In honor of reader Wilko, who’s company makes components for Army weapons, and our friend This Buddy of Mine, who’s just an ass, we stole a little footage of the 173rd Airborne doing some live-fire training. Of course, it isn’t like we need a lot of encouragement to post video of stuff getting blowed up real good…
Tag Archives: armor
When you mention the words “amphibious warfare” most people think immediately of the US Marines, and rightly so. But during WWII, the Army invested huge resources into the ability to land on a hostile shore and conduct operations.
There are two general types of amphibious operations: ship-to-shore and shore-to-shore. Ship to shore operations are those in which the landing force is transported to the objective in large, ocean going vessels, then landed via small craft onto the shore. Shore to shore operations take place over relatively short distances, and generally the troops are carried in smaller craft, rather than large transports. Obviously, the anticipated objectives will dictate which approach is taken.
In the late 1930s, with war clouds clearly on the horizon, both the Army and the Marines came to the conclusion that they would need to develop a serious amphibious capability, but they reached different conclusions because of very different assumptions about what type of war they would be fighting.
For 20 years, the Navy had forseen war with Japan in the Pacific. And the cornerstone of the Navy’s strategy to defeat Japan was to defeat the Japanese fleet in a battle, likely somewhere near the Philipines. Since it would be impractical for the fleet to steam all the way from San Diego or Pearl Harbor and fight in those waters, the need for advanced bases was clear. And the Marines understood that as a consequence of the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, any islands that could serve as an advance base would almost certainly be held by the Japanese. That meant the Marines had to be ready to travel the huge distances of the Pacific, land on remote islands, and seize relatively small objectives. For the Marines, this was a raison de etre.
The Army faced a different challenge. The Army had no desire to get into the amphibious warfare business. But watching the rise of Nazi German power, the Army leadership was convinced that sooner or later, they’d have to go fight in Western Europe again. And, unlike 1918, they weren’t at all sure the French ports would be available to land the huge armies planned. After the fall of France in June of 1940, the cold realization came that just to get the Army to the fight would mean sooner or later, landing somewhere in Western Europe, under the guns of the enemy. And not only would the Army have to land there, they would have to build up their forces and simultaneously supply them over the beaches until a suitable port could be seized. Fortunately for the Army, England was still available as an advance base.
The Army didn’t completely ignore the ship to shore model of amphibious warfare, mostly because they couldn’t. When it became apparent that no cross-Channel operation to invade Europe would be possible in 1942 (mostly because of a lack of landing craft) President Roosevelt made the decision that a front in the Atlantic theater would be opened in North Africa. A combined British and American force would be landed in the French occupied territories of North Africa, then drive east to engage the German forces in Tunisia. Due to the distances involved, this could only be a ship to shore movement. Many forces sailed from England, but a significant portion sailed all the way from ports on the East Coast of the US. Even against only fitful French and German resistance, the invasion fleet lost five large transports. One of the lessons the Army learned was that transports waiting to discharge their troops and cargoes were extremely vulnerable. In response, the Army wanted to make sure as many ships as possible had the ability to beach themselves to unload, minimizing the reliance on small craft such as the Higgins boat, LCVP, and the LCM.
These craft were carried near the objective by transports, and lowered over the side by booms or davits. That took time, time during which the transports, only 5-10 miles offshore, were vulnerable to submarines, airplanes and even coastal artillery. While they were fairly good for getting the first units of lightly armed troops ashore, they were less efficient at getting ashore the huge numbers of follow-on troops needed, and importantly, the massive numbers of vehicles the troops would need to break out from any beachhead. Further, they just weren’t capable of bringing ashore the cargoes of supplies, fuel and ammunition the troops would need. Something bigger was needed. And the first of these bigger craft was known as the LCT, or Landing Craft Tank. An LCM3 could carry one tank, barely. An LCT was a much bigger craft and could carry from 3 to 5 tanks. Five was an optimum number, as that was the number of tanks in a platoon, and keeping tactical units together on a landing greatly assisted in the assualt. As you can see from the picture, the LCT was essentially a self-propelled barge with a bow-ramp.
The LCT could easily sail from England to France, or from Mediterranean ports in North Africa to Sicily and Italy. And while it could carry real numbers of tanks, something even better was in the works- the Landing Ship Tank, or LST. Early in the war, espcially as the Allies were first gearing up for the invasion of North Africa, the Army (and especially the British) realized they had no way of shipping tanks overseas and landing them across beaches in any numbers. The LCT couldn’t handle the voyage, and loading LCMs over the side of a transport was problematic in anything but a flat calm. Worse, tanks kept getting heavier and heavier, faster than the booms on transport ships could grow to handle them. The idea arose of converting vessels originally built to carry rail cars from Florida to Panama as tank carriers. But while they could drive the tanks on at the embarkation point, the problem of discharging them remained. To unload them, the Army would need to seize a port. Indeed, this limitation was precisley why Casablanca was a target of the invasion. Enter the British. They had built a series of very shallow draft tankers to serve the waters around Venezuala. The reasoned that the design could quickly be adapted to build a large vessel that could safely beach itself, unload tanks held in what had formerly been the holds via a ramp in the bow, and then retract itself from the beach. Unlike an LCT, the LST might be ungainly and slow, but it was a real seagoing vessel.
While the LST was very valuable in bringing tanks, up to 20 at a time, it turns out the real value was in trucks. The Army in WWII was by far the most mechanized and motorized army in the world. And that meant trucks. Lots of trucks- to move people, supplies, tow guns, you name it. And the LST could carry a lot of trucks, already loaded, both on its tank deck, and on the topsides. And unlike the hassle of unloading a regular transport, all they had to do was drive down a ramp. After making an initial assault, as soon as an LST had discharged its tanks, it would turn around, go back to England (or where ever) and load up on trucks to build up the forces on the beachhead. To say the LST was a success would be a bit of an understatement. The US built roughly 1100 of them during the war for our Navy and the British.
While the LST was great for carrying tanks and trucks, it didn’t do so well at carrying people. One thing the Army really wanted was a small ship that could carry a rifle company from England and land them on the shores of France, non-stop and as a unit. The trick was getting the size just right. It had to be small enough to be built in large numbers, but big enough to cross the Atlantic on its own. It wouldn’t be expected to carry troops across the Atlantic. Those would come across on troopships. But any vessel large enough to do the job would be too large to carry aboard a transport. Pretty soon, the Navy designed and built the Landing Craft Infantry, or LCI. This was a vessel designed almost entirely with the invasion of Normandy in mind. It carried about 200 troops, roughly a reinforced rifle company, for up to 48 hours, which is about the time it took to load and transport them from ports in the Southwest of England and discharge them over the beaches of Normandy.
The Army had one other great tool for bringing supplies across the beach. In the days before the LST was available, the only method of getting trucks ashore across the beach was to winch them over the side of a transport into an LCM. Someone at GM had the bright idea of doing away with the LCM part, and making the truck amphibious. That way, the truck could swim ashore, then drive inland to the supply dumps. The result was basically a boat hull grafted onto a 2-1/2 ton truck, known as the DUKW, and commonly called a “duck.” Thousands of DUKWs, almost all manned by African American soldiers, brought wave after wave of critical supplies ashore across the beaches of Normandy and at other beaches the Army invaded. Unlike most landing craft, these were bought by, and operated by the Army, not the Navy.
Finally, in the Pacific, when you speak of amphibious warfare, again, you rightly think of the Marines. But in fact, the Army had a huge presence there as well. Indeed, it was always a larger prescence than the Marines. The Army made over 100 amphibious assualts in the Pacific theater, many in the Southwest Pacific in and around New Guinea. In conjunction with the US Seventh Fleet, MacArthur’s forces in the Southwest Pacific became masters at the art of amphibious warfare, striking where the Japanese least expected them, and routinely conducting sweeping flanking movements that left Japanese garrisons cut off and useless. Dan Barbey, the Commander of 7th Fleet became known as “Uncle Dan The Amphibious Man.” All this with a fleet mostly composed of tiny LCTs, a few LSTs and LCIs.
The Army also fought alongside the Marine Corps in some of their most storied battles, such as the invasions of Saipan and Okinawa. Indeed, if the atomic bomb attacks had not lead to the early surrender of Japan, the invasion of the home islands would have been mostly an Army affair. Largely as a result of the Army’s preocupation with the European theater, these magnificent efforts have received little attention from the public at large.
After WWII, the Army’s focus again turned to Europe and the Cold War. For several reasons, including the vulnerability of shipping to nuclear weapons, amphibious operations fell out of favor with the Army. The Marines of course, continued to maintain that unique capabilty. Currently, the Army has no capability to conduct a landing against opposition. Current doctrine does still provide for limited ability to sustain forces by what is known as LOTS or “Logistics Over The Shore” and for the rapid deployment of troop units to hot spots via Afloat Prepositioning Squadrons. Basically, sets of unit equipment are mainained aboard large ships just days sailing from their possible objectives. If needed, they can sail to a friendly port or harbor, and unload their cargoes to meet up with troops flown in by either commercial aircraft or military transport planes. Alternatively, they can serve as a follow-on force to reinforce a beach seized by Marine amphibious assault.
Some folks had trouble opening the slide for the division in the original post, so I’ve updated it.
So Israel has announced a unilateral cease fire and pulled its troops out of Gaza. Some on the right are unhappy that Israel has ceased offensive actions so soon. But here’s the thing- they were rapidly reaching the point of diminishing returns. All military actions take place in a political sphere, both domestic and international.
Domestic Israeli politics supported the incursion as a means to curb Hamas rocket attacks on Israel, provided there were not a lot of casualties among the Israeli ground forces.
Internationally, there was generally support (or at least muted condemnation) for the same goal.
Israel could reasonably expect its operations in Gaza to attrit a portion of the Hamas leadership, locate and destroy stockpiles of rockets and the production centers for them, disrupt the smuggling tunnel network and punish Hamas enough to make them reconsider the efficacy of their rocket attacks.
What ground operations could not be expected to do was destroy Hamas as a political entity, nor cow the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to the point where they sued for peace. And Israel has no desire at all to engage in long term occupation of Gaza. That would be costly in terms of money, leave Israeli troops vulnerable to attack by insurgent forces and undermine domestic political support and international forbearance of their actions.
As to the timing of the cease fire, there can be reasonable disagreement whether it came too soon, too late, or just right, but to argue that Israel could have continued to fight in Gaza without paying an undue penalty of some sort is niave.
The Israelis have long sought to manufacture as much of their military hardware as possible at home.There are a couple good reasons for this. First, in the event of an arms embargo, they won’t find themselves without the weapons they need to fight. Having faced more than one embargo, they are somewhat wary of placing any faith in anybody outside Israel. Second, as an export industry, it can be very profitable, once they have an established production base. There are more than a couple countries that have no great love for Israel but have ended up buying military hardware from them.
One area the Israelis really wanted to establish some independence in was making tanks. A modern tank takes a lot more work to make than you might think. The armor itself is difficult to produce. You also need powerful engines, the delicate machinery to operate the turret, the precision milling to make the main gun, the specialized electronics and optics for the fire control system and an industry to make the ammunition.
After the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israel got serious about manufacturing their own tank. And based on the heavy casualties in tank crews during that war, one of the objectives was to make crew survivability a priority (the US Army’s design of the M-1 tank was also heavily influenced by the same factors).
The result of the development was the Merkava tank. The Merkava was a little unusual in several ways. Unlike just about every other main battle tank in the world, the Merkava had its engine mounted in the front, pushing the turret towards the rear. This provided an extra degree of protection in that if a round penetrated the front armor, it would still have to go through the engine to get to the crew compartment. And because the crew compartment was at the rear of the vehicle, you could put a small entry to the vehicle in the back. By removing some of the ammo racks, you could provide space for a couple infantrymen or extra radios and operators for a unit commander or even put in medics and litters to use the vehicle as an ambulance. Finally, the wedge shaped turret was designed to cause most shells striking it to ricochet rather than penetrate.
Over the years, the Merkava has been developed in four main versions. Most of the early versions are being withdrawn from service. Some thought was given to converting them to armored personnel carriers, but as of 2008 the decision was made to build new APCs based on the Merkava 4 design.
One of the trends we’ve seen in recent years is precision weapons causing warheads to get smaller.
For many years, the goal of warplane designers was to greatly increase the payload of their designs. With unguided bombs, it took a lot of bombs to hit a target. For instance, on a typical raid, my dad would carry 22 Mk82 500lb bombs into North Vietnam. And this was a plane that was considered a precision strike aircraft back then. Precision meaning they could find a target like a steel mill at night or in bad weather. Just find it. Precision meant that at least some of the bombs would land on the steel mill.
Eventually, laser guided bombs made their debut in Vietnam (way back in 1967!) greatly increasing the accuracy of weapons. How much? For several years, the US had been bombing the Dragons Jaw Bridge in an attempt to cut the supply lines. They had lost quite a few aircraft and crews, but never succeeded in permanently destroying the bridge. Finally, in 1972, F-4′s dropping 2000lb laser guided bombs managed to drop the bridge.
Laser guided bombs first really entered the public conscious in Desert Storm. Videotape of the bombs unerringly hitting their targets was seen worldwide on CNN and other outlets. “Smart bomb” entered the lexicon. But here’s the thing. LGBs aren’t that smart at all. Ever play with a cat and a laser pointer? The cat just chases the laser dot wherever it goes? That’s exactly what an LGB does. The brains are really the sensor that points the laser. The first lasers were simply a box that the Weapon System Officer in the back seat of a Phantom pointed out the window. It worked, but just barely. Eventually, pods that mounted a laser coaxially with a TV camera fed a picture to the scope in the rear cockpit. The great advantage there was the system could be stabilized to account for the movement of the jet. Soon, a thermal Forward Looking Infra Red camera was mounted, allowing the jet to see targets in the dark. When we saw the videos of LGBs in Desert Storm, that was what we were seeing.
Pretty soon after LGBs were first used, it became clear to a lot of smart folks that using a laser to guide weapons would work for more than just big bombs. The Hellfire missile was designed to kill the massive numbers of Soviet tanks in Western Europe, should Ivan ever get frisky. The Hellfire was (and still is) the primary weapon of the AH-64 Apache helicopter. The big advantages of the Hellfire over previous helicopter mounted anti-tank missiles was that it had far greater range (so the bad guys couldn’t shoot at you as much) and it flew a lot faster.
Now, we’ve talked about HEAT warheads missiles like the Hellfire have. Great for killing tanks, but not so much for blowing up Jihadis. Simply switching warheads fixed that problem. But another problem with the Hellfire is it costs a lot of money. Also, helicopters can only carry so many.
Right now, one other option Apache crews have for toasting bad guys is the 2.75″/70mm rocket. We’ve been mounting rockets on helicopters a long time now. The 70mm rocket is a handy weapon, but it is unguided, so to hit a target, the chopper has to get uncomfortably close to the bad guys. We don’t really like to do that. Given the advances in modern electronics, someone came up with the bright idea of mounting a laser-seeker on the nose of a 70mm rocket. The program was originally called APKWS for Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System. LockheedMartin is the prime contractor and they’ve named the weapon DAGR. I’m sure DAGR is an acronym for something, but LockMart doesn’t say on their website. Still, it’s a bright idea. Now, instead of having to shoot from 1000 meters or less, our helo bubbas can pop one of these from several thousand meters. Just the thing for hitting a truck full of Talibanis. And since it is so much smaller and lighter than a Hellfire, our Apaches can carry several more:
The program is still under development. Ground test firing has begun.
Click link for video.
Commenter (and blogger in his own right) ExUrban Kevin asks:
The Army is looking to replace the M4/M16, (see Defense Link article here, read the whole thing) , but others seem to think the #1 priority for infantrymen should be upgraded body armor such as Dragonskin.
Which is more important to the infantry, and why?
I’d have to say that a new weapon would be the better investment. Having said that, the US is buying improved body armor. The current state of the art is known as Enhanced Small Arms Protective Inserts or ESAPI. Just this month, the Army signed a $6 billion dollar series of contracts to buy the next generation, called XSAPI. These are not the Dragon Skin vests that made such a brouhaha a couple of years ago. This is an enhancement to the ceramic plates that are inserted into a vest.
Now, as to replacing the current weapon, we’ve taken a peek at that issue before. A lot of what is going on here is political. To replace all the M-16/M-4 weapons in the inventory would cost a lot of money. When there’s a lot of money involved, Congress wants to have more involvement than might be good for the process. In addition, Congress is more than a little peeved with the way the Army has been buying small arms lately.
When the M-4 was first designed, it wasn’t thought of as a replacement for the M-16, but rather as a niche weapon for Special Forces. Congress wasn’t going to be upset by a rather small purchase. But then when people in the Army started seeing how handy the M-4 was compared to the M-16, more and more units started wanting it. Pretty soon, the Army was buying more and more M-4s. All without having a major competition open to other defense contractors. Pretty soon, we were talking real money here. Leaving aside for a minute the question of whether the M-4 was the best weapon available, there are always Congressmen who want to see a competition because they represent companies that might be able to get a piece of the pie. That alone gives the Congressmen a vested interest in seeing competition. And often, Congress has a lot to say about how the competition is structured, which has a lot to say about who wins.
While the Army insists the M-4 is a perfectly good weapon, that doesn’t mean it is the best available at a reasonable cost. There are any number of folks willing to give their opinion on what should come next. If you spend any time around gunbloggers, you’ll find out pretty quickly that there are thousands of differing opinions.
From here, we’ll work on the assumption that the M-4 should be replaced. That leaves us with a couple of options. One, we can just replace the M-4 with another 5.56mm weapon, or we can adopt a new cartridge as well. Many folks think the 5.56mm is just too small a round for modern combat. The old 7.62mm round is probably too large for a carbine, but there is a lot of interest in a 6.8mm round.
One of the big knocks against the M-16/M-4 family is that it uses a system called “direct impingement” to cycle the weapon. Gas is tapped by a small hole under the front sight, directed via a stainless steel tube, and then strikes the bolt and bolt carrier directly. This causes carbon to build up rapidly and the weapon needs frequent cleaning and judicious use of lubrication. Most semi-automatic and automatic rifles use a piston system, where the gas instead strikes a piston that drives a rod connected to the bolt to cycle the weapon. While this reduces carbon buildup, it does mean more parts and weight.
One piston powered weapon that has already seen limited use by Army Special Forces is the HK416. Instead of a whole new weapon, they’ve built an upper receiver that can be swapped out with the M-4′s existing upper and viola!, a new weapon.
It is popular, requires little new training for soldiers, and can be in production quickly. Another option would be the FN SCAR, an entirely new weapon that Special Forces is buying to replace their M-4s and HK-416s.
While the video shows the weapon in both calibers, my understanding is that currently the Special Forces are only buying the 5.56mm.
The other path would be to switch to an entirely new round, possibly the 6.8mm SPC. This option gets to be a whole lot more expensive, as you not only replace the weapons, you have to buy a bunch of new ammo as well. And, there is almost no chance that the rifle caliber would change without changing the caliber of the Squad Automatic Weapon. You’d end up having to replace all the M249s, at whatever that cost is. And no one knows what the cost would be. There’s no 6.8mm version of the SAW, and no assurances that a version would work that well. Time will tell.
So, what do you think?
Soon after the Vietnam War, the Army returned its focus to Western Europe and the problem of how to deter the massive Soviet armies facing them in Germany. The Army worked on several fronts to address the problem. They revised the doctrine under which they would fight, they set upon a sensible procurement program that gave us the “Big Five” weapon systems and they worked hard to lobby congress to keep the Army large enough to do the job.
The most important step the Army took, however, was to totally revise the way it trained soldiers and leaders to fight. Note, I’m not talking so much about how they fight, but rather, how they train. One of the first things they did was examine every task a soldier would likely be asked to perform. Now, this sounds pretty simple, but it wasn’t. The looked at all the tasks every soldier had to be able to do, then they had to look at all 200 or so of the different MOS’s in the Army and come up with the tasks that soldiers in those jobs would have to do. The Army also had to break these lists down by rank. After all, we expect a Sergeant to know more than a Private.
Using these individual tasks as building blocks, the Army then looked at what each unit, from squad to field army, would have to do. And they had to do this every type of unit, from infantry to quartermaster units that provide shower and laundry services. All of these tasks were written down in a standardized format so a soldier could quickly read and learn what he and his unit were expected to do and train accordingly.
Now, for the manuever units, infantry and armor, there was one little problem. Even if you could look at the book and say a unit was well trained, there is no substitute for going out and fighting war games. But since it is considered bad form to fire live ammunition at your own people, there was little feedback to tell you if you were doing it right. Something more was needed. And so MILES was invented.
MILES is the Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System. It is a giant game of Laser-Tag. In fact, Laser-Tag is a ripoff of MILES technology. The basic MILES setup is a harness and a “halo” of laser receivers on each soldier. And his rifle has a small laser mounted on the barrel. Each time you fire a blank, the laser fires a short pulse. If that pulse hits a harness, a beeper on the harness emits a loud, very annoying sound. That sound is to let you know that you are “dead.”
Each laser had a small key that had to be inserted for the laser to fire. But if your harness was beeping, the only way to shut it off was to remove the key from the laser and put it in the harness. That way you wouldn’t keep fighting after you were “dead.”
With this simple gear, an infantry squad could get instantaneous feedback on how well it was doing on a training exercise. But what about units equipped with M-113s, or Bradleys, or tanks?
Well, they thought of that as well. Each vehicle had its own harness. It was fastened to the track with velcro. and each weapon on the vehicle had its own laser. But the important component was the control box. We all know that an M-16 won’t destroy a tank. So each laser fired a specially coded pulse. Let’s say a Bradley was hit with laser pulses from an M-16. The control box would read the pulses, realize they were from an M-16, and ignore them. But if an anti-tank missile hit the Bradley, the control box would read the signal and electronically “roll the dice” to determine if the vehicle had been killed. If the vehicle was killed, there was a yellow flashing light that would blink. If the control box decided that the hit wasn’t a kill, the light would only flash a couple times.
With MILES gear on board, crews of armored vehicles could learn the effect of their gunnery and manuever in a training exercise. The proficiency went up immensely. No other nation in the world had trained their troops as well in armored combat. The payoff was seen in Operation Desert Storm.
Reader GTShubert drops this gem in the comments for the M-114 post. I don’t think he’ll mind if I share it with you.
The M114 series were poorly designed for the tasks in which they were intended, but in my opinion, they are the ultimate armored tracked vehicle for private collections or agency service, as they are small enough to move and store, and still retains the curb appeal of a tank. We have a lot of fun with ours anyway. We are also building a second custom M114 (more gadgets and power), along with a correct restoration of a M114A1E1 with a dummy M139 gun.
Here’s the video.
As you can see, it is a pretty sprightly little track. I’d just be nervous about the thing screaming by my pickup truck though.
It is a given that the folks in the Army like to make fun of the Air Force as “the country club” and not really being a military service. An old joke holds that the very first thing built on a new Air Force base is the golf course. They know if they blow all the money on luxury items, sooner or later Congress will fund the runways. I’m not immune to this, having made fun of the wing-wipers once or twice myself.
There is, however, a small slice of the Air Force that Army folks admire, almost without reservation. Close Air Support is a mission the Air Force doesn’t like, never has, and probably never will. But the folks in the Air Force that actually do end up with the job are commited to doing it as good as anyone in the world. The epitome of close air support is the A-10.
At the end of the Vietnam war, the Air Force had relied heavily on two planes for close air support- the A-1 Skyraider, and the A-7 Corsair II. While both were excellent aircraft, neither were optimum aircraft for the post-Vietnam close air support role. The A-1 was a piston engined airplane of WWII design. They were just plain worn out. Even worse, it was a Navy design. That didn’t set well with the upper echelons of the Air Force. The A-7, on the other hand, was a relatively new design, with excellent range and load-carrying capacity. But it too had two major flaws. Again, it was a Navy design. Second, it wasn’t optimized for the close air support role. It had been designed for long range strike. The Air Force began a to design a new aircraft totally dedicated to close air support.
The major problem facing the Air Force in Western Europe in the 1970s was the same as the Army- the colossal numbers of Soviet tanks. The prime mission of any close air support aircraft would be killing tanks. Historically, the best weapon an airplane could use to kill tanks was a gun. The 20mm Gatling gun in use wouldn’t be enough though. A bigger gun was needed. And a bigger gun was got. The GAU-8 Avenger. This huge 30mm Gatling gun fired armor piercing rounds that could penetrate the armor of any tank. But it was huge. The airplane that carried it would actaully have to be designed around the gun.
The A-10 was designed around the gun. In fact, the nose wheel of the plane is offset to one side to make room for the gun and to make sure that the firing barrel is on the centerline of the aircraft.
In addition to the big gun, the A-10 has lots (and lots and lots) of hard-points under its wings to hang additional weapons, including missiles, bombs and rockets.
Another prime concern when the A-10 was being designed was survivabilty. The front line is a dangerous place. Planes flying close air support have to get down low and in close. That means that every bad guy with a gun gets to take a shot at you. Republic, who designed and built the A-10, had seen many of their F-105s lost in Vietnam to relatively minor damage. They were determined that wouldn’t happen with the A-10. Airplanes are made of panels of aluminum about as thick as a beer can. So is the A-10. But the pilot sits in a “bathtub” of titanium armor, so he won’t be injured by flak. The engines are mounted to reduce the chance of a heat-seeking missile hitting the aircraft. Rather than risking losing control from hydralic leaks, the airplane has a backup system of pushrods to handle the flight control surfaces. The wheels don’t even retract all the way into the plane. This way, in a belly landing, they can still support the plane.
The A- 10 isn’t a very fast jet. It only goes about 400 miles an hour. That’s about the same as a WWII fighter. The joke in the Air Force is that A-10 pilots don’t wear a wristwatch, they carry a calendar. But it is the best plane in the world for close air support. In service since the late 1970s, A-10s have been the angel on the groundpounder’s shoulder in Desert Storm, The 1999 Air War in the Former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq. With its excellent manueverability, lethal weapons and great survivability, the A-10 has not only been the plane for close air support, it has also served as a Forward Air Controller, helping planes like the F-15E and F-16 locate and destroy targets to support the troops on the ground. Currently, the Air Force is upgrading the A-10s to help them do this job well into the future.
I mentioned the M-114 a while back. Someone found this by search engine and it got me to thinking. M-114s were not a very sucessful design, but I always liked them. Mind you, the only ones I saw were either targets on the range, or in the hands of private restorers.
The M-114 was a little sister to the M-113 Armored Personnel Carrier. They shared a lot of the same technology, but were much smaller. They were intended as a small, easy to hide vehicle for Cavalry Scouts. Unfortunately, they seemed to have quite a few maintenance issues. There were few things they could do that an M-113 couldn’t, and the extra space in the M-113 gave it more flexibility. You could fit three people in an M-114, but it was pretty cozy. Squeezing eleven people in an M-113 was no big deal. Indeed, the M-113 and its variants are still in widespread use in our Army and many others.
In addition to equipping Cavalry units, many infantry companies equipped with the M-113 had an M-114 for the Company Commander. Eventually, this gave way to an M-113 for the CO. I mentioned the M-39 20mm cannon. Here’s a guy with his very own.