Warheads on Foreheads…

You have to love it when your readers do your research for you. Makes blogging a lot easier. Frequent reader Vmaximus pointed this little gem out to us via the comments:

Xbrad,
I found this at Theo’s,
I do not know anything about mortars, but is this how a mortar team works?
It does not look like they even aim till about 7 min in. Then they are slinging that tube around like there is no tomorrow. Do you know anything about Mortars?

Why yes, Vmax, I do know a little about mortars. But just a little. I suspect that the Infantry School, where mortarmen train (mortarmen are infantrymen, 11C’s to be specific) might not approve of their firing drill. But that doesn’t mean they don’t know what they are doing.

NSFW language.

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The mortar crew is obviously in a well prepared defensive position. They are at an outpost, likely very much like the one pictured here. They have had time to figure out likely enemy avenues of approach. In addition to digging in, they figured out where they would most likely be shooting, and are prepared to do it with minimal preparation.

The other thing is this- they are only throwing the rounds a fairly short distance. The gunner can see what he’s shooting at. He’s shot mortars enough that at short ranges, he can eyeball it. You see him pop up to see where the rounds are striking, then dropping down to shift the rounds a little bit to spread the coverage over the target.

One other interesting bit. Towards the end, the last round he fires? You see him take it out of the packing, then pull some light colored stuff off the base of the round? That’s propellant. Mortar rounds carry their powder on the outside of the case. By varying the number of these “charges” you change how far the round will go.

You also hear troops talking about “107s coming in!” That’s the 107mm Chinese Type 63 bombardment rocket. Taliban troops love shooting these things, usually from a crude homemade launcher. They are wildly inaccurate, but big enough that they only have to get lucky once.

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Afghanistan in Hi-Res

We, like much of the right leaning blogosphere, have been critical of the traditional media from time to time. It is incumbent upon us, then, to acknowledge when quality coverage of events is out there.

Boston.com with Getty Images has a fascinating look at one small slice of the war in Afghanistan. Wanna little taste? Click the pic to see the whole thing. It’s well worth your time.

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H/T: Castle Argghhh!

Well, dang, I guess I have to lay off bashing the French for a while…

I was making my usual rounds today and stopped by The Castle, where I found this wonderful tidbit. I’m sorry to say that the only real interaction I had with the French was when a pair of Foriegn Legion officers came with us to the field once as observers. They seemed to have something of an attitude, no so much against Americans, but rather against enlisted and noncommissioned personnel. The author of this piece seems to have his priorities straight.

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Humvee

There have been many stories in the news about the inadequacies of the Humvee as a fighting vehicle in Iraq, complete with tearful stories about soldiers killed in IED attacks. In 2004, the issue of inadequate armor was used as a club to beat Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld over the head. The fact of the matter is that many, many soldier did in fact die in IED attacks on Humvees. That doesn’t mean the Humvee is a bad truck. What it means is that he Humvee is being used in a role for which it was never really intended.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Army’s fleet of light wheeled vehicles was tired and obselete. The most famous of these was the jeep, which had evolved from it’s WWII beginnings into the M151 Ford MUTT (Multi Use Tactical Truck). The jeep was known as a 1/4 ton truck, that is, it could carry a payload of 500 pounds.

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Slightly larger was a collection of 3/4 ton and 1-1/4 ton trucks. Some were off the shelf purchases of Chevy Blazers and pick-ups.

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Other trucks included the 1-1/4 ton M561 Gamma Goat. This was the loudest, most uncomfortable riding truck around.

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None of these trucks had the combination of durability and off road capability in a lightweight package that the Army was seeking. In the late 70s the leading contender to replace the jeep was at one point actually a Lambroghini. How cool would that have been?

cheetahspecbAs it turned out, AM General, then a division of American Motors (who gave us classics like the Gremlin and the Pacer!) developed what the Army called the “High Mobility Multi-Wheeled Vehicle” or HUMMWV. Now, HUMMWV is hard to pronounce so everyone calls them Humvees. Yes, the civilian version is called a Hummer, but few if any people in the Army call them that. The basic design is a four wheel drive, four wheel independent double wishbone suspension 1-1/4 ton truck with a 6.2 liter engine. The design was intended to fill a number of roles by adding components to the baseline vehicle.

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Most of the trucks were intended for logistical or command roles. As an example, the CO of a Mechanized Infantry company can’t go everywhere in his M-113 or Bradley. Sometimes, all he needs is  a truck. So, in addition to his fighting vehicle, he has a Humvee.

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Similarly, the First Sergeant, in his role as the chief logistician for an Infantry company has a truck as well. His is tailored more to hauling troops and supplies.

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At the same time, other models were intended to be used as ambulances and carriers for the TOW missile system.

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These vehicles had Kevlar armor, but that was intended to  stop the odd stray fragment, not withstand a dedicated attack. In fact, it wasn’t until the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993 that the Army started to condsider that there was a good chance a lot of its fights in the future would be against insurgent type forces and in urban areas at that. The Humvees in Mogadishu had suffered badly under rifle, machine gun and RPG fire. Most of the crews fared reasonably well, but the trucks were a mess and the Army knew it could do better. It soon contracted with AM General for up-armored versions that would provide better protection against small arms fire. Soon, limited numbers of these trucks were in production. But the improvements came at a cost- increased weight. All that armor weighs a lot. It decreases the speed and agility of the truck. It also puts a huge strain on the drivetrain. Breakdowns are more common. The trucks center of gravity rises and it becomes more likely to roll over. Still, a small number of these up-armored Humvees were used in the Balkans in the 90s and were available for use in Iraq. So from a lightweight pickup truck, the Humvee, now mounting a plethora of machine guns, was suddenly the prime vehicle for patrolling and fighting in urban centers like Baghdad.

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One threat that Army hadn’t given enough consideration to was the IED or improvised explosive device. While the armor on an up-armored Humvee was enough to mitigate the effects of most roadside IEDs, the truck just couldn’t withstand the blast of an IED buried in the road or an anti-tank mine. There really isn’t a whole lot that can be done to improve the Humvee against mines. The design of the vehicle just doesn’t have that much room for growth left. Armor has been added to the floors and some work has been done to mitigate the effects of blast, but the fact remains that as fast as you can armor a vehicle, the enemy can use bigger mines. The current state of the art in Humvees is the M1151.  Virtually all Humvees used in Iraq today for patrols are either the original up-armored M1114 series or the M1151 series of trucks. They provide protection against small arms fire and some protection against RPGs and IEDs. But they are by no means main battle tanks. If you want a tank’s level of protection, you end up building a tank.

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By now, some of you are saying to yourselves, “But what about MRAPs?” Well, yes, the Army and Marines have both bought a bunch of MRAPs. MRAP stands for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle. They are based on a design originally from South Africa. They are more resistant to mines, and have good protection against small arms, but  that comes with a price. The MRAP is a much larger vehicle. Many drivers complain that they cannot move the MRAPs through the small alleys and tight lanes in a city the way they could with a Humvee. They are even more prone to rollover than a Humvee. So while there is a place for them, they aren’t the ultimate Humvee replacement.

gr_pr_071112mrapThe Army is still trying to find a good vehicle that combines the protection of an MRAP with the light weight and agility of a Humvee. But the problem will remain that every time you come up with better armor, the enemy will use a bigger warhead. The ultimate answer won’t be technology alone. It never is. It will still take brave young soldiers working in an incredibly difficult environment using their training and their initiative to win wars.

The flight attendants are nothing to cheer about…

The C-17 is the Air Force’s main intercontinental transport. It is a big airplane. It isn’t the largest in the world, not by a long stretch, but it is huge. Back in my day, when troops flew in a military transport, it was usually a C-130, and it wasn’t very comfortable.

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C-130 interior

Now, when C-17’s aren’t hauling outsized cargo like vehicles and emormous pallets of supplies,  they are outfitted with reasonable accomodations for troops.

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Probably the most important mission the C-17 flies is medevac for our soldiers. Once a wounded soldier has been stabilized in a field hospital in Iraq or Afghanistan, they are quickly flown to Germany for definitive treatment. When C-17s fly this mission, they are almost flying hospitals, complete with medical staff.

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And the C-17 has another trick up its sleeve. You don’t have to go to the airport to catch your flight. Your flight comes to you.

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AT-4

Back in the early days of WWII, the German Army brought Blitzkrieg, or Lightning War, to bear upon its enemies in Europe. This combination of tanks and infantry defeated every enemy on the Continent. Even before the US entered WWII, our Army knew they would have to find a way to counter this tactic. One big issue was, how does an infantry unit defeat tanks.

Each infantry regiment had an anti-tank company, armed with 18 towed anti-tank guns. This was a start, but still, something more was needed. What the Army really wanted was a weapon that could be carried by a small team of men, say 2 or 3, and give each company its own chance at defeating tanks. Right about this time, the HEAT warhead was developed. In fact, the Army had a large number of HEAT warheads in production. They just didn’t know what to do with them. They were 2.36 inches in diameter, which is 60mm, so there is some supposition they may have planned to make them mortar rounds. But mortars aren’t really accurate enough to attack tanks. Then the Army came up with a HEAT hand grenade.  The obvious problem with that was you had to get pretty damn close to a tank to hit it with a grenade.

By a happy coincidence, the Army had two young officers, CPT. Leslie Skinner and LT. Ed Uhl working on a battlefield rocket system. They had a rocket that worked well, but no warhead. Much like the birth of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, once they got the rocket and the warhead together, great things were happening.

The M1 Rocket Launcher was soon known far and wide as the Bazooka, since it faintly resembled a homemade musical instrument by the same name, made popular by comedian Bob Burns. The Bazooka worked. It gave infantrymen a fighting chance at destroying enemy tanks without sacrificing themselves. As the war went on, the Germans, facing huge numbers of Sherman tanks, copied the Bazooka and named it the Panzerschreck. Then they came up with the idea of making a disposable, one shot version, which they called the Panzerfaust.

The bazooka continued in service long after WWII, but the Army liked the idea behind the Panzerfaust. After much tinkering, the Army started to issue the M-72 Light Anti-tank Weapon, or LAW. Now, in Vietnam, there weren’t a lot of enemy tanks. But there were a lot of bunkers. And it just so happens that a LAW is a dandy way of taking out a bunker, much safer than the prescribed method of crawling up to it and throwing a grenade inside.

The LAW was a collapsible fiberglass and aluminum tube with a 66mm HEAT rocket inside. Pop it open, arm it, shoot it, throw away the tube. Easy as pie. The LAW was light enough that just about every soldier could carry one and in a pinch, a grunt could carry several of them. It was such a handy weapon, it is one of the few occasions of the Russians copying it. They call their version the RPG-18.

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But by the late 1980’s, the LAW was getting long in the tooth, and the 66mm warhead was too small to take out modern tanks. Something bigger was needed. The Army went shopping. After trying several European rocket launchers, they settled on the 84mm Swedish AT4.

After some tweaks, the AT4 was introduced as the M136 Rocket Launcher. Still, everyone calls it the AT4. The AT4 has a bigger, faster rocket and warhead, longer range than the M72, and by virtue of its greater speed, is more accurate. I still wouldn’t want to try to take out a main battle tank with it, but for taking out a bunker, or a sniper hiding in a building, well, it is just the ticket.

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Update: Someone did a google search asking what the “4” in AT4 stood for. Nothing. AT4 is a phonetic play on the caliber of the cartridge, 84mm. Say A T 4 and think “eighty-four.”

The War in Pakistan

Many of you may have noticed that the war in Afghanistan isn’t going well. And recently, the US has taken to making raids into Pakistan that have that nation somewhat upset.

We are please to claim an ethnic Pakistani as one of our internet correspondents. Muslihoon is on a somewhat more cerebral level than we are, but we hope to use him to address some of these issues in the near future.

I consider the fight in Pakistan the key to winning the war in Afghanistan. History shows that an insurgency that has a sanctuary is very tough to defeat. In effect, Pakistan has ceded sovreignity in some of its territory to the Taliban and Al Queda. The US and Afghanistan can ill afford to allow that state of affairs to continue. We hope to draw Muslihoon into the discussion in the near future, but for now, be sure to read what he has to say.

Combat Talon

We covered the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment a while back. But sometimes you need something more.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on America, it was clear the next battlefield would be Afghanistan. But there was a surpising lack of intelligence about the Taliban and Al Queda in the area. The decision was made to conduct a raid by the 75th Ranger Regiment to gather intelligence and attempt to secure prisoners for interogation. How to get them into Afghanistan? That’s where the Air Forces Special Operations Wing comes in. Operating highly modified C-130s designed to penetrate deep into enemy held territory, and known as Combat Talons, the Air Force Spec Op guys flew into Afghanistan and dropped the Rangers onto an airfield. Extraction was later made by Air Force Special Operations helicopters operating from a secret base in Pakistan. When you see the Combat Talons dropping long strings of paratroops in night vision, that’s the raid I’m talking about.

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Combat Talon has been around for quite a while. In the early days, an awful lot of work was put into improving the C-130s already impressive short field landing and take off performance. This clip shows the results of some testing, and why the project was dropped.

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Update: Outlaw 13, our Apache pilot correspondent, informs us that the second clip was a specially modified MC-130 being tested for the aborted raid on Tehran that came to be known as Desert One.  The idea was to land in downtown Tehran. After the testing, a new plan had to be devised. I’ll poke around, but I suspect that may have had something to do with the decision to use the Navy’s RH-53s and refuel them in the desert.

Flathatting Fun

So I cruised over to Cranky’s place, and what do I find? Some fling-winged goodness. Cranky saw a CH-53 go by and it inspired him to find this video.

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Mind you, this is a Luftwaffe (German Air Force) CH-53. Our Marines operate two different versions of the CH-53 as a transport and the Air Force operates the MH-53M as a special operations and search and rescue bird known as the Pave Low. The Air Force guys operate the Pave Low much like this video, only they do it at night.

I’ve only had one ride in a CH-53. When my platoon was training on Molokai Island in Hawaii, we recieved a mission to move about 5 miles.  Now, normally a 5 mile walk isn’t bad, but the terrain there was unbelievable. The trek would have taken us all day and a goodly part of the night. But as we were getting ready to move out, a Marine CH-53 from Kanehoe started doing practice landings in a clearing next to us. My Platoon Sergeant, SFC Lopez ran out and flagged them down. “How about a lift?” Surprisingly, they were more than willing, and fitting the whole platoon in was a piece of cake. We reached our objective about 15 hours ahead of the rest of the company. Thanks, guys!

Rounds Out…

I found an interesting video on youtube showing what is purported to be the 10th Mountain Division in action. Couple of things to look out for:

1. Shrapnel- you come pretty dang close to seeing three troops get listed as friendly fire casualties because they had the lookie-loos. Duck, boys, they don’t call it “danger close” for nothing!

2. PT clothes- I can’t seem to recall ever fighting in my workout clothes. It is either an artillery thing, or times have changed…

NSFW for some language in the soundtrack and some images that some folks will find disturbing.

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