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.

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.

Solder Re-Classes To Cav Just So He Can Recite Lines From ‘Apocalypse Now’ | The Duffel Blog

KILLEEN, TX — The Army’s 1st Cavalry Division has been under fire in recent years, with soldiers claiming their obsession with obsolete uniform items — Stetson cowboy hats and spurs without rowels — make them stand out in addition to being the target of countless jokes from other service members.

More recently, the enormous and expensive patch of the unit has also drawn the ire of lawmakers after a brigade comptroller’s proposal to shrink the size of the emblem drew immediate and devastating reprisals.

But not all soldiers are so critical of the ‘First Team.’ Newly minted Trooper Specialist Ernest Whitman recently completed his change of MOS (Military Occupational Specialty), or re-class as it’s more commonly known, from the infantry into the ‘Cav.

When asked about the reason for his transition, Whitman didn’t hesitate. ”That’s easy bro, Apocalypse Now. Did you see that movie? That fucking bad-ass Stetson hat Robert Duvall was wearing. God I can’t wait to get mine! And those spurs, who wouldn’t want to wear them? I’m gonna pull so much tail it’ll be sick.”

Suddenly, Whitman stood back from the table and shouted, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning! How amazing is that line?”

via Solder Re-Classes To Cav Just So He Can Recite Lines From ‘Apocalypse Now’ | The Duffel Blog.

I was gonna make a crack that the real clue it was satire was the fact that NO Infantryman would ever reclass to Cav.

But then, I remembered, I know someone who did. He clings to his story that his knees were the issue, but I’m not really buying it. It has to be the hat.

The Armored Cavalry Regiment

The mission of the Cavalry is to conduct reconnaissance, provide security, and perform economy of force operations.

As mentioned in a previous post, each heavy corps in Europe had its own Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR). Let’s take a look at these formations.

Ordinarily in the history of the Army, regiments have been branch specific. That is, an infantry regiment was almost exclusively full of infantrymen. Similarly, a cavalry regiment was full of horse troopers.

But the Cold War ACR, ironically, was a combined arms formation, integrating scouts, armor and fire support all the way down to the troop level.1


Scout Platoon– The basic building block of a cavalry unit is the Scout Platoon. Each Scout Platoon consisted of six M3 Bradley Cavalry Fighting Vehicles (CFVs). The M3 was identical to the beloved M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle your humble scribe served on, except the internal arrangements provided for only two dismount personnel instead of seven, and allowed greater internal stowage for ammunition and TOW missiles. Each CFV had a crew of three and two dismount scouts.2 One Lieutenant and 29 enlisted soldiers formed the platoon.

Cavalry Troop– Here’s where the organization of Cavalry units began to get interesting. Each Cav troop had two scout platoons. But because troops would often operate well separated from one another, outside of mutual support, the troop needed a bit more firepower. So each troop also had a tank platoon. The four M1 tanks of the platoon were equipped an organized identically to any tank platoon in an armor unit. In addition, to provide some level of organic fire support, the Cav troop also had its own self propelled mortar section, with two M106 4.2” mortar carriers. The troop headquarters consisted of the CO mounted in a tank, the XO, supplied with an M3, and an M577 command post vehicle (based on the ubiquitous M113), a fire support section, a maintenance team, and the 1sg with the company supply trains. At a time when Infantry and Armor battalions only intermingled when task organized in the field, the Cav troop was a combined arms organization at all times, with Scouts, Armor, Infantry (via the mortar section), Field Artillery (via the FIST team) and logistics. A Cavalry troop might not have a lot of staying power, but it sure had a lot of punch.

Cavalry Squadron– Three Cavalry Troops formed the heart of a Cavalry squadron. In addition to a Headquarters and Headquarters Troop (HHT), the ACS also had an M1 tank company, further boosting the squadron’s firepower. And because squadrons might typically be widely separated, each squadron had its own eight gun battery of M109 155mm self-propelled artillery.

Regimental Aviation Squadron- As if the firepower of the three ground squadrons wasn’t enough, the Armored Cavalry Regiment also had its own Regimental Aviation Squadron or RAS. The RAS had three troops of Air Cavalry for reconnaissance (total 24 OH-58D Kiowa Warriors) and two Attack Helicopter Troops (total 16 AH-64 Apache attack helicopters). The RAS provided the ability to see deep into enemy territory, or to cover any gaps in a screen the regiment might be conducting. To provide the lift capability, the RAS also had an Assault Helicopter Troop with 15 UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters. In addition to hauling troops and supplies, the Blackhawks were often used by the Regiment and squadrons as Command and Control birds to allow commanders to physically visit subordinate units spread over wide areas, rather than spending many hours driving from point to point. Finally, the HHT was also home to four EH-60 helicopters providing SIGINT and jamming capability.

The Armored Cavalry Regiment– . The fifth squadron in the regiment was the Regimental Support Squadron, providing the logistical, maintenance, medical and administrative support similar to that which support battalions would provide to a division.

The ACR also had an organic Engineer company, Military Intelligence company, and an Air Defense Artillery Battery (with Stinger and Avenger ADA systems) to round out its combat power.

Finally, while not organic to the ACR, corps headquarters often tasked an entire Field Artillery brigade in direct support of the ACR, with each of the three battalions of 155mm guns supporting one Cavalry squadron. That is about three times the artillery support most infantry or armor battalion commanders could count upon.

The combined arms, and supporting services of the ACR has caused it to be described as a “pocket division” and indeed, it was a potent weapon. 5

Roles and Missions

As noted above, the role of the ACR was to provide the heavy corps commander with reconnaissance, security, and economy of force.

Reconnaissance -Reconnaissance is the means by which the commander gathers information on the enemy and the terrain upon which he will fight. In an era of UAVs and recon satellites, it may seem archaic to send scads of scouts out onto the battlefield to locate the enemy. But UAVs and satellites can be foiled by cloud cover, or deceived by a careful enemy. More importantly, just knowing where an enemy is doesn’t tell the commander what he needs to know. More than just where an enemy is, a commander needs to know divine his plans and intentions. Cavalry, by “fighting for information” can force an enemy to disclose his scheme of battle, his fire support plans, communications plan3 and more.  By maintaining contact with enemy formations, cavalry mitigates any enemy attempts at deception operations. After all, it’s hard for the Guards 102nd Tank Division to pretend to be threatening in the north when they’re engaged in the south.

Cavalry reconnaissance also generates intelligence on the terrain the corps will fight upon. Are there trafficability issues in the corps area? Will the bridges and roads support the corps traffic? Will it support the enemy traffic?4 By knowing the terrain intimately, a good commander can make a fair estimate of likely positions an enemy will move to and routes to be used.

Security– No commander should allow the enemy to surprise him. Security operations both deny the enemy reconnaissance upon our forces, and provide our forces early warning of enemy movements and attacks.

The classic Cold War  ACR screening mission was to cover the border between East and West Germany before a Warsaw Pact invasion of the NATO countries. Covering the front of a corps, the ACR would first detect enemy movements across the border. The ACR would avoid becoming decisively engaged. That is, it was of prime importance for the regiment to not get pinned down. When the pressure became too great, they would fall back, either to another line of positions, or through the lines of the main body of the corps, the heavy divisions, handing off the fight to them. But before the regiment slipped away, it would want to destroy the Soviet reconnaissance effort, and if possible, the advance guard of the main body of the invasion. Beyond the salutary effects of attriting the  enemy, this counter recon battle also deprives the enemy of intelligence on our main body’s dispositions and plans. If the ACR is successful in this fight, it can seriously slow the enemy advance, sow confusion on the ranks, and generate opportunities to seize the initiative. A further objective during this covering force battle is to determine where the enemy main effort. This allows the defending corps to allocate resources where they will do the most good.

The regiment can also often be found guarding the flanks of the corps during movement, to protect against any flanking attacks from the enemy.

Economy of Force– Economy of Force is simply using the least resources needed to perform a mission. The ACR isn’t a Heavy Brigade, nor yet an armored division, and shouldn’t be used like one. But let us suppose our corps commander is attacking a dug in enemy tank division. His mechanized infantry division has engaged the front of the enemy division to fix him in place, while his armored division has begun to sweep around a flank to deliver the coup de grace. To keep the neighboring enemy division from counterattacking, he needs to stage a secondary attack on it. Rather than deploying his independent brigade, he may choose to hold that in reserve to exploit any successes, and instead task the ACR to fix the second enemy division in place. While the primary roles of the ACR are recon and security, it can attack, defend, and cover a retreat.

The Past and the Present

Desert Storm– When the ground war phase of Desert Storm kicked off on 24 February, 1991, the invasion of Kuwait was led by the Marines, coalition partners, and some US Army elements. The far left flak of the coalition was guarded by the XVIIIth Airborne Corps (in a kind of giant cavalry mission, forming a screen, as well as blocking Iraqi lines of retreat). The main effort, though, was the 5 heavy divisions of the VIIth Corps. And in the lead was the corps Armored Cavalry Regiment, the 2nd ACR. In deplorable weather, the 2ACR lead the way, showing the corps path was clear. And when the corps finally came to grips with the Republican Guard, it was 2ACR that first encountered them. Probably the most famous engagement of Desert Storm was the fight of (then) Captain Harold McMaster’s Eagle Troop, 2nd Squadron, 2nd ACR at the Battle of 73 Easting. This company sized element ran headlong into the tanks and armored personnel carriers of a Republican Guard division, and seized the initiative, and in an incredible fight, tore the heart out of the Iraqi formation.

Present Day– While there are still formations in the Army named Armored Cavalry Regiments, they are really ACRs in name only. The 2ACR  and 3rd ACR today are  Stryker Brigade Combat Teams, and the 11th ACR, when not deployed to Iraq as a Heavy Brigade Combat Team, serves as the Opposing Force at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin.

While the Armored Cavalry Regiment may be no more, Cavalry is far from dead. We’ll take a look at todays cavalry squadrons in a later post.


1. Cavalry formations substitute the term “troop” for “company,” and “squadron” for “battalion.”  Similarly, a “battery” is a company sized element in the artillery branches.

2. Well, two dismount scouts in a perfect world. Very few units ever had all the personnel they were supposed to have. If a Scout Platoon has fewer people than it was authorized, the CFVs would be fully crewed first, then the platoon would field as many two man teams as it could. These dismounted scouts could provide immediate local security to the scout platoon, or they could conduct a more stealthy reconnaissance than a 30 ton Bradley. What they couldn’t really do was fight as infantry. The platoon lacked sufficient numbers of dismounted scouts to do so.

3. By forcing the enemy to communicate, intelligence at either the ACR or higher levels can gather information on the enemy commo plan, and even likely determine locations of command posts, artillery support, and other assets.

4. If you know key chokepoints where the enemy will have little room to maneuver, you can more successfully employ obstacles, artillery and close air support, and attacks by maneuver elements. For instance, if an enemy division only has one likely crossing point of a river, you can wait until the last moment, and blow up the bridge in his face. While his troops are massed at the crossing point, waiting for assault bridging elements to arrive, they make a dandy target for supporting fires, while protecting your force from a flanking attack.

5. Ironically, the “forward deployed” brigades in Europe (which were really separate brigades) were commanded by Brigadier Generals, but the larger, more complex ACR was a Colonel’s command.  A successful command tour was almost sure to guarantee promotion to at least Brigadier General, and if you look at the four star Generals that came from an Armor/Cavalry background, most had a tour as an ACR commander. One of the reasons much of the Army was stunned when (then) COL H. R. McMaster was first passed over for BG was that he’d had a very successful tour as commander of the 11th ACR, the traditional path to the stars, in combat in Iraq no less!

A final note- Cavalry Scout is a specific Military Occupational Specialty in the Army, 19D to be precise. But officers in the Armor career field can be assigned to either Cavalry or Armor formations. And there are any number of formations that carry the battle honors and traditions of Cavalry units. Try telling any of the aviators in the RAS they weren’t Cavalrymen and they’ll let you know just how wrong you are. For a lot of folks, Cavalry is a state of mind more than anything else.

Update: Commenters have notice a few errors on my part. Guilty. I was a tad surprised that I couldn’t easily find the doctrinal pubs covering the ACR during the late 80/early 90s, and instead had to use a mid 1990s version. Having said that, FM17-95 Cavalry Operations, DEC 1996, is a very interesting manual, showing a blend of the previous AirLand Battle Doctrine, and the evolving post Desert Storm Doctrine that would continue to evolve up to the War on Terror. It goes into great detail on planning, combat support, and service support, and most of the concepts it discusses can be extrapolated to give insight into how the larger army viewed those operations. Armchair generals may be interested in reading it.

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Combined Arms

Traditionally, there have been three combat arms in any army. The infantry, the artillery, and the cavalry.

The infantry’s role has been to close with the enemy and destroy him by close combat. Artillery has always used firepower to suppress, neutralize and destroy the enemy, and cavalry has always used mobility and shock to destroy the enemy.

These roles have been recognizable from the first organized armies through today. The weapons and accouterments have changed greatly, but the three branches are just as fundamental as they always have been. Today’s infantry, whether mounted on Bradleys or Strykers, or on foot, is still all about getting close and shooting the enemy, rooting him out of his defenses man by man. Artillery of course, has come a long way from the days of the trebouchet or catapult. Still, if there is a target that needs to be destroyed, call for fire. And what better example of modern mobility and shock than the sight of an M-1 Abrams rolling up where you least expect him?

What has changed in the last few decades is the concept of combined arms. In the past, each branch did pretty much its own thing. Each branch had officers that were specialists in that branch, but knew little or nothing of the others. In fact, that’s why senior officers were called Generals- because they weren’t specialists. But there was little coordination between the actions of any two branches in an engagement, let alone between all three.

Let’s fast forward from antiquity to the period just before World War Two. The US Army was well aware that war in Europe was more likely than not. They were also aware that if war came, they would be starting with a tiny army with poor and obsolescent equipment. The popular notion that the US had manufactured its way to victory in WWI was a myth. The Army knew just how badly equipped it had been in that war. Most Americans had been armed with Enfield rifles, not the American Springfield design. Nor could the Army count on size alone. The Army was also well aware that it might have to fight on two fronts, one in Europe and one in the Pacific. Even if the Army only had to fight in Europe, they might very well find themselves outnumbered by the German army and its allies. To succeed, the Army would have to find a smarter way of doing business.

The Army in the Depression Era had a minuscule budget. There wasn’t enough money to man units up to the strength Congress had mandated. Little or no new equipment could be purchased. But what little money the Army could scrape together was put into its schools. The Army has long had a school system to teach soldiers and serve as the keepers of the tribal knowledge. But the schools were often anachronistic. That all changed in the interwar years. They became not only places to teach soldiers the skills of their professions, they became think tanks to address the problems the Army was likely to face in the next war.

Even as late as World War I, artillery was fighting its own war. Everyone can recall an image of the doughboys going over the top of a trench and charging into murderous machine gun fire. What most folks forget was that much of WWI was actually an artillery duel, with big guns pounding away for weeks. When an artillery battery received a mission (usually by messenger), the battery commander would perform the trigonometric calculations to aim his battery at the target, then observe the fall of the shot. He would adjust the aim point until he was on target and then fire the mission. If the weather was bad, or during hours of darkness, he had little chance of seeing where his rounds fell and could not adjust. Nor could he react quickly to targets of opportunity. And there was no way for the infantry to know just when a barrage would be lifted. In many ways, it was the big gun version of “spray and pray.”

The infantry had its own problems. The basic infantry division in WWI was a “square” division with 4 regiments. The regiments themselves were little more than masses of men, organized almost on the same lines as a regiment of the Civil War some 60 years before. New weapons such as the machine gun had been introduced, but little thought had gone into how an infantry unit should be organized. The square division was large and ponderous. It was difficult for a commander to control once he got it into position. What was the optimum size unit that would balance the mass needed with the requirements of mobility and flexibility of control? Where should the supporting weapons like machine guns and mortars be? At the regiment? Under the control of the battalion? Or should they be pushed all the way down to the company level. Even simple questions like how a squad should be organized were open.

The cavalry was even worse off. The horse had obviously ceased to be a viable weapon of war. If machine gun and artillery fire was deadly to men, it was catastrophic to horses. While the tank had been invented and fielded in WWI, it moved at slow pace that infantrymen could match. It was seen more as a moving pillbox than a replacement for the speed and mobility of the horse. Without mobility, would future wars be condemned to a walking pace? That prospect scared the Army. The whole idea was to avoid a static trench warfare fight like WWI.

Enter the school system. The capstone school, the Command and General Staff School, acted like a think tank while at the same time grooming fairly junior officers to think big. Officers who hadn’t even commanded a battalion yet were training to lead divisions, corps and entire armies. The studied what a campaign in Europe would look like. And they assumed that they would need to kick in the door with an assault landing. It soon became clear that the old ways of doing business wouldn’t suffice.

The Artillery center and school was a leader in devising the new approach to fighting. It recognized that the US would probably never have a significant lead in numbers or size or range of artillery weapons. What they devised instead was an entirely new system of fighting artillery.

No longer would a battery commander calculate the settings to fire his guns. Instead, at the battalion headquarters, a Fire Direction Center was established. The FDC would do the calculations and transmit the information to the batteries. The gunners would just have to dial in the numbers sent to them. The FDC got its target information from a series of forward observers embedded with the infantry’s leading units. These observers would tell the artillery where the targets were and then would adjust fires onto the targets. Normally, the battalion would concentrate all its guns on one target at a time, rapidly shifting its fires to subsequent targets.

The infantry was a big fan of this advancement in artillery. No fools they, it soon became clear that more effective artillery would mean fewer infantry casualties. They also quickly learned that with the observers right next to infantry commanders, they could nominate targets quickly and control the artillery fires to best suite their needs.

Soon the infantry/artillery team was born. Each infantry regiment in a division would have a battalion of artillery in direct support. The regimental commander had a weapon with which to suppress enemy machine gun fire, giving his troops the ability to maneuver again. The artillery had a way of quickly finding targets and controlling their fires. This was the birth of Combined Arms. It raised the effectiveness of the infantry and the artillery, not as the sum of their parts, but by an order of magnitude.

In future installments, we’ll address the growth of cavalry into armor and its integration into combined arms teams and the current state of the art with Task Forces and HBCTs.