Tag Archives: armor

Armor Upgrades

We noted an article in The Diplomat remarking on the recapitalization of the Army’s armored fleet.

And you’ve probably seen in the news in the last year or two complaints about how Congress was wasting money on new tanks the Army didn’t even want. Well, that’s not exactly true- after all, when is the last time the press was accurate about anything related to the military. The Army hasn’t bought a brand new tank since the early 1990s. What they have been doing is running tanks through a complete rebuild, upgrading to the latest configuration, known as M1A2 SEP v2. And it was never that the Army didn’t want to continue upgrading tanks. But under the sequester, the Army had to prioritize spending, and wanted to delay M1 upgrades in favor of other programs. Congress noted that delaying upgrades would force the plant to close, and potentially lose the skilled workforce. It was a matter of pay me now, or pay me later. In the long run, reopening the plant would cost more than simply keeping it open. And so Congress told the Army to do so. Don’t think for a moment the Army didn’t know the Congress was going to do this. There’s a very, very long history of the services, when faced with a budget crunch, putting important, popular programs on the block, knowing full well that Congress will put them back in the budget.

At any event, having played that game with Congress for a bit, the Army has now gone in the other direction, asking for quite a bit more money to upgrade tanks.

Army leaders have thus far taken up a losing battle against Congress to temporarily halt funding for its Abrams tanks. However, that changed in its latest budget proposal as the service has reversed course and asked for 50 percent more funding for the M1 Abrams tank over last year.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno told Congress in 2o12 that the Army wanted to spend money on other modernization priorities. Congress pushed back saying it was a mistake to shut down the production line of the M1 tank, which is located in Lima, Ohio, even if it’s a temporary shut down. The Army would risk losing the skilled workers at the plants and spend more on training when they needed to reopen the production line for the Abrams upgrades the Army had said it needed in 2017.

The Army apparently listened to the critique, as service officials requested $368 million for upgrades to the M1 tank. Last year, the Army asked for $237 million.

What are some of the upgrades the Army is implementing in the fleet? Well, shortly the M1 fleet will have a new type of ammunition, and importantly, a new thermal sight/sensor.

The ability to identify targets prior to engagement remains one of the biggest obstacles to improving Abrams lethality. The new IFLIR solves this problem using long- and mid-wave infrared technology in both the gunner’s primary sight and the commander’s independent thermal viewer. The IFLIR will provide four fields of view (FOV) displayed on high-definition displays, greatly improving target acquisition, identification and engagement times – compared to the current second-generation FLIR – under all conditions, including fog / obscurants.

When the M1 was first introduced in the early 1980s, the tanks thermal sight was almost black magic. The ability to see through dark and smoke was astonishing to gunners trained on earlier systems. Up to that point, night gunnery was conducted with searchlights mounted above the gun tube!

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The technology of thermal sights has greatly improved over the last 30 odd years, and the sights have been steadily improved since then. The original sight would seem crude to today’s gunners. A second thermal sight was added in the 1990s to give the tank commander an independent thermal vision device.*

The improvements, taken together, will establish the M1A2 SEP v3 configuration.

*That capability was planned from the outset of the M1 program, but not intially installed for cost reasons.

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Let’s talk about the Bradley some more…

A bit of a stroll down memory lane for me, as it were.  First, the Bradley’s been in service since about 1982. Main production variants of the Infantry Fighting Vehicle version include the M2*, M2A1, M2A2-ODS**, and the M2A3. I’ve never seen an M2A3, but I’ve dealt with all the other models. Oddly, I mostly went backwards. I was loaned out to a unit for Desert Storm, and it was equipped with brand new M2A2 vehicles. Months later, I was assigned to a unit in Colorado that was equipped with M2A1 models. And when that unit went to the National Training Center, we drew vehicles there for our rotation from the common pool rather than bringing our own. Those vehicles were vanilla, early production M2s. Eventually, I got to spend just a bit of time on an M2A2-ODS at Ft. Benning.

Esli had this to say about reloading the main gun on a Bradley.

It’s easy but not too fast. You have to traverse the turret, pop off some covers to give the guys in back access. Then, the guys in back have to move all the gear that is stacked up all over the floor, raise the floor panels and pull long cans with multiple straps around them up. Then open the long cans, which are covered in a thick sheath. Then feed belts of AP or HE into the ready boxes, reorganize the rear stowage and reinstall the covers and then traverse the turret back. (What our host may not know is that an upgrade to the rear of the track changed the 25mm stowage to this new system.) I made all my infantry crews practice this.

By the way, no static Bradley begins to convey how cramped they are when loaded up with nine guys and all their gear. Particularly cramped in the turret.

Youtube has all kinds of neat Bradley videos (see below) but apparently none showing the loading of the ammo cans. The ammo cans for the Bradley are the the front of the turret, beneath the gun mount itself, right about where the gunner and commander’s shins are. You may recall that the M242 25mm gun fires two types of ammunition, Armor Piercing (AP)*** and High Explosive Incendiary (HE). Both types of ammunition are carried simultaneously, and the gun can switch from one type of ammo to the other simply by pressing a button on the gun control panel. Here’s an oddity. The next round fired after changing the selection will be of the previously selected ammo- that is, if you fire a burst of AP, then switch to HE, your next shot will be AP before the HE starts loading and shooting. AP and HE have very visibly different ballistic trajectories, and it is quite disconcerting at first to see the first round of a burst fly off on a path well away from where the reticle in the Gunner’s Sight Unit would lead you to expect.

The ammo cans, in spite of being right in front of the turret crew, cannot be accessed from inside the turret. There are two cans. One holds 230 rounds of ammo, and the other holds 70 rounds. The “normal” load is 230 rounds of HE, and the smaller can with 70 rounds of AP. Both kinds of ammo used to  come in boxes that hold two 15 round linked belts of ammo.

The boxes are sized to fit under the floorboards of the troop compartment, filling the space between the hull and the floorboards. The new ammo storage is supposed to be easier and more ergonomic. Don’t bet on it. Now the crew pulls ammo out of the cans, and loads them into “hot boxes” under the floorboards in 50 round belts for “ease” of loading.

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Here’s what the back of the vehicle looks like. You can see the pop-up floorboards more clearly here.

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Actually the interior of the troop compartment of a Cavalry M3. The M2 has bench seating on both sides of the compartment.

You can also see the turret basket and some of the interior of the turret itself. The shielding around the turret does not rotate. There’s a sliding door that is normally closed when operating the turret for safety.

The belts of ammo don’t just rest in the bottom of the turret ammo cans. Instead, there are flanges on each link of the ammo belt that are used to hang the ammo along side rails at the top of the ammo can. Loops of about 25 rounds hang in the can.

Dummy 25mm ammo. The flanges are at the top and bottom of the link.

Actually, in one can, the ammo goes under the top rails, and on the other, the ammo is “upside down” with the links on the bottom, so one round of the ammo itself rides along the top of the rails inside the can. Sound confusing? It is. Who knew simply loading ammo in a can would involved having to count exactly how many rounds were being looped in. From FM 23-1 Bradley Gunnery.

Load AP

Load HE

I’ve tried to find a decent picture of the actual loading setup, but my google fu failed me.

Note that the cans load from the side. The gunner has to spin the turret to align first one can, then the other with the turret shield door (and engage the turret lock, and turn off the turret drive motor for safety) before loading can actually begin. If the cans are partly filled, the counting process still has to occur, and the loader just hangs the ammo. But if the  cans are completely empty, the gunner has to use a ratchet wrench to drive a pawl that feeds the ammo up the feed chutes to the gun’s feeder, and go through the hassle of actually feeding both types of ammo into the feeder and cycling the ghost round. If you really want to learn about that, which I’ve mostly forgotten, feel free to consult FM 23-1 yourself, embedded below.

Enough of this. As noted, the Bradley entered service in 1982. Here’s a contemporary video released by FMC, the manufacturer, about that time. There’s some good shooty and splodey in it. It also shows loading the TOW missile launcher from the troop compartment via the top hatch over the troop compartment.

It also shows the Firing Port Weapons in use. I’ve actually shot them. Today, they’re virtually never used. In fact, M2A2 models and later blanked over the ports on the sides of the vehicle, leaving only the two on the rear ramp.

The “bible” for shooting the Bradley, and training crews was, as noted above, FM 23-1 Bradley Gunnery. Far more than the mechanical aspects, it discusses armored vehicle gunnery techniques in general, as well as platoon fire distribution and some other good stuff. Like, you know it is legal under the laws of war to shoot paratroops hanging in their chutes, but not aircrew escaping from a downed aircraft? I used to have this manual virtually memorized. Now… not so much.

 

*Often referred to as M2A0 to differentiate from the more generic “M2” designation.

**ODS- Operation Desert Storm. A series of improvements derived from lessons learned and suggestions from the field, mostly concerning internal rearrangements and addition of a laser range finder.

***Actually, Armor Piercing Fin Stabilized Discarding Sabot- Tracer, or APFSDS-T. Similarly the High Explosive has an incendiary component and also a tracer element, and is more properly HEI-T. In common usage and in fire commands, they’re simply referred to as AP or HE.

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About that War is Boring Article on the Bradley…

Spill nudged me about this post at War is Boring about the Army wanting to replace the Bradley some 38 years ago.

The U.S. Army Wanted to Replace the Bradley 38 Years Ago

And of course, the movie The Pentagon Wars makes an appearance.

Thanks to the famous made-for-TV movie The Pentagon Wars, many Americans are aware of the problems with the U.S. Army’s Bradley fighting vehicle.

………….

In 1977, Congress wanted to know if the new armored personnel carrier could survive a fight against Soviet forces in Europe. By that time, the Army had worked on the Bradley—while repeatedly changing its requirements—for years.

“The Army requires an infantry righting vehicle [and] the design of the IFV is acceptable,” concludes an Army study, which the Pentagon declassified in 2003, and recently released online at the Army’s Heritage and Education Center.

The Bradley would enter service. But now legislators wanted plans for a better design that could be ready within the decade.

Every fighting vehicle is a compromise among several traits. Speed, survivability, protection, signature, lethality, weight, and affordability all have to be weighed in the balance. Another critical factor is time. That is, the time needed to study, propose, design, test, manufacture, and field a weapon system. 

Let’s also note that the article refutes its own premise. The Army wasn’t looking to replace the Bradley even as it first started to roll off the production line. Congress was mandating the Army conduct a study. That’s a horse of a somewhat different color.

The Army asked itself back in the late 1970s and early 1980s not whether the Bradley was a perfect vehicle, but rather, is the Bradley a more effective vehicle for the threat we face than the current M113 Armored Personnel carrier?

Having served in units equipped with both, let me assure you the answer to that question was unquestionably an emphatic YES!

From the article:

The problem was that future Soviet tanks might turn the Bradleys into veritable coffins. If World War III broke out, the U.S. could face Russian armored beasts with huge main guns, long-range missiles and thick armor.

“In the 1987 time frame, the Warsaw Pact 130-division force … would contain more than 34,000 tanks, the majority being T-72s, with a good proportion of the successor tank,” the Army’s study warns.

 

Well, duh. That’s why the Army was also fielding the M1 Abrams tank.  And that snippet above also doesn’t mention that tens of thousands of BMP Infantry Fighting Vehicles, and BTR Armored Personnel Carriers that would accompany any fleet of Soviet tanks plunging through the Fulda Gap. You know, the very BMPs and BTRs the Bradley was optimized to destroy? With the Bradleys smoking BMPs and BTRs, then the M1 tanks would be free to concentrate on killing the hordes of T-72 tanks the Army study mentioned.

The article goes on to examine possible Bradley replacements, and manages to compare them to the German Marder and other allied Infantry Fighting Vehicles. What it doesn’t quite manage to make clear to the reader is that those vehicles are very much comparable to the Bradley in terms of armor. None had the heavy, tank like armor the article implies.

The problem with installing tank like armor on an Infantry Fighting Vehicle is pretty soon, you have a tank, and the problem of fitting infantry into it is even worse than cramming dismounts into the back of a Bradley.

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M9 Armored Combat Earthmover

The three primary missions of the Engineers in combat are mobility, counter-mobility, and force protection. Rather obviously, this means ensuring our freedom of maneuver, by improving roads and reducing obstacles, both natural and man made; emplacing obstacles to slow, channel or turn an enemy force; and digging or building positions for friendly forces.

As you might expect, a large portion of this can be accomplished by earthmoving. As a mechanized Infantryman mounted on a Bradley, my most common interaction with the Engineers was when we had a D7 bulldozer dig fighting positions for our vehicles.

Merely pushing a berm in front of the position does little to offer protection for fighting vehicles. While it might defeat HEAT rounds, kinetic rounds hardly notice a dirt berm before passing through the frontal armor, engine block, turret basket and troop compartment and then exiting the rear ramp armor. So the position is dug deep enough to fully conceal the vehicle. But the vehicle also has to be able to fight from the position, so there is a step on the front half of the position that the Bradley can drip up on, exposing only the turret, giving it a field of fire. Pop up, shoot, scoot back, scan for the next target. In gunnery terms, this is known as a “berm drill.”

While the D7 bulldozer is very, very well suited for digging said positions, it is not without its drawbacks.

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First, it is completely unarmored. If the position isn’t completely secure, the operator is at an unacceptable risk. But failing to construct the positions then places the fighting vehicles at a completely unacceptable risk.

Secondly, the D7 is rather slow, with a maximum speed of around 7 miles per hour. That means it has to be transported from location to location on a heavy equipment trailer. That also means the trailer is restricted to relatively good terrain. The truck and trailer also are unarmored, and add an additional logistical, manning, and maintenance burden.

And so, starting in the late 1980s, the Army began fielding a lightweight vehicle known as the M9 ACE or Armored Combat Earthmover. A relatively lightweight tracked vehicle with a bulldozer blade on front, it was proof against small arms fire and artillery fragments. The driver was protected. The hydropnuematic suspension allowed it to travel cross country, and on roads at a respectable 30 miles per hour or so. Maybe not enough to keep up with Bradley’s and M1 Abrams, but enough that the wait for ACE shouldn’t be too long.

Light weight is a disadvantage for a bulldozer, though. The tracks need significant weight on them to increase the dozing ability. So the M9 can actually also act as a grader/scraper, and load a ballast compartment just behind the blade with earth to improve its earthmoving ability. When it is done, it can also eject that earth. In between missions, that space can be used to carry cargo or engineer supplies.

My experience with the M9 is very limited. I have heard that some dozer operators didn’t like it, and felt it was a rather poor earthmover, especially those who had previous experience with the D7. It has also had a long, long history of maintenance issues, primarily associated with its complex suspension system.

What’s especially interesting is the long development time of the M9. As I mentioned, the Army didn’t start buying the M9 until the late 1980s. But that doesn’t mean it was a new design. Its design actually dates back to the early 1960s.

With a few minor changes, the UET would become the M9. So why the 20 year gap between design and fielding? First, just as the Army was finishing development, Vietnam happened. And the money that would have gone for the UET instead went to fighting that war. In the years after Vietnam, the Army’s funding priorities were on the Big Five, the M1, M2/M3, UH-60, AH-64, and Patriot missile. It wasn’t until those programs were well in hand that other priorities could be addressed.

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Javelin vs. T-72

We’ve posted other versions of this video before.

Possibly the greatest weakness of the T-72 series tanks is the storage of its main gun ammunition. The 2A46 125mm smoothbore tank gun uses an autoloader. It fires sabot rounds, High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) and High Explosive Fragmentation (HEF) rounds. The ammunition is separate loading, with the autoloader first loading the projectile, then a separate propellant charge. The ammunition is held in a horizontal position on a  carousel at the bottom of the turret basket.

The FGM-148 Javelin missile, using a fire and forget imaging infrared seeker, has a two stage tandem HEAT warhead. The first smaller warhead is to detonate any Explosive Reactive Armor, while the second warhead is intended to actually penetrate the main armor.

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You’ll note that the Javelin flies a lofted trajectory when used in the anti-tank role. Among other benefits, this means it is attacking the top armor of the tank, virtually always the thinnest armor of any tank.

If I had to guess, I’d say the explosive jet from this particular shot actually struck either a HEAT or HEF warhead in the carousel. Virtually any HEAT warhead penetration will usually set off the combustible propellant cartridges in the carousel, causing complete destruction of the T-72, but that usually doesn’t result in the utter devastation seen here.

As a contrast, the M1 series of tanks, while it uses semi-combustible propellant charges for its main gun ammo, places that ammo in the rear of the turret bustle. There are blast resistant doors separating the storage from the inside of the turret. On top of the storage are blow-out panels designed to fail and vent any explosion up and away from the crew in the turret. The vehicle might be destroyed, but the crew would have a good chance of escaping with their lives.

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Afghani Armor

Spill pointed this out to me last night. The Afghani National Army has a tank battalion. Where did they get the tanks? They’re leftovers from the Russian invasion. The T-55 and the T-62 are archaic and obsolete compared to US armor. But facing an enemy lacking modern anti-tank weapons, they do bring considerable firepower to bear. When they can manage to get them running.

Here at the 111th Division’s base, the Afghan National Army’s lone tank battalion has about 44 T-55 and T-62 tanks that are in some kind of working order. About 20 to 25 can actually be started and used at any one time. In early July at least eight tanks were deployed against Taliban forces in nearby Kapisa province, officials said.

“These tanks are useful for the terrain of Afghanistan because Afghanistan is mostly a mountainous country,” said Col. Ali Reza, commander of the division’s quick-reaction force. “And if the enemy is stationed in the higher areas, these tanks are quite useful to eliminate them.”

The T-55, first introduced in the early 1950s, was a mainstay of Warsaw Pact forces through much of the Cold War. Its simplicity, reliability and powerful 100 mm gun also made it popular with Third World armies that found it difficult to maintain and operate more sophisticated machines. The T-62, a development of the T-55 with a smoothbore 115 mm gun, followed in the 1960s.

We’ve driven the Type 69 tank, an even more austere version of the T-55 built by China and operated by the Iraqi Army during Desert Storm. We would not like to have to fight from one.

As the article notes, there simply is no supply of spare parts, nor even ammunition, flowing into the country. The have to scavenge and scrounge for parts. And while there are hundreds of derelict tanks in the country, that’s still a finite source of parts. Getting half of the battalion’s 44 tanks up and running is quite the respectable accomplishment.

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Joint Light Tactical Vehicle

Way back in 2008 we talked about why the current Humvee was marginal at best in an environment full of IEDs.  In that same post, we mentioned some of the shortcomings of MRAP trucks as well. At the same time it started buying off the shelf existing MRAP designs, and producing up-armored Humvees, the Army and Marines also started a design program for a replacement vehicle, one designed specifically to have excellent mobility, armor, and survivability in an IED enviroment. This program, the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, or JLTV, has quietly been moving along. Oshkosh, AM General and Lockheed Martin have each built a handful of prototypes, and turned them over to an Army/Marine test.

The U.S. Army and Marine Corps have finished testing prototypes of the Humvee replacement known as the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle.

But results of the evaluations haven’t been released and manufacturers are still waiting for the program office to issue a request for proposals — initially expected this month — to begin the next round of competition.

Defense contracting giant Lockheed Martin Corp., truck-maker Oshkosh Corp. and Humvee-maker AM General LLC each delivered 22 JLTV prototypes to the Army for testing under engineering and manufacturing development contracts signed in 2012. Now, the companies are competing against each other to build 17,000 of the vehicles under a much bigger low-rate initial production contract.

First, no one in their right mind would buy a truck from LockMart. But Oshkosh and AM General both have sterling reputations for delivering quality trucks to the services.

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Oshkosh JLTV prototype

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AM General JLTV prototype

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LMT JLTV prototype

For old times sake, here’s an uparmored Humvee.

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At its heart, it’s still the same old Humvee, not intended to serve as a fighting vehicle. Its flat bottom and wheel wells trap the blast of explosions underneath. Contrast that to the three prototypes above. Each one uses some shaping to better disperse blast overpressure. The uparmored Humvee is also pretty much at the limit of growth capability for payload, and for electrical power. There simply isn’t room to add any more protection or mission equipment. Its off road mobility is already severely compromised compared to its original unarmored configuration.

The JLTV is designed to address those issues.  Of course, that won’t come cheap. I don’t know the unit cost for a current production M1151 Humvee. But I do know that a vanilla base model in 1982 was about $22,000. That’s about $52,000 adjusted for inflation. So my guess would be that a full up model, with armor and engine, transmission and suspension enhancements would probably run three to four times that, around $150,o00 to $200,000. The JLTV is looking to price at about $250,000 for a bare bones truck, and around $400,000 total unit cost including government furnished equipment.

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