).

Originally designated AC-1 then CV-2, with the establishment of the DoD designation system the Caribou became the C-7.  The Army purchased around 160 of these Canadian-built aircraft.

The Caribou’s combat debut was during the early phases of US involvement in Southeast Asia.  There it proved extremely useful.  But with success came political problems.  Anticipating the need to expand the force, the Army asked for more fixed wing pilots.  This, along with the success of the C-7 in Vietnam, attracted attention from the Air Force.   After the Johnson-McConnell Agreement of 1966, the Air Force got the C-7s (and the rather promising C-8 Buffalo program was dropped).

The Army retained a handful of C-7s for special uses.  One example at the Army’s Transportation Museum at Fort Eustis supported the Golden Knights parachute team.  But aside from those limited numbers of C-7 the Army had to make do with a handful of UV-18 Twin Otters until acquiring Short C-23 Sherpas (initially in the 1980s these were second-hand ex-civilian types, again only for limited roles).

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Other users of the DHC-4/C-7 included Australia.  One of those Aussie DHC-4s with the original engines shows off in the video below.

As I watch the Caribou, I can’t help but think about what could have been if the Army had retained more than a limited STOL cargo capability through the 1970s.


Filed under army, planes

The 105mm Howitzer

Whenever someone mentions artillery, the mental image that springs into my mind is a crew of redlegs from World War II or maybe Vietnam loading and firing a 105mm howitzer.

The primary light artillery piece of the Army in World War I was the 75mm howitzer  M1897 GUN (thanks, Craig) , based on a French design. President Truman commanded a battery of them as a Captain in the war.

But the Army wasn’t very happy with the French 75. It was light and handy, but the round wasn’t very impressive. It lacked penetration against fortification, and the range was rather anemic. Something better was wanted.

The Army used some of its tiny interwar budget to develop a 105mm gun in the early 1920s. It was generally pleased with the results, but there was simply no money to replace the 75mm guns in the inventory. More importantly, there was no money to replace the vast stocks of 75mm ammo in the inventory.

With the huge increases in military spending just prior to World War II, money finally became available for improvements to the Army, and the new 105mm howitzer was one of the top priorities. Having spent almost 20 years refining the design, the M2 105mm howitzer was quickly built in large numbers, becoming the standard artillery piece of virtually every infantry division.

The M2 (later to be redesignated the M101) and it variants was a weapon with a sliding horizontal breech block mounted on a conventional split trail carriage. That is, the gun rested over a two wheeled axle and the trails of the carriage would be used to tow it behind its 2-1/2 ton truck prime mover. When emplaced, the trails were split, and spades at the end of the trails were used to dig in the gun and absorb some of the recoil. The gun also had a hydropnuematic recoil system.

TM M2A1 left side

TM M2A1 right side

The tube could elevate to provide plunging fires at long ranges, or be lowered for direct fires if needed. There was a limited ability to traverse the tube on the carriage. If the tube needed to traversed more than that, the trails had to be dug up, the entire carriage moved by lifting and moving the trails, and the gun relaid by the aiming stakes.

The gun fired a 33 pound high explosive projectile using semi-fixed ammunition with a base charge and six increments.

Semi-fixed means that each round came with the projectile, fuze, cartridge case and powder in one complete assembly, much as you’d think of a single round of small arms ammunition. But the projectile could easily be removed from the powder cartridge, and the increments removed as needed to vary the range of the round. The projectile would be placed back onto the cartridge case prior to firing. Between this and the manually operated sliding wedge breechblock, a rapid rate of fire could be achieved.

The 33 pound M1 High Explosive projectile was heavy enough, and had enough explosive power that it could penetrate most earthen field fortifications such as foxholes and bunkers. Fused for instantaneous action (and later with VT) it was devastating against troops in the open. In addition, smoke, illumination and other projectiles were available.

With a range of 12,200 yards, the M2/M101 was well suited for its role as a direct support weapon for the infantry regiments.  Each infantry division would have three 18 gun battalions in the division artillery (three batteries of six guns each) for a total of 54 guns. While division often retained control of the battalions to concentrate on divisional targets, it was very common to see each infantry regiment operating with an artillery battalion in a dedicated direct support role. Often, this infantry/artillery partnership was called a Regimental Combat Team.

The M2/M101 was a very successful design, and remained in front line service well into the 1960s with our Army. In fact, the Canadian Army still uses a modified variant.

Two offshoots of the M2/M101 deserve mention here. First, with the rise of armored divisions in our Army in WWII, it quickly became apparent that self-propelled artillery would be needed to keep up with the fast moving tanks (and their half-track mounted infantry). Surplus M3 Grant tank hulls (and later purpose built M4 tank hulls) were modified to mount the M2 105mm gun.


The resulting M7 Priest was highly successful, remaining in service for many years.

The other offshoot was the M3 105mm gun. Airborne forces were in their infancy during World War II. There was no capability to drop large heavy loads. The only way to bring vehicles and artillery to the airborne battle was by glider. But the M2 was simply too large for the Army’s CG-4 gliders. As a result, airborne divisions had to settle for the old 75mm gun as their divisional artillery.  At least until someone had the idea of a “sawed off” 105mm gun. By reducing barrel length by 27 inches, and by adopting a slightly beefed up version of the 75mm gun’s carriage, the M3 105mm gun would just barely fit into the gliders of the day.  The M3 fired the same projectiles as the M2, but because the shorter barrel length lead to incomplete burning of the powder charge. Faster burning powder charges were developed for the M3. The shorter tube meant that the M3 had a much shorter range, only about 7500 yards.

In addition to serving in the division artillery of the airborne divisions, M3s also served as an infantry support weapon. Each infantry regiment had a 6 gun cannon company. Originally equipped with 75mm guns, by the end of the war, many would be equipped with the M3.

After World War II, with the development of larger tactical airlift planes that could perform heavy drop missions (such as the C-119) the M3 in the airborne division was replaced by the longer ranged M2/M101. Also, some time after WWII, probably during the Pentomic Army reorganization, infantry regiments lost their organic cannon company.

By the early 1960s, the M101 was getting a bit long in the tooth.  The main problem was weight. The 2-1/2 ton weight of the M101 was a bit much for most helos to lift. Accordingly, the M102 howitzer was developed and adopted. The big aim was to reduce weight. The tube basically the same, but an entirely new carriage was adopted. Instead of the classic split trail carriage, a new fixed open box  trail was adopted. Instead of resting on its wheels and using spades at the trail end to provide a stable firing platform, a circular baseplate under the carriage was lowered and staked into position.


Note the circular baseplate firing platform.


One of the last M102s in Iraq, 2004

The lighter weight of the M102 made it easier to move by helicopter, and also allowed for it to be moved by lighter vehicles.  The circular baseplate also meant that the gun could easily be traversed through 360 degrees (or 6400 mils, as the gunners would say). The tube had a manually operated vertical sliding wedge breechblock. The gun used the same ammunition as the M101, and had nearly identical range. It was used in the same role of direct support in the infantry, airborne, and airmobile divisions.

First entering service in the early 1960s, it served throughout the Vietnam War and after. It began to be replaced in the late 1980s, but as you can see from the picture above, it was still in use with some National Guard units as late as 2004.

Mechanized and armored divisions still using the M7 Priest in the late 1950s finally began to replace them with the M108. This self propelled 105mm howitzer shared a common hull and cab structure with the M109 155mm self propelled howitzer. While the M108 was a successful design, however, it was soon decided that heavy divisions would instead use 155mm M109s as the main weapon of the direct support artillery battalions, and the M108 was quickly withdrawn from service.

In the mid-1980s, the US Army began looking to replace the M102, and was deeply impressed with the performance of the British L118 Light Gun in the Falklands. The L118 used separate loading ammunition. After a minor redesign to allow used of existing US semi-fixed ammunition and adopting US fire control and sights, the weapon was adopted as the M119 105mm howitzer and licensed production began at the Rock Island Arsenal. The M119 (and the M119A1 and A2 variants) is the current light howitzer for US infantry, airborne, and air assault brigade combat teams. It can be airlifted by airplanes and helicopters, air-dropped by parachute, towed by a Humvee, and in a real pinch, moved by hand.


M119 firing in Afghanistan

The M119 uses a similar baseplate firing platform to the M102, and features a fixed open box carriage trail of tubular design.

The M119 still uses the same M1 round as the original 105mm howitzers. It’s longer tube does allow for a greater charge to be used, however, and “Charge 8” gives a maximum range of 13,700 meters.  Newer ammunition includes rocket assisted High Explosive rounds (HERA) with ranges of up to 19,500 meters, greatly increasing the area one battery can cover. Somewhat surprisingly, there are no immediate plans to field a GPS guided projectile. The apparent thinking is that Guided MLRS and 155mm Excalibur fires can cover most missions.

Historically, US artillery doctrine has stressed concentration of fires. That is, if an artillery battalion had three targets, rather than having one battery engage each target, the fires of the entire battalion would be dedicated to one target, then the next, and then the third.

But the dispersed nature of the battlefield in Afghanistan means that artillery has to be widely dispersed itself, or many units would have no artillery support in range. Accordingly, it is not uncommon to find single 6 gun batteries or even a two-gun platoon operating independently in support of remote outposts.

The 105mm howitzer has provided over 70 years of faithful service, and there are no plans to replace it.

The M102 105mm howitzer.


Filed under Afghanistan, army, guns, history

Ig Nobel Peace Prize

Roamy here. The Ig Nobel Prizes are a spoof of the real Nobel Prizes, meant to pique interest in the sciences as well as make you laugh. It’s held every year at Harvard with real Nobel Prize winners sharing in the festivities. Some of the previous winners are Ivette Bassa, the inventor of bright blue Jello, Yuri Struchkov, for writing 948 scientific papers in one decade, Donald L. Unger, who cracked the knuckles on one hand but not the other every day for 50 years as a possible cause of arthritis, and Edward A. Murphy, Jr. of Murphy’s Law fame.

This year’s Ig Nobel Peace Prize winner is Arturas Zuokas, the mayor of Vilnius, Lithuania, who demonstrated that “the problem of illegally parked luxury cars can be solved by running them over with an armored tank.” (Youtube commenter says it’s a BTR-60 armored personnel carrier. Readers?)

And here I thought any problem could be solved with a suitable application of high explosives.


Filed under armor, army, Around the web


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

M42 Duster… Walk around

Brad never asks… he should at least send out an RFI to support his posts. He should know by now that Craig’s archives are full of AFV and cannon pictures.

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AWM 20 Aug 11 163

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But don’t forget the “forebears” of the M42.

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The M16 Multiple Gun Motor Carriage (yes… that rolls right off the tongue) with quad .50s was among several self-propelled anti-aircraft weapons built on the trusty M3 half-track chassis during World War II. The M16 was perhaps the better of the lot, and saw service well beyond the World War II years.

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Arriving just at the close of World War II, the M19 Gun Motor Carriage lacked the “sexy” name, but was comparable to the M42 Duster in many regards.  Armed with a wartime version of the twin 40mm Bofors, the M19 used the chassis of the M24 Chaffee light tank.

Lots of duckhunter stuff!

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Filed under armor, army

USACE Photos from 9/11

USACE Patrol Boat Hocking heads toward lower Manhattan on 9-11

USACE Patrol Boat Hocking heads toward lower Manhattan on 9-11

NEW YORK — Patrol Boat Hocking heads toward lower Manhattan on 9/11 to provide assistance following the attacks on the World Trade Center. PB Hocking was one of many U.S. Army Corps of Engineers vessels from various Districts that were on the waters of the New York and New Jersey Harbor that day helping to ferry evacuees from lower Manhattan and bringing in emergency responders on return trips. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers file photo)

The Public Affairs Office at the US Army Corps of Engineer has released some photos pertaining to 9/11 on their Flickr channel this week. Many of the photos show activities in the days after the attack or months later.  But a few show the USACE’s actions in direct response to the attack.

DCV Hayward helped ferry evacuees from lower Manhattan after the 9/11 attacks

DCV Hayward helped ferry evacuees from lower Manhattan after the 9/11 attacks

NEW YORK — DCV Hayward, one of New York District’s three drift collection vessels, was one of several U.S. Army Corps of Engineers vessels that helped ferry evacuees from lower Manhattan after the 9/11 attacks. DCV Hayward still patrols the New York and New Jersey Harbor as part of its regular duties, collecting drift and debris that could be hazardous to navigation. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers file photo)


Filed under army, history

Hurricane Cleanup… Yes the Army does that too.

Or was it a Tropical Storm?  I’ve lost track.  – Craig.

USACE New York District cleans debris in New York & New Jersey Harbor

USACE New York District cleans debris in New York & New Jersey Harbor
NEW YORK — The crew of DCV Gelberman works to clear drift and debris from the waters in and around the New York and New Jersey Harbor, Aug. 30, 2011 after Tropical Storm Irene. Tropical Storm Irene brought storm surge, heavy winds and lots of rain to the region over the weekend and Army Corps crews are working hard to gather the additional drift that may be in the New York and New Jersey Harbor following the storm to ensure safe navigation.(U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo by Chris Gardner)

 DCV Hayward loads debris in New York & New Jersey Harbor

DCV Hayward loads debris in New York & New Jersey Harbor
NEW YORK — DCV Hayward drops of a morning’s load of debris collected in the catamaran, rigged with a steel net to gather debris, that was attached to its side while it collected debris and other potential hazards to navigation in and around the New York and New Jersey Harbor, Aug. 30, 2011. The load pictured is approximately 17,000 pounds. Tropical Storm Irene brought storm surge, heavy winds and lots of rain to the region over the weekend and Army Corps crews are working hard to gather the additional drift that may be in the New York and New Jersey Harbor following the storm to ensure safe navigation. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo by Chris Gardner)

Floodwaters from tropical storm wash out Vermont roads

Floodwaters from tropical storm wash out Vermont roads

After Tropical Storm Irene swept through New England, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began inspecting and assessing possible damage to infrastructure at its dam sites. Here, a state or town bridge has been washed downstream by the powerful flooding that occured because of the storm on the way to the Corps’ Ball Mountain Lake Dam, Jamaica, Vt. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo by Frank Fedele)

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Filed under army

Wolfhounds in the A-stan

Esli’s been a busy little helper of the blog. He forwarded this picture of a troop from the 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, The Wolfhounds* manning a TOW missile system in Afghanistan.


Staff Sgt. Frankie Berdecia of Alpha Company 2nd battalion 27th infantry
(the Wolfhounds), operates a TOW missile system at Observation Post Mace
in eastern Afghanistan’s Kunar province near the border with Pakistan
August 28. (Photo by U.S. Army)

Now, the TOW system was designed to destroy tanks, but it is pretty handy at popping bunkers and machine gun nests also. More importantly, with the new ITAS thermal imaging sights, the TOW mount makes an excellent surveillance tool. If you can see it, you can hit it, and if you can hit it, you can kill it.

It’s possible to defeat detection by thermal sensors on the battlefield, but it sure ain’t easy.

*I was in the 1st Battalion. We never really acknowledged the guys in 2nd Bn as real Wolfhounds.

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Filed under Afghanistan, army, guns

A little bit of history

Roamy here. Here’s another story my dad likes to tell. During WWII, traveling wasn’t easy and frequently frowned upon. (“Don’t you know there’s a war on?”) Gas and tires were rationed, so my grandparents and father traveled from Tampa to Georgia by train. It had been two or three years since my grandfather had seen his brother, and it was time for a visit.

My great-uncle lived in Dublin, GA at the time, where there was a military hospital for convalescing soldiers and also a prisoner-of-war camp. The Dublin POW camp was probably administered out of Camp Wheeler in Macon. Nearly 700 POW camps in the US housed over 425,000 prisoners, mostly Germans, during the war. Many of these camps were located in the South, where the prisoners could be used as farm labor, filling in for the Americans fighting overseas. They were paid for their labor, according to the Geneva Convention.

My dad was shocked upon arrival at his uncle’s house to find a Luftwaffe Oberst cutting the grass. “Daddy! There’s a German!” The gentleman was in uniform with “POW” in big yellow letters on his back. My grandmother shushed my dad, but the Oberst didn’t say a word, just straightened his back and kept working. My great-uncle had hired him not only for yardwork but also other oddjobs. He was probably paid 80 cents a day.

There were POW camps in 46 states, though the whole network was kept pretty quiet. After the war ended, the prisoners were returned to their home countries with the money they earned and at least some fluency in English. About 860 German POWs remain buried in American military cemeteries, including over 100 in the National Cemetery in Chattanooga. There is a POW Museum in Algona, Iowa.

As a side note, the Dublin military hospital was later named for Congressman Carl Vinson of Georgia.


Filed under army, history

The Sentinel

Roamy here. Saw this at Ace of Spades and had to repost it here.

Undeterred by Hurricane Irene, the Sentinel still guards the Tomb of the Unknowns

Thank you, sir. I don’t know what else to say, except thank you.


Filed under army, infantry

Meterological Measuring Set-Profiler

Meteorological equipment


Sgt. Courtney Hall, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 41st Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team, Third Infantry Division sets up a piece of the Meteorological Measuring Set-Profiler at Wright Army Airfield, Aug. 8. The equipment provides situational awareness as to weather effects in the area, a vital part of firing guns. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Jared S. Eastman, 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division.

Yesterday I posted a bit on the evolution and use of gunner’s quadrants over on my (Craig’s) blog.  Didn’t see this photo until earlier today, and it would have fed into the discussion nicely.

Back in the early days of artillery, gunners had firing tables citing range by elevation.  These were often based on principles of physics known at the time.  None took into account air density and atmospheric effects.  Over the centuries the art of gunnery became more so a science.  Today’s artillery systems depend on accurate local weather data in order to provide highly accurate fire support that those ancient gunners could not imagine possible.

The price of that accuracy is complexity.  But if you need Meteorological Measuring Set-Profilers to provide danger-close (and closer) fires in order to protect my position, then by all means I’ll accept the complexity any day.

“Glory’s Guns!”


Filed under army, ARMY TRAINING

A walk through the history of coast defense – Fort Moultrie

XBrad and I have brought up the topic of coastal artillery a number of times.  Certainly with respect to the topic, most of my focus is towards the Civil War era.  But in the larger context, the “coast defense” role for many decades – or I should say for the first century and a half – was the most important mission for the US Army.  That is reflected in War Department expenditures all the way back to George Washington’s presidency.  The priority also influenced the posting of officers and their career paths in the 19th century.

Given this long association with coastal defense, the Army’s efforts are historically divided into periods – defined partly by the technology but more so on the political initiatives which brought funding to the projects.    The eight major periods are:  First System, Second System, Third System, Civil War era, Endicott, Taft, World War I/Interwar, and World War II.  By the end of World War II, technology and international realities rendered “coast defense” a secondary role for the Army.  Regardless of obsolescence, the forts, batteries, and guns left after 160 some odd years of activity speak to the history of the US Army and the United States.

There are few places where a visitor might appreciate the long history of US coastal defenses.  One of them is Fort Moultrie, South Carolina.

Interior of Fort Moultrie Today

The fort stands on Sullivan’s Island at the entrance to Charleston harbor.  Military activity at the site dates back to colonial times.  But Americans first built a fort there in 1776, using a mixture of sand and palmetto logs.  In June of that year, the fort repelled a British invasion fleet.  Although four years later the British would return and capture Charleston, this early victory cemented the southern colonies to the revolutionary cause.  Later the patriots renamed the fort in honor of the commander, William Moultrie.  And recalling the wood used in the fort, they also put the palmetto tree on the South Carolina flag!

Sgt. Jasper raising the Flag at Fort Moultrie

Today the fort represents that fort, and the “First System” fortifications with a standing battery in front of the main fort.

After the Revolution the old fort, like many along the coast, fell into decay.  The poor state of defense alarmed some, but only meager funding for repairs.  But in 1802, Congress authorized the creation of separate engineer and artillery corps.  These newly minted military professionals ushered the “Second System” with improvements to include masonry walls.  With limited funding, few forts along the coast were ready for the next test during the War of 1812.  But even incomplete forts such as Fort Moultrie served as effective deterrents to the British.

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Exterior Walls of Fort Moultrie

After the War of 1812, coast defense received a boost with additional funding.  Some of that went towards research to perfect the forts and weapons. As result, the Army’s ordnance officers perfected a mounting system that offered longer range for coastal guns.

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Seacost gun on wooden barbette carriage at Fort Moultrie

These top-tier “barbette carriages” became a feature of “Third System” forts.  Across the channel of Charleston’s entrance, Fort Sumter received the full Third System design, while Fort Moultrie received bastions and guns in barbette.   But from 1840 onwards, funding came and went depending on the political favor at the time.

The next great test of American coast defenses, the Civil War, started AT Fort Moultrie on April 12, 1861.


Fort Moultrie seen from Fort Sumter in February 1861

To cope with improved cannons and ironclad ships, during the lengthy operations in defense of Charleston the Confederates further improved Fort Moultrie’s defenses.  Confederate engineers placed earth traverses between the guns and introduced heavier, often rifled, guns.

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10-inch Rifled Columbiad at Fort Moultrie on a wooden carriage

After the Civil War, the US Army returned to assume the role of defending against external foes.  Funding again ebbed and little improvements were made.  After cleaning up and improving some of the wartime works, the Army brought massive Rodman guns on wrought iron carriages.  Furthermore, the Army and Navy cooperated on the coast defense mission, with monitors allocated to protect harbor approaches.

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15-inch Rodman Gun on iron carriage

These smoothbore, muzzle-loading guns remained at many points along the coast, including Fort Moultrie, into the 1890s (some were manned in the Spanish-American War).  But the era of black powder muzzle-loaders was over with the appearance of dreadnaughts and submarines.  Responding to technical advances, in 1886 then Secretary of War William Endicott declared the coast defenses obsolete and called for a complete overhaul to include concrete structures, large-caliber breechloading rifles, disappearing mountings, and minefields.  The Army built a  concrete battery with 10-inch rifles on disappearing mounts just outside the brick Fort Moultrie.

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Endicott-era Battery Jasper at Fort Moultrie

It was named Battery Jasper in honor of Sgt. Jasper of the Revolutionary War.  (More details on the battery construction on the Fort Wiki entry page.)

Battery Jasper

The Army placed other batteries, with smaller guns, inside the old brick fort.

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4.7-inch Gun at Battery Bingham

Nearby Battery McCorkle had two 3-inch guns.  Both batteries covered the mine fields in the channel.

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Bouyant Mine

Shortly after the Spanish-American War, Secretary of War William H. Taft (yes later president) announced another round of improvements for the forts.  The Taft board introduced electrical powered machinery, strong searchlights, and more light-caliber anti-torpedo boat guns.  A power generation shop stands behind Battery Jasper as a legacy of the Taft Board.

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Power House behind Battery Jasper

World War I brought significant changes to Fort Moultrie.   The concrete remained, but some of the guns were shipped out for World War I service.  Many of the remainder were scrapped in the inter-war period.  This decline changed with the start of World War II.  Initially the response was to bring in heavy caliber guns.  The Army built a new casemate (as opposed to disappearing mount) battery down the beach from Battery Jasper, giving it the inglorious name Battery 520, mounting two 12-inch guns. But plans to place 16-guns were put on hold.  The old 12-inch battery makes for a good beach-house today.

Battery 520 Today

But the really important addition to Fort Moultrie was the Harbor Entrance Control Post (HECP) placed in the fort’s old east bastion.

Sullivan's Island, Fort Moultrie

HECP at Fort Moultrie

From this point, the coast defenders coordinated with Coast Guard and Navy patrols, aircraft, minefield operators, and gunners to protect the harbor.  Several mobile 90-mm anti-aircraft guns provided defense against any enemy submarines and aircraft.

Although the Army left Fort Moultrie in the late 1940s, arguably the work of coastal defense at Sullivan’s Island continues with Coast Guard activity controlling harbor entry.  The threats have changed but there is still a need to defend the coast.


Filed under army, history

Vintage nose art

Roamy here.  XBradTC seems to have lost internet access today, so I am putting up a much-promised post on nose art.  I thought about a Load HEAT with these, but why wait until Monday?  These are from the book, “Vintage Aircraft Nose Art” by Gary M. Valant.  I believe I bought it at the bookstore at the USAF Museum in Dayton, many years ago.  There are more than a thousand photographs in the book, some that look too good to be on the side of a plane, some X-rated, a few where you wonder whose four-year-old was let loose with a paintbrush.  It was a personalized touch, something to do between missions, a memory of the girl back home (or last R&R).  And the planes are cool, too.


Filed under army, ducks, girls, history, planes


Articles about this robotic Squad Mission Support System, or robo-jeep, have been floating around a couple days now.

In case you didn’t see this, Army is set to sent four Lockheed’s Squad Mission Support System (SMSS) robot jeeps to Afghanistan where they’ll haul supplies for troops. The trucks are being sent there as part of a test program to see just how useful robot cargo trucks can be. The 11-foot long trucks can carry a half a ton of supplies for  up to 125 miles after being delivered to the field in a CH-47 or CH-53 helo.

The SMSS can either lock on to and follow the 3D profile of a soldier using its on-board sensors or it can use GPS to navigate along a pre-programmed route. Oh, and yes, there’s still the option for a man to hop in and drive it.

At about a half a million a pop, that’s a pretty expensive proposition. And it doesn’t solve the problem of the fact that there are a lot of places light infantry go that no vehicle can follow. And that very terrain where the vehicle can’t go tends to be the places where reducing the loads on an infantryman’s back would do the most good, such as extremely steep terrain.

This isn’t exactly a new problem, either. Jeeps, of course, were a handy way to move a lot of stuff around the battlefield, but even so, they were pretty large and heavy, and only had a rated payload of 500 pounds. So the Army set out to find an even better vehicle to support light and airborne infantry. The result was a mechanical mule.

The M274 Mule served from about 1957 to the very early 1980s.

The entire concept of the Mule was to make the lightest, simplest vehicle possible to carry loads. The vehicle was a simple aluminum or magnesium alloy platform. It had a tiny air cooled 2 or 4 stroke engine, no suspension beyond low pressure tires and a little padding on the driver’s seat, and a dirt simple three speed manual transmission. But its 4-wheel drive and 4-wheel steering gave it decent off road mobility. It also had a very impressive load capability. With an empty weight of about 860 pounds, it was rated for a load of 1000 pounds. One Mule might not be able to carry the entire load of an infantry platoon, but you could fit a pretty goodly resupply of water, rations and ammunition on one. And it was simple enough that maintenance was easy even for troops with only the most minimal mechanical training. It also didn’t hurt that the vehicle was dirt cheap.

The Mule was used for more than just carrying supplies. Especially in airborne units, and in the Marine Corps,  where weight and space were at a premium, Mules were used as prime movers for supporting weapons. One commonly seen weapon was the 106 mm recoilless rifle mounted on a Mule. The 106 mm RR was the main weapon of the anti-tank platoon of the airborne infantry battalion. Mounted on the Mule, the platoon was able to rapidly move the weapon, crew, and a ready supply of ammunition throughout the battalion area. Other weapons the Mule carried included company 81 mm mortars (though these were dismounted for firing), and occasionally M2 .50cal machine guns. Later, some Mules mounted the M220 TOW missile system.

As handy as the Mule was, it wasn’t without its problems. First, while it wasn’t road bound, it was restricted to the terrain it could traverse. No vehicle, especially a wheeled vehicle, can go everywhere. Like I said, that’s where the infantry really needs something to carry the load.

Also, the Mule was a pretty dangerous vehicle. There was absolutely no protection for the driver. With a fairly high center of gravity and all wheel steering, it wasn’t hard to flip the vehicle over, crushing the driver. An accident at the top speed of 25 mph could easily have fatal consequences.  Proper training could mitigate this to some extent, but young troops who have only been driving civilian cars for two or three years, and unused to operating off road were often convinced of their invincibility, and all too often disregarded proper procedure with painful consequences.

After the withdrawal of the Mule from service, light forces either used Humvees, or carried their loads on their backs. But for many purposes, the Humvee is simply too large, and for many others, using soldiers as pack animals wasn’t entirely practical either.

Eventually*, the Army started using small numbers of commercially available utility vehicles to carry loads, particularly for airborne and air assault units. One popular model was the GATOR-M, which has seen use in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I’m certainly dubious that providing an autonomous supply vehicle is worth the investment in development costs or production expense. The vehicle, even if it does work perfectly, will still face the problem that it cannot traverse the very terrain the infantry needs to conquer.

If you really want to provide a means of transporting heavy loads where the infantry goes, you will have to revert to an older technology, older even than the Mechanical Mule.

*Long after I’d left- I always had to carry heavy loads on my back!


Filed under army, history

Going great guns…

Another repost since I’m too lazy to write anything this morning. 


Welcome Reddit readers. Part Two is HERE, and Part Three is HERE.

For an army that has used machine guns for a hundred years or so, we have had remarkably few weapons serve as a standard machine gun. When I talk about machine guns, I mean what the Army calls a machine gun, not Hollywood or the press. A machine gun is a weapon that is primarily designed to provide automatic fire, not just one that can. For instance, the M-16 is an automatic weapon. You can set the selector switch to automatic and pull the trigger. The weapon will fire automatically until the magazine is empty. But it was designed to be used mostly as a semiautomatic weapon, where one pull of the trigger fires one round. Machine guns, which are usually belt fed, almost always fire full auto. Many don’t have any provision for semiautomatic fire.

We aren’t going to go back to the Gatling gun and its counterparts. In many ways, they were considered artillery, and treated as such.

The first really successful machine gun in the US Army was the Browning M1917. This gun fired the same .30-06 rifle cartridge as the standard US rifle, but fired it from a cloth belt holding hundreds of rounds. The big fat thing on the barrel is a water jacket. The water in the jacket cooled the barrel when firing long bursts. How long? Well, when Browning was trying to sell the gun to the Army, he fired two bursts, of 20,000 rounds each.  Right now the Army says that an M-4 carbine is ready for replacement after firing 7,000 rounds over the course of its life.

This ability to place huge amounts of automatic fire on target was very much appreciated by  the infantry during the trench warfare of WWI. And it still had a place long after that. With a range of well over 1000 yards, the M1917 could be used to support our troops during an assault. The M1917 remained in service throughout WWII and the Korean War. The Weapons Company of each infantry battalion had a platoon of them.

The only real problem with the M1917 was that it weighed so much. The gun itself was heavy, then there was the sturdy tripod, water in the jacket and a spare water can, and then enormous amounts of ammunition. It was almost a given that a vehicle would be needed to transport the gun team. As the Army tried to get away from static trench warfare, something lighter was needed that could accompany troops on the move. Since most of the Army moved by foot, this would have to be light enough for a team to carry long distances.

Browning had the answer there as well. By removing the water jacket and placing a perforated cooling jacket around the barrel (to allow cooling air to circulate) Browning considerably lightened the gun. Coupled with a new, lightweight tripod, the new gun was adopted as the M1919. While it could not sustain nearly as high a volume of fire as the heavy, water-cooled guns, it could be quickly and easily moved by a three man team , allowing it to follow troops almost anywhere on the battlefield. The three man team consisted of the gunner, who carried and emplaced the tripod (and then fired the weapon when emplaced), the assistant gunner, who carried the gun (and then assisted with loading the gun when in operation) and the ammunition bearer, who carried additional ammunition, and was armed with a rifle to provide local security while the gun was being emplaced.

While the 1919 couldn’t provide the same volume of fire as the 1917, the gun was still incredibly reliable and capable of laying large volumes of fire upon the enemy. It’s vastly superior portability also meant that it would be up front where the fight was. Normally, each infantry platoon had two machine guns assigned. The M1919 was such a solid design, it remained in service from 1919 up until the early 1960′s. (actually, the initial basis of issue was 2 guns per company, but by the end of WWII, most platoons had two guns-ed.)

During WWII, the Wehrmacht (the German Army) was mostly equipped with bolt action rifles. To make up for this lack of firepower, each squad was centered around the excellent MG42 light machine gun. This provided the bulk of the squad’s firepower. The Americans were greatly impressed with this gun. After the war, the Army looked to find a gun that would be lighter than the M1919 and more portable. They wanted a gun much like the MG42, firing from either a tripod or, usually, a bipod, using a buttstock.

After years of development, the Army adopted the M-60 machine gun as its standard medium machine gun. It had a number of “improvements” over the MG-42. It was chambered in the NATO standard 7.62mm x 51 cartridge. It deliberately had a lower rate of fire, to reduce the ammo needed and diminish the need to constantly change barrels.

While the M60 was issued in the same two guns per platoon manner as the M1919, it was often used in the role of a squad automatic weapon, much like the MG42. The M60 became iconic, seen almost every night on the evening news during the Vietnam war. But the M60 wasn’t without its own problems. It was somewhat fragile. When I was an M60 gunner, one of the real issues with the weapon was the various leaf springs on the gun. Many would fall off, even when properly installed. For instance, it wasn’t unusual to lose the leafspring that held the trigger group onto the gun. Soon thereafter, the trigger group would try to get away. We had to lace the guns together with parachute cord or safetywire. This made it almost impossible to disassemble the gun for clearing jams. The feed tray was made of stamped metal and was vulnerable to being damaged from relatively slight impacts. If that happened, the gun wouldn’t feed at all. And the gas piston could be inserted backwards during assembly after cleaning, leading to a gun that wouldn’t fire on full auto.

After trying several modifications to the weapon, the Army finally adopted a new medium machine gun, the M240. This is the American name for the Belgian MAG58, which, ironically, lost the original competition to the M60. The M240 has been in use as a vehicle mounted weapon in the US for about 30 years, but it was only in the mid-1990′s that the services started using it as a standard infantry weapon.

The 240 is a solid, well designed gun. It weighs just a little more than the M60, but is very resistant to damage and very easy to maintain. It is incredibly reliable. If your gun is jamming, UR DOIN IT RONG!

It is ironic that after the development and use of machine guns for 100 years, the Army is using a gun first designed over 50 years ago, one that initially wasn’t adopted largely because of the “Not Invented Here” syndrome.

Part 2 will cover some of the other Great Guns of the US Army.


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

Humvee With Chimney for Safety Draws Military’s Interest –

An innovative chimney to vent blasts from buried bombs could make the Humvee safer and bring the most popular military vehicle since the Jeep back from the sidelines in Afghanistan.

The Humvee fell out of favor in Iraq and Afghanistan as homemade bombs, the biggest killer of American troops, ripped through its light armor and turned it into a death trap.

But recent blast tests show that Humvees built with the new chimney could provide as much protection as some of the heavier, and more costly, mine-resistant vehicles that have replaced them in many uses.

via Humvee With Chimney for Safety Draws Military’s Interest –

The “chimney” lets a major portion of the blast vent next to the gunner’s cupola. I can’t imagine gunne’s will be thrilled with that.

The Humvee was never really intended to be a combat vehicle. It was originally designed to be a replacement for the jeep and a series of pick-up truck sized vehicles.  It has proven remarkably adaptable, but even so, there’s no way it will ever win the race between armor and warhead size.  But even purpose built vehicles in the size range of the Humvee will also suffer from the limitations inherent in setting a small size on a vehicle.

If you want tank like protection, you end up with a tank.

Via War News Updates. 


Filed under Afghanistan, armor, army, ARMY TRAINING

Walter Reed closing, sort of

Roamy here.  When I first read about Walter Reed Army Medical Center closing at Ace of Spades, my first reaction was, “Huh?  Don’t we need that?”  It’s being combined with Bethesda Naval Hospital to form the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.  The new Walter Reed will combine care for all servicemembers with medical personnel from the Army, Navy, and Air Force.  The plan for this move was approved back in 2005 as part of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) proposal, which also includes expanding DeWitt Army Community Hospital at Fort Belvoir.  I hope a newer facility will provide better care for our soldiers than a 102-year-old facility that’s seen its share of scandal.

More details of the move and the specs on the facilities here.

The casing of the colors for the old Walter Reed will take place on Wednesday.  They will be moving patients and personnel throughout August, with the doors scheduled to shut for good September 15.


Filed under army

Make Fort Monroe a National Monument

Craig here.  I ran a post talking about the disposition of Fort Monroe last month on my blog.   The Army finally leaves Fort Monroe in September of this year.  That’s BRAC in action.  At that time, ownership reverts to the state of Virginia.  While Virginia has the option to develop the site as a state park or recreation area, the simple fact is the state does not have the money (and is short on the manpower) to maintain the facilities.

Another option is to sell off the fort for commercial development.  Such has already happened to the Chamberlin Hotel along the waterfront.  And certainly a number of developers have their eye on the beachfront.

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Chamberlin Hotel

However, after nearly two centuries of Army activities, there’s a lot of… well… stuff… left behind.  And I’m not just talking about buildings – debris and waste.  Although cleanup began years ago, likely the job won’t be complete for some time.  Generally, since the “flower-power” days, as at most installations, the Army has been a good steward of the land.  But regardless of the century in which the chemicals were originally spilled, the US Army gets the bill.  That cost was estimated around $200 million in 2008.

Since Fort Monroe served, from the 1830s onward, as a testing ground for all sorts of weapons, the debris left behind is substantial.  Recently crews located this large siege rifle dating to the Civil War era.

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Burst 4.5inch Siege Rifle from the Civil War Era

And that’s not all.  Survey teams have located unexploded ordnance to include cannon shells.  But all that debris is an indicator of activity.  And much of that activity is associated with historical events.   Fort Monroe offers history at every step.

With that in mind, the National Trust for Historic Preservation recently opened discussions about the disposition of Fort Monroe. Last month the trust’s president urged President Obama to use the Antiquities Act and make Fort Monroe a national monument.  The trust continues to lobby in that direction, and has placed emphasis on the fort’s role in emancipation during the Civil War.

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Freedom's Fortress and "Contraband of War"

Rightfully so.  That aspect of the fort’s past is certainly more important in the broader context of our nation’s history.  But as an “Army” guy, I’d also mention the role the fort has played in the history of the service.  Fort Monroe was THE training base for a number of decades.  And I’m not just talking about TRADOC (headquartered there from 1973 onward).  Prior to the Civil War artillerists trained at Fort Monroe.  That continued well into the 20th century.  Arguably Fort Monroe is a better place to showcase the Army’s history than the museum planned near Fort Belvoir (although I must concede, the later will attract more tourists).

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Walls and Moat of Old Fort Monroe

While I’m certainly the first to step forward and oppose expanding the government where it ought not be, I am very much in favor of bringing in the government were it ought to be.  In my opinion, this is a case of the later.  Fort Monroe should be part of the National Park system.


Filed under army, history

Army, Navy, and the JHSV

Craig here.

Don’t think we discussed this news item from earlier in the year:

Army-to-Navy Transfer of U.S. JHSVs Finalized

The move to transfer custody of all five Joint High Speed Vessels (JHSV) to the U.S. Navy was formally agreed upon May 2 with the signing of a memorandum of agreement between the Navy and U.S. Army.

The transfer was approved in December during Army-Navy war fighter talks. Previously, each service was planning to buy, field and crew its own force of JHSVs….

The ships are intended primarily for logistic operations, although they will be armed for self-defense. The aluminum, wave-piercing catamaran JHSVs are under construction by Austal USA in Mobile, Ala., based on a commercial ferry design….

The JHSV program was formed in 2006 from a merger of the Army’s Theater Support Vessel and the Navy High-Speed Connector programs. The Navy has been handling design, contracting and oversight of the program.

The Army operates a sizeable fleet, including landing craft, tugs and barges to support waterborne logistic operations. At the instigation of the then-Army chief of staff, Gen. George Casey, the services last year discussed the potential transfer of all Army watercraft to the Navy, but in the end only the JHSVs will be transferred.


Artist Depiction of the JHSV

At the end of World War II, the Army operated over 120,000 ships.  While most were harbor craft, some of these were large Liberty ships and troop transports. With the consolidation to the Department of Defense, the larger Army vessels went to Military Sea Transportation Service (Military Sealift Command now days).  However the Army continued to operate many smaller ships and vessels in specific roles.

While never as contentious as the Army-USAF battle over armed aircraft (see earlier series on CAS – part one, part two, part thee, and part four), the Army has operated craft that overlapped Navy functions to some degree.  Both the Army and Navy used the same Landing Craft Mechanized (LCM) series for some time.

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LCM-6 at the Army Transportation Museum

Both the Army and Navy used LCM-6 (pictured here) and LCM-8 craft in the ship-to-shore support role.  But of course the Navy had that extra task of putting Marines on the beach.  Both services operated larger Landing Craft Utility (LCU).

Army LCU2000 Class Vessels

The Army also operates a small number of Logistic Support Vessels (LSV) in an intra-theater support role (which the JHSVs were likely to supplement or supplant).

LSV-7 SSGT Robert T. Kuroda

Until the 1990s the Army operated a fleet of ship-to-shore landing hovercrafts designated LACV-30.  Built by the same vendor as the Marines LCAC-1 series, the Army’s hovercraft were not intended for contested beach landings, but they were rather handy to have around.

Of course I’m offering only a quick walk through of the subject here.  The brief point I would make however is that the Army requires some form of ship-to-shore support and intra-theater ship transport.   The question, however, is should the Army retain an organic capability?  Should the Army continue to operate its own fleet alongside the Navy?  Or in the name of cost savings ask the Navy to perform 100% of that role?

And of course the million billion dollar question – is the JHSV the right vessel for those roles?



Filed under army, navy

HULC Isn’t a New Idea

Craig here.  While visiting the US Army Transportation Museum at Fort Eustis yesterday I ran across this experimental “vehicle” on display:

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It is the “Cybernetic Walking Machine” or “Walking Truck” tested by the Army in 1969-70.  General Electric designed the quadraped vehicle to carry 500 pounds over broken terrain or push 1000 pounds across level ground.  The operator sat in the middle of the machine, using foot and arm peddles to move the legs. The vehicle moved at the blazing speed of 5 mph.  Best yet, operator training took only two hours!  (That is before  TRADOC extended the course into six week TDY.)

Want the video?  Here’s the video:

Impressive articulation… for a machine built in the 1960s.  From an engineering standpoint – or perhaps better said – logically the “walking machine” is a distant predecessor of the HULC system mentioned the other day.

10 July 11 680

Now for all those who fear cyborgs going SkyNet on us and taking over the world, the 1970s version of the walking machine used 50 gallons of hydraulic fluid per hour… per hour.  In other words, it still needed human beings to carry around drip pans and drysweep where ever the cyborg went.


Filed under army

The Army’s Quest for its Own CAS – Part 4

At the end of the last post on Army close air support (CAS) developments from the early 1960s, I mentioned one last attempt by the Army to secure an organic fixed-winged CAS capability.  This effort occurred concurrently with the vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) tests, but had strong political backing.

To some degree, the Army’s tests with fast forward air control (FAC), attack jets, and VTOL from 1960 onward were spurred by interest from President John F. Kennedy to improve the arm’s capability in mid- and low-intensity conflicts.  Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara became a strong proponent for army aviation, as he factored ways to increase mobility and potency of the conventional forces.  McNamara merged two schools of thought with regard to Army aviation – those calling for more helicopters and those who wanted improved fixed-wing assets.  The former, involving the genesis of the airmobile concept, deserves full treatment in another post.  Regarding the later, I’ve given a cursory overview of the Army’s experiments with armed fixed-wing aircraft, but keep in mind also the procurement of some very capable theater transports in the time period.

In 1962, McNamara created a “Tactical Mobility Requirements Board” under Lieutenant General Hamilton Howze.  Commonly referred to as the “Howze Board,” the board’s main focus soon became air mobility.  As part of the airmobile concept, the Howze Board explored ways to use both rotary- and fixed-wing platforms to provide direct support.    Keep in mind that man of the jet-turbine powered helicopters (such as the UH-1,  just entering service in the early 1960s, so board members viewed that platform with potential, but had to consider the limitations of the airframes on hand.  But in 1962, the Army did have quantities of a short take-off and landing (STOL) observation plane with a weapons capability.

The Grumman OV-1 Mohawk came from a joint service project.  At the time the Army needed a replacement for the Cessna O-1 Bird Dog observation aircraft, and added the need for sophisticated sensor payloads (infa-red and radar in particular).  The Navy and Marines also wanted an observation plane, but required an armament payload.  After several years of design work, the Marines dropped from the project with concerns for the elaborate electronics packages associated with the sensors.  Air Force pressure made the Army drop any armament requirements.  So when the type first entered production in October 1959, the OV-1 was an unarmed observation plane… that happened to retain all the necessary “plumbing” to be armed.

OV-1A Mohawk

For those not familiar with the Mohawk, the aircraft possessed incredible rough field operating abilities.  Early Mohawks nearly reached 300 mph, but its empty weight of 11,000 pounds required a waiver to pass the Pace-Finletter memo restrictions.  And of course with that waiver, the Air Force insisted the OV-1 should not carry weapons – despite operating over the combat zone and possessing the ability to carry 3,200 pounds of external stores!

When Howze Board issued its recommendations (some sources say fall 1962), it projected a requirement for 24 fixed-wing attack aircraft in the airmobile divisions, 8 in each conventional division, and additional numbers in “separate aviation brigades.”  Of the aircraft available for this role, the board eyed the OV-1′s neglected weapons capability.  As the board’s findings circulated among decision makers, the Army secured approval for a “concept demonstration” of the enhanced airmobile concept, which would include Mohawks flying CAS.  Working with a team of Navy experts, the Army outfitted OV-1s to drop delayed fuse 1000 pound bombs using the two hard-points on the production aircraft.  Although very successful, the Air Force eyed the development with suspicion.

Encouraged, the Army sent fifty-four OV-1As back to Grumman for installation of six underwing pylons, sights, and other equipment to facilitate the CAS mission.  Re-designated JOV-1A, the armed Mohawks carried .50-caliber machine gun pods, rockets (either 2.75- or 5-inch), 500 pound bombs, and flares.  Just like that, the Army had its fixed-wing CAS.

With the involvement in Vietnam becoming more and more important, the Army sent six JOV-1As with the 23rd Special Warfare Aviation Detachment to Southeast Asia for operational tests.  With supportive and vocal responses from the field, the Army soon dispatched more armed Mohawks to Vietnam.  This move met with support again from McNamara, who felt any aircraft in the combat zone should be armed.  While somewhat fuzzy, the video here captures some of those armed Mohawks in operation.  Check out the crew loading the rockets:

But this proved to be the gilded hour of Army fixed-wing CAS.  By 1965, the Air Force had enough of the tests, demonstrations, and operational deployments of armed Mohawks.  Aside from the Army butting into the airspace with armed planes, the Army was also calling for more pilots to support anticipated expansion of the force.  The two services compromised with the Johnson-McConnell agreement in 1966.  Under those terms, the Army gave up both organic fixed-winged CAS and theater transport.  Not only did the Army give up the armed Mohawks, options on the “in the works” AV-8 Harrier, but also the most capable Caribou (CV-2 or C-7) and Buffalo (V-7 or C-8) transports.  While the Air Force gained ascendency over the fixed-winged CAS role, the Army retained all options for rotary-winged attack, assault, and heavy transport.

Under these arrangements, the Army retained the armed UH-1 gunships then employed in Vietnam.  The Army also proceeded with the Advanced Aerial Fire Support System (AAFSS), with the leading candidate being the Lockheed AH-56 Cheyenne.  Calls from field commanders prompted the Army to procure an interim AAFSS, which came to be the Bell AH-1 Cobra.  I’ve not seen such in writing, but the official designation of that helicopter, retaining the “1″ of the Huey line, seemed a paper hedge against Air Force interference.  In the end, the AH-56 proved too much, too fast, and the Cobras became the Army’s attack helicopter until replaced by the AH-64 Apache.

AH-56 - Biggest Cost Overrun Until the Sgt. York!

The Air Force, now “stuck” with the CAS role in a war that required “down and dirty” CAS, found its supersonic fighters insufficient for the job.  Several interim types entered service to include the A-37 attack jet and the F-5A fighter, both tested by the Army in the search for CAS (other aircraft used included A/B-26 Invaders from World War II and A-1 Skyraiders from the Navy).  The Air Force’s CAS role breathed life into the Light Armed Reconnaissance Aircraft (LARA) which eventually produced the Rockwell OV-10 Bronco.  It also birthed the A-X requirement, issued in 1966, for a purpose built CAS aircraft to be flown by the Air Force in support of the Army.  After a fly-off competition in 1972, the Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolt entered production.

A-10 all Dressed Up

And that brings us right up to the current state – the Army with an excellent rotary-winged attack helicopter, but dependent upon the Air Force for fixed-wing CAS.  Only now the airframes have much more flight hours than anticipated and there is no replacement in sight.


Filed under army, history, planes