M1 Tank Survivability

From this tweet, we find video of what purports to be an attack on a Saudi M1 Abrams tank in Yemen.  It’s pretty poor quality video. It is actually hard to tell if it is indeed an Abrams. The roof doesn’t quite look right.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5h6Ngwb2aDY]

The missile is probably an 9M133 Kornet, which is quite the formidable weapon, and quite capable of destroying an M1.

But in this case, look closer.

We see a massive blast at missile impact. And we see what appears to be some sheet metal or similar flying off to the upper right. But as the fireball fades, what we don’t see is any secondary explosions or post impact fire. The second explosion is simply a replay of the initial impact. It’s quite possible the missile either simply missed the tank, or hit a non-vital part of it. Or if it did impact the crew compartment, the on board fire suppression system worked as advertised to immediately suppress any fire. The M1 tank wasn’t built to be indestructible. It was, instead, built to provide the greatest likelihood that the crew would survive an attack, even one that destroyed the tank.

Good old triple strand concertina wire.

Armies use obstacles to influence the enemy’s actions on the battlefield. They can be used to delay, divert, turn, or channelize a force into the ground of your own choosing. What they very rarely can do is actually stop an enemy.

Some typical military obstacles include minefields, anti-tank ditches, and of course, wire obstacles such as barbed wire and concertina wire.

The normal emplacement of concertina wire is what’s called the “triple strand” where to rolls side by side on the ground are topped by a third roll above.

18charlie_barbed_wire_obstacles_diagram-2

The triple strand obstacle is just a touch too tall for someone to jump over, and the barbs of the concertina wire make it virtually impossible to clamber over. It’s hard to see in the above figure, but the rolls are held in place by stakes on alternating sides of the obstacle every 6 paces.

By itself, a triple strand obstacle isn’t that hard to breach. It can be manually breached with wirecutters. It can be mechanically breached by using a grappling hook and a cable pulled by a vehicle to rip it out. It can be explosively breached by Bangalore Torpedoes or the MCLIC or APOBS.

Of course, your enemy won’t make it that easy for you. It’s a military truism that if you’re not observing your obstacle, it’s not an obstacle. Instead, most obstacles, particularly those used to channelize, are carefully crafted kill zones, with preplanned mortar and artillery fires, interlocking machine gun, cannon and missile fires from protected positions. You might be able to breach the obstacle, but you’ll pay a price.

Furthermore, you’ll rarely come across just a triple strand concertina obstacle. Usually they are employed in conjunction with an anti-tank ditch (on the mechanized battlefield, at any rate) and depending on circumstances, a minefield as well. Each of these obstacles requires a different breaching method, which increases the time needed to breach, leaving you in a kill zone that much longer. Further, once you have breached, your follow on forces are forced into a narrow channel that makes an excellent shooting gallery.

Of course, sometimes, the enemy doesn’t have the time or material to emplace a fully integrated obstacle. You might get lucky and actually come across just a concertina obstacle.

In that case, if you’re mounted in a Bradley or a tank, you can just drive through it.  But that tends to have its own drawbacks.

Wire obstacle.

Been there, done that, and it is a flaming pain to get every single bit out of the running gear.

The First Naval Battle for Guadalcanal 12-13 November 1942

CA38

The bloody slugging match for the island of Guadalcanal and the surrounding seas reached its peak fury seventy-three years ago this week.  Between November 13th and 15th, 1942, a pair of violent clashes in the waters north and east of the island marked a watershed in the eleven-month long Pacific War.  Those clashes would come to be known as the First and Second Naval Battles of Guadalcanal.

The stage was set for this far-flung, savage, running fight a week earlier, when US intelligence gleaned that the Japanese 17th Army was going to make one last, large attempt break the Marine perimeter to overrun Henderson Field.  General Hyukatake, commanding 17th Army, had been arrogantly dismissive of the US Marines’ combat prowess, and entirely slipshod in his intelligence planning.  The Japanese had tried three times to break the Marines’ lines, once in late-August (at the Ilu River), in mid-September (Edson’s Ridge), and again in late-October, which was the first serious thrust, directly at Lunga Point and the airfield.  Each time, the Marines (and in October, joined by the Army’s 164th Infantry) held firm and slaughtered the Japanese in large numbers.  Hyukatake had waited far too long.  Had his efforts been strong during the almost two weeks in mid-August during which the Marines had neither Naval nor air protection, the predicament of the 1st Marine Division might have been extremely grim.  Now, after grievous losses, Hyukatake was to be reinforced for one last major push.

In light of the latest intelligence, Admiral Richmond K. Turner had taken Task Force 67, loaded with troops and supplies, toward the island.  The transports of TF 67 unloaded under intermittent air attack from Bougainville, but managed without serious losses.    The Japanese had pushed a bombardment force of two battleships, a cruiser, and eleven destroyers into the waters north of Guadalcanal with the mission of destroying the airfield and preventing the Cactus Air Force from interdicting the eleven transports packed with Japanese soldiers, supplies, food, and ammunition.  The US Navy had two task groups protecting the transports, under Admirals Daniel Callaghan and Norman Scott.  Those forces combined, along with remaining escorts from Turner’s transport group, to form a powerful group of two heavy and three light cruisers, and eight destroyers (under Callaghan, aboard San Francisco).

The two forces sighted each other almost simultaneously, at approximately 0125 on 13 November.  Admiral Callaghan, regrettably, had not employed any ship with the improved SG radar in his van, which meant that the Japanese, even in the poor visibility of the night, negated his technical advantage with their superior night combat skills.  The confused melee began at extremely close ranges, and was filled with confusing orders, hesitation, and ferocity.  The IJN battleship Hiei was badly mauled by dozens of 5-inch hits on her bridge and superstructure, pummeled by US destroyers that were so close that Hiei’s 14-inch guns could not depress to engage them.   She suffered at least three 8-inch hits, likely from San Francisco, her steering gear was shot away, and she was a shambles topside.  Hiei and sister Kirishima managed to exacted revenge on Atlanta and San Francisco, landing large caliber (14-inch) hits on both.  The riddled Atlanta drifted across San Francisco’s line of fire, and was almost certainly struck by the latter’s main battery, adding to the carnage on board.    When the action finished less than an hour later, four US destroyers had been sunk, Altanta was a wreck, Juneau and Portland had taken torpedoes, and San Francisco had been savaged, leaving her with only one 8-inch mount in action.   Both American admirals, Norman Scott aboard Atlanta, and Daniel Callaghan on San Francisco, had been killed.  Admiral Abe, the Japanese commander flying his flag on Hiei, had been wounded.

The Japanese attempted to take Hiei in tow, but US air attacks from Guadalcanal and Espiritu Santo further damaged the battleship, and she sank in the late evening of 13 November off Savo Island.   Similarly, efforts throughout the day to save Atlanta were unsuccessful, and just after 2000 on 13 November, the cruiser was scuttled on the orders of her captain.   Juneau, down fifteen feet by the bows and listing from her torpedo wounds, was proceeding to Espiritu Santo at 13 knots when she was struck by a torpedo from the Japanese submarine I-26.  Her magazine exploded, breaking her in two.  Witnesses say Juneau disappeared in twenty seconds.   Fearing the submarine threat and believing very few could have survived the explosion, the senior surviving American Officer (Captain Hoover, aboard Helena) made the agonizing decision to leave the survivors for later rescue.  About one hundred men had survived the sinking, but after eight days in the water, only ten were rescued.  The rest perished from exhaustion, wounds, or sharks, including the five Sullivan brothers.

Aside from the eventual loss of Hiei, the Japanese lost two destroyers sunk, and four damaged.  Japanese killed had numbered around 700, about half the total of Americans killed in the action.  With little in front of him, Abe might have sailed in to bombard Henderson Field at his leisure, but instead he withdrew.  With his withdrawal, Abe had turned a potentially serious tactical reverse into a strategic victory for the US Navy and Marine Corps.  Yamamoto, who had planned the operation, was forced to postpone the landings.  Furious, Yamamoto fired Abe, and ordered a new bombardment force under Vice Admiral Kondo to neutralize the airfield the next day, 14 November.   So ended the First Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, the first act of the tense drama, setting the stage for the second.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

xm8 

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

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fyZ3v_LQ6UM]

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

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

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

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

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

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

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPQjHLYx954]

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

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

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

A Weasel for the Cavalry?

LTG McMaster, in addition to discussing future fighting vehicles for the Infantry, is also hinting that the Army might want to buy a very lightly armored vehicle for light  cavalry units.

Light armor is very problematical. It’s vulnerable to anything beyond the the smallest of small arms fire. Artillery, RPGs, ATGMs, tank guns, mines and IEDs, you name it, they can defeat light armor.

But the alternative to light armor isn’t heavy armor, it’s no armor at all, and how realistic is that proposition? So LTG McMaster is looking at providing the Cavalry squadrons of Airborne and Air Assault Brigade Combat Teams a platform beyond the M1114 Humvee. And since money is tight, it would have to be an off the shelf, non-developmental product.

And the product they’re looking at is the German Wiesel (hereafter, Weasel). Back in the 1970s, the Bundeswehr was looking for a weapons carrier for their own light forces. Development was pretty smooth, but for budgetary reasons, the light, tracked Weasel didn’t enter service until about 1985.

After buying a few hundred in the 80s and 90s, the Germans built a somewhat larger version, the v2. Having a fifth roadwheel and longer body, along with a newer, more powerful engine, it’s still very light, but has significantly more internal volume. This is, presumably, the variant the US Army is looking at.

Wiesel 2

Fitting in six troops is a tight squeeze. And I’m not really sure you need six. The old M114 recon vehicle had a three or four man crew.

Wiesel interior

I’m not sure I’m ready to equip all the light Cav squadrons with these, but I wouldn’t mind seeing at least one equipped and operationally tested.

The Weasel has a couple of interesting capabilities. First, it can be carried by a CH-47 Chinook. And not just as a sling load. You can actually drive it right inside. Three or four can be stuffed into a C-130. From what I hear, Bundeswehr air drop tests were less than successful, but I suspect our airborne guys could figure out a way to airdrop them.

The Germans seem pretty happy with theirs, so it might be worth looking at. At this point, I’m inclined to look favorably on pretty much anything that increases the mobility and firepower of the light formations.

Marines about to downselect to two competitors for the Amphibious Combat Vehicle Program

The legacy AAV-7 amphibious assault vehicle is very, very long in the tooth, having entered service in the 1960s. Even though it has gone through two major revisions, it is undoubtedly due for replacement. It is an excellent swimmer, but not so great ashore. But that’s the challenge with any amphibious vehicle- balancing the performance afloat, where you spend about 1% of your time, with performance ashore, where you actually do the fighting. But if you can’t swim well, then what is the point? Unfortunately, these two requirements tend to compete against one another.

After the expensive and technically ambitious but frustrating development of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle was cancelled, the Marines eventually asked for proposals for a low end amphibious vehicle capable of carrying 11 troops, and incorporating lessons learned about protection against IEDs learned in Iraq and Afghanistan. Five teams submitted proposals, and the Marines expect to downselect to two teams shortly. Those two teams will provide 16 vehicles each that will then undergo about 2 years of engineering and operational testing.

Megan Eckstein at USNI News has a piece comparing the five entrants.

I’m leaning toward the BAE systems variant myself, but of course, Lockheed Martin will use its en0rmous political influence to try to win.

BAE Systems and Iveco Defense partnered to create this entrant for the Marines ACV 1.1 competition. Photo courtesy BAE Systems.

BAE Systems and Iveco Defense partnered to create this entrant for the Marines ACV 1.1 competition. Photo courtesy BAE Systems.

Lockheed Martin's ACV 1.1 prototype. Photo courtesy Lockheed Martin.

Lockheed Martin’s ACV 1.1 prototype. Photo courtesy Lockheed Martin.

Click on over and read the whole thing.

Bradleys, Obsolescence, the Saudis- From the mailbag.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h87a41N-IhU?feature=player_embedded]

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

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

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

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

Strategic Messaging, Done Right

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

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

We’re so screwed.

H/T Pukka mate.

Tanker Boots

Reader Samuel Suggs in the previous post about 120mm ammunition has a sharp eye:

This is an off topic and possibly stupid question but: why does the soldier in second photo have buckles on his boots?

One of the things about the Army that I liked was that for a “uniform” service, there was considerable scope for individuality.  From the way one wore their patrol cap, the how they bloused their trousers into their boots, there was a surprising array of styles and techniques. From the outside, to civilians, troops look mostly indistinguishable. But as an insider, you could tell a lot about a troop by his sense of style.

And then there are those traditions among the various arms and services. Perhaps best known is the Cavalry’s attachment to Stetsons and spurs. There was also the famous “jump boots” which, by the time I was in, was authorized, and indeed pretty much expected of every troop to have  pair for ceremonial use.

But tankers too have their own institution- the tanker boot. For many years, armor crewmen have had either tacit or explicit permission to wear boots using straps and buckles in lieu of the more traditional laces.

Tanker_boots

Back when the Army wore black leather boots.

166163_ts

Current tan rough side out version.

As far as I know, their adoption by armor crewman has never been universal (after all, the Army will issue lace up boots, but tanker boots came out of your own pocket).

Wiki tells us that the idea of the tanker boot in the US Army originated with George Patton in World War I.