Tag Archives: army

What’s old is new again, the Armored Gun System and Mobile Protected Firepower.

Light forces lack firepower. Tis true. The light Infantry Brigade Combat Team has small arms, mortars, Javelin and TOW missiles, and a 105mm towed artillery battalion. What they don’t have is a heavy direct fire weapon. This is particularly stressing to the Airborne Brigade Combat Teams of the 82nd Airborne Division. Airborne forces can, by doctrine, expect to operate outside the reach of supporting arms of higher echelons. Yes, the can expect to receive plenty of close air support, but CAS takes time, and often is restricted due to ROE or concerns about friendly casualties. What they need is a rapid response heavy direct fire system to overmatch enemy light forces.

They used to have such a capability with the M551 Sheridan light Armored Reconnaissance/Airborne Assault Vehicle. But the 1960s era Sheridan was worn out by the time it was retired in the early 1990s. The Army actually developed a replacement for the Sheridan in the early 1990s, but the “peace dividend” of the end of the Cold War saw its cancellation due to budget cuts.

The Sheridan replacement was to be the M8 Buford Armored Gun System. Development was rapid, but very smooth, and the Army went through the complete development and trials process, and type classified it. Basically, it was evaluated and approved for service. It was everything the Army wanted in a vehicle to support the Airborne.

A fully tracked vehicle mounting an autoloading 105mm rifled main gun, the M8 was powered by a 550hp diesel engine. The three man crew serviced a vehicle that, in addition to the main gun, carried an M240 7.62mm coaxial gun and mounted a .50cal M2 machine gun on the commander’s cupola. The main gun autoloader held 21 rounds of ready ammunition and a reserve of 9 rounds, both HEAT and Sabot rounds being available. Both a day sight and a thermal night sight controlled the weapons. 150 gallons of diesel or JP8 gave it a range of about 280 miles. .

What the M8 most decidedly wasn’t was a tank. Sure, it looked like a tank. Fully tracked, turret, 105mm gun. What it didn’t have was a lot of armor. You see, the key defining requirement was that the M8 had to be capable of being airdropped via parachute from the C-130. And that limitation imposed hard limits on the weight and size of the vehicle. Basically, the design could be no more than 18 tons, and 100” high or less. That meant very little armor. The benchmark was the M8 had to be able to withstand 14.5mm machine gun fire and fragments from 155mm artillery rounds at 20 meters. That’s essentially the same level of protection that the original vanilla M2 Bradley had in 1983.

That’s pretty minimal protection for a vehicle on the battlefield. So the team at United Defense and the Army developed the “Level” system. While the basic armor was really light, additional bolt-on armor kits could be installed in the field to improve protection. For instance, the slightly heavier Level II bolt on kit would provide improved protection against mines. The M8 could not be airdropped in this configuration, but could still be carried inside a C-130. It would simply have to be airlanded, rather than dropped. The Level III kit gave the M8 a weight of about 25 tons. While that was too much for a C-130 to haul, three could fit in a C-17, or five in a C-5 Galaxy. The Level III configuration would provide decent protection from hand-held anti-armor weapons such as RPGs.

The concept was that Level I M8s would be airdropped onto the battlefield, and as quickly as possible, increased levels would be added. The three man crew could bolt on the additional protection in a couple hours with simple hand tools.


All in all, the Army was very happy with the M8. The plan was to buy enough to equip the 82nd Airborne division with one battalion, and the (then “light”) 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment with about three squadrons worth. That was a pretty small production run planned, which given the development costs* drove up the unit price. And since we all know that in the mid-1990s there were no threats and no possible opponents, the program was cancelled to save money. The 82nd and the 2ACR would just have to get by with Humvees.

So we find ourselves in 2015 with light forces that, as ever, still lack heavy direct firepower. Sure, eventually our light forces can place artillery or air support on target. But many targets on the battlefield are fleeting. The key to winning the firefight is overmatching their fires rapidly. And that means having the firepower on the ground with the troops, right there, right then.

And so, the Army, particularly the Maneuver Center at Ft. Benning, home of the Infantry and Armor branches, is looking at a program called Mobile Protected Firepower. And after the disastrous, expensive and futile programs such as FCS and other stalled development programs, the Army was looking for something they could buy “off the shelf” at minimal cost. Development is expensive. Buying vehicles is, comparatively, not.

Lo and behold, BAE Systems, the successor to United Defense, just happens to have a vehicle that fits in pretty well with what the Army is looking for. It’s called, wait for it…. The M8!

A few updates would be necessary for the updated M8 to fit in with today’s Army. The original 6V92TIA diesel engine is out of production. The likely replacement would be the Bradley’s Cummins VTA903 600hp diesel that also powers the AAV-7, and the M109A7 gun, and its associated M992 ammo carrier.

It would also need integration of the FBCB2 digital command and control system, in a vehicle that’s already pretty tight inside, and likely with some serious weight and power constraints, all while not busting the weight limit for airdrop.

Still, adding the firepower and mobility of a battalion of M8s to the light Infantry and Airborne Brigade Combat Teams would be a significant boost at minimal costs.

BAE called this the Expeditionary Light Tank, which, to my thinking is a bad idea. If you fight the M8 as a tank, you’re going to die. It simply will never have the armor to withstand fighting like a tank. It can kill tanks easily enough. It just can’t go toe to toe against them without being lit up like a Christmas tree.

But really, while General John Buford was a fine cavalry officer, they really, really need to rethink the name.

*It was a remarkably smooth development. In spite of a sophisticated hydropnuematic suspension and the complex but reliable autoloader, development was quite rapid, and testing was very successful. Program managers would be well advised to study the program. The single biggest key to success in the program was the limitation of “creep” in requirements.  The absolute hard limit on being able to airdrop a combat ready vehicle proved a very good firewall against the “good idea fairy.”


Filed under armor

More on OpFor VisMods

A couple of years ago, we discussed the Army’s fleet of Visually Modified vehicles that equip the various Opposing Forces at its maneuver training centers. As it turns out, we’re not the only Army to take that approach. Spill just tipped me to this nifty gallery of some other nations VisMods.

 Soviet "M1 Abrams"

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The Sea Mule

In World War II, the Army knew it would have to fight globally, and that most of its theaters of operation would be overseas. And not only would it have to provide its own massive fleets of ships to move men, equipment, fuel and supplies, it would have to operate ports, both traditional and austere. And ports mean tugs.  Worse still, it would have to move those tugs overseas. Major seagoing vessels would still require a traditional tugboat, but many operations that Army Transportation Corps Harbor Craft Companies would be tasked with could be performed by smaller vessels. And so the Army set out to design a small tug that could be mass produced, cheaply and quickly. More importantly, it had to be easily transported to overseas theaters.

It came up with a rather brilliant design. Rather than building a traditional hull, the so called Sea Mule was really four pontoons bolted together. The two rear pontoons each housed an 8 cylinder Chrysler gas engine, and the two forward pontoons each housed a fuel tank of about 700 gallons. No pilot house or other deckhouse was provided. A simple stand for the wheel and throttles was on the deck.

Since the Sea Mule was made up of four pontoons, the unassembled craft could be shipped to the theater of operations via rail, or truck, or more efficiently loaded in the holds of freight carrying vessels. Once in theater, the crews could quickly assemble the craft on site with little more than hand tools and a welding kit, and soon thereafter begin operations.

Chrysler was the main producer of Sea Mules, but other companies also built some, in a variety of sized and configurations. About 8000 were delivered, but they are virtually unknown today, though I hear a fellow up in Washington has restored one.



Wal-Mart and future Army vehicles.

So, Wal-Mart has a prototype of a new Peterbuilt/Great Dane big rig. Whether they order it into production remains to be seen.

I don’t really care about the aerodynamics part, but the drive train is interesting. Spill and I were talking about future Army vehicles (hope to get the podcast edited and published today) and one thing I neglected to bloviate on was the powerplants.

This Wal-Mart prototype uses a small gas turbine to charge a battery bank, and electric motors to actually move the vehicle. 

Today, the US uses the M1 Abrams tank, which famously uses a gas turbine. It, however, is directly geared to the transmission, much as a gas turbine is used to spin the props of a turbo-prop.  That gives the Abrams great power, and more importantly, great acceleration compared to diesel powered vehicles of similar weight and horsepower. The problem is, it isn’t terribly fuel efficient, with the a Abrams being famous for sucking down hundreds of gallons of JP-8 daily.

A hybrid gas turbine/electric plant avoids some of the pitfalls of that turbine inefficiency. First, the horsepower/torque requirement is shifted from the turbine to the electric motors. That means you can likely use a significantly smaller turbine. The turbine isn’t there to move the vehicle, it’s there to run the generator. And you can optimize a turbine and transfer case to run the turbine at its most efficient speed constantly.

Alternatively, when you have a decent charge on the battery banks, you can simply shut down the turbine, and yet still have power available to instantly move the vehicle. As it stands now, Abrams spend a LOT of time idling their turbines. Guess what? An Abrams burns fuel almost as fast at idle as it does when it’s moving.  It wouldn’t take much to configure the turbine to automatically start as soon as the vehicle started moving. And since every time you move, you start charging, that means your battery bank can be comparatively small.

I can easily see a future family of integrated gas turbine/electric motor powerplants for almost every type of Army vehicle. Further, this type of powerplant is very helpful when we’re also looking at the ever increasing electrical loads place on vehicles by sensors and networking.  And if future vehicles rely on lasers for active protection against, say, anti-tank missiles, they’ll need even more electrical power.

This is also very similar to the integrated drive system the Navy’s DDG-1000 Zumwalt class uses.


Filed under armor, ARMY TRAINING

Bradleys, Obsolescence, the Saudis- From the mailbag.

A reader, seeing the LAV live fire post, sent in a question about the Bradley.

As a non military guy, I’m curious about your opinion, as an ex Bradley TC, of the Bradley.

A bit of background: I’m a 42 yr old child of the Reagan buildup. To me the Bradley and the Abrams were awesome to deal with the situation for which they were designed.

I’m seeing a lot of criticism about them (the Bradley especially) considering the losses that have been inflicted upon them.

But to me; they were never invincible. They were just supposed to be able to allow us to stop the Soviets in Germany. There would have been losses. And now we are using the in ways they weren’t specifically designed for (insurgencies); Saudis in Yemen.

First, even though I’ve used the nom de plume “XBradTC” for over a decade now, Bradley’s actually don’t have a TC, they have a BC- Bradley Commander. There’s an obscure reason why I chose TC, mostly having to do with dealing with people that were in the Army pre-Bradley.

As to the Reagan build up and the Abrams and the Bradley, to be fair, both designs were actually pretty well finalized during the Carter years, though they entered into active service in the early 80s.

And yes, they were specifically designed to deal with the massive Warsaw Pact threat in Western Europe. Every armored vehicle design is a product of not just the technological state of the art, but also the doctrine of the buyer, competing interests of the various constituencies that will use it (for instance, the Infantry  and  the Cavalry had very different desires of what the then future Bradley would do and look like) and of course, cost concerns. Some aspects of the Bradley and Abrams were pretty radical, such as every vehicle having a built in thermal target sight. Other aspects, compromises, were also contentious, such as the fact that the Bradley carries a much smaller dismount squad than its M113 predecessor. That was forced onto the designers not because they didn’t value the dismount infantry, but size, weight and cost put an upper limit on vehicle size, and given the imperative to include a turret with both a 25mm gun, and a twin-tube TOW launcher, something had to give, and that was dismount seats.

As to criticism of Bradley losses, it is, to some extent, the nature of the beast. For all the folly of the movie The Pentagon Wars showed, the Bradley is far, far more survivable than its M113 predecessor. However, it was never designed to withstand anti-tank fires, such as AT-3 Sagger ATGMs, let alone the more modern Russian missiles in use today. One part of the design philosophy behind the Bradley (and even more so the M1) was that survivability was focused on the crew, moreso than the vehicle itself. The designers recognized that they could never make the Bradley withstand modern anti-armor weapons, but they could reduce the risks to the crew. For instance, the Bradley has an excellent fire suppression system built in with automatic sensors that trigger extinguishers on board to prevent flash fires in the crew and troop compartments. They might not fully extinguish the fire, but they will usually give the crew and troops time to exit the stricken vehicle.

Another aspect to the losses of Bradleys in Iraq is doctrinal. When the Bradley was being designed with Western Europe in mind, the Army’s doctrine toward combat in urban areas was pretty simple- don’t. In spite of the incredible urbanization of Europe, the Army’s doctrine looked at key terrain and road networks outside of built up areas as the prime maneuver space.

That was all well and good in the 80s, but in Iraq in 2004-2006, the key terrain was, in fact, the people. And of course, the people were only found in built up areas. That became an issue, as securing urban terrain requires a much greater density of manpower than a similarly sized rural area. And that lack of dismounts was a major handicap. Not only that, but the decreased sightlines in urban terrain somewhat negates the sensor advantage of the Bradley’s optics. It also meant that opposing forces would often have better angled shots at the sides, rear and top of Bradleys, where they were more vulnerable, with the thinnest armor.

Tactics, techniques and procedures could mitigate that to some extent, and the organic firepower of the Bradley was also quite useful, but by 2006, the Army decided that using MRAPs or Strykers in urban areas made more sense, and could provide greater numbers of dismounts and required less crew, and had greater speed on the road networks. And so, Bradleys were pretty much withdrawn from Iraq by the end of 2006.

As to the Saudi experience in Yemen,  I suppose that our correspondent is referring to the rebel video I linked to found in this post, with various Saudi Brads getting lit up.

For the most part, that’s just bad tactics. Laziness on the battlefield will get you killed. Always be scanning. US troops virtually always have their head out of the hatch, visually scanning, while the gunner is also using the turret to scan for targets and threats. Similarly, if halted for more than just a few moments, the dismounts kick out and begin securing the local area. 

That won’t eliminate the threat, but it will make it harder for the enemy. It’s one thing to take a hit. It’s another thing to give the enemy a gimme shot.

Overall, the Bradley is an excellent fighting vehicle. Having said that, it is quickly facing obsolescence. Much like ladies over thirty, it’s gaining weight and not getting any stronger. The original M2/M3 were powered by a 500hp diesel. The M2A2/M3A2 upgraded to a 600hp engine, but given the increased armor on those models, that was barely sufficient to restore it to previous levels of performance. And in the quarter century since the A2 models entered service, much more weight has found its way on board. The onboard digital battle management system, the newer thermal sights, revised interior, air conditioning and of course, the urban survival kit all added significant weight increases. Not only that, they also use vastly more electrical power, which the engine is hard pressed to provide. There is simply an upper limit to how much you can increase the power, both motive and electrical, in an existing design. And the Bradley is bumping hard up against that limit. Furthermore, while the 25mm gun is, for now, of sufficient lethality, very soon it will likely begin to be just a tad small for most threat scenarios, and the option for a 30mm or even 40mm gun will become more attractive.

LTG McMasters has been teasing some news about the Army’s future combat vehicle acquisition, and we hope to address that in another post soon.


Filed under armor, army, ARMY TRAINING

The Old Guard- The Army Drill Team

arThe 3rd Infantry Regiment (not to be confused with the 3rd Infantry Division) is the Army’s ceremonial unit. Among its subordinate units is The United States Army Drill Team.  The ADT serves as goodwill ambassadors to both the US and foreign audiences. 

Our own contributor Esli, for what it is worth, is an alumnus of the ADT.

And, for what it is worth, I taught Esli how to march.


Filed under army

Strategic Messaging, Done Right

A nine-dash line on Chinese passports.   A second Navy disguised as a Coast Guard.  And the above video.  They get it.  “Strategic Messaging” has heavy doses of propaganda.  We, on the other hand, continue to vigorously deny that basic fact.  And that the most effective propaganda is based in truth.

The video above is not simply for Chinese consumption.  We would do well to understand that.  And build our Navy accordingly.  But alas, our SECNAV is more concerned with putting women in Marine Infantry outfits and his “green fuels” initiative.  And the Commander in Chief is off taking selfies and complaining that capitalism causes glaciers to melt in the summer.

We’re so screwed.

H/T Pukka mate.