The Army and Amphibious Warfare- Repost

Here’s a repost of one of the earlier works on the blog, but that might seem fresh to newer readers.

When you mention the words “amphibious warfare” most people think immediately of the US Marines, and rightly so. But during WWII, the Army invested huge resources into the ability to land on a hostile shore and conduct operations.

There are two general types of amphibious operations: ship-to-shore and shore-to-shore. Ship to shore operations are those in which the landing force is transported to the objective in large, ocean going vessels, then landed via small craft onto the shore. Shore to shore operations take place over relatively short distances, and generally the troops are carried in smaller craft, rather than large transports. Obviously, the anticipated objectives will dictate which approach is taken.

In the late 1930s, with war clouds clearly on the horizon, both the Army and the Marines came to the conclusion that they would need to develop a serious amphibious capability, but they reached different conclusions because of very different assumptions about what type  of war they would be fighting.

For 20 years, the Navy had forseen war with Japan in the Pacific. And the cornerstone of the Navy’s strategy to defeat Japan was to defeat the Japanese fleet in a battle, likely somewhere near the Philipines. Since it would be impractical for the fleet to steam all the way from San Diego or Pearl Harbor and fight in those waters, the need for advanced bases was clear. And the Marines understood that as a consequence of the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, any islands that could serve as an advance base would almost certainly be held by the Japanese. That meant the Marines had to be ready to travel the huge distances of the Pacific, land on remote islands, and seize relatively small objectives. For the Marines, this was a raison de etre.

The Army faced a different challenge. The Army had no desire to get into the amphibious warfare business. But watching the rise of Nazi German power, the Army leadership was convinced that sooner or later, they’d have to go fight in Western Europe again. And, unlike 1918, they weren’t at all sure the French ports would be available to land the huge armies planned. After the fall of France in June of 1940, the cold realization came that just to get  the Army to the fight would mean sooner or later, landing somewhere in Western Europe, under the guns of the enemy. And not only would the Army have to land there, they would have to build up their forces and simultaneously supply them over the beaches until a suitable port could be seized. Fortunately for the Army, England was still available as an advance base.

The Army didn’t completely ignore the ship to shore model of amphibious warfare, mostly because they couldn’t. When it became apparent that no cross-Channel operation to invade Europe would be possible in 1942 (mostly because of a lack of landing craft) President Roosevelt made the decision that a front in the Atlantic theater would be opened in North Africa. A combined British and American force would be landed in the French occupied territories of North Africa, then drive east to engage the German forces in  Tunisia. Due to the distances involved, this could only be a ship to shore movement. Many forces sailed from England, but a significant portion sailed all the way from ports on the East Coast of the US. Even against only fitful French and German resistance, the invasion fleet lost five large transports. One of the lessons the Army learned was that transports waiting to discharge their troops and cargoes were extremely vulnerable. In response, the Army wanted to make sure as many ships as possible had the ability to beach themselves to unload, minimizing the reliance on small craft such as the Higgins boat, LCVP, and the LCM.

LCM(3) (Landing Craft Mechanized Model 3)
LCM(3) (Landing Craft Mechanized Model 3)
Higgins Boat (Landing Craft Personnel Light)
Higgins Boat (Landing Craft Personnel Light)
LCVP (Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel)
LCVP (Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel)

These craft were carried near the objective by transports, and lowered over the side by booms or davits. That took time, time during which the transports, only 5-10 miles offshore, were vulnerable to submarines, airplanes and even coastal artillery.  While they were fairly good for getting the first units of lightly armed troops ashore, they were less efficient at getting ashore the huge numbers of follow-on troops needed, and importantly, the massive numbers of vehicles the troops would need to break out from any beachhead. Further, they just weren’t capable of bringing ashore the cargoes of supplies, fuel and ammunition the troops would need.  Something bigger was needed. And the first of these bigger craft was known as the LCT, or Landing Craft Tank. An LCM3 could carry one tank, barely. An LCT was a much bigger craft and could carry from 3 to 5 tanks. Five was an optimum number, as that was the number of tanks in a platoon, and keeping tactical units together on a landing greatly assisted in the assualt. As you can see from the picture, the LCT was essentially a self-propelled barge with a bow-ramp.

2lctmk5pageThe LCT could easily sail from England to France, or from Mediterranean ports in North Africa to Sicily and Italy. And while it could carry real numbers of tanks, something even better was in the works- the Landing Ship Tank, or LST. Early in the war, espcially as the Allies were first gearing up  for the invasion of North Africa, the Army (and especially the British) realized they had no way of shipping tanks overseas and landing them across beaches in any numbers. The LCT couldn’t handle the voyage, and loading LCMs over the side of a transport was problematic in anything but a flat calm. Worse, tanks kept getting heavier and heavier, faster than the booms on transport ships could grow to handle them. The idea arose of converting vessels originally built to carry rail cars from Florida to Panama as tank carriers. But while they could drive the tanks on at the embarkation point, the problem of discharging them remained. To unload them, the Army would need to seize a port. Indeed, this limitation was precisley why Casablanca was a target of the invasion. Enter the British. They had built a series of very shallow draft tankers to serve the waters around Venezuala. The reasoned that the design could quickly be adapted to build a large vessel that could safely beach itself, unload tanks held in what had formerly been the holds via a ramp in the bow, and then retract itself from the beach. Unlike an LCT, the LST might be ungainly and slow, but it was a real seagoing vessel.

LST (Landing Ship Tank)
LST (Landing Ship Tank)

While the LST was very valuable in bringing tanks, up to 20 at a time, it turns out the real value was in trucks. The Army in WWII was by far the most mechanized and motorized army in the world. And that meant trucks. Lots of trucks- to move people, supplies, tow guns, you name it. And the LST could carry a lot of trucks, already loaded, both on its tank deck, and on the topsides. And unlike the hassle of unloading a regular transport, all they had to do was drive down a ramp. After making an initial assault, as soon as an LST had discharged its tanks, it would turn around, go back to England (or where ever) and load up on trucks to build up the forces on the beachhead. To say the LST was a success would be a bit of an understatement. The US built roughly 1100 of them during the war for our Navy and the British.

While the LST was great for carrying tanks and trucks, it didn’t do so well at carrying people. One thing the Army really wanted was a small ship that could carry a rifle company from England and land them on the shores of France, non-stop and as a unit. The trick was getting the size just right. It had to be small enough to be built in large numbers, but big enough to cross the Atlantic on its own. It wouldn’t be expected to carry troops across the Atlantic. Those would come across on troopships. But any vessel large enough to do the job would be too large to carry aboard a transport. Pretty soon, the Navy designed and built the Landing Craft Infantry, or LCI. This was a vessel designed almost entirely with the invasion of Normandy in mind. It carried about 200 troops, roughly a reinforced rifle company, for up to 48 hours, which is about the time it took to load and transport them from ports in the Southwest of England and discharge them over the beaches of Normandy.

LCI (Landing Craft Infantry)
LCI (Landing Craft Infantry)

The Army had one other great tool for bringing supplies across the beach. In the days before the LST was available, the only method of getting trucks ashore across the beach was to winch them over the side of  a transport into an LCM. Someone at GM had the bright idea of doing away with the LCM part, and making the truck amphibious. That way, the truck could swim ashore, then drive inland to the supply dumps.  The result was basically a boat hull grafted onto a 2-1/2 ton truck, known as the DUKW, and commonly called a “duck.” Thousands of DUKWs, almost all manned by African American soldiers, brought wave after wave of critical supplies ashore across the beaches of Normandy and at other beaches the Army invaded. Unlike most landing craft, these were bought by, and operated by the Army, not the Navy.

DUKW Amphibious 2-1/2 ton truck
DUKW Amphibious 2-1/2 ton truck

Finally, in the Pacific, when you speak of amphibious warfare, again, you rightly think of the Marines. But in fact, the Army had a huge presence there as well. Indeed, it was always a larger prescence than the Marines. The Army made over 100 amphibious assualts in the Pacific theater, many in the Southwest Pacific in and around New Guinea. In conjunction with the US Seventh Fleet, MacArthur’s forces in the Southwest Pacific became masters at the art of amphibious warfare, striking where the Japanese least expected them, and routinely conducting sweeping flanking movements that left Japanese garrisons cut off and useless. Dan Barbey, the Commander of 7th Fleet became known as “Uncle Dan The Amphibious Man.” All this with a fleet mostly composed of tiny LCTs, a few LSTs and LCIs.

The Army also fought alongside the Marine Corps in some of their most storied battles, such as the invasions of Saipan and Okinawa. Indeed, if the atomic bomb attacks had not lead to the early surrender of Japan, the invasion of the home islands would have been mostly  an Army affair. Largely as a result of the Army’s preocupation with the European theater, these magnificent efforts have received little attention from the public at large.

After WWII, the Army’s focus again turned to Europe and the Cold War. For several reasons, including the vulnerability of shipping to nuclear weapons, amphibious operations fell out of favor with the Army. The Marines of course, continued to maintain that unique capabilty. Currently, the Army has no capability to conduct a landing against opposition. Current doctrine does still provide for limited ability to sustain forces by what is known as LOTS or “Logistics Over The Shore” and for the rapid deployment of troop units to hot spots via Afloat Prepositioning Squadrons. Basically, sets of unit equipment are mainained aboard large ships just days sailing from their possible objectives. If needed, they can sail to a friendly port or harbor, and unload their cargoes to meet up with troops flown in by either commercial aircraft or military transport planes. Alternatively, they can serve as a follow-on force to reinforce a beach seized by Marine amphibious assault.

The BBC's 1964 Masterpiece "The Great War"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXhiagFG8KE&list=PLZ9uFPWla3XAfs2PmZkwiWe7DEm9PwhEs

Of all the events of the Twentieth Century, it is the First World War that has had the most dramatic and longest-lasting impact on the psyche of Western civilization, more so than all the events that followed.   For anyone with an abiding interest in that war, the 1964 BBC documentary The Great War is an invaluable reference to understanding.  Narrated by Sir Michael Redgrave, the 26-part documentary is a superbly-crafted work.  The tenor of the broadcasts reflects the erosion of the naïve hopes of the warring parties in 1914 into the grim fatalism that the years of slaughter evoked, and the upheaval that would ultimately topple the crowned heads of Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Serbia.  BBC producers make excellent use of voice to read the actual words of the key participants such as Edward Grey, Bethmann-Hollweg, Conrad von Hotzendorf, Joffre, Haig, Falkenhayn, and others.  The series features remarkable and little-seen motion footage of the world of 1914-18, including the civilians, the politicians, the armies, and the great battles of that war.   The battle footage heavily emphasizes the two great killers of that war (in inverse order), the machine gun, and modern breech-loading recoil-dampened artillery.

Of note also are the poignant, and sometimes extremely moving, interviews with the participants of events of the great tragedy.  Some had been in the thick of the fighting, others young subalterns or staff officers at the sleeve of the decision-makers.   Most remarkably, the BBC managed to produce a documentary about momentous events that changed the world and yet also managed to allow the viewer insight into the inestimable human tragedy that these events summoned.   At the time of the release of The Great War, those events were closer in time to the audience than the beginning of the Vietnam War is to our contemporary world.   The twenty-six episodes are around forty minutes each.  Worth every second of the time spent.

Oh, and as the credits roll at the end of each episode, one can spot the name of a very young (19 years old) contributor named Max Hastings.

On Mechanization and Combined Arms.

While the tank was invented and initially fielded during World War I, World War II was really the first conflict to feature large scale armor formations, and put the theory of the tank into practice. Considerable thought had gone into the best doctrine for the use of the tank between the wars. Some doctrines were more successful than others. In the US during the interwar years, there were two primary schools of thought. Cavalry saw the tank as a replacement for the horse*, a means of rapid movement on the battlefield to turn flanks, raid the enemy rear, and exploit breakthroughs. Tanks should be light and fast. The tank would be the decisive arm, and all others should support it. The Infantry primarily saw the tank as a direct fire support asset for the rifleman. Tanks should be slow and heavy. The Infantry would be the decisive arm, and all others should support it.

That’s a gross oversimplification of the schools of thought, but sufficient for now. But a funny thing happened on the way to victory in World War II- it turned out, both major schools of thought were wrong.

The original US table for an armored division had two regiments of tanks, and one regiment of Armored Infantry, mounted on half-track personnel carriers. But it quickly became apparent that the “heavy” division was unwieldy, and, more critically, lacked enough infantrymen. Aside from the 2nd and 3rd Armored Divisions, eventually all US armored divisions in World War II would adopt a “light” table, with one regiment of tanks, and one regiment of armored infantry. In effect, the ratio of tanks to infantry went from 2-1 to 1-1. And by the end of the war, it wasn’t uncommon for an armored division to be augmented with extra infantry battalions, or even a regiment from a regular infantry division, in essence giving a ratio of 1-2.

Today we think of the tank as the ultimate tank killer. But prior to World War II, and indeed, through most of the war, US doctrine held that the very last thing tanks should be used for was killing tanks. That’s a large part of why the M4 Sherman was initially fielded with a rather anemic 75mm gun. The gun was quite suited for firing on bunkers and pillboxes. It’s rather poor performance against armor wasn’t thought to be a major handicap. By the end of the war, both the thinking on the best means of killing tanks, and the main armament had changed.

After the war, the rough numbers of infantry units to armor units was generally maintained at around 1-1. Armored Infantry eventually gave way to what we today call mechanized infantry. Carriers for the infantry have evolved from the half track through the M75 and M59 Armored Personnel Carriers, to the long serving M113 to todays M2 Bradley family.

In whatever vehicle they used, mechanized Infantry formations were always expected to operate alongside tank formations, with each arm supporting the other. Both armored and mechanized infantry divisions contained a balanced mix of tank and mech infantry units.

The fielding of the Bradley family, heavy on firepower, but light on numbers of actual infantrymen, made sense in western Europe when the US faced a Soviet Union with massive numbers of tanks and other armored vehicles, including thousands of BMP fighting vehicles and and BTR armored personnel carriers. Interestingly, the Soviets too had balanced formations of infantry and armor, though their mix of “motorized rifle” formations had a rough mix of one BMP formation (heavy on firepower, lighter on dismount infantry) to two BTR formations (light on firepower, heavy on dismount infantry).

The US saw the Bradley as needed to whittle down the numbers of Soviet vehicles. The problem was, the compromises needed to mount both an automatic cannon and the TOW missile launcher meant that something had to give, and that was the number of dismount infantrymen per vehicle. Whereas for many years the rifle squad was 11 or twelve men, eventually it shrank to 9 men. But in Bradley units, each Bradley could only deploy six, or maybe seven dismounts. And that’s under the cheery assumption that the unit was at 100% strength.

While that was generally acceptable for western Europe facing the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany (GSFG), for other theaters, that left a dearth of dismounts available for those missions that require large numbers of troops actually on the ground.

That lack of actual numbers of infantry, when history has shown that large numbers of infantry are required on the combined arms battlefield, was part of the impetus for the introduction of the Stryker Brigade Combat Team. The Stryker is often belittled in comparison to both the Bradley, and the M113. But the Stryker is not a replacement for either. Rather, it is a recognition that earlier light infantry units simply didn’t have the operational mobility to move around the battlefield. The weapon of the Stryker BCT isn’t the Stryker vehicle, it is the dismount rifleman.

No real point to all of this. Just putting some random thoughts down.

 

*Of course, not all Cavalry officers thought this. Many right up until about 1940 still saw the horse as a viable weapon of war.

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.

First Four Female Marines complete Marine Infantry training.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Via: TAH

The Rifle Squad as the Decisive Force

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

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

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

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

But the US rifle squad also has its problems…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://img42.imageshack.us/img42/836/53805940489aa77d4f09b.jpg

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

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.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U_F-W4aBfgw]

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.

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.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3cHAkfZLdCk]

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.

ch47

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.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MprHJQCdX70]

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.