In keeping with the second half of the blog’s name…
But hey, if they’re happy, more power to ‘em. The world can always use a little more love.
In keeping with the second half of the blog’s name…
But hey, if they’re happy, more power to ‘em. The world can always use a little more love.
The JMRC (Joint Multinational Readiness Center) Hohenfels is a terrific little chunk of land in the gorgeous rolling hills of Bavaria, Germany. Nearby Grafenwoehr is the live fire range complex. Hohenfels is the force on force maneuver box.
I made about half a dozen 3-4 week trips to Hohenfels in my short tour in Germany. I never saw such nice weather there. It was either cold and wet (or snowy) in the winter, or hot and dusty in the summer.
Back in the day, right toward the end of the Cold War, the usual use of Hohenfels, then known as CMTC, was to put a heavy brigade through its paces. The opposing force was normally supplied by a reinforced battalion from one of the division’s other brigades. Toward the end of my time in Germany, CMTC gained its own full time OPFOR, 1/4 Infantry (who are still there).
In addition to the Blue Force and the OPFOR, there is also the O/C Team. What used to be called umpires, the Observer/Controller Teams advise, assist, and critique the actions of the unit being trained. Much like a coach walks a player through his performance after a game, so the O/C’s help show the units under training their strengths (usually few!) and weaknesses (usually many!).
O/C’s are usually assigned to just about every echelon throughout the unit being trained. For instance, a mechanized Infantry platoon would typically have a senior Infantry NCO who has successfully served as a Platoon Sergeant. And the battalion commander would have as an O/C a fellow Lieutenant Colonel, one who has successfully completed his battalion command tour.
I *think* this exercise was just before our friend Esli assumed duties at JMRC.
Since we’re on a bit of a kick talking about the Engineers lately, here’s one of my favorite pieces of their kit.
As noted, the three primary missions of the Engineers are mobility, countermobility, and survivability. Countermobility is denying the enemy freedom of movement, usually by obstacles to block, delay, channelize or turn him. Common obstacles include concertina wire, anti-tank ditches, minefields, and abatis.
In places where a critical road route cannot be bypassed, such as a cut through a pass, cratering the road is an excellent method of delaying the enemy.
The use of explosives to move earth is something of an art and a science. Simply placing a large pile of C-4 on the road will do little. A slower “burning” explosive such as ammonium nitrate/fuel oil (ANFO) or H-6 is preferred, as it give more of a “push” than faster explosives, which are more of a “cutting” effect.
Also, a cratering charge, not surprisingly, has to be buried in the ground to have any militarily significant effect. In areas of soft soil, this can be achieved with a pick and shovel. But since we’re talking about cratering a roadway, that option is somewhat less attractive. It is both difficult and very time consuming.
The Army, therefore, came up with a novel system to quickly emplace and explode a cratering charge that requires no preparation of the site, only the charge itself, using off the shelf components to field a rather ingenious device.
The M180 Cratering Demolition Kit is two explosive warheads and a rocket motor mounted on a tripod.
Here’s how it works. Once the tripod and charges and associated det cord and detonators are emplaced, a blasting machine is used to trigger the charge from a safe distance. The blasting machine both ignites the rocket motor and a time delay blasting cap for the main 40lb warhead. The rocket motor propels the warhead down the tripod leg. The nose cap of the warhead strikes the M57 firing device.* The M57 sends an electrical impulse to the M6 blasting cap, which sets off the det cord and the M2A4 Shaped Charge warhead. The 15 pound shaped charge warhead blasts through the roadbed and well below. The rocket, continuing along its path, buries the main warhead well below the surface. The delayed action detonators blow the main charge, and the cratering effect takes place.
Typically, three to five M180s are connected and fired together to make one really big crater.
I’ve had the pleasure of actually watching one in action. It’s quite the thump. But surprisingly, I was unable to locate a youtube of one in action. On the other hand, I did come across this clip of young Engineer officers performing cratering while at the Engineer Basic Officer Leaders Course. First with a hand emplaced shaped charge, they break sod, then hand emplace a cratering charge.
*Yes, the same M57 used in the M18 Claymore mine
We’re generally admirers of retired US Army Major General Robert Scales. He was a fine combat officer, by most accounts, and a talented historian. What he isn’t is an expert on small arms.
Back on December 28th, Scales published a piece in the Atlantic titled “Gun Trouble” bemoaning the continued deployment of the M16/M4 series of rifles by the US military.
Any lost edge, however small, means death. A jammed weapon, an enemy too swift and elusive to be engaged with aimed fire, an enemy out of range yet capable of delivering a larger volume of return fire—any of these cancel out all the wonderfully superior and expensive American air- and sea-based weapons that may be fired in support of ground troops. A soldier in basic training is told that his rifle is his best friend and his ticket home. If the lives of so many depend on just the development of a $1,000, six-pound composite of steel and plastic, why can’t the richest country in the world give it to them?
The answer is both complex and simple. The M4, the standard carbine in use by the infantry today, is a lighter version of the M16 rifle that killed so many of the soldiers who carried it in Vietnam. (The M16 is still also in wide use today.) In the early morning of July 13, 2008, nine infantrymen died fighting off a Taliban attack at a combat outpost near the village of Wanat in Afghanistan’s Nuristan province. Some of the soldiers present later reported that in the midst of battle their rifles overheated and jammed. The Wanat story is reminiscent of experiences in Vietnam: in fact, other than a few cosmetic changes, the rifles from both wars are virtually the same. And the M4’s shorter barrel makes it less effective at long ranges than the older M16—an especially serious disadvantage in modern combat, which is increasingly taking place over long ranges.
Emphasis mine. Hold that thought, we’ll come back to it.
To be sure, the M16/M4 is not without its faults. But then, every small arms design is a compromise between several competing factors. It should be reasonably light, lethal (in terms of terminal ballistics), accurate both as a matter of internal ballistics and ergonomics, durable, easy to maintain, and easy to train with. Generally, improvements in one area tend to adversely effect another. Most obviously, light weight tends to reduce durability.
What makes the evolved M16/AR15 series so effective that the Army’s Individual Carbine competition conducted in 2013 – evaluating 8 other competing designs under demanding conditions – concluded there was nothing to gain by replacing it? In addition to the 2013 evaluation, the M16 series has outlasted a nearly non-stop campaign to replace it with “leap ahead” rifle technology, from the flechette based Special Purpose Individual Weapon (SPIW) program in the 1960’s, to the Objective Individual Combat Weapon (OICW/XM8) program, effectively terminated in 2005, and has even survived the 2009 limited adoption of the Mk16/Mk17 Selective Combat Assault Rifle (SCAR), a purpose built modular weapons system painstakingly designed in full cooperation with downrange “operators” to specifically address requirements of USSOCOM. SOCOM fielded the 7.62mm SCAR-H / Mk17, but declined to adopt the 5.56mm variant because in their opinion it did not represent a significant improvement over the current M4A1 Carbine. Despite the option to use nearly any weapon they choose, when a SOCOM operator arrives on the objective today he’s more than likely carrying a 5.56mm M4 variant.
Read the whole thing.
As noted by Grosenheider, the Army has repeatedly attempted (and failed) to make a leap forward in small arms technology. That leaves marginal improvements on the table. Which, as Grosenheider shows, is just what the Army has been doing with the M16/M4 family since its introduction particularly in the past decade.
Let’s go back to MG Scales on the Battle of Wanat.
Some of the soldiers present later reported that in the midst of battle their rifles overheated and jammed.
Yes, that’s true. The fact is, no rifle lightweight enough for general issue can handle more than a certain sustained rate of fire. There’s a reason machine guns weigh more than rifles, after all. And even the soldiers that fought there understand this. Via @WesleyMorgan on Twitter:
“I love the M4. That’s why it angers me that they misquoted me they way they did. If you read in my sworn statement that says exactly the same thing that I stated here and which is the same thing that I keep saying but somehow they love to take out all the shrapnel pieces that I talked about and just made it sound like I’m talking bad on the M4 and the machine gun weapon system. It just angers me very, very much.”
Surveys of soldiers have consistently found them to be highly satisfied with the M4 carbine, indeed, moreso than any other small arm in the inventory.
The bottom line is that the M16/M4 is a satisfactory family of weapons, and the ultimate arbiter of whether soldiers will be successful with it is in training them to maintain and fire them properly.
Developed in the 1960s and 1970s, and entering service in the 1980s, the M2/M3 Bradley series of fighting vehicles was designed to counter first generation Soviet BMP and BTR series vehicles. As such, the Army equipped it with the 25mm M242 Bushmaster chain gun. The M242 performed very well against Russian and Chinese built armored vehicles in Desert Storm, and later in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
But the threat is not static. More and more, infantry carriers and other armored vehicles are getting bigger and bigger, and carrying more and more armor. And small anti-tank missile teams are employing longer ranged missiles. The armor piercing ammunition for the M242 has been improved, but there is little room for growth. To achieve more armor penetration, the Bradley will simply need a larger gun. And to that end, the Army is experimenting with a 30mm autocannon.
The 30mm Mk44 Bushmaster II gun isn’t new. It’s been around in various forms for almost as long as its little 25mm brother. It was intended to be the main armament of the cancelled Marine Corps Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. And it is mounted as secondary armament on the Navy’s LCS and LPD-17 ships. Various foreign powers have evaluated or adopted it. So adapting it to the Bradley would seem to be a simple matter.
But it isn’t quite that simple.
The Bradley was designed with the smaller 25mm in mind. The size of the gun here wasn’t so important. The gun and its mount are in the gunhouse portion of the turret, above the hull of the vehicle proper. The size of the gunhouse itself wasn’t critical.
But the ammunition cans for the gun are stored inside the turret basket. That’s the part of the turret, the ammo system, turret drives, and support that extends down inside the vehicle, and rotates on a roller path on the bottom of the hull. And the turret basket size, essentially its diameter, went far to fixing the exact size of the Bradley.
You can simply put a new turret on the Bradley, with the same size turret basket. The 30mm round isn’t that much larger than the 25mm. 25mm ammo is 13.7 centimeters long. The Bushmaster II 30mm ammo is 17.3cm long.
But that extra inch or so of length cuts into the crew space of the Bradley. Already fairly cramped when designed, the turret crew space has further been crowded by installation of additional electronics, fire control, and networking equipment. An inch doesn’t seem much, but even my relatively small 5’10” frame, when seated in the commanders seat, had my knees in uncomfortable contact with the ammunition cans.
We’ll see if the Army decides to pay to upgrade the Bradley, search instead for a whole new vehicle, or just continue to move along with what we have and hope for the best.
Last week, several papers carried stories about sociologists in the Army worried about the low percentage of black leaders, particularly at the battalion and brigade combat team level.
U.S. Army sociologists are worried that a lack of black officers leading its combat troops will have detrimental effect on minorities and lead to fewer black officers in top leadership posts.
“The issue exists. The leadership is aware of it,” Brig. Gen. Ronald Lewis told USA Today on Thursday. “The leadership does have an action plan in place. And it’s complicated.”
The paper also noted that of the 238 West Point graduates commissioned to be infantry officers in 2012, only seven were black. One of the Army’s plans for addressing the issue will be to put more emphasis on recruiting and mentoring minority officers.
Let us set aside for the moment the question of whether the Army needs to have senior leadership ethnically proportionate to the population of either the Army or the nation at large.
Why is it that there are so few black field grade commanders?
Well, one author, writing under a pen name to avoid career suicide, addresses the topic.
In trying to resolve this issue the Army has gone through excruciating efforts to recruit more black officers into the combat arms. The Army has not failed, but has not made much progress. Previously, while I was in a position to observe the branch assignments of one of the Army’s largest commissioning sources, it was apparent to me that there was little interest from the majority of minority men in going into the combat arms. In particular, black me were significantly underrepresented in the infantry, armor and field artillery branches. Correspondingly, the ADA, signal and logistics branches were overrepresented. As for explanations, none could be found.
In a previous life I was in a position to observe the intake of initial-entry soldiers into the Army. It became apparent rapidly that minorities of all types and black soldiers, in particular, were underrepresented in combat arms. We instituted an analysis of why and obtained no cogent results. Often we asked members of high-school academia how we could get more black men to enlist for the combat arms. They had no answer. We asked them why they thought young black men were not coming into the combat arms and their best guess, and only a guess, was that the community was sending them to where they could best obtain a skill transferrable to civilian life. Being a member of rifle squad, an M1 tank gunner, or a gunner on an M198 crew did not transfer well to civilian life, according to them.
The skew in demographics is far less for senior NCOs. There’s plenty of black Command Sergeants Major. But even so, my anecdotal experience as recruiter showed me that, while many young blacks were interested in service, they were mostly interested in improving their lot in life, via technical training in the service, or through the educational benefits. Many who did enlist in the combat arms did so mostly because low test scores precluded them from more skill oriented specialties. Some of those soldiers found they enjoyed the combat arms, and decided to make a career of it. Many did their job for the term of their enlistment, and went on to use the GI Bill to pay for education. At any event, once they were in a unit, there wasn’t much to choose from between one soldier and another. Was there racial tension in the units I served in? Some. Sometimes. But less than I see in the population as a whole.
On the officer side, as Petronius Arbiter notes, not many blacks commissioning in the Army want to be in the combat arms, in spite of a great deal of effort to convince them to go Infantry.
Combat Arms is the path to stars in the Army. It’s not the only path, but it is the most likely. But the journey from 2LT to GEN is a long one, and only a vanishingly small number of officers will rise that far. If you don’t start with a significant percentage of black officers in the combat arms, your chances of having any rise to the very top are miniscule. Not non-existent, just miniscule. That’s not racism. It’s statistics.
The Army could simply force larger numbers of black officers to accept commissions in the Infantry or other combat arms branches. That is likely to have serious consequences in the officer management system on two fronts within just a few short years. First, the obvious one. It’s extremely likely that many young black officers, forced into a branch they didn’t seek, will leave at the earliest possible opportunity. And do we really want combat leaders who don’t want to be combat leaders? Second, there are plenty of young officers who do want to be in combat arms, and fight like heck to get the crossed rifles of the Infantry. If we force black officers to take slots in the Infantry, obviously, some officers who had sought that branch will be forced elsewhere. And they too will likely seek to leave at the end of their obligation, rather than continue as career officers. Both groups would likely show as a dip in the numbers of mid grade officers in their respective branches. Given the difficulties the Army is already having in that group of grades in retaining quality officers, exacerbating the problem is not wise.
Likely, the Army will stress diversity, attempt to increase recruiting among blacks (at an increased cost- lower propensity to join means higher recruiting costs), and, at worst, a unspoken quota system for those few black officers that do choose combat arms; in effect, if you’re black and breathing, you get promoted.
Ironically, as mentioned in the comments at FP, there was a time when the Army virtually excluded black officers from the combat arms, even for black regiments. To be black and in the Army in World War II was one thing, to be black and in the combat arms in the Army in World War II was a source of great pride. And ultimately, I’d argue that it was one of the germs of the civil rights movement. A man who will fight and shed blood just as red as a white man’s was obviously as due respect and equal treatment as the rest of the population.