Tag Archives: infantry

The Brigade Cavalry Squadron

 

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/ea/Flickr_-_The_U.S._Army_-_%27cavalry_charge%27.jpg

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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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Chinook

(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.

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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.

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