Tag Archives: armor

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!

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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.