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.

Stryker MGS droppin’ the hammer…

The Stryker family of vehicles has made the occasional appearance here before. I caught this quick clip on liveleak and wanted to share it with you. It shows the Stryker Mobile Gun System, or MGS firing in support of infantry troops.

Just because a vehicle has a big gun, that doesn’t make it a tank. The MGS has a 105mm main gun in a remotely operated turret. This gun is used to provide direct fire support to troops. Indeed, other than being really close to the target, this clip shows just what the MGS was intended for. And while the MGS is far to lightly armored to go toe to toe with enemy tanks, it can also provide anti-tank fires when properly used. See video below the fold.

Continue reading “Stryker MGS droppin’ the hammer…”

The Stryker

For 60 years, the Army has had a balance between light and heavy units. Heavy units had tanks and armored personnel carriers. Light units had no tanks and depended on foot infantry.

Heavy units had great firepower and could move rapidly over short distances. They were capable of taking on Soviet tank and motor rifle divisions in the Fulda Gap of Germany. They had the protection and mobility to survive in a high intensity battle. But the had shortcomings as well. They were handicapped by difficult terrain like mountains and dense forests. They needed a huge supply and logistical tail to keep them running. They had a large percentage of their troops devoted more to maintanence than to fighting. They were expensive to equip and to operate. But worst of all, it was hard to move them from the US to wherever the fight was. As a practical matter, they could only be moved by large cargo ships.

Light units, on the other hand, moved on foot mostly, and could operate in terrain that would stop tanks cold. They could be moved by air (in fact, every thing and every one in the 82nd Airborne division could be parachuted into the fight). They required less logistical support and fewer troops were dedicated to maintanence. The biggest part of the light divisions were the 9 infantry battalions and their supporting artillery. But this came at a price. Once you got them into the theatre where the fight was, they were hard to move around. They moved at a walking pace. They didn’t have a lot of firepower compared to a heavy division.

The dilema faced by the Army was how to field a force that could be moved to a foreign country quickly, and still have the mobility and firepower inherent in a mounted force. The answer the Army  came up with was the Stryker Family of vehicles.

click to enlarge
click to enlarge

The Strykers are an attempt to find a middle ground between heavy and light- a happy medium as it were. The basic vehicle was adapted from a the latest version of a Canadian design from the late 1970s.  This is the Stryker ICV or Infantry Carrier Vehicle. As you can see, it is an 8 wheeled armored truck. Wheeled armored vehicles are nothing new. They’ve been around as long as armor has. But in addition carrying a squad of infantry, the ICV has a remote controlled .50 caliber machine gun and a thermal weapon sight, giving it the ability to provide limited fire support. It is also equipped with the latest battlefield network system to give the crew and passengers a clear picture of where they and their companions are on the battlefield. While the passengers can fight while mounted, through hatches above the rear compartment, the ICVs main job is to deliver the squad to the fight, where they will dismount to close with the enemy. The Stryker just doesn’t have the armor to withstand hits from antitank weapons. Its main defense against them is to use its speed and mobility to avoid them.

But a fighting unit is more than just infantrymen (as much as it pains me to admit). When the Army bought the Stryker, they bought several versions designed to give supporting units a vehicle that could keep up with the ICVs with the same level of protection and, since they were based on the same vehicle, minimizing the logistics and maintanence needed to support them.  There are mortar carriers, headquarters vehicles, a version for combat engineers and an ambulance to evacuate casualties.

Since the infantry troops don’t have a lot of heavy weapons to fight tanks, or take out bunkers, the Army developed a special version of the Stryker to provide just a little more punch- The Stryker MGS or Mobile Gun System. This is a Stryker with a special turret mounting a 105mm cannon. The turret is unmanned. The crew of the MGS is in the hull, and controls the turret and the weapons from there.  This is NOT a tank. Again, it just doesn’t have the armor to act like a tank. But it does give the infantry a lot of punch when and where they need it.

The Stryker has taken a lot of critisism from folks because it has fairly light armor. When compared to a Bradley or an M-1 tank, they complain that it is too light. But the fact of the matter is, the army used to have several divisions of troops that had no armor at all. Compared to riding around in a Humvee, the Stryker is far safer.

Check out this Stryker I found at Murdoc’s old place:

Sure, the ICV is a total loss, but there was only one wounded as a result of a roadside bomb.

Here’s a chart showing the organization of a Stryker infantry company:

click to enlarge

And here’s a couple of youtubes: