Tag Archives: infantry

The Brigade Cavalry Squadron



Long ago, in the mists of time, back before the Army reorganized around the Brigade Combat Team concept, the Army was organized primarily around the Division as the primary tactical unit of deployment and employment. Each division had 9 or 10 maneuver battalions (either Infantry or Armor) organized into three Brigades.

Each Infantry or Armor battalion had a Scout Platoon, designed to provide reconnaissance, or what today would be called RSTA, for Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Target Acquisition.

The Division also had a Cavalry Squadron, essentially an RSTA battalion, with two ground troops and two aviation troops.

Most of the Army division was organized along a fairly triangular scheme, with headquarters at each level controlling three maneuver units, and appropriate supporting elements. One glaring omission in this bygone era was the gap between battalion and division. The Brigades had no organic RSTA assets. You would expect to see a company/troop sized RSTA element at the Brigade level. Instead, there was none. The Division Commander might task his Cav squadron to focus support to one or two of the three Brigades, but usually he needed it to focus on his own RSTA priorities.

So when the Army reorganized and shifted the focus from the Division to the Brigade Combat Team (BCT), one thing they did was assign a very robust RSTA capability. Each maneuver battalion would keep its organic Scout Platoon, and the BCT would have an entire RSTA squadron (or battalion sized element, if you will).

Unfortunately, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan called for increasing the numbers of BCTs in the Army. And while there was some increase in the allowed end-strength of the Army, it wasn’t nearly enough to provide the manpower for all the new BCTs.

So the Army cheated. It would stand up new BCTs, each with, among other things, their own RSTA battalion (which carried the unit designations of various historical Cavalry Squadrons). But instead of each BCT having three regular maneuver battalions, they would only have two. So the prime maneuver combat power of the BCT was reduced by a third. What wasn’t reduced was the missions these BCTs were required to perform. And so, as Tripp Callaway tells us in his article, the Cavalry RSTAs in Iraq and Afghanistan were often pressed into duty as a third maneuver battalion.

This meant that, in effect, most RSTAs were usually utilized as miniature infantry battalions and were thus given corresponding direct combat and COIN tasks to perform, rather than the traditional reconnaissance and flank security tasks they were designed to accomplish.

In the COIN warfare of the War on Terror, that was an acceptable choice.

But should the Army find itself in battle with a more conventional foe, it is imperative that the RSTA should be used in its designed, traditional role.

The Army has a relatively small number of BCTs. And those BCTs are actually fairly fragile, though they have a great deal of combat power. The trick is finding exactly where and when to apply that power, and denying any enemy the opportunity to apply his combat power against us. Finding the enemy, his order of battle, his dispositions and his intentions  while denying the enemy information about our forces and dispositions is the traditional Cavalry mission.

But what about UAVs, you ask? As Callaway notes, in any conflict against a more conventional foe, UAVs will be vulnerable, both to direct measures like Air Defense, and to jamming or cyber attacks such as network intrusions. And for true, persistent Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, there’s no substituting the man on the ground. UAVs complement, not replace, a traditional approach to ISR.

As Callaway makes the central thesis of his piece, the use of RSTA units as conventional units has meant that their traditional Cavalry skills have atrophied. Just as bad, the “end user” of their product has also forgotten how to ask for or use their “product.”

Our austere budget environment has lead to a drawdown of the number of BCTs the Army will have. But it is not all darkness. One effect of the drawdown is that the remaining BCTs will receive a third maneuver battalion. This will (hopefully) free up the RSTA to return to their traditional role.

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First Four Female Marines complete Marine Infantry training.

Stars and Stripes brings us the news that four female Marines will graduate from The Infantry School.

For the first time, four female Marines have successfully completed the service’s enlisted infantry training and will graduate from the program, the Marine Corps Times is reporting.

The four were among a group of 15 enlisted women who were the first to participate in a Marine Corps study to determine which ground combat jobs should be open to women.

The Marines’ enlisted infantry training includes a grueling 20-kilometer hike wearing more than 80 pounds of gear. Seven women began the Oct. 28 hike. Three women and 26 of 246 men did not finish it, the Marines said.

Throughout the infantry training, the women were held to the same standards as men, including performing full pull-ups instead of a flexed-arm hang during the physical fitness test, the Marine Corps Times said.

A 74% attrition rate actually tells us it is folly to send women to TIS. It costs time, money, and training resources to send people to school. TIS isn’t a “weedout” course like Special Forces. The majority of attendees are expected to successfully complete the course.
So again, the diversity zampolits are sacrificing the good of the service for the optics of equality.
This isn’t to knock the accomplishments of the four Marines, just to note that just because something CAN be done doesn’t mean it SHOULD be done.

Via: TAH



The Rifle Squad as the Decisive Force

A year or two ago, in discussing small infantry units, Esli mentioned that the current doctrinal emphasis of the Maneuver Center of Excellence (formerly, the Infantry School) was on making the rifle squad more lethal, more effective, more of an overmatch to the enemy equivalent.

The current US Army 9 man rifle squad* versus an enemy of comparable size has several significant advantages, and yet also faces serious disadvantages.

First, US squads tend to be better educated and better trained in infantry combat, in both the technical and tactical aspects.  They are virtually never without some type of supporting fires on call, from machine gun teams and anti-armor weapons at the squad level, company and battalion level mortar fire, through brigade and higher level artillery, and even close air support.

The soldiers of the rifle squad have body armor, clothing and load bearing equipment that is far better than their opponents. Their food is healthier, and less likely to lead to illness. Their communications are generally better. His night vision devices are almost always far more capable than the enemy’s.

But the US rifle squad also has its problems…

That body armor and load bearing equipment leads to soldiers carrying loads that severely limit the mobility and agility of the squad. These same heavy loads also lead to an increase in sports type injuries.  Rules of engagement often delay or prevent supporting fires from higher echelons from joining the fight in a timely manner. That healthful and nutritious food is heavy, further increasing the soldier’s load, and tying him to a logistical chain. His communications and night vision devices all require large amounts of battery power, all of which has to be manpacked.

As to weapons, frankly small arms are small arms. We can spend the next fifty years debating the relative merits of the M16/M4 family versus the AK family that have spent the last fifty years fighting one another.  But neither weapon so overmatches the other as to be decisive. The same is true for any other weapons found in the rifle squad or the threat squad.

So, today we find ourselves in a situation where a US squad can pretty much hold its own with any similar sized threat. And generally, it will come out better than the enemy.

But that isn’t the goal. The goal, the desire is to be confident that virtually any time a US squad encounters an enemy formation of similar size, the US squad can fix it, fight it, finish it, hunting it down and destroying it. Today, most squad on squad engagements are not decisive- either one or the other force breaks contact and lives to fight another day.

Comes now news that the Army commissioned a study by the National Research Council, who came to the conclusion that the problem is, the squad isn’t well equipped.

Now, in the context I just shared with you, that sounds kinda nuts. One of the primary problems the dismounted infantry squad faces is the crushing burden of carrying the stuff they already have.

But the report does make some sense. The Army has spent untold billions designing network centric warfare capabilities the give commanders unprecedented ability to “see” the battlefield.  A commander can know almost instantly where his forces are, and with support from UAVs and other intel assets, very often where enemy forces are, even before the battle is joined.

But once a squad leaves its vehicles, it is cut off from this network. Its only data stream, if you will, is voice radio. And the “bandwidth” of voice radio is awfully narrow. It is very, very difficult to transmit a clear tactical picture through words alone, especially absent the non-verbal cues humans routinely use in face to face communications.  Even with standardized formats, the limits to how much information can pass from the squad to higher, or from higher down to the squad is very limited.

In the past, we’ve mentioned the possibility of using smart phones on the battlefield to increase the dismount squad’s ability to access data, rather than just voice. And there’s some hope for that. But smart phones aren’t exactly set up to run on Army tactical radio networks. Further, a smart phone is not the most ergonomic way to present information. You know it is foolhardy to text and drive. How much more foolhardy is it to text and shoot? So a more “heads up” method of presenting the information in an intuitive manner will eventually be needed.

And whatever technology comes along, it will have to weigh less than the current state of the art. And not only will it have to weigh less, its batteries will have to weigh much less.

Further, for all the advantages technology may in the future give the squad, it is not without its own burdens, even beyond simple weight. Every piece of equipment calls for maintenance and training, both of which take time. And time available for training is limited. What other training should the squad sacrifice to achieve competency in these new technologies?

Do we sacrifice time spent on marksmanship? Fire and movement? First aid? Weapons maintenance? Map reading? Sexual assault awareness and prevention training? Language and cultural training for upcoming deployments? It isn’t like there isn’t enough on the plate already.

The report also pings Big Army for spending far more money and attention on big ticket acquisition programs than on the bread and butter of everyday stuff used at the squad level.  The Program Executive Officer for Command and Control technologies is a Major General. The PEO for small arms is a Colonel, who, judging by the fact he’s been there for several years, ain’t a “comer” for stars.

So what do we do?  I don’t know. I’m not entirely sure, absent a far greater willingness to take casualties, we can make the rifle squad capable of decisively defeating a threat squad.

And I’m not even sure that should be the goal. The great strength of the Army, and indeed all our services, has long, long been not so much our technology, but our ability to “systemize our systems.”

In an artillery duel, the US doesn’t fight gun against gun. It pits US target acquisition, communications, fire control, guns and ammunition (as well as soldiers, doctrine, and training) against the foe. And no other nation has shown the talent for tying together these elements to effectively produce a whole  far greater than the sum of their parts. I’ve used artillery here as an example, but the general rule applies across the entire armed forces.  The challenge is to continue to understand that technology is a tool that enables this synchronization, and not a substitute for it.


*Marine rifle squads have thirteen members. Basically, they add an extra fire team to each squad.


Filed under Afghanistan, army, ARMY TRAINING, Artillery, infantry, war

BIG! Mortars

We’ve written before about mortars being the infantry commander’s “hip pocket artillery.”* And in our Army, mortars are infantry weapons, separate from the Field Artillery.  Currently, our Army fields 60mm, 81mm, and 120mm mortars.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t larger mortars.  Israel and several other countries use 160mm mortars. And the current largest mortar in service is the Russian 240mm mortar.

That’s a pretty hefty tube.

It’s odd to see a weapon that has a rotary magazine and power loading and yet the each round has to have its primary and booster charges hand applied. I mean, really? Tying the “cheeses” on with string?

Looks like some guided and rocket assisted shells in there too.

*well, Infantry, Armor and Cavalry- basically each ground maneuver battalion has its own mortars.


Filed under 120mm, army, ARMY TRAINING, Artillery

Being a grunt sucks hard. Being a Russian grunt sucks harder.

We sometimes forget that for all our 12 years of the Global War on Terror, Russia has been fighting off and on since 1979.  And Ivan has never been particularly solicitous about the welfare of his  riflemen.

This video is long. 50 minutes long. And it is in Russian. I neither speak nor read Russian, so it’s hard to be sure, but I’d guess that most of the footage is from various campaigns against separatists in Chechnya. Some is obviously captured footage from the rebels, but most of it seems to be simply the same type of footage that American troops would take.

Be advised, there are parts that are very graphic.

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Filed under ARMY TRAINING, war


(Repost from 2009)

We’ve covered helicopters here before, such as the Huey, the Blackhawk, the OH-58 Kiowa and of course, Cobra and Apache gunships. Let’s talk about the big boy on the block. The Chinook. Or as it became known almost instantly in the Army, the Shithook. The CH-47 is the Army’s largest helicopter, used to transport critical logistical items, troops and artillery around the battlefield.


The Chinook has been around for a long time. It’s first flight was in 1961. But the issues surrounding its development deserve a little attention. In the late 1950s, the Army and helicopter designers began to realize that piston engines would never become a very efficient way of powering helicopters. Gas turbines (jet engines that provided power through a driveshaft, rather than thrust) were finally becoming a practical option for military use. With the advent of these new engines, the Army took a long look at what the next generation of helicopters should look like. Just how big should they be? At the same time, the concept of “air assault” or landing troops directly on the battlefied started to form. What was the best way to move troop unit? Should you use a smaller helicopter that could lift a squad? Or would the better bet be to use somewhat larger helicopters that could lift 15-20 men?  Smaller helicopters would cost more in the long run, but losing one helicopter in the assault wouldn’t result in as many casualties. The Army first decided to go with the larger helicopter, of about 20 men. The Vertol Company (later bought by Boeing) provided the Model 107. But the debate in the Army over helicopter size raged on. Some thought that the new UH-1B Huey could be scaled up to carry a full squad. That would handle most air assualt requirements, and still have a relatively cheap helicopter. The Model 107 would be larger than was needed. The other half of the problem was moving artillery and supplies. The Model 107 was just a bit too small for that job. The ideal was to move a 105mm howitzer, its crew, and a load of ammunition all in one lift by one helicopter. Boeing went back to the drawing board. The Model 114 was the result, and was soon bought by the Army as the CH-47 Chinook. And it wasn’t very long before the Chinook found itself in Vietnam, as part of the airmobile 1st Cavalry Division.  With Hueys to conduct the initial assualt, and Chinooks bringing in the follow-on elements and moving artillery, the Army’s pattern of air assault missions was set so soundly that it is relatively unchanged 40-odd years later.

But don’t feel bad for the Model 107. Even though it wasn’t selected by the Army, its development continued. Largely because the Marines didn’t have a lot of space on the Navy’s helicopter carriers, they were forced to go with  a somewhat larger helicopter. And the Model 107 fit the bill perfectly. They bought it as the CH-46 and operate it to this day.

Early Chinooks had engines of about 2,200 horsepower each. This was very quickly upgraded to about 2,600hp each. And improvements didn’t stop there. The rotor blades, rear pylon design, and transmission were all upgraded through the A, B, and C models to improve performance.  In the 1980s, the design was again refreshed, with attention focusing again on more horsepower, but also greatly improved avionics and better reliability, resulting in the CH-47D. Many “D” models were conversions from older models, but there were also quite a few new built airframes. These were delivered up until 2002.  And right about the time the last “D” model was delivered, the work on the latest model moved into high gear.

The newest model, the CH-47F is really an old model. While there will be some newbuild airframes, most will be remanufactured CH-47Ds. And since most of the “D” models were remanufactured earlier models, there will be some airframes well over 30 years old that will be expected to soldier on for another 20. Because of this, a large part of the program will be rebuilding them to make them easier to maintain, reducing vibration, making sure the components don’t have any fatigue issues, and making any issues easier to detect. Improvements in the avionics will include updating the instruments to the latest common “glass cockpit” standard, as well as building in the cabapility of operating in the Force XXI digital environment, which is the Army’s version of a battlefield internet.  Not surprisingly, the Army is going with more powerful engines as well. The latest version of the Chinook engines put out almost 4,900 hp each. The Chinook has gone from a useful load of 7,000 pounds in its early days, to over 21,000 pounds in the “F” modeland the new models are faster. Think about that. How many of us are faster and stronger now that we’re over 40?

By now, you ought to have figured out that the ‘hook is a pretty capable helicopter. Lots of other folks have reached that conclusion as well. Very few other nations have the same air assault capability that we do, but having a few heavy lift helicopters around is handy for them as well. Several other nations, notable Great Britain, the Dutch, and the Japanese have bought various versions of the Chinook. When Great Britain attacked to recapture the Falklands in 1982, they lost several Chinooks aboard the Atlantic Conveyor. Their one remaining Chinook was put to work, doing the job of several helicopters. In one instance, instead of carrying its normal load of 55 troops, the sole Chinook lifted 105 fully loaded troops. There are several tales of Chinooks in the Vietnam war carrying over 100 people (though usually lightly loaded Vietnamese civilians). I’ve been in a Chinook with about 40 other people- I can’t imagine just how crowded it was with over 100.

It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that without  the Chinook, the Army in Afghanistan would be crippled. Many of the smaller outposts can only be reached by helicopter. Given the high elevations and hot weather there, Blackhawks, normally very capable birds, struggle to carry a useful load. The Chinook, with its greater power, is able to support these high/hot outposts.

With the new “F’ models just beginning to come into service, we can expect this long serving veteran to serve for as much as 30 more years.

Mind you, we’ve scrimped on discussing the gunship version, or the several special operations versions. But here’s  a last look at the bird for you.

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Filed under Afghanistan, army, ARMY TRAINING, infantry, iraq

Gun Jump

Say, did I ever tell you about the time I almost killed my buddy with a 25mm cannon?

The Bradley Fighting Vehicle has an all-electrical turret, with power drives for both azimuth and elevation.  This is a  system with two modes: normal, slow speed for fine tracking and aiming, and “slew” mode for high speed traverse and elevation of the gun. In slew mode, the turret will move at 60 degrees per second in both traverse and elevation.  There is also a manual system of handwheels in case drive power should be lost.

The driver’s hatch at the left front of the vehicle pops up to about a 60 degree angle. Because the gun is mounted so low above the deck of the Bradley,  turret is traversed to the left while the hatch is open, the gun would strike the hatch. Well, banging a $100,000 gun against the hatch at high speed would be bad for the gun, and would also tend to cause undesirable stresses on turret drive mechanisms. Accordingly, the Army, in its wisdom, included a microswitch* into the driver’s hatch. If the switch is open, meaning the driver’s hatch is open, the turret will traverse normally throughout most of the spin around the vehicle. But as the turret drive approaches the driver’s hatch, the gun will automatically command an elevation of about 3o degrees at the highest rate. That is to say, the gun will jump over the driver’s hatch. **

It was a beautiful autumn day in the early 1990s.  My battalion was in Pinion Canyon Maneuver Training Center to provide support to another brigade. While that brigade was training, we acted as the Opposing Forces for them.  OpFor was always far more fun that being the Blue Forces. The atmosphere was a good deal more relaxed. While many good training opportunities were to be had, we also weren’t being graded by outside observers. The roles and missions we performed tended to be a bit more varied and interesting.  The platoons and companies of the OpFor would be shuffled around to tailor a force to a given scenario.

I forget what people had to be shuffled around and why, but one week I found myself on my usual Bradley, A-12, but with my regular driver and gunner replaced with two of my favorite people. SGT M was my roomate, and was a very intense, wiry young man of Greek descent from California. SPC O’C was a young, large, friendly, if somewhat  quiet Irishman from Philly. Very different people, but we’d been friends for some time. Normally, the stress of operating in the field frays nerves and can cause friendships to strain.  But as OpFor, we weren’t under any great pressure, and the conviviality was nice. Both SGT M and SPC O’C were pretty easy to lead, being quite professional themselves.

Since Uncle Sam frowned on us shooting real missiles and bullets at our fellow troops, even if it was those jerks in 1-8 Infantry, we used the Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System, or MILES, as a training aid. MILES is like the worlds largest game of laser tag, with lasers and harnesses not just for people, but all types of vehicles, especially tanks and Bradleys.  The laser for the Bradley’s main gun clamped onto the barrel of the gun. And just like the sights of a rifle have to be zeroed to ensure a hit, the laser had to be adjusted (at least daily) to ensure hits on distant targets.

Since all three of us on the crew took great pleasure in sticking it to the chuckleheads of the BlueFor, we took every reasonable measure to prepare for the morning round of battles. High on the list*** of chores was to zero the MILES system, so we could cause blinking lights and anguish in our victims.

Most Bradley crews were quite familiar with setting up the MILES system on their vehicles. I’d actually attended a one week course on post to become my company’s subject matter expert on the system, and had grown quite proficient at tweaking the system for  optimum performance.  Zeroing the MILES box on the gun was fairly simple. There was a cheap little telescope coaxially mounted to the laser itself on the box clamped to the gun. SGT M would look through the scope, find a discrete object roughly a mile away, and direct me to traverse and elevate the turret until the crosshairs were direct aligned with the object.**** Then, with the laser aligned exactly to the target, from the gunner’s seat, I would move the sight reticle of the Bradley’s main sight (the Integrated Sight Unit, or ISU). Much like windage and elevation knobs on a rifle sight, this would move the reticle without moving the gun itself. Once both the laser and the sight reticle were both on the same target, the system was zeroed.

Normally, to get the most precise control possible, when zeroing the system, the turret drives are switched off, and the gun is aligned using the handwheels. This morning, while I was focused on helping to zero the gun, I was also on the radio getting updates about our mission, and answering important questions like “does you crew still have all its sensitive items, have you lost anyone in the last 24 hours, how much fuel do you have onboard (which, the entire company had just topped off tanks less than an hour before, just like every morning) and just generally being pestered by the higher ups. So I cheated and was using the turret in powered mode, in the slow rate. SGT M had found a nice target to align on, and SPC O’C was up on deck lending a hand and moral support.  SGT M bent over barrel of the gun to look through the telescope, and directed me to scooch the gun a little to the left to get on target. I did so, completely forgetting the driver’s hatch was open. And sure enough, it hit the cut-out arc, instantly jumped up, and smacked SGT M right in the face. He was knocked back quite violently, tumbled into SPC O’C, and they both fell the 6 feet or so from the vehicle to the ground.

In the end, it came to nothing more than some scrapes and bruises and a fair amount of (rather legitimate) butthurt, but I was mortified that I had forgotten such a basic safety rule, and could have seriously hurt my friends.

Naturally, that was the last time I tried to zero in power drive. And of course, for the rest of that particular trip to the field, I was the one putting my face next to the gun, and SGT M got to sit safely inside.

*This mircroswitch is functionally identical to the little push switch in your refrigerator that turns the light out when you close the door.

**There is a similar “cutout” switch in the back of the vehicle for the missile loading hatch over the rear troop compartment.

***Other key parts of the Pre Combat Checklist included making sure all our thermoses were full of fresh hot coffee, and that sufficient snacks, Top Ramen, beef jerky and cigarettes were loaded, and a supply of paperback books on hand for the lull between battles.

****Any object would do. It didn’t have to be another MILES equipped vehicle. Objects with a right angle, such as a building or a chimney worked very well. Of course, if you had another vehicle to use, that was fine too. That way you could instantly test how well you’d aligned the sights to the laser by simply shooting at them. If they blinked, you were good.


Filed under Humor, Personal

The Master Gunner

In the Army, particularly the combat arms, we expect people of all ranks, but especially NCOs, to be reasonably proficient with the full array of weapons at their disposal. For instance, while an infantry team leader may only be currently qualified on the M4 carbine, as his personal weapon, we expect him to be skilled enough to operate, and more importantly, train other to operate, the other weapons in the infantry fire team and rifle platoon, such as the M249 machine gun, the M203/320 grenade launchers, and the M240 machine gun.

But complex weapon systems such as the gun and fire control systems of the M1 tank, and the gun, missile and associated fire control systems on the M2/M3 family call for an expert not just on the simple operation of the weapons, but of the employment of them. Shooting the main gun is easy. Training a team or crew to effectively fight the vehicle in accordance with the established training methods is a lot more information than the Army can reasonably expect every NCO in a unit to possess.

Accordingly, as the linked article notes, back in the 80s, Armor started the Master Gunner program to provide each battalion (and ideally, each company) with a trained expert on maintenance, operation, and training for the M1 tank gunnery system. The program was a big success, building institutional knowledge both of the technical aspects of gunnery, but also the training aspects.  Units have a very limited amount of time and ammunition to qualify their crews, and having a Master Gunner to assist in ensuring as many crews are as qualified as possible with the fewest rounds needed was a big help to commanders.  The Master Gunner program quickly expanded from just Armor to mechanized infantry and cavalry as well.

Per Strategy Page:

The U.S. Army began its Master Gunner program in the late 1980s, as one of many post-Vietnam innovations and reforms. Army tank and mechanized infantry (equipped with M-2 Bradleys battalions) each had a “Master Gunner.” This was a senior NCO whose job was to continually improve the marksmanship training for cannon gunners (120mm guns in tanks and 25mm autocannon in M-2s). The Master Gunner conducted training courses, worked with those who had difficulty improving their skills, and sought out the best marksmen to become the next generation of Master Gunners.

Actually, while one had to be a competent marksman to be selected to attend Master Gunner School, one didn’t have to be the best marksman.  Far more important than being a good shot from a tank or Bradley was the ability to be a good instructor to other crews, and a good advisor to the commander. An NCO who shoots 90% and is a great teacher is a lot more valuable than one who shoots 100% and can’t pass on his expertise.

As the article notes, this success has lead to the Infantry instituting similar courses for other weapon systems. Back in the day, we didn’t have an M47 Dragon Master Gunner course, but we did have a fairly robust, if informal, system of identifying subject matter experts (SMEs) on the Dragon. The Dragon anti-tank missile was a “low density” weapon, in that very few people actually got to shoot them in peacetime. But it was also a very hands-on weapon system that took  a lot of finesse to operate well. And so the few folks that had fired more than one were in high demand to coach new gunners to an acceptable level of competence.

Today, other weapon systems that would need similar levels of expertise would include the Dragon’s replacement, the Javelin anti-tank missile. There are also a fair number of other systems in the infantry where it is a good idea to have an expert at hand to make sure training for the end user is up to snuff.

My only concern with the proliferation of such Master Gunner courses is that the NCOs in the trenches must still recognize that no matter how many Master Gunners, for however many weapons systems there are, it is still that the leader’s responsibility to ensure his troops are trained and qualified on the weapons assigned.  You can turn to an MG for help, but you can’t dump the responsibility for training in his lap.

Full disclosure, I flunked out of the Army’s Bradley Master Gunner course because I couldn’t draw a Surface Danger Area Diagram. I learned a lot on the course, but my inability to complete a nice, tidy diagram meant I got to go home without a diploma.  In the event, after leaving the school, my unit was scheduled for inactivation, and I never attended another Bradley gunnery.



Wolfhound Warrior

A repost from the past. Roamy alerted me that today is the 61st anniversary of the battle that earned COL Millett the Medal of Honor. Just one of several Wolfhounds over the years have earned.


I just found out a bit of sad news (from Neptunus Lex of all places).

COL (USA, Ret) Lewis L. Millet, Medal of Honor, passed on November 14th, 2009.  COL Millet, as a Captain, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on February 7, 1951 in Korea:

Capt. Millett, Company E, distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action. While personally leading his company in an attack against a strongly held position he noted that the 1st Platoon was pinned down by small-arms, automatic, and antitank fire. Capt. Millett ordered the 3d Platoon forward, placed himself at the head of the 2 platoons, and, with fixed bayonet, led the assault up the fire-swept hill. In the fierce charge Capt. Millett bayoneted 2 enemy soldiers and boldly continued on, throwing grenades, clubbing and bayoneting the enemy, while urging his men forward by shouting encouragement. Despite vicious opposing fire, the whirlwind hand-to-hand assault carried to the crest of the hill. His dauntless leadership and personal courage so inspired his men that they stormed into the hostile position and used their bayonets with such lethal effect that the enemy fled in wild disorder. During this fierce onslaught Capt. Millett was wounded by grenade fragments but refused evacuation until the objective was taken and firmly secured. The superb leadership, conspicuous courage, and consummate devotion to duty demonstrated by Capt. Millett were directly responsible for the successful accomplishment of a hazardous mission and reflect the highest credit on himself and the heroic traditions of the military service.

While I was stationed in Hawaii, I was privileged to be assigned to the 1st Battalion, 27th US Infantry, The Wolfhounds.  The Wolfhounds are a very proud unit, considering they have a relatively short history. The regiment was only formed in 1902, but quickly acquired a reputation as a “can-do” unit. In addition to service in Siberia immediately after the Russian Revolution, the Wolfhounds, as part of the 25th Division, served with great distinction during WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and now in Iraq.

Many units in the Army pay lip service to their heritage. The Wolfhounds live it. One program we had was making sure there was a real connection from the past to the present. Several times while I was in Hawaii, we hosted COL Millet to unit functions.  There were some semi-formal events, dinners and such. But the real benefit was having “Lew” come out and just spend time with us as we went about our training. We tend to elevate our heroes up onto a pedestal. But by meeting and talking with Lew Millet, many young troops had chance to meet a real hero, and see that he was human. Each of us could, if not guarantee that we would perform to his level of valor and gallantry, at least aspire to it.

Rest in peace, COL Millet.


Filed under army, ARMY TRAINING, guns, history, infantry, iraq, Personal, war


We’re still working our way (oh so slowly) through the Greenbooks. We’re currently about halfway through the history of the Army campaign at Okinawa (we’re NOT reading them in order).

One of the things that is most striking is just how little frontage there was for such huge numbers of troops involved. At the Shuri line defenses, the island is only about 5 miles wide, and yet three entire infantry divisions were line abreast. The divisions (and in turn each of their subordinate formations) tended to follow the “two up, one back” rule of thumb. That is, each division would have two regiments abreast, with one in reserve to exploit any successes, or refitting and receiving replacements. Likewise, the regiments, battalions, and companies would have two units forward, with one in reserve. Still, that’s a very narrow frontage for an entire army corps.

The Shuri line of defenses were so formidable, however, that the entire corps advance was dependent on platoon and company attacks on strongpoints on the line. If one strongpoint couldn’t be reduced, the units attempting to bypass it would be pinned by automatic weapons, mortars and artillery the Japanese had positioned on the reverse slopes. Time and again, US troops would pay a horrific price to seize the front slope of a ridge, only to be too depleted to advance upon the rear slope. For that matter, the reverse slope defenses of the Japanese were masterpieces of the military art. They would contest control of the crest of a ridge, showering mortars and grenades on US troops clinging to the front slope. They had caves, bunkers, pillboxes and spiderholes, all linked by extensive tunnels, that made attacking downhill on the reverse slope every bit as hazardous as seizing the front slope.  Their positions were virtually impervious to mortar, artillery, and even 16” naval gunfire.  To make matters worse, when US forces managed to get enough troops and firepower onto a ridge to contest the reverse slope, enemy position on the frontal slope of the next ridge would fire upon them.


NISHIBARU ESCARPMENT AREA, which the  96th Division took.  On 21 April  the 3d Battalion, 382d attacked  eastern  end  of  escarpment  by moving through  the 381st’s zone to the ridge, then turning east. (Original caption from The US Army in World War II)

That’s an entire division’s objective. And it would take over a week to capture.


The interlocking nature of the Japanese positions was such that the preferred tactic of flanking attacks was impossible. Any move to the flank of one position was just a move to the front of another. Consequently, US forces had to time and again make costly frontal attacks on the most carefully constructed infantry defensive positions seen in the entire war.  Time and again, platoons would attack to destroy a single strongpoint. Units that would normally have a strength of almost 50 men would finish the morning with a bare handful of effectives. But what option was there? A platoon’s objective for the day might be a single enemy position only 20 meters across, and only 50 meters away. Entire regiments would be gutted of infantry strength in just a few days of attack.

The Japanese knew they had no chance of defeating the US on the island. But then, that wasn’t their mission. Their role was to buy time, to bleed the US as much as possible and give the forces in the Home Islands more time to prepare for the inevitable invasion.  And not only were the Army forces (and Marines) ashore being whittled down. The Navy, tied to Okinawa waters to support the men ashore, was being bled white by the Kamikaze attacks day and night. Those losses meant the 10th Army ashore had to keep attacking, to wrap up the campaign as quickly as possible.

Fast forward 40 years, and my experiences as a light infantryman. I was used to light infantry operating over vastly larger frontages. A rifle company on a seek and destroy mission might cover a zone a mile wide and three miles deep over a 24 hour mission. And as a mechanized soldier, the space a single company might be expected to operate over was vastly increased.

But could today’s forces do any better against a defense such as 10th Army faced in Okinawa? I doubt it. In fact, in some ways, we’d be worse off. While we have more automatic weapons at the platoon level, the organic firepower of a platoon isn’t much more than it was then. And supporting arms aren’t that much greater up to the battalion level. And weapons that were key to destroying the Japanese then are nowhere to be found today. One of the most useful weapons was the flame-throwing tank. Modified M4 Shermans replaced the 75mm gun tube with a flamethrower with a range of roughly 150 yards.  Today, flame weapons are almost unheard of on the battlefield.

The Army would desperately like to avoid the awful “hugger-mugger” type fight that exemplified the Okinawa battlefield. But sometimes, that’s not always an option. Operations in Fallujah showed that the enemy gets his vote on where the battle will take place. And fighting in cities takes an enormous commitment in manpower.  A single small building takes at least one squad, and often an entire platoon to secure.  Our advantages in weapons and technology are nullified. Only our advantage in training remains. But training will only go so far. Two men in a room, one with an M16, one with an AK- that’s far to close to a fair fight for my tastes. And yet, the Army will have to face this situation again on battlefields of the future. Sometimes, it just comes down to guts.

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Filed under ARMY TRAINING, history, infantry


Unlike the Marines and their legendary K-Bar knife, the Army doesn’t have an “official” knife.

Oh, sure, there’s the M9 bayonet. Inspired by the multipurpose bayonet issued by the Soviets with their AKM and AK-74 rifles, the M9 entered service in the late 1980s. In addition to serving as a bayonet, it also serves as an emergency wire cutter, and all around survival tool. The Marines also use the M9, and truth be told, more Marines probably carry the M9 than the K-Bar.

M9 Bayonet

AKM Bayonet

Still, the Army doesn’t have a counterpart to the K-Bar. Some guys carried the survival knife. Issued to aviators of all services, it was also pretty popular as a purchase item with troops. Indeed, I’ve still got one in my tool kit.

I’d hazard a guess that the “unofficial” knife of the Army is probably either the Leatherman multi-tool, or maybe a Gerber multi-plier.

I ALWAYS carried one or the other with me to the field.  I also usually had a BuckLite folding knife. Lightweight, handy for almost every task, and sharp as heck, I wasn’t looking to bring a knife to a gun fight. I was looking for a tool for the myriad tasks I faced every day. I probably used my knife every single day I was in the field.


What is your favorite knife?


Filed under guns, history, infantry

Vehicle BDAR

Battle Damage Assessment and Repair. When I opened youtube last night, it recommended these two videos to me.

Vehicle Graveyard
Tank graveyard

In the first video, most of the vehicles are obviously total losses, and almost certainly a fair number of our troops died in the attacks.

But the second video shows quite a few vehicles that were damaged beyond repair… that is, beyond what  a unit can repair. But having been dragged off the battlefield, there’s a fair chance a good number of tanks and Bradley’s shown have been (or at least, could have been) rotated through the Army’s depot level maintenance system, and restored to service. And if our forces in Iraq had been truly pressed for vehicles, some probably could have been run through BDAR. By salvaging parts from multiple vehicles, and by accepting some degradation of capability, some of the tracks in the second vid could have been pressed into service.

Each mechanized battalion in the Army had two “spare” vehicles assigned to it, called “floats”. Almost like a loaner car from the dealer when you bring your car into the shop. If your Bradley (or tank) was damaged or broken down, you’d use the  “float” until your own vehicle could be restored.

That was the concept, anyway. When my unit was in Desert Storm, we actually tended to use the “floats” as rolling spare parts bins.  If one of the primary tracks in the company needed a spare part, such as a 25mm main gun, they’d turn the busted gun into maintenance, and steal the gun off the float.  We had several vehicles that ended up having to cannibalize parts off the float. It was a pretty disreputable looking hoopty that crossed the border a discrete distance behind us. No main gun, no TOW launcher, no ISU (Integrated Sight Unit), short-tracked on one side because someone else needed a road wheel arm, no radios or antenna mounts. And no rear ramp. Let me tell you, moving that thing was a massive pain!  But by depriving one vehicle of its parts, the rest of the company crossed into Iraq with reasonably fully functional vehicles.


Filed under armor, infantry, iraq

M4 Carbine Replacement Competition about to get underway

The Army kind of backed in to adopting the M4 Carbine as its standard infantry small arm. What happened was, the standard weapon was the M16A2, but the special operations community really wanted a carbine version, which eventually became the M4 (there have been carbine versions of the M16 series of weapons almost as long as there have been M16s). Pretty soon, a few other infantry units decided they too wanted M4s, as they were lighter and handier than the M16A2. Rangers, Airborne units, and Bradley crewmen really didn’t like having to deal with the longer, clumsier M16A2. As time went on, eventually, pretty much everyone ended up with the M4, and the M16A2 kind of faded out of the picture as far as the infantry was concerned.

But as the Army found itself fighting two wars, the shortcomings of the M4 started getting a lot of attention. It’s not a bad weapon, but it does have some issues. We’ve talked about the M4 series a few times, here, here, and here. It is not the most durable piece around, and it’s light weight, short barrel, and 5.56mm ammo mean that it really struggles to shoot well past 300 meters.

In light of these shortcomings, the Army as wanted to hold a competition to decide on the next standard infantry small arm. The last few times the Army tried this, it was the typical bloated procurement disaster. Between the H&K G11 caseless ammo carbine, the XM29 OICW and other programs, the Army never came close to finding a realistic alternative to the M16/M4 family.

Now, instead of trying to design a wonder weapon, the Army is going to toss the problem in the laps of the gunmakers, and see what they can come up with.

Army weapons officials are in for some tough questions from gun makers about to compete for the chance to replace the service’s M4 carbine.

In just two weeks, Program Executive Office Soldier will hold an industry day designed to help small-arms companies understand what the Army wants to see in the upcoming and much-anticipated improved carbine competition.

The Army released a draft solicitation Jan. 31 to announce the endeavor, but long-arm manufacturers began preparing for this event more than three years ago when the M4’s performance came under scrutiny from Soldiers and lawmakers alike.

Companies are already expressing concern over the guidelines competitors will have to follow to participate.

One issue causing anxiety is the lack of clarity over how the Army will test rifles that can shoot more than one caliber of ammunition.

Well, we’ll just have to see. It’s odd that one of the biggest knocks on the M4 is the 5.56mm round, but there is absolutely no incentive for the bidders to enter another caliber. The increased cost to the bidders will strongly argue against it, and it doesn’t really sound like the competition rules will add points for better performance in a weapon based on the ammo.


Filed under Afghanistan, ARMY TRAINING, guns, infantry

More on the TOW missile

So, this post showing some excellent ‘splodey was pretty popular. And TOW missile video posts have long been a mainstay here.  But it wasn’t until I started looking in the comments that I realized I have never actually done a post about the history of the TOW, how it works, and its variants. Craig kindly laid the groundwork with a post on missiles in the age before TOW, so lets carry on from there.

The TOW and the older SS10 and SS11 missiles that Craig posted about all shared a couple of characteristics. They were all armed with a HEAT warhead to defeat tanks, and they were all wire guided.

The older missiles used a guidance technique known as Command-to-Line-of-Sight (CLOS). Simply put, The gunner launched the missile, and a flare on the back of the missile showed the gunner where it was. He then steered the missile along his line of sight to the target. As long as he saw the flare heading at the target, all was well. Typically, the missile was controlled by a small joystick, and the guidance corrections the gunner made were sent along a pair of very, very thin copper wires trailed from the missile. While this was pretty nifty at the time, it was awfully low tech, and required very intense training for the gunner to achieve any proficiency.  The gunner had to keep track of both the target and the missile, and “fly” the missile to the target. Hard enough on  a stationary target, but against a moving target like a tank, it was very difficult indeed.

Building on that basic concept, the Army capitalized on its technical know-how and the miniaturization of electronics in the ’60s to introduce a much improved technique: Semi-automatic Command-to-Line-of-Sight (SACLOS).

The big difference between CLOS and SACLOS is the way the missile is commanded. In SACLOS, and optical sensor in the gunner’s sight tracks the missile’s flare (or “beacon”) and measures its deviation from the line of sight, as determined by the crosshairs in the sight. When the missile guidance set senses a deviation, it would send the correction, rather than the gunner having to make a correction. In effect, all the gunner had to do was keep the crosshairs on the target for the time of launch until impact. This was much, much easier than trying to manually fly the missile to the target.

The original TOW missile was the BGM-71A. It was a revolutionary improvement over previous missiles.  The missile was stored and launched from a sealed  fiberglass tube, that protected it from the elements and rough handling.  It was optically tracked from either a ground launch platform or a stabilized sight on a helicopter, and it was guided via copper wires, hence the acronym TOW. The orignally TOW had a 6″ diameter missile body, with a 5″ diameter HEAT warhead, and a range of 3000 meters.

Pretty soon, it was clear that the missile had sufficient energy to fly further than 3000 meters, and by simply adding more wire, the range was increased to 3750 meters.  The next version, I-TOW (Improved TOW)  added a standoff probe to the warhead to make sure it detonated the optimum distance from the target.

Increases in Soviet armor lead to an improved missile, and more importantly, an improved guidance set. This TOW 2 featured a larger 6″ diameter warhead, a slightly modified probe, and critically, added a thermal sight system to the launcher, meaning for the first time, the TOW could be used at night. The TOW 2 incorporated a xenon beacon at the rear of the missile to allow this thermal sight to track it at night or in low visibility.

With the advent of  reactive armor, the TOW2A was designed with tandem warheads. The first warhead would detonate the reactive armor, while the second would punch through the now exposed site.

TOW 2B was a different approach. As mentioned in the linked video, it uses two downward firing EFPs to punch through the thinner top armor of tanks. The TOW2B overflies its target, never actually striking it. The gunner merely keeps the crosshairs on the target, the guidance set handles the “offset” aim for him.  By giving later versions of the TOW2B an aerodynamically improved nose, and increased wire capacity, the TOW2B Aero has increased range to 4500 meters.  This is the current production anti-armor model of the TOW for the US Army, though enormous numbers of earlier TOW2 models are sill in the inventory and issued.

With the current fights in Afghanistan and Iraq facing little in the way of armored threats, the limitations of the HEAT warhead became an issue. While a HEAT warhead is better than none, it has little real anti-personnel capability. This has lead to the development of the BGM-71H, which is similar to the TOW 2A, except the HEAT warheads have been replaced by a blast/fragmentation warhead better suited to killing troops and destroying bunkers.

In addition, a wireless variant of the TOW2B is in production.

Recently, the ITAS (Improved Target Acquisition System) has begun replacing older TOW2 sights in ground mounts. This has a much improved thermal sight, not only improving accuracy, but also serving as  a very handy surveillance tool for infantry units.

TOW missile with ITAS in Afghanistan

The TOW has proven to be a remarkably adaptable weapon system, with a wide range of improvements incorporated over the years. Improvements to both the missile, and the guidance sets have kept it a very viable system on the modern battlefield. But there are some limitations to further growth. Primarily, the fixed diameter and length of the missile imposed by the launch tube size means that there is only so much space to grow. Also, given that limitation, the missile remains fairly slow, meaning the time from launch to impact is quite lengthy, over 3o seconds to maximum range. This can give the enemy time to either shoot back or attempt to flee.

Even with these limitations, the TOW is a very effective system, and there are no current plans to replace it as the heavy anti-armor missile system.


Filed under Afghanistan, armor, army, ARMY TRAINING, guns, history, infantry, iraq

The Rifle Platoon

The basic building block of combat power is the infantry, and in the infantry, the basic building block is the rifle platoon. The platoon is the smallest element led by an officer, and is usually the smallest element which may be assigned a mission separate from its parent unit. It is also the smallest unit for which a Field Manual is published. Field manuals are the operator’s manual for how to organize, train, lead, and fight a particular unit. The field manual describes the organization and most common missions that a  unit may be assigned. For for the rifle platoon, the Field Manual is FM 7-8. For the purposes of our discussion, we’ll be discussing “Infantry platoon” as opposed to Mechanized Infantry mounted on Bradley Fighting Vehicles or a Stryker Infantry platoon mounted on Stryker Infantry Carrier Vehicles. The “Infantry platoon” generally describes platoons assigned to light infantry units, airborne, air assault, and Ranger units. While there are some very minor variations in the organization of these units, the fundamental organization and employment is close enough that you should be able to understand what how an infantry platoon is organized and employed.

For today, we’ll limit our discussion to the organization of the platoon. Later, we’ll explore how that platoon is employed, in the attack, defense, stability and support operations, and then we’ll look at the leadership challenges that face a young lieutenant leading his first platoon.

One of the little oddities of Army life is that an infantry platoon isn’t called an infantry platoon. It’s called a Rifle Platoon. This distinguishes it from other platoons in the infantry company and battalion.

The Rifle Platoon, like most combat units,  is a triangular organization. That is, the headquarters for the platoon leads three subordinate rifle squads.


The platoon is lead by a Lieutenant, known as the Platoon Leader (PL). Lieutenants straight from training at the Infantry School’s Officer Basic Course are expected to step directly into this leadership role.  As his assistant, he has a senior infantry NCO, usually a Sergeant First Class (SFC/E-7), serving as the Platoon Sergeant (PSG).  The rest of the platoon headquarters consists of one or two Radiotelephone Operators (RTO), one for the PL, and usually one for the PSG. Normally, all these people are armed with the M16 or M4.

The main strength of the platoon resides in its three Rifle Squads. These three squads are identical. Each squad is lead by a Squad Leader (SL), normally a Staff Sergeant (SSG). Each squad is also broken down into two fire teams. Each fire team is lead by a Team Leader (TL), normally a Sergeant (SGT/ E-5). Squad leaders and team leaders are armed with the M16 or M4.

Each of these fire teams has the TL, a Squad Automatic Rifleman or SAW Gunner equipped with the M249. There is a Grenadier, armed with the M203 Grenade Launcher mounted on his M16 or M4. And finally, there is a Rifleman, armed with either the M16 or the M4.


The last element of the rifle platoon is its heavy weapons, usually organized into a 4th squad known as the Weapons Squad. There is a SSG squad leader, and two medium machine gun teams. The medium machine gun team has a gunner, armed with the M240, an assistant gunner armed with either the M16 or M4.  Most Weapons Squads also have two anti-armor teams, each with a Gunner, armed with the M16/M4 and the Javelin anti-tank missile, and an assistant gunner, armed with the M16/M4 and carrying a spare missile.

Thus, the basic Rifle platoon has an authorized strength from about 35 to 42 people. For the young soldier, the platoon is his family, his home. He lives with them, eats with them,  trains with them, and usually socializes with them to a fair extent. You might think of his squad as his immediate family, and the rest of the platoon as the close cousins. Many soldiers will spend an entire enlistment assigned to one platoon the whole time. While it is usual to stay in one platoon, it is not unusual to be assigned to a number of duties within that platoon as time goes on. My first enlistment was spent in one platoon, but during a nineteen month period, I served as a rifleman, anti-armor specialist, automatic rifleman, assistant machine gunner, machine gunner, grenadier, and RTO.

A little about leadership and training at the platoon level. The PL is responsible for everything his platoon does or fails to do. He is responsible to ensure both that the soldiers assigned know their individual tasks and duties, such as how to maintain their weapons, and their collective tasks and duties, such as how to perform “the Rifle Platoon in the Attack.”  The smart young Lieutenant will use his Sergeants to the greatest extent possible. The team leaders and squad leaders generally train the solders on individual tasks, under the supervision of the PSG. And squad level tasks, such as movement formations are taught by the NCOs as well.  And as the young PL is there to learn as well as to lead, he’ll gladly turn to his PSG for guidance and learn from his experience. No platoon leader should be giving orders to privates. That’s why he has NCOs assigned to him. Normally, the PL issues orders either directly to the squad leaders, or to them via the Platoon Sergeant. The Squad Leaders in turn use their Team Leaders to execute those orders.

The three squad structure of the platoon is designed to give the platoon flexibility in engagement. In the attack (which we’ll cover in greater detail in another post), the platoon leader may choose to lead with one squad, holding two squads in reserve to reinforce or exploit success. Alternatively, he may choose to lead with two squads, and only hold one in reserve. We’ll cover that decision making process in a later post as well.

Finally, a bit about organization in the real world. The above organization is the approved “book solution.” But it is very rare that a platoon will ever actually be at full strength. People are almost always detached for schools or reassignment, out sick or injured, or loaned out to a parent unit for some duty. And often, the Army just doesn’t have enough people to assign enough troops to fill every unit.

When a platoon is short-handed, it is critical that the key leadership positions and weapons be manned.  The weapons squad is almost always fully manned. What usually happens is that the Rifle Squads end up short changed. In that case, usually the Rifleman position is left unmanned, with the Automatic Rifleman and Grenadier positions manned first. In some very extreme cases, the platoon may operate with only two rifle squads. At one time, I served in a light infantry platoon that was so short on personnel that after manning the weapons squad, we only had enough soldiers left to have one rifle squad, but with three fire teams. Everyone in this squad was armed with either the grenade launcher or the M249 SAW.  This is hardly the way things were supposed to be, but you have to make do with what you have.

Finally, when actually deployed to the field, the platoon is always augmented with attachments from its parent and supporting units. Each platoon has a medic attached from the battalion’s medical platoon. He normally moves with the Platoon Sergeant. There is also an Artillery Forward Observer team attached from the supporting artillery unit. The Forward Observer also brings with him his own RTO to communicate with the artillery and mortars. The FO team is glued to the platoon leaders hip. The help him plan for and call fire from supporting weapons.


Filed under Afghanistan, army, ARMY TRAINING, guns, history, iraq

Multicam in Afghanistan

The Army’s regular combat uniform, the ACU has come in for criticism for not blending in well in the terrain in parts of Afghanistan, so the Army has test fielded several units wearing a variation in the “MutltiCam” camouflage pattern

What do you think?


Filed under Afghanistan, army, ARMY TRAINING, infantry


Rangers Lead The Way.

I’m not a Ranger. When I was in Basic Training at Ft. Benning, I saw the Ranger School students going through the “easy” part of their 61 day course. As bad as I was sucking wind, it pretty quickly became clear to me that those guys were facing a much higher hurdle than I felt like facing just then.

And the Rangers do produce some tough soldiers.

(Sergeant First Class Joe Kapacziewski) joined the Army in 2001, and has served with the 75th Ranger Regiment for his entire military career.
“Being part of the 75th Ranger Regiment means everything to me. I have had the privilege to serve in the Regiment for nine years now and cannot imagine doing any other job in the military. I love waking up every morning and going to work with 600 of my best friends,” he said.

Kapacziewski will deploy to Afghanistan in early 2011 as a Ranger platoon sergeant, a role to which he was recently promoted. While this will be his second deployment as a platoon sergeant, he has previously deployed to the Middle East six times, including three since his amputation (emphasis mine-ed).

“Being a platoon sergeant is the best job I’ve had in the Army and I am thankful my Chain of Command had the confidence in me to put me in this position,” Kapacziewski said. “My goal for this upcoming deployment is rid the world of as many terrorists as possible in the time we are over there. I will lead my fellow Rangers by setting the example in all we do and by being relentless in the pursuit of our enemies.”

Read the whole thing.

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Filed under Afghanistan, army, ARMY TRAINING

Some days, the Suck embraces YOU!


No matter how you slice it, humping a ruck in Afghanistan is just no fun.

From John at The Castle.


Filed under Afghanistan, army, ARMY TRAINING, infantry

The XM25 will not change the world.

The news that the XM25 grenade launcher will be tested in Afghanistan is splattered all across the blogosphere and the rest of the internet lately. And frankly, it’s getting a lot of hype.

The XM25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement System fires 25mm air-bursting shells up to 2,300 feet, making it most closely related to the grenade launcher, but with a range greater than most rifles used by the Army, AFP reports.

Let’s say enemy fighter pops up from behind a wall to fire at U.S. troops and then takes cover before they can respond. An XM25 gunner can then use the laser range finder to get the distance to the wall, program the explosive to go off a few feet behind it, fire over the wall, and then watch as lethal shell fragments rain down from above.

While it is certainly an impressive capability, it won’t fundamentally change the way fights happen. I think it is great that we’re making our infantry more lethal, and less reliant on supporting fires. Don’t get me wrong.

But for every weapon, there is a countermeasure. Good tactics would already mitigate some of the effectiveness of this weapon. Shoot and scoot isn’t unknown in that part of the world, you know. And while engaging troops in defilade will be a  little easier (and this will also address some of the deficiencies of rifle fire at longer ranges such as we’ve seen in Afghanistan), it doesn’t mean infantry firefights will suddenly undergo some magical transformation. It’s hard enough to determine with any accuracy where small arms fire is coming from. And while this might defeat troops under cover, it doesn’t really do much to expose troops under concealment. You have to know within just a couple meters exactly where your target is before you can successfully engage. And the laser rangefinder is going to be vulnerable to inaccuracy due to vegetation or battlefield smoke,which will grossly effect the fuzing of the round.

By all means, let’s get this out there, try it out, learn how to use it, and kill some jihadis. But don’t make the mistake of thinking one weapon  will end the war. That’s asking too much from hardware in what is fundamentally a people problem.

XM25 Grenade Launcher


Filed under Afghanistan, army, ARMY TRAINING, guns, infantry

Son of FCS

So, the debacle of the Army’s Future Combat System is mostly dead. A lot of the networking initiatives are still alive, and some of the reconnaissance stuff as well. But the master plan for a family of armored vehicles to replace the Strykers, Bradley’s and Abrams all with one chassis is dead. The Army started looking at a follow-on program shortly thereafter, but the specter of 70 ton Armored Personnel Carriers doomed that paper program.

Now it looks like the Army is finally going to get serious about a program to develop the replacement for the Bradley.

The Army also wants the vehicles to cost $200 per operating mile. This falls between the $100 per mile of the Bradley and the $300 per mile of the M1 Abrams tank.

The new troop carriers must meet “non-negotiable” criteria for protection against everything from cannon rounds and RPGs to explosively formed penetrators, along with the ability to accommodate future growth in terms of size, weight, power and network connectivity as well as carry nine soldiers, said Michael Smith of the Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence during a conference call with reporters today.

However, the rest of the vehicle’s performance will largely be up to contractors to determine as long as they meet minimum criteria.

The Army is looking at a unit cost of about $10 million apiece, which is mighty expensive, but not out of the realm of sanity in this day and age.

Now, you might have figured out that I’m about the biggest fan of the Bradley around, but I think it is high time to start this new program. Why? A couple of different reasons.

First, the fleet is old, and has been rode hard. I’ve said before that I think running the fleet through depot maintenance will be enough to keep it going. Sure. But depot maintenance ain’t cheap. And the older your fleet is, the more often you have to cycle through.

Secondly, there just isn’t a lot of room left for growth on a Bradley. It’s already been upgraded several times over its almost 30 years of service, to include changing the engine and transmission, ugrading the suspension somewhat, adding large amounts of new armor, redesigning the interior layout, totally revamping the communications system from Cold War era radios to a digital battle management system, and revamping the fire control system to include a laser range finder and commander’s thermal sight.  There’s not a lot of physical room left to add stuff, and power supply to the electronics is limited.

Finally, the 25mm main gun on a Bradley is getting to be just a little light. Most infantry fighting vehicles entering production these days mount 30mm or even 40mm guns. Don’t be surprised if we see a 40mm on the next generation vehicle (alternatively, don’t be surprised if the MK46 30mm gun is selected as a cost saving measure- it’s already in service).

Oh, one last thing. I think it is great that they want to provide seating for nine dismounts instead of the 6 or 7 a Bradley can carry. Mech platoons are always short of dismounts. There’s never enough of them. And since the standard army squad is nine men, this will promote tactical homogenity throughout the force.

Replacing the Bradley before the Strykers and Abrams makes sense. The Stryker fleet is young, already networked, and has room for growth. The Arbrams fleet hasn’t been used nearly as hard as the Bradley fleet in recent years, was designed almost from the start for networking, and still has substantial room for growth. Further, it is still far and away the best tank on the battlefield. If the Army manages this replacement program tightly, and doesn’t try to make it a vehicle for all people at all times, they may just come up with a good design. Let’s just hope it goes a little faster than the original Bradley’s development, which only took about 20 years…


Filed under armor, army, ARMY TRAINING, infantry

The Band of Brothers, and a band of another sort…

Neptunus Lex brings us the sad news that MAJ Dick Winters, brought to public attention via Stephen Ambrose’s excellent book, and the magnificent miniseries by the same name, is approaching that time which comes to all men. In recognition of his sterling wartime service, and as a testament to all those unsung heroes like him that fought in “The Great Crusade” in Western Europe, funds are being sought to erect a monument to him in Normandy.

An 11-year-old from Lebanon County, he has long been fascinated by World War II and one old soldier in particular — Dick Winters, the Easy Company commander made famous by the HBO mini-series “Band of Brothers.”

Mr. Winters, a Lancaster native who lives in Hershey, is 92 and has Parkinson’s disease.

But a statue of him is going up in France, and Jordan has taken it upon himself to raise money for it by selling $1 rubber wristbands in the tradition of Lance Armstrong’s yellow “Live Strong” bracelets.

These wristbands are olive green, the color of U.S. Army uniforms, and say “Hang Tough,” which is what Mr. Winters told his men in combat in Europe. In later years, that phrase became his motto.

Jordan has raised $21,000 since he started selling bands in May and says his goal is $100,000. The monument in Normandy is expected to cost about twice that.

“We need to thank these heroes before it’s too late,” Jordan said.

How true, Jordan. 

Should you wish to aid this cause, you can get your wrist band here. 

As noted in the comments at Lex’s place, t’would make an excellent stocking stuffer.

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Filed under army, history, infantry

Need a little Hoohah! this morning?

My first assignment was with the 25th ID, and while it was a hard life, it was an excellent unit. I’ve still got a strong attachment to the Electric Strawberry. The division has changed in so many ways in the past quarter century, but they still know how to kick ass and take names.

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Filed under 120mm, Afghanistan, army, infantry

The Second Siege of Sadr City: The US Military Vs. Sadr’s Militia

Nothing like a little ‘splodey to start the day.

Sadr  City is one of the infamous slums of Baghdad. Back in my day, the Army had no realistic doctrine for fighting in cities. We paid a little lip service to it, but in reality, tried very hard to avoid it.  Heavy units- mech infantry, and armor, especially tried hard to avoid combat in close terrain like cities. In 7 years in mech units, I never once trained in a built up area.

Reality, however, has a tendency to intrude upon fantasy. The fact is, much of the terrain worth fighting for in large parts of the world in in the cities. American forces fighting in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities quickly learned to adapt the barebones doctrine that existed to the reality on the ground. They used the massive firepower available to them to minimize exposure to enemy fires. They quickly learned how to minimize exposure to enemy anti-armor weapons. And they learned how to integrate the fires of heavy weapons and air support with the agility of dismounted troops.

There’s a huge pool of US troops that are extremely well versed in this most difficult of fighting- city fighting.

**some NSFW langueage**



Filed under armor, army, ARMY TRAINING, guns, iraq, Uncategorized

Davey, Davey Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier

So, I’m making my morning rounds of the internets this morning, and see YouTube recommended this video for me:

It’s a bit of a long watch, at 17 minutes and change. But it is interesting on a couple of different notes.

Ivy Flats

First, it has just about the only footage I’ve ever seen of a real Davey Crockett shot. The M65 Davey Crockett was a man portable recoilless rifle that fired a sub-kiloton nuclear projectile. It was conceived in an era when it was just assumed that small nuclear weapons would be used on the battlefield. By the time it was actually fielded, people began to realize that using any nukes would soon lead to larger and larger exchanges, until Armageddon was at hand. Plus, the range of the Davey Crockett was so short, friendly troops were as likely to be endangered as the enemy.

I was surprised by just how small the blast was. And I was really surprised by just how ineffectual it was. Tanks almost directly at the site of the blast could survive. With that minimal damage, what’s the point of shooting it?

It was a  bit of a trip to see M113s running around with troops armed with the M1 rifle. You’d think for a high visibility test like this, they’d pick a unit that also had the M14. Still, seeing M113s rolling around brought back some fond memories.

Finally, it was fun to see 1st Bn, 12th Infantry in action. I spent four very fun and rewarding years with The Warriors. It was then, and indeed, always has been, a good unit.


Filed under 120mm, armor, army, ARMY TRAINING, guns, history

The Soldier’s Load

I spent a goodly portion of my time as an infantryman in mechanized units. As such the load we carried was, while burdensome, not of any especially great importance. But I also spent a fair amount of time in a light infantry unit. If our unit took anything to the field, we took it on our backs.

Even light units in Iraq, while they spent a great deal of time on foot, were mounted on or supported by Humvees or MRAPs. And the terrain was generally level. That’s not the case in Afghanistan. The terrain is an awesome challenge, and that very terrain precludes support and resupply of small infantry units by road. Consequently, infantry troops there are finding themselves with almost unbelievable loads every time they go on patrol.

This isn’t exactly a new problem for US forces. Every professional journal about the army periodically has an article bemoaning the crushing loads we burden our troops with, and suggesting ways to ease the load. Typically, technology is lauded as a way of lessening the load in the near future. The problem is, technology is the single biggest factor in increasing the load.

One of the paradoxes of the profusion of technology in the last decade has been that while individual pieces of electronic equipment have become lighter, there has been an explosion in the number of such devices. Back in my day, an infantry platoon would have 2 radios, and maybe 6 night vision devices. Now, virtually every soldier has a set of night vision goggles, and damn near every soldier has a radio. Sure, they’re lighter, but for the most part, it has been an addition to each soldier’s load. And as this article notes, it’s one thing to carry the device, it’s another thing to also lug around the batteries for all this stuff.

Then there’s body armor. In my lightfighter days, we just didn’t bother with it. Armor was so heavy that the loss of mobility, and increased incident of heat exhaustion outweighed the questionable benefits of wearing it. But today’s armor actually weighs more. It’s just that it is so much more effective at protecting troops (and preventable injuries are so politically sensitive in today’s culture) that troops wear armor every time they leave the wire.

The failure of the M16 to serve as a sustained automatic fire weapon also led to the introduction of the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon. While the SAW is lighter than most machine guns, it weighs roughly twice what an M16 weighs. So that’s a load increased on two troops in each squad. Also, the minimum of 600 rounds each SAW gunner carries is quite a load.


The M4 carbine most troops carries weighs less than an M16. Until you realize that almost every M4 also has combat optics and a laser pointer bolted to it. In fact, an accessorized M4 weighs more than a vanilla M16.

As the linked article notes, mortarmen and medics are carrying loads of up to 133 pounds for just a 3 day mission.  The rule of thumb is that a soldier’s load should not total more than 1/3 his naked body weight. That’s a load of about 50-70 pounds. And that load includes uniform, boots, everything. Your basic grunt has exceeded that with just an M240 and his body armor. That’s before he loads a single round, much less puts on his underwear.

In my day, the basic ammo load for a rifleman was 210 rounds, that is, 6 30-round magazines in the pouches, and one in the weapon. Today, it’s a rare trooper that doesn’t carry at least a dozen. A loaded 30 round magazine weighs about 2 pounds. It adds up quick. Then there’s the grenades, extra ammo for the machine gunners, pyrotechnics, and all the other ammo. Also, most troops these days carry their own IV kit, in case they become a casualty.

I’m not kidding when I say I’m in awe of the way today’s young troops are hauling these incredible loads across some of the most Godforsaken hills in the world. I was in fantastic condition when I was in Hawaii, and I’m not at all sure I’d have been up for the challenge these guys face.

And, no, I don’t think HULC will be the answer any time soon.



Filed under Afghanistan, armor, army, ducks, guns, infantry, war