Tag Archives: army

The Brodie System

We’ve actually written about it before, but the video linked then has been removed, so here’s some more. Via War is Boring, with a tip o’ the hat to Comrade Arthur.

Here’s the short video:


And here’s a longer video showing more detail.

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Filed under army, history, navy

M14 Enhanced Battle Rifle

Someone asked me the difference between a stock M14 rifle and the modified M14 EBR. Well, here’s the supplement to the technical manual that explains the key differences, and covers operator and armorer maintenance as well.


Filed under army

Let’s talk about the Bradley some more…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


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

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

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

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

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

Load AP

Load HE

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Filed under armor, army

About that War is Boring Article on the Bradley…

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the article:

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

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


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

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

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


Filed under armor, army

Lifeline to Rendova

The invasion of Rendova was one of the more obscure operations in the Pacific. In a nutshell, the small island was seized by the 172nd Regimental Combat Team in order to provide a base for long range artillery to pound the Japanese airfield and defenses at Munda Point on the island of New Georgia.

Like so many other operations in World War II, the operation was filmed by combat camera crews. And like so many others, the film was edited and released to the public. Usually these short 10-20 minute pieces would be shown before the feature at a movie theater, along with a newsreel or two.

These films were both for the general information on the war effort, and, of course, propaganda designed to generate support for the war effort on the home front.

This short film about Rendova gives an overview of the operation itself. The second half of the film focuses on the treatment of the wounded, and shows both that treatment and the production of medical supplies that the home front effort supported.

What’s remarkable about this 1943 film is that it breaks one of the taboos of wartime press. Showing Japanese dead was rather routine. But when it came to American troops, the rules were different.  It was understood that photographs and film could show wounded US troops, but not the dead. This film, however, indeed shows the bodies of Americans fallen in battle, though carefully so that no individuals might be identified. It’s also somewhat more graphic than usual in showing the actual wounds of Americans.


Filed under World War II

A Dirty Little Secret about the A-10

As usual, the emotions are running high surrounding the Air Force’s intent to retire the A-10 Warthog. Congress says no to Air Force plans. Air Force digs in its heels. Members of the Air Force sing its praises to Congress. Deputy Commander of Air Combat Command tries to shut that praise down:

A top U.S. Air Force general warned officers that praising the A-10 attack plane to lawmakers amounts to “treason,” according to a news report.

Maj. Gen. James Post, vice commander of Air Combat Command, was quoted as saying, “If anyone accuses me of saying this, I will deny it … anyone who is passing information to Congress about A-10 capabilities is committing treason,” in a report published Thursday on The Arizona Daily Independent.

Obviously, that’s a pretty stupid thing for MG Post to say. You can read the rest of the story for the background and the PAO trying to unspin the General’s dumb statement.

But as usual, the comments section has something that gets mentioned every single time in the last 20 years the retirement of the A-10 has been discussed:

You can be sure he does not want these planes transferee to the Army, who would be glad to take them an use them for the next 20 years.

And therein lies a dirty little secret.

The Army would never try to take over the A-10 fleet.

In the midst of a drawdown that might see the Army slashed to as few as 420,000 active duty troops, there is simply no way the Army could find the warm bodies to fly the A-10, let alone maintain and support it. And it’s not just the operators at the tip of the spear. While the A-10 is capable of austere operations by Air Force standards, it would require investments in training and support equipment that the Army has no need for. For instance, the armament of the A-10 alone would require entire new career fields with associated training and personnel management costs.

The money and manpower requirements would come out of other Army programs (likely the attack helicopter community). And given that the Air Force, whether it has A-10s or not, will still be tasked to provide Close Air Support and Battlefield Air Interdiction, the Army would simply not see the costs to other priority Army programs as in any way justifying taking on a new role, let alone one with very old aircraft with increasing maintenance costs.

And no, the Marines don’t want it either.


Filed under Air Force

The Rifle Squad

A couple years ago, a friend of the blog mentioned that one of the prime initiatives at the Maneuver Center of Excellence was an effort to increase the lethality of the Rifle Squad.

The Rifle Squad is the lowest tactical formation capable of fire and maneuver. It is the building block upon which Infantry companies, battalions and higher formations are built.

While there are different varieties of Infantry today in the Army, such as Mechanized, Airborne, Air Assault, Light and Ranger, the Rifle Squad is identical in all of them.

Today’s rifle squad consists of nine soldiers.

Squad Leader SSG M4 Carbine
A Team Leader SGT M4 Carbine
Auto Rifleman SPC M249
Grenadier SPC M4/M320
Rifleman PFC M4
B Team Leader SGT M4
Auto Rifleman SPC M249
Grenadier SPC M4/M320
Rifleman PFC M4


This has been the standard organization of US Army Rifle Squads since the Army of Excellence reforms of 1983. That’s 31 years without any significant reorganizations, just about as long a stretch as any in the history of the Army.

The Rifle Squad balances balances several factors in its organization. First is span of control. In spite of all the miracles of communications technology today, in the close fight, voice commands and hand and arm signals still prevail as the most common, most effective means of control. The division of the squad into two teams means the Squad Leader only has to concentrate on controlling two elements. The team leaders have three subordinates to control, but much of that is simply by “follow the leader.” Secondly, the weapons of the squad, and the identical team organization, means that both teams have significant organic firepower, and either team is capable of forming a base of fire upon an enemy, or maneuvering against the enemy. That’s the basis of all tactics- one element forms the base of fire while the other maneuvers to attack the enemy by his flank or rear.

A historical review of the rifle squad shows that a 9 man squad is pretty much the smallest size in which a squad can maintain this autonomous ability to simultaneously conduct both fire and maneuver. At any smaller size, the loss of two, or even one member as a casualty renders the squad ineffective. What is interesting is that, in spite of the changes in weapons and technology across the 20th Century, this holds constant all the way to here in the 21st Century.

The concept of the Rifle Squad being a formation capable of independent fire and maneuver came about after World War I. The World War I Infantry Platoon had sections, organized by specialty, rather than squads. Riflemen, grenadiers, automatic rifle, and rifle grenade sections would be task organized as needed to fulfill a mission. Further, the platoon was generally expected to perform either fire or maneuver, as a single entity.

The Infantry in the US was the subject of a great deal of intellectual thought and efforts at experimentation between the wars at all levels, including down to the squad level.

The primary aim of all this study was to increase the lethality of the infantry, decrease the size of the formations, and increase the maneuverability of the formation. Maneuverability was more than mere mobility, in that control of the formations was a key aspect of maneuver, as opposed to mere movement.

This was part of the experimentation that lead to the triangular division. From platoon through division, the patter was set. Three maneuver elements with a supporting fire element. The platoon would have three squads and a weapons squad. The company three rifle platoons and a weapons platoon, etc., through the division with three regiments and the division artillery.

Things broke down a little at the rifle squad level. The Rifle Squad of World War II was a 12 man organization.

Squad Leader Sergeant M1 Rifle
Asst. Squad Leader Corporal M1 Rifle
Auto Rifleman PFC M1918 BAR
Asst. Auto Rflm. PVT M1 Rifle*
Ammo Bearer PVT M1 Rifle*
Scout PFC M1 Rifle
Scout PVT M1 Rifle
Rifleman PFC M1 Rifle
Rifleman PVT M1 Rifle
Rifleman PVT M1 Rifle
Rifleman PVT M1 Rifle
Rifleman PVT M1 Rifle

*Also carried extra 20rd BAR magazines

The Automatic Rifle team, with the BAR, assistant gunner and ammo bearer could obviously form a base of fire. The riflemen would thus serve as a maneuver element. The scouts (who apparently were rarely used as such) could either supplement the riflemen or the BAR team. The squad leader would normally lead the maneuver element, while his Corporal assistant controlled the BAR team.

After World War II, the Army revisited the question of the best organization for a rifle squad. Manpower shortages led to the adoption of a 9 man squad, with the elimination of the scouts and two riflemen.

Squad Leader Sergeant M1 Rifle
Asst. Squad Leader Corporal M1 Rifle
Auto Rifleman PFC M1918 BAR
Asst. Auto Rflm. PVT M1 Rifle*
Ammo Bearer PVT M1 Rifle*
Rifleman PFC M1 Rifle
Rifleman PVT M1 Rifle
Rifleman PVT M1 Rifle
Rifleman PVT M1 Rifle

During the Korean War, when available, a second BAR replaced one of the Riflemen.

When the Army restructured under the Pentomic Division, the squad was again reorganized, into a 10 man squad, and for the first time, introduced two fire teams. The unbalanced teams were unpopular, and shortly thereafter, the squad was increased to 11 men.

Squad Leader SSG M14
A Team Leader SGT M14
Auto Rifleman SPC M14 AR
Rifleman PFC M14
Rifleman PFC M14
Rifleman PFC M14
B Team Leader SGT M14
Auto Rifleman SPC M14 AR
Rifleman PFC M14
Rifleman PFC M14
Rifleman PFC M14

Note: delays in introducing the M14 meant many units were still armed with the M1 Rifle and the M1918 BAR well into the early 1960s. Also, ranks shown are representative. Also, eventually one rifleman would be armed with the M79 Grenade Launcher and serve as a grenadier- but only one per squad.

Again, manpower costs soon enough caused the Army to trim one rifleman from the squad. And again, the shortcomings of the unbalanced squad in combat soon enough lead to the reintroduction of the 11 man squad in Vietnam.

About that same time as the Army (again) settled on the 11 man squad, it also argued that in a perfect world, the squad would actually be 13 men, but that the Army could never afford it. Bowing to the personnel costs, the Army recommended 11 man light infantry squads, but 9 man mechanized infantry squads.

A word about the mechanized infantry squad of those days. Mounted on the M113 Armored Personnel Carrier, with a crew of two, an 11 man squad only leaves 9 troops available for dismount.

That situation was exacerbated with the introduction of the M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle. It too had a 9 man squad associated with it, but three of those were vehicle crew, leaving only six dismounts. After 2o years, the Army fielded a new organization for Bradley platoons that showed 12 crewmen, and three dismount squads of 9 men each. The trouble there was, that totals 41 troops, while the Bradleys can only seat a total of 40 (counting crews). That doesn’t even account for the attachments a platoon habitually carries, such as aidmen and fire support specialists. Add in the additional attachments today such as interpreters and military working dog teams, and merely getting the platoon to the fight is problematic. Of course, units are constantly understrength, so there are generally one or two seats open.

One of the prime drivers to the move to the 9 man squad in 1983 was the Reagan buildup. The Army was authorized to increase its force structure, that is, the number of divisions it fielded, but was not authorized a substantial increase in its congressionally mandated end strength. If it wanted more units, it would have to trim body counts elsewhere. Among other things, it virtually eliminated cooks from the various field units. It trimmed the strength of its non-mechanized infantry divisions from around 16,0000 men to just over 10,000, most of which came from eliminated virtually all vehicles below the brigade level, but it also saved about 160 men by trimming from the 11 man squad to the 9 man squad. As M113 battalions converted to the M2 Bradley, they lost their anti-tank companies, and eventually lost their fourth rifle company.

Let’s diverge for a moment and address the Marine Corps Rifle Squad. Aside from a brief flirtation with the 9 man squad a few years ago, since World War II, the Marines have used a 13 man squad, with a squad leader and three fire teams.

Squad Leader SGT M16
A Team Leader CPL M16
Auto Rifleman LCPL M249
Grenadier PFC M16/M203
Rifleman PFC M16
B Team Leader CPL M16
Auto Rifleman LCPL M249
Grenadier PFC M16/M203
Rifleman PFC M16
C Team Leader CPL M16
Auto Rifleman LCPL M249
Grenadier PFC M16/M203
Rifleman PFC M16

There are some historical reasons, and doctrinal ones as well, why the Marines haven’t succumbed to shedding squad members from the squad as the Army has been forced to. Those are rather complicated and outside the scope of the discussion. The Marines are quite satisfied with their squad. Of note, when the Army posited that the ideal squad should be 13 men, it did not suggest adopting three teams, but rather two teams of 6 men, which would likely have been at the limits of the span of control for the team leaders.

Today’s rifle squad is a balanced organization, with considerable firepower, and maneuverability. What it lacks is manpower. The increased load of mission equipment that today’s infantry squad and platoon must carry into battle would be far less a burden were it to be shared over additional bodies.

In a perfect world, the light, airborne, air assault and Ranger infantry squads would be bumped up to 11 men. Limitations imposed by vehicles means mechanized and Stryker infantry will remain limited to 9 man squads.

But if I were to design my own army, you can bet I’d go with 13 man squads.