Tag Archives: armor

An interview with LTG H. R. McMaster

Just prior to departing Ft. Benning, H.R.  McMaster gave an interview with the local newspaper, the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. A lot of it is geared to the local community, but quite a bit of it is applicable across the board, and worth a few minutes.

Maj. Gen. H.R. McMaster is a combination of warrior, intellectual and leader. He was recently recognized by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

McMaster earned a reputation for his 1997 book, “Dereliction of Duty,” which questioned political and military leadership during Vietnam.

Dave Barno, a retired lieutenant general, described McMaster this way: “I watched senior Army generals argue over ways to end his career. But he dodged those bullets and will soon take over command of the Army’s ‘futures’ center. After years as an outspoken critic, McMaster soon will be in the right place to help build the right Army for the nation.”

McMaster has spent two years as commander of Fort Benning. He has been selected for promotion to lieutenant general, and has been reassigned to Fort Monroe, Va., where he will serve as the director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center, Training and Doctrine Command. He has been in charge of the Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning for two years. McMaster recently sat down with Ledger-Enquirer reporter Chuck Williams.


One of the key strengths of our Army is what we call the “philosophy of mission command,” which is basically decentralized operations based on mission orders. It means, “Hey, I’m going to ask you to accomplish a mission, but I’m not going to tell you how to do it. You can figure it out.” That’s the strength of the American Army. It’s that kind of initiative and the ability to apply your imagination to solve problems. What I’ve found here at Fort Benning and across my career is if you give people the freedom to take initiative and help give them the resources they need to accomplish the mission, they’re always going to exceed your expectations.

When you’re a company commander or platoon leader at a remote Combat Outpost in Afghanistan, it’s hard for your commander to micromanage. There are some that are sure to try, but sheer distance has imposed Mission Command philosophy to some extent. Harking back to the WaPo piece on the challenges the Army will face in peacetime, one thing I suspect we’ll see quite a bit of is junior officers, used to operated well away from their chain of command, will increasingly chafe under the daily stress of the battalion commander being right across the street, and the multitude of taskings his staff generates that, to our hard charging officer, have no correlation to success in combat. These officers, who are just as capable of being successful as entrepreneurs as they were combat leaders, will walk out the door. The ones left behind, by and large, will be the ones that need more supervision. And the higher echelons of the unit will give it to them in ever increasing doses.  This “brightsizing” happens to every army in the transition to peacetime. And frankly, I don’t know how to mitigate it. And the worst part is, eventually those micromanaged leaders become senior leaders who, while fully capable of mouthing the philosophy of Mission Command, have internalized the lessons of oversupervision and micromanagement. Let’s hope enough of the cream of the crop can tolerate the avian excrement long enough to rise to senior leadership.


In the comments on a recent post, Byron asked about McMaster being passed over for Lieutenant General the first time.

While then COL McMaster was passed over for promotion to Brigadier General by the first promotion board, there is no promotion board for Lieutenant General. LTG is a nominative rank, and a rank of office. That is, only those positions authorized and required to be filled by a three star general, all of which require the advise and consent of the Senate. If you aren’t serving in one of those positions, you don’t get the three stars.

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Filed under Afghanistan, ARMY TRAINING

More Tank Biathlon

In spite of the tensions between Russia and the US over Ukraine, as far as I know the invitation for US forces to participate in a “run and gun” tank competition hosted by Russia is still on.


I think we could take ‘em.



OPFOR VISMOD waits patiently at NTC

1 Comment

by | June 24, 2013 · 2:08 pm

Saturday Links of Interest

Japan and China face off in the air.

Tensions continued to escalate between Japan and China over disputed islets in the East China Sea on Thursday, with Japan reportedly sending two F-15s from Naha, Okinawa, after several Chinese military aircraft crossed into its Air defense identification zone (ADIZ). China responded by scrambling two J-10s of its own.

Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force spotted the Chinese aircraft in its ADIZ over the East China Sea at about 12pm on Thursday, Kyodo quoted a senior Defense Ministry official as saying, adding that the Chinese aircraft never entered Japanese airspace. Kyodo said the Chinese aircraft penetrated Japan’s ADIZ on three occasions.

It’s not illegal for China to fly into the Japanese ADIZ. But it is understood that any non-scheduled flight into an ADIZ will trigger an interception. So sending military aircraft into the ADIZ is considered rather rude, and provocative. And sooner or later, it will get ugly. It only takes a moment for something like this to turn into a shooting incident.


The Navy’s Task Force Uniform spent 5 years and untold millions coming up with the Navy Working Uniform. It’s ugly, expensive, and best of all, highly flammable!

The U.S. Navy’s standard-issue blue digitized camouflage fatigues are highly flammable and will burn ‘robustly until complete consumption,’ a report revealed last month.
The findings show that the digital-print camo, which is made from 50 percent cotton and 50 percent nylon, will drip as it burns, causing potentially hazardous burn injuries.
But the Navy’s top spokesman said that the government organization is aware of the report findings, and added that sailors had asked for a fade-resistant uniform that was also comfortable.

Big Navy’s response is that sailors who will be in direct contact with fire will have appropriate fire resistant clothing. The problem is, aboard ship, every sailor is a firefighter.

When the USS Stark was struck by two Iraqi Exocet missiles, sailors didn’t have time to change out of their dungarees into firefighting clothing. They fought as they were dressed.  The old cotton dungaree pants and blue chambray shirts might not seem very suitable for firefighting, but in fact, with one hose team spraying fog, and another hose team attacking a fire, the 100% cotton clothing provided excellent protection for most flashover situations. I know, I’ve been in a massive pool of burning jet fuel wearing them.  The blended materiel in the NWU not only burns, it melts, clinging to the wearer’s skin, causing horrific pain, and greatly complicating treatment for burns.

NWU- Making the Army’s ACU fiasco look sensible!


The latest version of the Army’s AH-64 helicopter was developed as the AH-64D Block III. In a move that shows a stunning bit of common sense, the Army finally decided to follow the actual stated policy with regards to Tri-Service aircraft designations and redesignated it the AH-64E.  But just to add to the fun, they also decided that this sub-type of Apache also needs a sub-name. And as usual, they picked a dud. The Guardian. We certainly can’t have a weapon designed to hunt down and kill our foes having an aggressive name, now can we. On Outlaw 13’s Facebook page, he was looking for better names. Given the PC trends of the services, I suggested it should have been named the AH-64E Apache Fluffy Kitten.


The Army is justifiably proud of its networked combat systems, where every vehicle and most troops have instantaneous access to the battlefield internet. Locations of friendly and enemy forces are plotted in real-time, and shared across the battlefield, providing levels of situational awareness that were simply unimaginable in my time. Orders are transmitted digitally, reports are similarly sent across the ether. Logistics, medical support, maintenance and fire support all are managed through this battlefield network.

But what happens when the network fails? Armed Forced Journal has an article that explores this problem. It seems the article is focused a bit above the Brigade Combat Team level, but the questions apply there as well. Our soldiers have spent a decade using these digital tools to facilitate their operations. Can they still execute the mission without them? One wonders if Esli’s rotation at NTC will see a mission or two where the Force XXI Brigade and Below Command and Control System (FB2C2) will be degraded or denied.

Via Bryan McGrath at Information Dissemination


Roamy should like this. It’s got both splodey, AND rocket science!


Filed under armor, army, Around the web

Thursday Links of Interest

There’s some good stuff on the web today that I’m just not gonna have the time to get around to writing about.

From Small Wars Journal, A Future For Armor In An Era Of Persistent Conflict.


At USNI, CDR Sal has some thoughts on the Royal Navy vs. the Japanese Navy Maritime Self Defense Force.


Only magicians should use coin tricks.


The reason Democrats have a reputation for cutting and running in wartime is they have a habit of cutting and running in wartime.


USS Freedom, LCS-1, may finally deploy. She’s only about a quarter way through her life expectancy.


It’s Thursday Random at Hookers&Booze. (a bit NSFW, but a lot funneh)



The Man Purse

I never claimed to be the most macho guy around, but I do at least claim to be a manly man, complete with man card, a member in good standing of the Order of Men, as it were.  Never shall Meggings grace my legs.  My hair color is whatever the good Lord gives me, not Clairol.  I’ve never had a mani-pedi. I shave my face, not my legs.  I’ve got John Wayne posters on the wall, not Justin Bieber. When filling out forms that ask “Sex:_______?” I always answer “lots!”

So I’m a little ashamed to admit one of my prized possessions is…. a purse.


Every soldier, of course, has a helmet. From the old soup plate of World War I, to the classic steel pot of WWII, Korea and Vietnam*, to the Kevlar of my days, up through todays ACH, there’s  a helmet for every noggin’. But quite a few soldiers have a second helmet. Aviators, of course, have their flight helmets. And the crews of armored vehicles have helmets that combine intercom/radio earphones and microphones with padding against the bumps and bruises of cross country travel as well as ballistic protection against the hazards of war.  This Combat Vehicle Crewman’s Helmet is universally known as the CVC.

Unlike most uniform and equipment items, the helmets aren’t generally issued to individuals, but rather exist as part of each vehicles equipment. And to protect the helmet when it’s not being used, the Army issues a padded helmet bag to hold it, again, as part of the vehicles equipment list. This same bag is issued to aviators to hold their helmets.**

Now, in addition to issuing these bags with the vehicles. the Army also makes them available for purchase by individuals at Army Clothing Sales Stores. And just about every troop in a mech or armored unit eventually buys one.  Because, as it turns out, while it does a decent job of holding a helmet, the helmet bag does an outstanding job of holding all the odd bits of stuff and junk you end up carrying with you to the field. Rather than having to climb outside the vehicle and dig through your rucksack to grab an extra pair of socks, pack of smokes, or shaving kit, spare batteries for your Walkman***, your poncho liner or sleep shirt or your paperback book****,   you could just dip into your helmet bag by your side and there it was! Oddly, virtually no one used the bags that were issued by the vehicle. In my unit, we actually stored them in the unit Conex box so they wouldn’t “walk off.” The helmets were either on someone’s head, or tossed onto the floor of the vehicle.  But pretty much everyone, crew and dismount alike, took a helmet bag with them, either to the field, or just about anywhere they went on Army business. Since there were seven or eight bags on each Bradley, most guys personalized their bag at least a little.

Lazy guys just wrote their name on the bag with a permanent marker. The slightly more industrious had a name tape sewed onto theirs. Others made a bit more of a vanity statement, with a name tape, rank badge, and unit patch sewn on, or even more stuff. I was usually more toward the vain end of the spectrum.  Sadly, just about the time I was getting out of the Army, some bastard broke into my car and stole, among other things, my vanity helmet bag. My “vanilla” spare bag, I still have. And use constantly.

As an added bonus, the same bag design has been in use for many, many years. And so I also have the personalized bag my father used when he was still flying for the Navy.  I’m not going to let that one get ripped off.

*Actually, I spent pretty much my first year in the Army wearing a steel pot. It looks funny seeing pics of them now.

**Apache pilots, like our friend Outlaw 13, wear specialized helmets, and so have a specialized bag.

***kids, back in the day, our phones played music too, they just didn’t make phone calls.

****Our Kindles also came in an eco-friendly, organic, recyclable format that didn’t even need batteries!



BMP-3 (with a little shooty and splodey)

The Russian BMP Infantry Fighting Vehicle family has been around since 1967 in various forms. The current production model, the BMP-3, has a very formidable suite of weapons, including a 100mm main gun capable of firing both conventional ammunition as well as a guided missile, a 30mm gun, and a 7.62mm coax gun. As an added bonus, it also features two hull mounted 7.62mm guns.

Before you dismiss the BMP-3 as just more Russian junk, ponder this- when Greece, a NATO ally of ours,  was looking to replace its older Armored Personnel Carriers, they passed up the opportunity to buy US M2 Bradleys, and instead bought the BMP-3.


Filed under armor


Recovery has two main meanings in the Army. The first is the reset of personnel and equipment after a field training exercise, to clean equipment and place the unit back in readiness to deploy or return to field training.  Maybe some day we’ll talk about those adventures.

The second is about towing.

Tracked vehicles are surprisingly reliable. For all the times my Bradley driver or M113 drivers abused the vehicles worse than a mangy dog, breakdowns were rare. But they do happen.

And while the whole point of tracked vehicles is their off-road mobility, there are places that tracked vehicles have a hard time traversing. A few inches of mud are no challenge for a Bradley or a tank. But you’d be surprised at the number of times and places that a track can become mired, so deeply stuck in the mud that driving out just isn’t an option.

And of course, in wartime, if a vehicle breaks down, or is damaged by enemy fire, it need not be a total loss. Recovering that vehicle both saves money, and helps a unit retain combat power for future operations.

So getting a vehicle unstuck, or returning it from the front lines is a valuable skill, one that, while most units don’t dedicate training time to, they nonetheless often have practical experience with.

One the back ramp of every Bradley and M113* there is a steel cable, about 10 feet long, with eyes on each end. Similarly, there are two tow pintles on the front, and two on the rear of each vehicle.  Having your wingman or other vehicle in your unit attempt to tow you out is the norm. If your vehicle is stuck, in a pinch, another vehicle can give you a tug with just one cable. But if there’s just the slightest bit of time available, then you can use both tracks cables. The only real trouble is usually that,if  you’re mired in mud, it takes a heck of a lot of hard, messy work to dig down to where the tow pintles are. They’re fairly low to the ground1, and awkward to reach, even before you managed to get your track stuck in two or three feet of mud. Still, it beats trying to dig out the entire vehicle by hand. When a vehicle is badly mired, more than one additional vehicle may be needed to tow. Two or more tracks can be “daisy chained” to provide the pulling power needed to drag a vehicle out of really bad mud.

Now, if a vehicle has broken down, you’d think that simply towing it would be quite simple. You’d be wrong. First, did you know you have to cross the cables? Instead of just having the cables parallel to one another, you want them in an “X” formation. That provides smoother towing, especially when going around curves. But wait! There’s more! Tracked vehicles steer by braking action. They slow or stop the track on one side to turn. And of course, they stop both to stop. But if your vehicle is broken down, it has no braking power. So in addition to a tow vehicle, you have to have a braking vehicle hooked up via tow cables behind the broken vehicle. The Bradley (or what have you) in front provides the motive power, while the “drag” vehicle in the rear provides braking power, to keep the broken vehicle from rear-ending the first. It also helps provide steering to the broken vehicle. It’s inelegant, but has to be done. On the other hand, you can see where one vehicle breaking down has suddenly occupied 75% of the primary combat power of a platoon. Not an optimal situation.

In the old, old days, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, and infantry battalions were equipped with the M113, each company had attached an M578 Recovery Vehicle. Using the chassis of the M110 howitzer, the M578 was easily capable of towing an M113, and also had a crane that could change engines and help change the track on vehicles.


The M578, admirable as it was, was far, far too small to recover tanks such as the M60 of the Cold War years, much less the 70 ton M1 Abrams. Tank units were equipped with the M88 recovery vehicle, a much larger beast. Based on the hull of the M60, the  M88 replaced the turret with a cab, and had a massive A-frame for lifting. It also had a dozer blade on the front. While that blade could do some very limited earthmoving, it was mostly to provide stability when lifting very heavy loads.


I look at the above picture, and I’m kind of curious just how the crew managed to get an M60 on its side like that. Normally, you don’t see tank rollovers on level ground.

The M578 was too  small to service the 26 ton Bradley, but the M88, designed for the 50 ton M60 was more than adequate. Each company of Bradley infantry (and each troop of Bradley cavalry) has an M88 in support. 2

But because the M88 was designed to support the 50 ton M60 series tanks, it was found somewhat wanting when it was tasked to support tank companies with 70 ton M1 Abrams tanks. The upgraded M88A2 Hercules is better, but not perfect. But as of now, there are no plans to replace it in the maintenance units of the Army.


M88A2 Hercules.

Wheeled vehicles get stuck pretty often as well.  The wheeled vehicles of a mechanized or armored company can, of course, be recovered by an M88. The battalion headquarters also has a wheeled 5-ton wrecker for support. Since most of the wheeled vehicles are in the headquarters company, it makes sense to keep the wrecker there.


Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles (FMTV) 5-ton Wrecker

Most wheeled vehicles don’t carry a tow cable. A certain percentage of wheeled vehicles are equipped with a winch, for either self recovery, or to recover other wheeled vehicles.

One of my favorite pieces of recovery equipment was specifically for recovering Humvees. Instead of a wire tow cable, where you take a strain, then pull the vehicle slowly and steadily, some units in the 1990s began to be issued AKERR- The Allied Kinetic Energy Recovery Rope. A strong synthetic rope, instead of taking a strain, and then pulling, you’d get the recovery Humvee as close as possible, with as much slack as possible to the stuck vehicle. Then you’d gun the heck out of it. The stretchy rope would spring like a rubber band, greatly increasing the (temporary) bollard pull weight, and snatching the stuck vehicle out of all but the most mired vehicles. I’m not saying I ever got a Humvee stuck. But I’m not saying I haven’t, either.

*M1 tanks also carry a tow cable, but just where they stow it escapes my memory for the moment.

1. Tow pintles also double as tie-down points for rail, truck, air or sea transport.

2. While each company has an M88 in support, the vehicles and the crews belong to the maintenance platoon of the battalion Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC). The battalion maintenance platoon has teams dedicated to direct support of each line company, as well as a team or teams for the HHC vehicles. A typical company maintenance team consists of an M88, an M113, and a 2-1/2 ton truck for spare parts. The team is usually about squad sized.



The Armored Cavalry Regiment

The mission of the Cavalry is to conduct reconnaissance, provide security, and perform economy of force operations.

As mentioned in a previous post, each heavy corps in Europe had its own Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR). Let’s take a look at these formations.

Ordinarily in the history of the Army, regiments have been branch specific. That is, an infantry regiment was almost exclusively full of infantrymen. Similarly, a cavalry regiment was full of horse troopers.

But the Cold War ACR, ironically, was a combined arms formation, integrating scouts, armor and fire support all the way down to the troop level.1


Scout Platoon- The basic building block of a cavalry unit is the Scout Platoon. Each Scout Platoon consisted of six M3 Bradley Cavalry Fighting Vehicles (CFVs). The M3 was identical to the beloved M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle your humble scribe served on, except the internal arrangements provided for only two dismount personnel instead of seven, and allowed greater internal stowage for ammunition and TOW missiles. Each CFV had a crew of three and two dismount scouts.2 One Lieutenant and 29 enlisted soldiers formed the platoon.

Cavalry Troop- Here’s where the organization of Cavalry units began to get interesting. Each Cav troop had two scout platoons. But because troops would often operate well separated from one another, outside of mutual support, the troop needed a bit more firepower. So each troop also had a tank platoon. The four M1 tanks of the platoon were equipped an organized identically to any tank platoon in an armor unit. In addition, to provide some level of organic fire support, the Cav troop also had its own self propelled mortar section, with two M106 4.2” mortar carriers. The troop headquarters consisted of the CO mounted in a tank, the XO, supplied with an M3, and an M577 command post vehicle (based on the ubiquitous M113), a fire support section, a maintenance team, and the 1sg with the company supply trains. At a time when Infantry and Armor battalions only intermingled when task organized in the field, the Cav troop was a combined arms organization at all times, with Scouts, Armor, Infantry (via the mortar section), Field Artillery (via the FIST team) and logistics. A Cavalry troop might not have a lot of staying power, but it sure had a lot of punch.

Cavalry Squadron- Three Cavalry Troops formed the heart of a Cavalry squadron. In addition to a Headquarters and Headquarters Troop (HHT), the ACS also had an M1 tank company, further boosting the squadron’s firepower. And because squadrons might typically be widely separated, each squadron had its own eight gun battery of M109 155mm self-propelled artillery.

Regimental Aviation Squadron- As if the firepower of the three ground squadrons wasn’t enough, the Armored Cavalry Regiment also had its own Regimental Aviation Squadron or RAS. The RAS had three troops of Air Cavalry for reconnaissance (total 24 OH-58D Kiowa Warriors) and two Attack Helicopter Troops (total 16 AH-64 Apache attack helicopters). The RAS provided the ability to see deep into enemy territory, or to cover any gaps in a screen the regiment might be conducting. To provide the lift capability, the RAS also had an Assault Helicopter Troop with 15 UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters. In addition to hauling troops and supplies, the Blackhawks were often used by the Regiment and squadrons as Command and Control birds to allow commanders to physically visit subordinate units spread over wide areas, rather than spending many hours driving from point to point. Finally, the HHT was also home to four EH-60 helicopters providing SIGINT and jamming capability.

The Armored Cavalry Regiment- . The fifth squadron in the regiment was the Regimental Support Squadron, providing the logistical, maintenance, medical and administrative support similar to that which support battalions would provide to a division.

The ACR also had an organic Engineer company, Military Intelligence company, and an Air Defense Artillery Battery (with Stinger and Avenger ADA systems) to round out its combat power.

Finally, while not organic to the ACR, corps headquarters often tasked an entire Field Artillery brigade in direct support of the ACR, with each of the three battalions of 155mm guns supporting one Cavalry squadron. That is about three times the artillery support most infantry or armor battalion commanders could count upon.

The combined arms, and supporting services of the ACR has caused it to be described as a “pocket division” and indeed, it was a potent weapon. 5

Roles and Missions

As noted above, the role of the ACR was to provide the heavy corps commander with reconnaissance, security, and economy of force.

Reconnaissance -Reconnaissance is the means by which the commander gathers information on the enemy and the terrain upon which he will fight. In an era of UAVs and recon satellites, it may seem archaic to send scads of scouts out onto the battlefield to locate the enemy. But UAVs and satellites can be foiled by cloud cover, or deceived by a careful enemy. More importantly, just knowing where an enemy is doesn’t tell the commander what he needs to know. More than just where an enemy is, a commander needs to know divine his plans and intentions. Cavalry, by “fighting for information” can force an enemy to disclose his scheme of battle, his fire support plans, communications plan3 and more.  By maintaining contact with enemy formations, cavalry mitigates any enemy attempts at deception operations. After all, it’s hard for the Guards 102nd Tank Division to pretend to be threatening in the north when they’re engaged in the south.

Cavalry reconnaissance also generates intelligence on the terrain the corps will fight upon. Are there trafficability issues in the corps area? Will the bridges and roads support the corps traffic? Will it support the enemy traffic?4 By knowing the terrain intimately, a good commander can make a fair estimate of likely positions an enemy will move to and routes to be used.

Security- No commander should allow the enemy to surprise him. Security operations both deny the enemy reconnaissance upon our forces, and provide our forces early warning of enemy movements and attacks.

The classic Cold War  ACR screening mission was to cover the border between East and West Germany before a Warsaw Pact invasion of the NATO countries. Covering the front of a corps, the ACR would first detect enemy movements across the border. The ACR would avoid becoming decisively engaged. That is, it was of prime importance for the regiment to not get pinned down. When the pressure became too great, they would fall back, either to another line of positions, or through the lines of the main body of the corps, the heavy divisions, handing off the fight to them. But before the regiment slipped away, it would want to destroy the Soviet reconnaissance effort, and if possible, the advance guard of the main body of the invasion. Beyond the salutary effects of attriting the  enemy, this counter recon battle also deprives the enemy of intelligence on our main body’s dispositions and plans. If the ACR is successful in this fight, it can seriously slow the enemy advance, sow confusion on the ranks, and generate opportunities to seize the initiative. A further objective during this covering force battle is to determine where the enemy main effort. This allows the defending corps to allocate resources where they will do the most good.

The regiment can also often be found guarding the flanks of the corps during movement, to protect against any flanking attacks from the enemy.

Economy of Force- Economy of Force is simply using the least resources needed to perform a mission. The ACR isn’t a Heavy Brigade, nor yet an armored division, and shouldn’t be used like one. But let us suppose our corps commander is attacking a dug in enemy tank division. His mechanized infantry division has engaged the front of the enemy division to fix him in place, while his armored division has begun to sweep around a flank to deliver the coup de grace. To keep the neighboring enemy division from counterattacking, he needs to stage a secondary attack on it. Rather than deploying his independent brigade, he may choose to hold that in reserve to exploit any successes, and instead task the ACR to fix the second enemy division in place. While the primary roles of the ACR are recon and security, it can attack, defend, and cover a retreat.

The Past and the Present

Desert Storm- When the ground war phase of Desert Storm kicked off on 24 February, 1991, the invasion of Kuwait was led by the Marines, coalition partners, and some US Army elements. The far left flak of the coalition was guarded by the XVIIIth Airborne Corps (in a kind of giant cavalry mission, forming a screen, as well as blocking Iraqi lines of retreat). The main effort, though, was the 5 heavy divisions of the VIIth Corps. And in the lead was the corps Armored Cavalry Regiment, the 2nd ACR. In deplorable weather, the 2ACR lead the way, showing the corps path was clear. And when the corps finally came to grips with the Republican Guard, it was 2ACR that first encountered them. Probably the most famous engagement of Desert Storm was the fight of (then) Captain Harold McMaster’s Eagle Troop, 2nd Squadron, 2nd ACR at the Battle of 73 Easting. This company sized element ran headlong into the tanks and armored personnel carriers of a Republican Guard division, and seized the initiative, and in an incredible fight, tore the heart out of the Iraqi formation.

Present Day- While there are still formations in the Army named Armored Cavalry Regiments, they are really ACRs in name only. The 2ACR  and 3rd ACR today are  Stryker Brigade Combat Teams, and the 11th ACR, when not deployed to Iraq as a Heavy Brigade Combat Team, serves as the Opposing Force at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin.

While the Armored Cavalry Regiment may be no more, Cavalry is far from dead. We’ll take a look at todays cavalry squadrons in a later post.


1. Cavalry formations substitute the term “troop” for “company,” and “squadron” for “battalion.”  Similarly, a “battery” is a company sized element in the artillery branches.

2. Well, two dismount scouts in a perfect world. Very few units ever had all the personnel they were supposed to have. If a Scout Platoon has fewer people than it was authorized, the CFVs would be fully crewed first, then the platoon would field as many two man teams as it could. These dismounted scouts could provide immediate local security to the scout platoon, or they could conduct a more stealthy reconnaissance than a 30 ton Bradley. What they couldn’t really do was fight as infantry. The platoon lacked sufficient numbers of dismounted scouts to do so.

3. By forcing the enemy to communicate, intelligence at either the ACR or higher levels can gather information on the enemy commo plan, and even likely determine locations of command posts, artillery support, and other assets.

4. If you know key chokepoints where the enemy will have little room to maneuver, you can more successfully employ obstacles, artillery and close air support, and attacks by maneuver elements. For instance, if an enemy division only has one likely crossing point of a river, you can wait until the last moment, and blow up the bridge in his face. While his troops are massed at the crossing point, waiting for assault bridging elements to arrive, they make a dandy target for supporting fires, while protecting your force from a flanking attack.

5. Ironically, the “forward deployed” brigades in Europe (which were really separate brigades) were commanded by Brigadier Generals, but the larger, more complex ACR was a Colonel’s command.  A successful command tour was almost sure to guarantee promotion to at least Brigadier General, and if you look at the four star Generals that came from an Armor/Cavalry background, most had a tour as an ACR commander. One of the reasons much of the Army was stunned when (then) COL H. R. McMaster was first passed over for BG was that he’d had a very successful tour as commander of the 11th ACR, the traditional path to the stars, in combat in Iraq no less!

A final note- Cavalry Scout is a specific Military Occupational Specialty in the Army, 19D to be precise. But officers in the Armor career field can be assigned to either Cavalry or Armor formations. And there are any number of formations that carry the battle honors and traditions of Cavalry units. Try telling any of the aviators in the RAS they weren’t Cavalrymen and they’ll let you know just how wrong you are. For a lot of folks, Cavalry is a state of mind more than anything else.

Update: Commenters have notice a few errors on my part. Guilty. I was a tad surprised that I couldn’t easily find the doctrinal pubs covering the ACR during the late 80/early 90s, and instead had to use a mid 1990s version. Having said that, FM17-95 Cavalry Operations, DEC 1996, is a very interesting manual, showing a blend of the previous AirLand Battle Doctrine, and the evolving post Desert Storm Doctrine that would continue to evolve up to the War on Terror. It goes into great detail on planning, combat support, and service support, and most of the concepts it discusses can be extrapolated to give insight into how the larger army viewed those operations. Armchair generals may be interested in reading it.



The Master Gunner

In the Army, particularly the combat arms, we expect people of all ranks, but especially NCOs, to be reasonably proficient with the full array of weapons at their disposal. For instance, while an infantry team leader may only be currently qualified on the M4 carbine, as his personal weapon, we expect him to be skilled enough to operate, and more importantly, train other to operate, the other weapons in the infantry fire team and rifle platoon, such as the M249 machine gun, the M203/320 grenade launchers, and the M240 machine gun.

But complex weapon systems such as the gun and fire control systems of the M1 tank, and the gun, missile and associated fire control systems on the M2/M3 family call for an expert not just on the simple operation of the weapons, but of the employment of them. Shooting the main gun is easy. Training a team or crew to effectively fight the vehicle in accordance with the established training methods is a lot more information than the Army can reasonably expect every NCO in a unit to possess.

Accordingly, as the linked article notes, back in the 80s, Armor started the Master Gunner program to provide each battalion (and ideally, each company) with a trained expert on maintenance, operation, and training for the M1 tank gunnery system. The program was a big success, building institutional knowledge both of the technical aspects of gunnery, but also the training aspects.  Units have a very limited amount of time and ammunition to qualify their crews, and having a Master Gunner to assist in ensuring as many crews are as qualified as possible with the fewest rounds needed was a big help to commanders.  The Master Gunner program quickly expanded from just Armor to mechanized infantry and cavalry as well.

Per Strategy Page:

The U.S. Army began its Master Gunner program in the late 1980s, as one of many post-Vietnam innovations and reforms. Army tank and mechanized infantry (equipped with M-2 Bradleys battalions) each had a “Master Gunner.” This was a senior NCO whose job was to continually improve the marksmanship training for cannon gunners (120mm guns in tanks and 25mm autocannon in M-2s). The Master Gunner conducted training courses, worked with those who had difficulty improving their skills, and sought out the best marksmen to become the next generation of Master Gunners.

Actually, while one had to be a competent marksman to be selected to attend Master Gunner School, one didn’t have to be the best marksman.  Far more important than being a good shot from a tank or Bradley was the ability to be a good instructor to other crews, and a good advisor to the commander. An NCO who shoots 90% and is a great teacher is a lot more valuable than one who shoots 100% and can’t pass on his expertise.

As the article notes, this success has lead to the Infantry instituting similar courses for other weapon systems. Back in the day, we didn’t have an M47 Dragon Master Gunner course, but we did have a fairly robust, if informal, system of identifying subject matter experts (SMEs) on the Dragon. The Dragon anti-tank missile was a “low density” weapon, in that very few people actually got to shoot them in peacetime. But it was also a very hands-on weapon system that took  a lot of finesse to operate well. And so the few folks that had fired more than one were in high demand to coach new gunners to an acceptable level of competence.

Today, other weapon systems that would need similar levels of expertise would include the Dragon’s replacement, the Javelin anti-tank missile. There are also a fair number of other systems in the infantry where it is a good idea to have an expert at hand to make sure training for the end user is up to snuff.

My only concern with the proliferation of such Master Gunner courses is that the NCOs in the trenches must still recognize that no matter how many Master Gunners, for however many weapons systems there are, it is still that the leader’s responsibility to ensure his troops are trained and qualified on the weapons assigned.  You can turn to an MG for help, but you can’t dump the responsibility for training in his lap.

Full disclosure, I flunked out of the Army’s Bradley Master Gunner course because I couldn’t draw a Surface Danger Area Diagram. I learned a lot on the course, but my inability to complete a nice, tidy diagram meant I got to go home without a diploma.  In the event, after leaving the school, my unit was scheduled for inactivation, and I never attended another Bradley gunnery.



Why 25mm?

A repost of one of my earliest entries here. I’m going to post a few of my earlier posts, since most of you weren’t around to see them the first time. I’ve also taken the time to made a few corrections.


The Bradley has a 25mm automatic main gun mounted in its turret. It also has a two round TOW missile launcher and a 7.62mm machine gun next to the main gun. 25mm is an oddball size ammunition. The US has previously tended to use the same calibers over and over. Examples would be 20mm, some 37mm, and lots of 40mm weapons. So why did the 25mm come in to use with the Brad?

The Bradley family of vehicles was developed in the late 60′s and throughout the 70′s largely as a response to the Soviet BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicle, and primarily with the defense of Germany and Western Europe in mind. The Red Army was huge. Even considering that the US sector of the defense was fairly narrow, units would be facing massive numbers of Soviet tanks, BMPs, and BTR wheeled armored personnel carriers (APC’s). The M-113 was armed with only an M-2 .50cal machine gun. That’s a great gun, but it was insufficient to defeat BMPs and BTRs. Our Army’s tanks would have their hands full just trying to defeat the awesome numbers of Soviet tanks. Clearly, the next vehicle would have to have an anti armor capability. In addition, a prime infantry mission is to suppress enemy infantry and keep them from employing their own wire-guided anti-tank missiles against US tanks and infantry vehicles. It was a foregone conclusion that the next vehicle would have an auto-cannon. This was hardly new. Many M-114 scout vehicles had carried an M-139 20mm cannon. The question was, which gun?

The M-139 was a very attractive option. It was already in service, there were lots of them in the inventory, there was a ready supply of ammunition and a mount already existed for them.

There were several drawbacks to the M-139, however. Maintenance had been difficult for M-114 units, and the gun lacked range and a good armor-piercing round. Also, the exposed action of the gun was vulnerable to dirt and moisture, causing a high failure rate. Surely the Army could do better.

About this time, Hughes came up with the concept of a “Chain Gun”. Rather than using recoil or gases from the firing of the weapon, an electric motor would drive a bicycle chain in a continuous loop. A cam mounted on the chain would fit into a slot on the bolt carrier of the weapon and provide the power to feed, load, fire, extract, and eject the ammo for the weapon. Best of all, the system was scaleable. Chain guns have been made from 7.62mm up to 35mm, and could conceivably go larger. The design was virtually jam free (15,000 rounds between failures), fairly lightweight, the rate of fire could be adjusted just by changing the power of the motor, and could accept two different types of ammo from two feed chutes. So the Army had the gun design it wanted. The question now was, what size.

Everyone who comes here should know that you need to bring enough gun to the fight. But what most folks don’t realize is that in the Army, you also don’t want to bring too much gun. You want just enough to get the job done. Too much gun means more weight, more space needed (which almost always means even more weight), more space needed for ammo, and fewer rounds carried, and it generally costs more as well. It also leads to a larger muzzle blast, making it easier to spot.

After quite a few live fire tests of various sized guns (often on Soviet vehicles captured during the 1973 Sinai War), the Army settled on the M-242 25mm gun. To the best of my knowledge, this was the first 25mm in Army service. Ever. When I first started working on Bradleys in 1990, I was curious how they settled on that, and not just the bore size, but the velocity and range characteristics. A look at the potential battlefields of Europe gave me the answers.

The M-242 originally fired two types of operational ammunition and two types of training ammunition. There was an APDS-T (armor-piercing, discarding sabot-tracer) round, an HEI-T (high explosive incendiary-tracer) round, a TPDS-T (training practice discarding sabot-tracer) round and a TP-T (training practice-tracer) round.

The APDS-T round had an effective range of 1700 meters, or just over a mile. When fired, the sabot fell away, leaving a 12.7mm (.50 cal) slug of tungsten to travel to the target. It penetrated the armor by kinetic energy, with no explosive charge. Given Soviet vehicle design, 3-5 hits should disable a vehicle, it’s crew, or start a fire from onboard fuel and ammo.

The HEI-T round had a range of up to 3000 meters, or a little over a mile and a half. Upon impact or at 3000 meters, the round would explode. The bursting charge was high explosive with a effective radius of 5 meters. The charge also had an incendiary component to start fires.

Mounted coaxially (that is, wherever the main gun pointed, it pointed too) to the main gun was a M-240C 7.62mm machine gun with an effective range of 900 meters. This fired the standard 4 ball/1 tracer mix.

These ranges actually have a basis in doctrine and desired effects on the then current Soviet forces. 1700 meters for the ADPS-T round matched the average field of fire in Western Europe and outranged the BMP’s main gun by about 800 meters. It didn’t need to shoot further since there were few places that you could see the enemy that far away. The HEI-T round self destructed at 3000 meters- The same range as the Soviet AT-3 Sagger anti-tank missile the gun would be used to suppress. Basically, it was like tossing hand grenades a mile and a half, two hundred times a minute. You didn’t even have to kill the missile crew, just rattle them enough to make them miss. Given that a Sagger could take up to 30 seconds to travel the full 3000 meters, you could put quite a few HEI-T rounds in the missile crews direction.

The coax 7.62mm gun’s 900 meter range also just happened to match the maximum range of the Soviet RPG-7 anti-tank rocket launcher.

It came as quite a shock to me to realize that the Army had actually put quite a bit of thought into just how to arm the Bradley. Once I realized that, I started seeing a lot of other weapon systems where design decisions made a lot more sense. A lot of the doctrine of the day became clear as well. Just wait till I give you the lesson on AirLand Battle Doctrine in the 1980′s.



Daily Dose of ‘Splodey

A nice little Swedish live fire demo.

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You may have noticed we’re generally a fan of evolutionary versus revolutionary development of weapons. The M247 SGT York Divisional Air Defense System or DIVADS should have been a prime example of this evolutionary approach, but was instead a poster child for failed weapons development programs.

By the late 1960s and early 1970s the M163 Vulcan was increasingly obsolescent as the Short Range Air Defense platform for the protection of the maneuver forces of a heavy division. With an effective range of only about 1200 meters, the Vulcan couldn’t be relied upon to engage Soviet attack helicopters attacking with wire guided anti-tank missiles from up to 3000 meters. The Army had the MIM-72 Chapparal missile system to overcome this range deficit, but the Sidewinder based missile had a much longer reaction time than any gun based system, too long to effectively engage helicopters in the 20 to 30 seconds a Sagger missile attack might take. The Chapparal, with its early generation seeker head, also had trouble locking on to head on attacks.  Finally, both the Chapparal and the Vulcan, based on the M113 hull, had trouble keeping up with the new M1 and M2/M3 vehicles on the battlefield.

The Army requested proposals for a radar directed gun system in the 30mm to 40mm range.  The Army had already prioritized its spending to support acquisition of “The Big Five” programs*, so money for development of any other systems would be tight. The RFP urged contractors to use as many off-the-shelf components as possible. About half a dozen contractors submitted proposals, and eventually General Dynamics and Ford Aerospace were awarded development contracts to build prototype systems.  After a controversial shoot-off, Ford Aerospace’s entry was selected.

Ford’s entry, named the M247 Sgt. York, used a surplus M48 Patton tank hull, a newly designed turret mounting twin Bofors 40mm L/70 cannons, and a search and track radars. The track radar was derived from the APG-66 radar of the F-16.


The choice of a derivative of the APG-66 proved problematical almost immediately. Remember, the APG-66 had been designed for the air to air environment. At ground level, it suffered greatly from ground clutter, making it very difficult for it to distinguish targets against the back ground of trees, rocks, buildings, powerlines and moving vehicles. This was the early days of digital radar signal processing and fire control. Programmers had little experience in designing software to work in such a difficult environment, and further, there were very real limits on the computational power in early digital radar signal processors. The General Electric proposal had used a radar system derived from the Navy’s Phalanx guns system, which was designed to work in  a cluttered surface environment. Whether it would have been easier to adapt is an open question.

Further, the while mounting an aircraft radar on a tracked vehicle exposes it to stresses far different from on an aircraft. Vibration and dust are killers to delicate electronics, and the radar system suffered from reliability issues.

The Army was pretty much forced by fiscal restraints to use the M48 hull, but that had its own costs. The M48 was never as fast as the M1 and M2/M3 vehicles it was supposed to protect. The new 20 ton turret actually weighed more than the original tank turret is replaced, placing further strain on its performance. Apparently, hydraulic leaks in in the turret were a fairly common occurrence as well.

Initial production began, and work to alleviate the problems continued, but it eventually became clear that no (reasonable) amount of money would overcome the flaws in the design. The gun/radar combination never achieved any great success in destroying targets, even under the most benign testing.

Eventually, in 1985, the program was cancelled. About 50 systems had been built. Most were eventually used as targets on Air Force bombing ranges, but some were donated as museum pieces.

The need for a short range air defense system hadn’t disappeared, but given the other needs of the Army, funding for a replacement program was still a low priority. After an aborted attempt to procure the ADATS (Air Defense/Anti-Tank System) missile mounted on an M113 chassis, the Army eventually settled on mounting Stinger missiles on a Humvee chassis as the Avenger system, and on the Bradley as the M6 Linebacker system. The collapse of the Soviet Union meant by the mid 1990s, the perceived need for short range air defense had lessened, and the M6 Linebackers were withdrawn from service, many to be rebuilt as B-FIST fire support team vehicles.  Current short range air defense for heavy brigade combat teams rely on Avenger systems and shoulder fired Stinger missile teams.

The Army realized it was taking a higher risk approach to the DIVADS problem by trying to adapt components designed for one purpose to a new mission, and compressing the development timeline. They failed, however, to conduct a realistic risk assessment, and when the program showed obvious shortcomings, the threw good money after bad in an effort to save the program. They could have learned a lesson aviators have been relearning since the Wright brothers- don’t attempt to salvage a bad approach. Go around.

*The Big Five were the M1 Abrams, the M2/M3 Bradley, the UH-60 Blackhawk, the AH-64 Apache, and the MIM-104 Patriot.


Filed under armor, army, guns, history


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

Army Acquisition Woes

From the mid 1970s through the early 1980s, the focus of the Army’s major acquisition program was on rebuilding the post-Vietnam force to face the challenges of the Soviet threat to Western Europe. In those days of extremely tight budgets, the Army had to exercise a remarkable degree of self discipline to decide which programs were really needed, and to shepherd them from conception to production and fielding. The Army’s challenge was to get the greatest possible increase in combat power with the smallest possible cost in dollars. Congress and the public were in no mood to support massive spending on defense, but the Army was in desperate need of new equipment. The only way the Army could convince the nation to support it was to have a well thought out plan, not just for acquisition, but how the Army would use that equipment, and why the programs supported had to be funded to implement that strategy.

In the end, as what later became known as the AirLand Battle doctrine began to gel, the Army focused on The Big Five- The M1 Abrams tank, the M2 Bradley fighting vehicle, the UH-60 Blackhawk utility helicopter, the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter, and the MIM-104 Patriot surface to air missile system.

All five of these programs were controversial at the time, as each had a high unit cost, but by the early 1980s, it was clear that each program was successful, and while expensive, a wise investment.

Since the Big 5, there hasn’t been any successful major Army modernization programs (with the possible exception of the Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles, the replacement for the old deuce-and-a-half and 5-ton trucks) . If you look at the major weapons for the Army today… It’s still M1s, M2s, UH-60s, and AH-64s, with Patriot still providing air defense.

The Army’s major procurement programs since then have mostly been a tale of woe. The poster child for letting ambition and requirements get out of touch with the state of the art, and the needs of the Army was the LHX program, which was originally designed to produce a family of helicopters that would replace the Huey, the Cobra, and the Kiowa. In the end, it was trimmed down to a light attack helicopter, the RAH-66 Comanche, but it was so hideously expensive, and filled such a niche role that it was superfluous to the real needs of the Army. But a program that runs for 20 years and costs untold billions of dollars is hard to kill. It took SecDef Rumsfeld a couple of stabs at the beast to finally slay it. Other programs that seemed to run forever included the Crusader howitzer project and the gigantic Future Combat System program.

The only procurement programs the Army seems to be able to run with anything resembling competence are those that are conducted outside the normal channels. such as the Stryker program (which was seen as an interim program until FCS came along) and quick reaction purchases such as the MRAP vehicle fleet and a lot of the personal equipment that the Army couldn’t find money for until it was in a shooting war (in spite of the fact that most of those purchases were relatively cheap).

Defense Professionals magazine has an OpEd on the Army’s programmatic woes.

This record of failure is all the more striking in view of the Army’s relative success with rapid acquisition of a variety of platforms and systems. The best known are the MRAP and M-ATV protected vehicles. But in many ways the acquisition of soldier clothing and individual equipment has been even more successful. PEO Soldier has demonstrated the ability to rapidly develop and deploy a range of new capabilities including remote weapons stations, enhanced low light/night vision goggles, man-portable robots, laser designators and cold weather clothing. Collaboration with third-party product integrators has resulted in an ability to rapidly meet a wide range of urgent operational needs for clothing and equipment at relatively low cost.
The question still unanswered is whether the broken peacetime acquisition system can be fixed. The Army has two major procurements coming soon. The first is the Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV), the successor to the Future Combat System. The second is the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) intended as the replacement for the lighter and less well protected Humvee. The GCV program has already been halted and restarted once. There are recent reports that the JLTV may be afflicted with that dreaded disease which has killed many Army programs in the recent past: changing requirements. The cost of the individual GCVs and JLTVs may also be a “killer.”

One of the hallmarks of recent troubled or failed programs in not just the Army, but all the services has  been “families” of systems. Every time one of the services starts a program that is bound to be expensive, they add requirements to the capabilities in order to justify spending so much money on the program. But that drives up the technical challenges and the cost, both of research and development, and the eventual unit price and the life-cycle costs. And the added “capabilities” demanded add technical risk to the program, which always results in cost overruns, and adds additional oversight, reviews, and changes to the program, all of which add greatly to the cost and timeline of the program.

Examples of this bloat in requirements abound. The VH-71 Marine One helicopter program, the JSF, the Navy’s LCS program, the FCS family of systems, you name it.

The current Ground Combat Vehicle system program is setting itself up for failure in a similar fashion. The Army seems to have convinced itself that it can procure a common vehicle to be used both as the successor for the Abrams tank and the Bradley family of vehicles.  While the Stryker family of vehicles comes in a wide variety of variants, the Army explicitly recognized that all variants would be compromises of one sort or another. But perfect tomorrow is the enemy of good enough today. But the GCV program doesn’t seem to recognize that.

Unless and until the Army can impose a disciplined set of realistic requirements, and stick to them, for each system and avoid at all costs overreaching and bloat in its programs, it is destined to fail again. While the Army and the other services have to operate under the ridiculously onerous DoD 5000 series of procurement regulations, they have also been their own worst enemies in acquisition. There are many members of Congress on both sides of the aisle that are willing to spend limited resources to fund the Army, but only if the money is well spent. And until the Army can show a clear and compelling case for its procurement strategy, they won’t have earned that goodwill, from either Congress or the American people. The leadership of the Army would be well advised to study the history of the Big Five.


Filed under armor, army

Vehicle BDAR

Battle Damage Assessment and Repair. When I opened youtube last night, it recommended these two videos to me.

Vehicle Graveyard
Tank graveyard

In the first video, most of the vehicles are obviously total losses, and almost certainly a fair number of our troops died in the attacks.

But the second video shows quite a few vehicles that were damaged beyond repair… that is, beyond what  a unit can repair. But having been dragged off the battlefield, there’s a fair chance a good number of tanks and Bradley’s shown have been (or at least, could have been) rotated through the Army’s depot level maintenance system, and restored to service. And if our forces in Iraq had been truly pressed for vehicles, some probably could have been run through BDAR. By salvaging parts from multiple vehicles, and by accepting some degradation of capability, some of the tracks in the second vid could have been pressed into service.

Each mechanized battalion in the Army had two “spare” vehicles assigned to it, called “floats”. Almost like a loaner car from the dealer when you bring your car into the shop. If your Bradley (or tank) was damaged or broken down, you’d use the  “float” until your own vehicle could be restored.

That was the concept, anyway. When my unit was in Desert Storm, we actually tended to use the “floats” as rolling spare parts bins.  If one of the primary tracks in the company needed a spare part, such as a 25mm main gun, they’d turn the busted gun into maintenance, and steal the gun off the float.  We had several vehicles that ended up having to cannibalize parts off the float. It was a pretty disreputable looking hoopty that crossed the border a discrete distance behind us. No main gun, no TOW launcher, no ISU (Integrated Sight Unit), short-tracked on one side because someone else needed a road wheel arm, no radios or antenna mounts. And no rear ramp. Let me tell you, moving that thing was a massive pain!  But by depriving one vehicle of its parts, the rest of the company crossed into Iraq with reasonably fully functional vehicles.


Filed under armor, infantry, iraq

Cavalry Spurs

XBrad here. This post generated some interest in the Cavalry and its traditions. We’ve got another guest post by Esli addressing that topic.  Esli is an active duty career Armor officer with tours as an enlisted infantryman and a commissioned Armor and Cavalry officer.

Stetson and spurs are the hallmarks of the Cavalry, the army’s scouts and reconnaissance units. So how exactly does a young cavalryman get them? Stetsons are purchased: spurs are earned. This is a long-standing tradition in the Cavalry and no Trooper’s uniform is complete without them. True cavalrymen still recount the stories of their “Spur Rides.”

There are two ways to earn your spurs. Spurs come in gold for combat and silver for demonstrated excellence in the skills of the cavalryman. Gold spurs can be awarded by the squadron commander to any Trooper (assigned or attached) who “rode with” his squadron during a wartime deployment.

Earning the silver spurs is generally harder. This includes prerequisites, satisfactorily completing the spur ride, and then surviving the ceremony. This sequence of events, once complete, will become one of the most memorable events in an army career, though strangely the brain wants to forget many of the details!

My spur ride began as the executive officer of a reconnaissance squadron. This is a guy with a lot of time on his hands (sarc off) so I was worried about pulling out of my duties long enough to do it. I spent a couple of days training up for the event. I had already completed the PT test and weapons qualifications to the appropriate standards, and was ready to perform as a “spur candidate” or “maggot” in spur-holder parlance. (Spur holders control your destiny. If they say do it, do it. If they don’t say anything, then you don’t do anything. They mete out punishment, guidance or rewards equally. Well, no rewards, just punishment.)

Due to an incredibly busy schedule, our spur ride was a relatively short 30-hour event. Nonetheless, it was the most physically demanding thing I have ever done in 22 years in the army. We started about 0400 and spent some time getting smoked before moving to a field for a PT test in ACUs. After the PT test (which no one passed…), we returned to the squadron area for an inspection of our equipment and a written test on reconnaissance tasks. Then it was back on the LMTVs for a ride out to the field.

The spur ride consisted of day and night land navigation courses. Without getting lost, my legs totaled 18 miles. Moving as a team of five, we went from point to point, testing on scout tasks at each. While we waited at each station, we were physically and mentally smoked in various unmentionable ways. Some of the tasks included map reading and land navigation, calling for and adjusting indirect fire, estimating range, patrolling techniques, reacting to contact, combatives (hand-to-hand combat tasks), weapons disassembly/reassembly, NBC, 1st Aid, carrying simulated casualties, call for MEDEVAC, prepare a Helicopter Landing Zone, constructing a machine-gun range card, conducting negotiations, employing hand grenades, camouflage, and other tasks. Not only did we walk everywhere, but many of these tasks were physically demanding efforts for 1-2 hours each under simulated combat conditions.

Depending on speed, some teams got an hour for dinner and to prep feet for the night land navigation lane, which continued through the above tasks, but in the dark using Night Vision Goggles.

By the end of the night lane, my 5-man team had dwindled to 3. We finished with about an hour break, but I stayed awake since I was unsure of whether the spur-holders would wake us up or not. I stretched, ate, rubbed my feet, and put on Vaseline and fresh socks.

Finally it was time for the last event; a foot march (18 miles down, only 12 more). So far, we had been carrying 30-40 lbs (including team gear of radio, litter, aid bag, and a signal panel). For the foot march, we put on our rucks. My load was about 92 pounds. This foot march took me just about 4 hours, and I managed to finish ahead of the bulk of the pack. At the end, for the first time in my life, I really wanted to get an IV, but no-go; the medics checked me and determined that I didn’t need one, even though plenty of guys were getting stuck.

At last, we climbed into the back of the LMTVs, went to the squadron area, and I worked a regular duty day (as best I could) until I was released to go home and get in dress blues for a formal spur ceremony and dinner. (Walk 30 miles and stuff your feet into low-quarters. Ouch!) Most of this will go undescribed, though it did involve a horse made of 2x4s and yelling “You ain’t CAV” to which the audience replied appropriately with “You ain’t ***!!”

Because our real spurs hadn’t arrived for the first ceremony (good job, S4), we were privileged to have a second one in which we were stood on our hands in front of the squadron while our sponsors put our spurs on our upside-down heels. I was honored to be both the oldest guy to get them and the recipient of the first spurs ever awarded by that squadron.


1. For those familiar with EIB, the spurs are much more focused on teamwork, CAV esprit, and both mental and physical determination, as opposed to the exactitude required to complete a series of individual tasks as in the EIB. My EIB was harder, technically, and earned at about the old-school rate of 10%, while the spurs were incredibly difficult, physically, but earned at about a 75% pass rate.

2. CAV is a state of mind, not a job. Any Trooper can compete, regardless of MOS.

3. CAV is gender-neutral, and our female Forward Support Troop commander earned hers. (XBrad- The testing is gender neutral. The actual MOS for Cavalry is a combat arms MOS and excludes women by law. Some units allow females to participate in EIB testing, and they and any non infantry personnel who successfully complete the testing are awarded a certificate of completion. Only Infantry personnel may actually be awarded the EIB)

XBrad again. While Cav spurs aren’t an officially recognized award like the Expert Infantryman’s Badge, they are highly cherished (I actually had a Cav trooper as a 1SG once, and you can bet his spurs were prominently displayed in his office). And while the testing may not be battle focused, all the tasks do have a real world application.


Filed under armor, army, ARMY TRAINING, Personal

More on the TOW missile

So, this post showing some excellent ‘splodey was pretty popular. And TOW missile video posts have long been a mainstay here.  But it wasn’t until I started looking in the comments that I realized I have never actually done a post about the history of the TOW, how it works, and its variants. Craig kindly laid the groundwork with a post on missiles in the age before TOW, so lets carry on from there.

The TOW and the older SS10 and SS11 missiles that Craig posted about all shared a couple of characteristics. They were all armed with a HEAT warhead to defeat tanks, and they were all wire guided.

The older missiles used a guidance technique known as Command-to-Line-of-Sight (CLOS). Simply put, The gunner launched the missile, and a flare on the back of the missile showed the gunner where it was. He then steered the missile along his line of sight to the target. As long as he saw the flare heading at the target, all was well. Typically, the missile was controlled by a small joystick, and the guidance corrections the gunner made were sent along a pair of very, very thin copper wires trailed from the missile. While this was pretty nifty at the time, it was awfully low tech, and required very intense training for the gunner to achieve any proficiency.  The gunner had to keep track of both the target and the missile, and “fly” the missile to the target. Hard enough on  a stationary target, but against a moving target like a tank, it was very difficult indeed.

Building on that basic concept, the Army capitalized on its technical know-how and the miniaturization of electronics in the ’60s to introduce a much improved technique: Semi-automatic Command-to-Line-of-Sight (SACLOS).

The big difference between CLOS and SACLOS is the way the missile is commanded. In SACLOS, and optical sensor in the gunner’s sight tracks the missile’s flare (or “beacon”) and measures its deviation from the line of sight, as determined by the crosshairs in the sight. When the missile guidance set senses a deviation, it would send the correction, rather than the gunner having to make a correction. In effect, all the gunner had to do was keep the crosshairs on the target for the time of launch until impact. This was much, much easier than trying to manually fly the missile to the target.

The original TOW missile was the BGM-71A. It was a revolutionary improvement over previous missiles.  The missile was stored and launched from a sealed  fiberglass tube, that protected it from the elements and rough handling.  It was optically tracked from either a ground launch platform or a stabilized sight on a helicopter, and it was guided via copper wires, hence the acronym TOW. The orignally TOW had a 6″ diameter missile body, with a 5″ diameter HEAT warhead, and a range of 3000 meters.

Pretty soon, it was clear that the missile had sufficient energy to fly further than 3000 meters, and by simply adding more wire, the range was increased to 3750 meters.  The next version, I-TOW (Improved TOW)  added a standoff probe to the warhead to make sure it detonated the optimum distance from the target.

Increases in Soviet armor lead to an improved missile, and more importantly, an improved guidance set. This TOW 2 featured a larger 6″ diameter warhead, a slightly modified probe, and critically, added a thermal sight system to the launcher, meaning for the first time, the TOW could be used at night. The TOW 2 incorporated a xenon beacon at the rear of the missile to allow this thermal sight to track it at night or in low visibility.

With the advent of  reactive armor, the TOW2A was designed with tandem warheads. The first warhead would detonate the reactive armor, while the second would punch through the now exposed site.

TOW 2B was a different approach. As mentioned in the linked video, it uses two downward firing EFPs to punch through the thinner top armor of tanks. The TOW2B overflies its target, never actually striking it. The gunner merely keeps the crosshairs on the target, the guidance set handles the “offset” aim for him.  By giving later versions of the TOW2B an aerodynamically improved nose, and increased wire capacity, the TOW2B Aero has increased range to 4500 meters.  This is the current production anti-armor model of the TOW for the US Army, though enormous numbers of earlier TOW2 models are sill in the inventory and issued.

With the current fights in Afghanistan and Iraq facing little in the way of armored threats, the limitations of the HEAT warhead became an issue. While a HEAT warhead is better than none, it has little real anti-personnel capability. This has lead to the development of the BGM-71H, which is similar to the TOW 2A, except the HEAT warheads have been replaced by a blast/fragmentation warhead better suited to killing troops and destroying bunkers.

In addition, a wireless variant of the TOW2B is in production.

Recently, the ITAS (Improved Target Acquisition System) has begun replacing older TOW2 sights in ground mounts. This has a much improved thermal sight, not only improving accuracy, but also serving as  a very handy surveillance tool for infantry units.

TOW missile with ITAS in Afghanistan

The TOW has proven to be a remarkably adaptable weapon system, with a wide range of improvements incorporated over the years. Improvements to both the missile, and the guidance sets have kept it a very viable system on the modern battlefield. But there are some limitations to further growth. Primarily, the fixed diameter and length of the missile imposed by the launch tube size means that there is only so much space to grow. Also, given that limitation, the missile remains fairly slow, meaning the time from launch to impact is quite lengthy, over 3o seconds to maximum range. This can give the enemy time to either shoot back or attempt to flee.

Even with these limitations, the TOW is a very effective system, and there are no current plans to replace it as the heavy anti-armor missile system.


Filed under Afghanistan, armor, army, ARMY TRAINING, guns, history, infantry, iraq

Armored Assault

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

Battle of 73 Easting

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Rifle Platoon

The basic building block of combat power is the infantry, and in the infantry, the basic building block is the rifle platoon. The platoon is the smallest element led by an officer, and is usually the smallest element which may be assigned a mission separate from its parent unit. It is also the smallest unit for which a Field Manual is published. Field manuals are the operator’s manual for how to organize, train, lead, and fight a particular unit. The field manual describes the organization and most common missions that a  unit may be assigned. For for the rifle platoon, the Field Manual is FM 7-8. For the purposes of our discussion, we’ll be discussing “Infantry platoon” as opposed to Mechanized Infantry mounted on Bradley Fighting Vehicles or a Stryker Infantry platoon mounted on Stryker Infantry Carrier Vehicles. The “Infantry platoon” generally describes platoons assigned to light infantry units, airborne, air assault, and Ranger units. While there are some very minor variations in the organization of these units, the fundamental organization and employment is close enough that you should be able to understand what how an infantry platoon is organized and employed.

For today, we’ll limit our discussion to the organization of the platoon. Later, we’ll explore how that platoon is employed, in the attack, defense, stability and support operations, and then we’ll look at the leadership challenges that face a young lieutenant leading his first platoon.

One of the little oddities of Army life is that an infantry platoon isn’t called an infantry platoon. It’s called a Rifle Platoon. This distinguishes it from other platoons in the infantry company and battalion.

The Rifle Platoon, like most combat units,  is a triangular organization. That is, the headquarters for the platoon leads three subordinate rifle squads.


The platoon is lead by a Lieutenant, known as the Platoon Leader (PL). Lieutenants straight from training at the Infantry School’s Officer Basic Course are expected to step directly into this leadership role.  As his assistant, he has a senior infantry NCO, usually a Sergeant First Class (SFC/E-7), serving as the Platoon Sergeant (PSG).  The rest of the platoon headquarters consists of one or two Radiotelephone Operators (RTO), one for the PL, and usually one for the PSG. Normally, all these people are armed with the M16 or M4.

The main strength of the platoon resides in its three Rifle Squads. These three squads are identical. Each squad is lead by a Squad Leader (SL), normally a Staff Sergeant (SSG). Each squad is also broken down into two fire teams. Each fire team is lead by a Team Leader (TL), normally a Sergeant (SGT/ E-5). Squad leaders and team leaders are armed with the M16 or M4.

Each of these fire teams has the TL, a Squad Automatic Rifleman or SAW Gunner equipped with the M249. There is a Grenadier, armed with the M203 Grenade Launcher mounted on his M16 or M4. And finally, there is a Rifleman, armed with either the M16 or the M4.


The last element of the rifle platoon is its heavy weapons, usually organized into a 4th squad known as the Weapons Squad. There is a SSG squad leader, and two medium machine gun teams. The medium machine gun team has a gunner, armed with the M240, an assistant gunner armed with either the M16 or M4.  Most Weapons Squads also have two anti-armor teams, each with a Gunner, armed with the M16/M4 and the Javelin anti-tank missile, and an assistant gunner, armed with the M16/M4 and carrying a spare missile.

Thus, the basic Rifle platoon has an authorized strength from about 35 to 42 people. For the young soldier, the platoon is his family, his home. He lives with them, eats with them,  trains with them, and usually socializes with them to a fair extent. You might think of his squad as his immediate family, and the rest of the platoon as the close cousins. Many soldiers will spend an entire enlistment assigned to one platoon the whole time. While it is usual to stay in one platoon, it is not unusual to be assigned to a number of duties within that platoon as time goes on. My first enlistment was spent in one platoon, but during a nineteen month period, I served as a rifleman, anti-armor specialist, automatic rifleman, assistant machine gunner, machine gunner, grenadier, and RTO.

A little about leadership and training at the platoon level. The PL is responsible for everything his platoon does or fails to do. He is responsible to ensure both that the soldiers assigned know their individual tasks and duties, such as how to maintain their weapons, and their collective tasks and duties, such as how to perform “the Rifle Platoon in the Attack.”  The smart young Lieutenant will use his Sergeants to the greatest extent possible. The team leaders and squad leaders generally train the solders on individual tasks, under the supervision of the PSG. And squad level tasks, such as movement formations are taught by the NCOs as well.  And as the young PL is there to learn as well as to lead, he’ll gladly turn to his PSG for guidance and learn from his experience. No platoon leader should be giving orders to privates. That’s why he has NCOs assigned to him. Normally, the PL issues orders either directly to the squad leaders, or to them via the Platoon Sergeant. The Squad Leaders in turn use their Team Leaders to execute those orders.

The three squad structure of the platoon is designed to give the platoon flexibility in engagement. In the attack (which we’ll cover in greater detail in another post), the platoon leader may choose to lead with one squad, holding two squads in reserve to reinforce or exploit success. Alternatively, he may choose to lead with two squads, and only hold one in reserve. We’ll cover that decision making process in a later post as well.

Finally, a bit about organization in the real world. The above organization is the approved “book solution.” But it is very rare that a platoon will ever actually be at full strength. People are almost always detached for schools or reassignment, out sick or injured, or loaned out to a parent unit for some duty. And often, the Army just doesn’t have enough people to assign enough troops to fill every unit.

When a platoon is short-handed, it is critical that the key leadership positions and weapons be manned.  The weapons squad is almost always fully manned. What usually happens is that the Rifle Squads end up short changed. In that case, usually the Rifleman position is left unmanned, with the Automatic Rifleman and Grenadier positions manned first. In some very extreme cases, the platoon may operate with only two rifle squads. At one time, I served in a light infantry platoon that was so short on personnel that after manning the weapons squad, we only had enough soldiers left to have one rifle squad, but with three fire teams. Everyone in this squad was armed with either the grenade launcher or the M249 SAW.  This is hardly the way things were supposed to be, but you have to make do with what you have.

Finally, when actually deployed to the field, the platoon is always augmented with attachments from its parent and supporting units. Each platoon has a medic attached from the battalion’s medical platoon. He normally moves with the Platoon Sergeant. There is also an Artillery Forward Observer team attached from the supporting artillery unit. The Forward Observer also brings with him his own RTO to communicate with the artillery and mortars. The FO team is glued to the platoon leaders hip. The help him plan for and call fire from supporting weapons.


Filed under Afghanistan, army, ARMY TRAINING, guns, history, iraq

The Challenge of Airborne Armor

Craig’s recent posts on the SPAT and the Ontos build on an earlier post I did on the M551 Sheridan armored vehicle. All these vehicles had a common heritage. They tried to find a practical combination of mobility, firepower, and protection that could give light and airborne forces greater firepower on the battlefield, while still being small enough to be delivered by air.

Weight is always a critical issue for the designers of armored vehicles. But when you need to be able to drop those vehicles by parachute, it is even more critical. There’s a very finite limit on the amount of lifties an airplane can generate, and trying to get a C-130 to lift more than that will only lead to disaster. And there are so few other airlifters in our fleet, designing an armored vehicle that can only be lifted by C-5s or C-17s severely limits its air-drop utility.

This isn’t a new problem. Almost from the very first days of airborne operations, planners have struggled to match the strategic and operational mobility of airborne forces to firepower that was strong enough to keep them from being swept off the battlefield by conventional forces. The very first airborne units in our Army were limited to small arms, machine guns, and some light mortars. They were superbly trained, but would not have lasted long against determined enemy opposition. By D-Day, US Airborne Divisions had some light artillery and some light anti-tank guns, but no real armor. They were restricted by the lifting capacity of the C-47, which was suitable only for troops and bundled cargo, and the gliders of the time, the Waco CG-4 and the British built Horsa. The British also designed the Hamilcar glider to carry a light tank designed specifically for airborne forces, the M22 Locust. The Locust never saw combat with American forces, and only the slightest service with British forces. It was not considered a success.

But the problem of armored firepower for airborne and light forces had not disappeared. It continued to plague planners in the post-war years.

The British 1st Airborne Division had learned the hard way that lightly armed airborne troops could not attack into the face of armored formations. US planners had learned from that, and sought a way to bolster the strength of airborne forces. The results were mixed at best.

Craig did an admirable job of describing the M56 Scorpion which offered good firepower and mobility, but no protection. And he also described the M50 Ontos, which also struggled to find a balance between firepower, mobility and protection. Next in line was the M551 Sheridan. Like the other vehicles mentioned, it was not entirely successful. It wasn’t a complete failure, mind you. But it suffered from the compromises that had to be made to meet very stringent weight requirements.

So it stood for a long time that the Sheridan was the only armor for the airborne forces. Eventually, old age took its toll on the fleet, and the Sheridans were due for a well earned retirement. The question became, what to replace the with? At the same time, the Army was looking to increase its strategic mobility by converting one of its two active cavalry regiments to a lighter formation that could be moved primarily by air. The 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment traded in its tanks and Bradleys for lightly armored (and lightly armed) Humvees. This made the unit easier to move, but again, it was pretty light on staying power. The Army took another crack at coming up with an air transportable armored vehicle.

Eventually, after running through a couple different acronyms and the usual program shenanigans, the contractor presented to the Army the XM8 Buford Armored Gun System. It it one of the few vehicles that could honestly be described as a light tank. It was fully tracked, had a 105mm main gun, and was actually fairly small. And it was light enough to be transported and airdropped from C-130 aircraft.

Now, as always, there is the pressure of weight constraints to be balanced against the vehicles vulnerability to anti-armor weapons.  In order to get the M8 weight down to a level that would fit onto a C-130, they had to accept very thin armor, barely enough to stop small arms fire and some artillery fragments. That meant the M8 would be very, very vulnerable to any anti-tank weapons. The solution to that problem was bolt on armor. Normally, any armor on a vehicle actually forms an integral part of the hull, and is part of the load bearing structure. But for the M8, the contractor came up with two additional levels of armor that could be bolted on in the field with simple hand tools, and increase the protection of the vehicles.  For instance, the 82nd might be forced to drop in someplace unpleasant, and to drop, would have to accept the risk of going in with just the lightest armor. But as soon as possible, the additional kits of armor could be flown in and applied. The M8 would never have the level of protection that an M1 Abrams would have, but it would be a good deal better armored than either an M551 or any Humvee.

The development of the M8 was actually fairly smooth (compared to a lot of programs, at least) and the vehicle had just been accepted for service and was just about to be placed in series production when the entire program was cancelled. What happened you ask?

Well, in 1996, the President and the Secretary of Defense told the Army they were going to cut end-strength another 20,000 troops for the Army. The Army was aghast at the cuts, and asked if they could keep some of those troops if they found other savings. And one of the easiest ways to save money was to NOT spend a billion or so on buying the M8. The deal was made.  Eventually, the Sheridans were withdrawn, and the 82nd was without any armor.

With the advent of the Stryker brigade, we’ve seen (and written about) the Stryker MGS or Mobile Gun System. It fulfills much the same role as the M8, but has less armor capability. Nor is the Stryker expected to be airdropped. It is, however, expected to be moved by air, in addition to surface shipping. The same challenges of balancing protection, mobility, and firepower are still with us.


Filed under armor, ARMY TRAINING

The Firing Port Weapon

Craig has done a fine job of showing us some of the early attempts to replace the M113 that eventually led to the M2/M3 Bradley family of vehicles. Concurrent with that development was a changing doctrine about how mechanized infantry should fight.

When the Soviet BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicle first appeared, US observers were stunned. The Soviets had taken a vastly different approach to mounted combat than the US, and it was a better one.  For years before the appearance of the BMP in 1967, the Red Army had concentrated on developing its BTR series of wheeled armored personnel carriers. While the choice of wheels over tracks could be debated, the actual employment of infantry from them was very analogous to the way the US Army intended to employ its M113 mounted infantry. That is, the armored personnel carrier was primarily there to transport an infantry squad to the battlefield, and protect if from artillery fire en route.

The BMP, however, was designed to accompany tanks in the actual assault on the unit’s objective, and to actually allow its squad to remain on board the vehicle and fight from within the vehicle. In addition to the BMP’s 73mm gun and 7.62mm coax machine gun (and it’s AT-3 Sagger anti-tank missile) the BMP had a series of ports in its sides that allowed the infantry squad on board to use their weapons to add suppressive fires. This was pretty much a “spray and pray” approach. Lots of lead flying around was designed to keep our infantry down in its foxholes and prevent us from taking shots at BMPs with light anti-tank weapons. After the tanks and BMPs had crossed the objective, the Soviet infantry could dismount and mop up our positions by attacking from the rear. Importantly, the Soviet riflemen would be protected from artillery and small arms fire for almost the whole attack.

The US Army decided that was a pretty good approach to mounted combat. So one of the important properties of the successor to the M113 was that it too needed to have firing ports. One small problem though. Unlike the Soviets, who used a folding stock version of the AKM rifle, the US had just adopted the M16 series rifle, and there was just no practical way of handling such a long rifle through a firing port in the cramped interior of an armored vehicle.

Well, the Army wasn’t going to allow something minor like that stand in the way of a doctrinal decision that had already been made. Mounted assaults were the way forward, and the Army would be able to fire from firing ports. So the call went out to actually develop a weapon that would be able to fit in a port and small enough to be handled inside an armored vehicle. So in addition to trying to develop a new armored vehicle, the army had to look to industry to develop a new weapon to go with it. There were a couple different candidates, including a modification of the old M3 “Grease Gun” .45cal submachine gun. In the end, the Army adopted an extensively redesigned M16 action called the M231 Firing Port Weapon (FPW).


The M231 has a much shorter barrel than the M16, and also doesn’t have a front sight. You’ll notice at the front, it is designed to screw into the ball joint of a firing port.  In addition, because it is intended to be fired form the port, it has no buttstock, just the buffer tube to hold the action spring. But the most significant changes to the weapon are internal.

Whereas the M16 series rifles fire from a closed bolt, and are selective fire, the M231 fires from an open bolt, and is only capable of fully automatic fire.  It also has a much, much higher cyclic rate of fire than the M16 series. Instead of firing at about 600 rounds per minute, the M231 fires at about 1,100 rounds per minute. That little 30 round magazine doesn’t last long.

Originally, there were to be six firing ports on the infantry variant of the Bradley, the M2. There were two ports on each side, and two ports in the rear ramp of the vehicle. Combined with the turret weapons, this would notionally give the Bradley all around suppressive fire.  The need for the squad to be facing outboard while using the M231 dictated the very awkward internal seating arrangement of the Bradley. Each firing port had a periscope through which the soldier was expected to point his FPW and then walk the rounds onto the target. To aid this, the M231 was to be loaded exclusively with the M196 tracer round.  And because the M231 fired from an open bolt, a lot of the gun gases would be released inside the vehicle. To counter this, each position had a flexible exhaust hose attached to a fan and a brass catcher bag (hot brass bouncing all over the place inside a vehicle would be annoying at the very least, and potentially very dangerous). Because the FPW uses an all-tracer ammunition load, that meant that troops had to store their regular load of ammunition, and have a separate supply of ammo just for the FPWs. If you look under the seats of early production Bradleys, there is an ammo pouch under each seat to hold magazines for the FPW.

In the end, very few units ever actually used the FPW beyond mandatory training for it. One reason is that the vulnerability of light armor to anti-tank weapons meant that it was almost always safer to dismount the infantry just short of the objective, and support them with fires from the turret using the 25mm gun and the 7.62mm coax. The other big reason was, you couldn’t hit a damn thing with the FPWs. Trying to walk in rounds while looking through a dirty, dust periscope from the back of a bouncing, swaying vehicle just wasn’t very practical. The one time I actually fired one from the firing port, I just waited for the Bradley Commander to yell “fire!” and held the trigger down. I have no earthly idea where the rounds actually went.  We had targets staked along the side of a road, but after something like a dozen Brads had made firing passes (at a range of about 10 meters) there wasn’t a single hole in any of the half dozen targets.

As later model Bradleys had to have heavier side armor to counter weapons like the BMP-2’s 30mm cannon, and other anti-armor weapons, the firing ports on the side were blanked out by slabs of add-on armor. The firing ports on the ramp of the vehicle remained in place. But given that they have to be removed before the ramp can be lowered, they were almost never used.

Today, M231 FPWs are still in unit armories, but mostly serve one of two purposes. First, they either gather dust and generate paperwork regarding maintenance and security, or they are used as a last ditch, close in weapon by dismounted soldiers, such as those manning the cupolas on up-armored Humvees. They aren’t very effective in that role, but they sure to shoot fast.


Filed under armor, army, ARMY TRAINING, guns

Tanks in the A-stan

Well, the Marines asked for, and received, permission to deploy a company of M1A1 tanks to support their units in Southern Afghanistan. And according the the Army times, the US Army hasn’t totally discounted the idea:

Army Brig. Gen. Frederick Hodges finished a yearlong deployment in November as director of operations for NATO’s Regional Command-South. He said he had not heard discussions of bringing tanks to RC-South, the regional command adjacent to RC-Southwest, which is where the Marines tanks are headed.

“We did not discuss in any detail the use of [U.S. Army] tanks,” Hodges said. However, he didn’t rule it out and said tanks have a proven place in Afghanistan. The Canadian army first sent a tank squadron — about 15 tanks, equivalent to a U.S. Army tank company — in October 2006. The Danish army followed suit and sent a similar-sized unit in 2007.

Army tank companies could deploy within a brigade combat team or be attached to Marine or coalition units, as happened in Iraq. The tanks would then spread out in pairs and provide support to units across the region, said David Johnson, a researcher at the Rand Corp., where he studies tank operations.

Deploying tanks could save soldiers’ lives as they prove to be more effective at pushing back assaults than some other weapon systems. Once an enemy penetrates an artillery gun’s range fan, it is useless, Johnson said. Not so for a tank. “It sure would have been nice to have an M1A2 Abrams tank at the Battle of Wanat or [Combat Outpost] Keating,” he said.

I’ll leave it to Esli, the resident tanker in our little commentariat here, to wax philosophical on where and how tanks can contribute to the fight in Afghanistan. But if the Army does decide to follow the Marines example, I hope they’ll go read what Donn Starry wrote about armor in a COIN environment.


Filed under Afghanistan, armor, army, history

What is old is new again.

So I finally saw RESTREPO the other night. Great film, a must see. One little thing that caught my eye was that the troops were carrying M72 LAW rocket launchers.

M72 LAW at launch

We talked a bit about the M72 Light Antitank Weapon long, long ago, as well as its replacement, the M136 “AT4” rocket launcher.

If you’re facing an armor threat, or if you’re a mounted force, the AT4 is a vast improvement over the LAW. It’s faster, more accurate and has a much bigger warhead. The problem is, not all units are mounted. The AT4 is 40” long and weighs about 15 pounds. That’s not a big problem if you have a HUMVEE to carry a few of them. But when you’re humping up and down hills that make a mountain goat puke, it’s not so fun. By contrast, the M72 only weighs about 7 pounds, and more importantly, in the carry configuration, it’s only about as wide as a man’s shoulders. That means just about everybody can easily strap one to the top of their pack.  It’s better to have several less than perfect rocket launchers handy, than a great one left back at the base.


Filed under Afghanistan, armor, army, ARMY TRAINING, guns, history

Son of FCS

So, the debacle of the Army’s Future Combat System is mostly dead. A lot of the networking initiatives are still alive, and some of the reconnaissance stuff as well. But the master plan for a family of armored vehicles to replace the Strykers, Bradley’s and Abrams all with one chassis is dead. The Army started looking at a follow-on program shortly thereafter, but the specter of 70 ton Armored Personnel Carriers doomed that paper program.

Now it looks like the Army is finally going to get serious about a program to develop the replacement for the Bradley.

The Army also wants the vehicles to cost $200 per operating mile. This falls between the $100 per mile of the Bradley and the $300 per mile of the M1 Abrams tank.

The new troop carriers must meet “non-negotiable” criteria for protection against everything from cannon rounds and RPGs to explosively formed penetrators, along with the ability to accommodate future growth in terms of size, weight, power and network connectivity as well as carry nine soldiers, said Michael Smith of the Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence during a conference call with reporters today.

However, the rest of the vehicle’s performance will largely be up to contractors to determine as long as they meet minimum criteria.

The Army is looking at a unit cost of about $10 million apiece, which is mighty expensive, but not out of the realm of sanity in this day and age.

Now, you might have figured out that I’m about the biggest fan of the Bradley around, but I think it is high time to start this new program. Why? A couple of different reasons.

First, the fleet is old, and has been rode hard. I’ve said before that I think running the fleet through depot maintenance will be enough to keep it going. Sure. But depot maintenance ain’t cheap. And the older your fleet is, the more often you have to cycle through.

Secondly, there just isn’t a lot of room left for growth on a Bradley. It’s already been upgraded several times over its almost 30 years of service, to include changing the engine and transmission, ugrading the suspension somewhat, adding large amounts of new armor, redesigning the interior layout, totally revamping the communications system from Cold War era radios to a digital battle management system, and revamping the fire control system to include a laser range finder and commander’s thermal sight.  There’s not a lot of physical room left to add stuff, and power supply to the electronics is limited.

Finally, the 25mm main gun on a Bradley is getting to be just a little light. Most infantry fighting vehicles entering production these days mount 30mm or even 40mm guns. Don’t be surprised if we see a 40mm on the next generation vehicle (alternatively, don’t be surprised if the MK46 30mm gun is selected as a cost saving measure- it’s already in service).

Oh, one last thing. I think it is great that they want to provide seating for nine dismounts instead of the 6 or 7 a Bradley can carry. Mech platoons are always short of dismounts. There’s never enough of them. And since the standard army squad is nine men, this will promote tactical homogenity throughout the force.

Replacing the Bradley before the Strykers and Abrams makes sense. The Stryker fleet is young, already networked, and has room for growth. The Arbrams fleet hasn’t been used nearly as hard as the Bradley fleet in recent years, was designed almost from the start for networking, and still has substantial room for growth. Further, it is still far and away the best tank on the battlefield. If the Army manages this replacement program tightly, and doesn’t try to make it a vehicle for all people at all times, they may just come up with a good design. Let’s just hope it goes a little faster than the original Bradley’s development, which only took about 20 years…


Filed under armor, army, ARMY TRAINING, infantry