Wal-Mart and future Army vehicles.

So, Wal-Mart has a prototype of a new Peterbuilt/Great Dane big rig. Whether they order it into production remains to be seen.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NER9X4_gtYk]

I don’t really care about the aerodynamics part, but the drive train is interesting. Spill and I were talking about future Army vehicles (hope to get the podcast edited and published today) and one thing I neglected to bloviate on was the powerplants.

This Wal-Mart prototype uses a small gas turbine to charge a battery bank, and electric motors to actually move the vehicle. 

Today, the US uses the M1 Abrams tank, which famously uses a gas turbine. It, however, is directly geared to the transmission, much as a gas turbine is used to spin the props of a turbo-prop.  That gives the Abrams great power, and more importantly, great acceleration compared to diesel powered vehicles of similar weight and horsepower. The problem is, it isn’t terribly fuel efficient, with the a Abrams being famous for sucking down hundreds of gallons of JP-8 daily.

A hybrid gas turbine/electric plant avoids some of the pitfalls of that turbine inefficiency. First, the horsepower/torque requirement is shifted from the turbine to the electric motors. That means you can likely use a significantly smaller turbine. The turbine isn’t there to move the vehicle, it’s there to run the generator. And you can optimize a turbine and transfer case to run the turbine at its most efficient speed constantly.

Alternatively, when you have a decent charge on the battery banks, you can simply shut down the turbine, and yet still have power available to instantly move the vehicle. As it stands now, Abrams spend a LOT of time idling their turbines. Guess what? An Abrams burns fuel almost as fast at idle as it does when it’s moving.  It wouldn’t take much to configure the turbine to automatically start as soon as the vehicle started moving. And since every time you move, you start charging, that means your battery bank can be comparatively small.

I can easily see a future family of integrated gas turbine/electric motor powerplants for almost every type of Army vehicle. Further, this type of powerplant is very helpful when we’re also looking at the ever increasing electrical loads place on vehicles by sensors and networking.  And if future vehicles rely on lasers for active protection against, say, anti-tank missiles, they’ll need even more electrical power.

This is also very similar to the integrated drive system the Navy’s DDG-1000 Zumwalt class uses.

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 New Russian Armata Tank

It’s actually a family of fighting vehicles.

The prime variant is the T-14 tank. Finally some pics of it without  a tarp over the turret are coming out.

The big innovation here is that the turret itself is unmanned. That has the advantage that you can make it significantly smaller, in that you don’t need to leave space for people. That means a given weight of armor provides more protection, as it has less surface area to cover. But it also means any failure of the autoloader is much more difficult to remedy. The gun is basically the same 125mm smoothbore the Russians have been using for nearly 40 years. The flat panels suggest either composite armor similar to the M1 series, or integrated Explosive Reactive Armor panels. The bulky side sponsons along the hull suggest ERA. The prominent boxlike projection on the left top of the turret appears to be an independent thermal viewer similar to that of the M1A2 tank. What level of sophistication the fire control has is unknown. Interestingly, there are reports the tank will field a radar based fire control channel.
http://img2.goodfon.su/wallpaper/big/1/87/armata-t-14-boevoy-tank-4929.jpg

The tank reportedly uses a 1500hp diesel engine, downrated to 1200hp for normal operation, on  a tank with a combat weight of 48 tons. Even at the downrated horsepower, that yields a very respectable 25 horsepower per ton.

The T-15 Heavy Infantry Fighting Vehicle variant uses the same chassis and engine, but apparently reverses the arrangement, with the engine in the front, and the troop compartment in the rear. This is actually a fairly common adaptation of tank hulls. Many early US self propelled artillery series used this trick. The T-15 likewise has a remote controlled turret, with a 30mm autocannon, and an anti-tank missile launcher. The troop compartment has space for 6-8 troops.

 

The first “public” display of the Armata family is expected Saturday, during the parade in Moscow celebrating 70 years since the victory over Nazi Germany.

Other variants ordered include a 152mm self propelled artillery piece.

Once you’ve developed a successful vehicle chassis, it makes sense to adapt it to other roles, to reduce development costs, and to benefit from commonality of production, spare parts, logistics, and training.

Of course, the downside is that an IFV on a tank chassis is much more expensive than one on a lighter chassis. The trend however, suggests most future IFVs will be tank chassis based, and have much higher levels of protection than those of today.

The Armata family appears to be quite capable, certainly near peer to our own M1 and Bradley series.

Having said that, virtually every vehicle produced so far will be in the parade Saturday, a force of somewhere around two dozen vehicles. And while Russia claims that some 2300 will be produced, the economic challenges Russia faces may make that production schedule difficult to keep. There are suggestions that the T-14 and T-15 will be specialized units, and that a less ambitious IFV will be the main replacement for legacy BMP-1, 2, and 3 series. The Kurganets 25 has been touted as the main replacement for older IFVs.

Kurganets-25 30mm gun variant with turret covered

The numbers of T-14s scheduled for production also suggest older T-80/T-90 series tanks will remain in front line use for many, many years to come.

Armor Upgrades

We noted an article in The Diplomat remarking on the recapitalization of the Army’s armored fleet.

And you’ve probably seen in the news in the last year or two complaints about how Congress was wasting money on new tanks the Army didn’t even want. Well, that’s not exactly true- after all, when is the last time the press was accurate about anything related to the military. The Army hasn’t bought a brand new tank since the early 1990s. What they have been doing is running tanks through a complete rebuild, upgrading to the latest configuration, known as M1A2 SEP v2. And it was never that the Army didn’t want to continue upgrading tanks. But under the sequester, the Army had to prioritize spending, and wanted to delay M1 upgrades in favor of other programs. Congress noted that delaying upgrades would force the plant to close, and potentially lose the skilled workforce. It was a matter of pay me now, or pay me later. In the long run, reopening the plant would cost more than simply keeping it open. And so Congress told the Army to do so. Don’t think for a moment the Army didn’t know the Congress was going to do this. There’s a very, very long history of the services, when faced with a budget crunch, putting important, popular programs on the block, knowing full well that Congress will put them back in the budget.

At any event, having played that game with Congress for a bit, the Army has now gone in the other direction, asking for quite a bit more money to upgrade tanks.

Army leaders have thus far taken up a losing battle against Congress to temporarily halt funding for its Abrams tanks. However, that changed in its latest budget proposal as the service has reversed course and asked for 50 percent more funding for the M1 Abrams tank over last year.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno told Congress in 2o12 that the Army wanted to spend money on other modernization priorities. Congress pushed back saying it was a mistake to shut down the production line of the M1 tank, which is located in Lima, Ohio, even if it’s a temporary shut down. The Army would risk losing the skilled workers at the plants and spend more on training when they needed to reopen the production line for the Abrams upgrades the Army had said it needed in 2017.

The Army apparently listened to the critique, as service officials requested $368 million for upgrades to the M1 tank. Last year, the Army asked for $237 million.

What are some of the upgrades the Army is implementing in the fleet? Well, shortly the M1 fleet will have a new type of ammunition, and importantly, a new thermal sight/sensor.

The ability to identify targets prior to engagement remains one of the biggest obstacles to improving Abrams lethality. The new IFLIR solves this problem using long- and mid-wave infrared technology in both the gunner’s primary sight and the commander’s independent thermal viewer. The IFLIR will provide four fields of view (FOV) displayed on high-definition displays, greatly improving target acquisition, identification and engagement times – compared to the current second-generation FLIR – under all conditions, including fog / obscurants.

When the M1 was first introduced in the early 1980s, the tanks thermal sight was almost black magic. The ability to see through dark and smoke was astonishing to gunners trained on earlier systems. Up to that point, night gunnery was conducted with searchlights mounted above the gun tube!

 photo 1128front.jpg

The technology of thermal sights has greatly improved over the last 30 odd years, and the sights have been steadily improved since then. The original sight would seem crude to today’s gunners. A second thermal sight was added in the 1990s to give the tank commander an independent thermal vision device.*

The improvements, taken together, will establish the M1A2 SEP v3 configuration.

*That capability was planned from the outset of the M1 program, but not intially installed for cost reasons.

Javelin vs. T-72

We’ve posted other versions of this video before.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VdRnY-TUb4]

Possibly the greatest weakness of the T-72 series tanks is the storage of its main gun ammunition. The 2A46 125mm smoothbore tank gun uses an autoloader. It fires sabot rounds, High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) and High Explosive Fragmentation (HEF) rounds. The ammunition is separate loading, with the autoloader first loading the projectile, then a separate propellant charge. The ammunition is held in a horizontal position on a  carousel at the bottom of the turret basket.

The FGM-148 Javelin missile, using a fire and forget imaging infrared seeker, has a two stage tandem HEAT warhead. The first smaller warhead is to detonate any Explosive Reactive Armor, while the second warhead is intended to actually penetrate the main armor.

File:1-20 Javelin missile..PNG

You’ll note that the Javelin flies a lofted trajectory when used in the anti-tank role. Among other benefits, this means it is attacking the top armor of the tank, virtually always the thinnest armor of any tank.

If I had to guess, I’d say the explosive jet from this particular shot actually struck either a HEAT or HEF warhead in the carousel. Virtually any HEAT warhead penetration will usually set off the combustible propellant cartridges in the carousel, causing complete destruction of the T-72, but that usually doesn’t result in the utter devastation seen here.

As a contrast, the M1 series of tanks, while it uses semi-combustible propellant charges for its main gun ammo, places that ammo in the rear of the turret bustle. There are blast resistant doors separating the storage from the inside of the turret. On top of the storage are blow-out panels designed to fail and vent any explosion up and away from the crew in the turret. The vehicle might be destroyed, but the crew would have a good chance of escaping with their lives.

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.

Scenes from a Gunnery

Ah, the culmination of a couple of weeks downrange. Pics and commentary courtesy LTC Esli Pitts,  AR, USA, 3/8 CAV

Formerly a lost art, with the end of the war in Iraq and drawdown of heavy forces in Afghanistan, heavy brigades are getting back to tank and Bradley gunnery. It was a rough start, given that many of the tankers had never fired gunnery, or certainly not in their current positions. Having shot our second gunnery within the year, we saw some pretty good results.

Even with the Texas heat, there are few things more satisfying than taking an M1A2 through its paces on a live-fire range. Sure, it is blindingly hot, but face it; there is something cool about things that go boom. The idea that I can put the reticle on a moving plywood target 2200 meters (yeah that is 1.4 miles) away and kill it about a second later is mind-boggling. And fun.

A unit goes to the field for about 2-3 weeks, and at the end, they are lethal tankers. It’s hard work and long hours, but in the end, it is fun. I like to say that we get paid year-round, but the only time we actually earn the check is on the range.

Before you can fire, there are prerequisites. They include a certain level of proficiency in the Advanced Gunnery Training System (AGTS) (way better than the old UCOFT). Additionally, you have to pass Gun Table I and the Gunner’s Skill Test, which include hands-on testing in loading and firing machine guns, loading the main gun (seven seconds to pass, but the real standard is under four seconds), conducting mis-fire procedures, rollover drills, boresighting the tank, etc. There are also a lot of maintenance checks required to get the tanks ready.

Once you meet the pre-reqs, you go to the field and fire the following day and night tables:
-Screening: a lot like zeroing the tank, this is a test to make sure that the tank hits where the computer says it is supposed to hit.
-Gun Table II: Crew Proficiency: This is a dry (or sub-caliber training device) run to make sure the crew can perform their crew duties properly
-Gun Table III / IV: Basic Machine Gun and main gun tables combined.
-GT V: Practice crew qualification. Usually with smaller targets and longer ranges, this is a hard table.
-GT VI: Crew Qualification. (For all of you old guys, yes, this used to be Tank Table VIII, but the HBCT gunnery manual published in 2009 revised all of them.)
Generally every other gunnery, you will progress to tactical tables including:
-GT IX: Section Qualification (two tanks)
-GT XII: Platoon Qualification (four tanks under the control of a Platoon Leader. I generally make GT XII a 72-hour event with tactical tasks as well as gunnery. These are fun, but high-stress for the PL.)

During GT II through GT VI, the crew fires ten engagements, each of which requires the crew to perform different tasks (called Minimum Proficiency Levels) from an offensive or defensive tank during either day or night. Some examples:
-Tank Commander’s engagement with main gun
-“Simo” including TC’s .50 cal, the loader’s M240 and the gunner’s coaxial M240.
-Change of ammunition: Tank target with sabot, then light armor with HEAT
-Change of weapons-system: tank target with main gun then troops with coax machine gun
-Use the Gunner’s Auxiliary Sight
-NBC conditions.

Target ranges vary, with machine gun targets up to 800 meters, and main gun targets out to about 2200 meters (training ammunition is not ballistically matched to service ammunition, so is not accurate much farther than this). The hardest target on my last gunnery was the commander’s engagement of a flank moving tank (about 10 mph) at 2200 meters.

A target is presented for 50 seconds. The crew is scored on how quickly it can kill that target. In the defense, the time to kill does not start until the tank pulls up to fire (i.e. could be hit by the enemy). For example, a target could be exposed for 40 seconds before the tank comes up in the battle position and kills it. If your tank was only up for 5 seconds or so, it would be 100 points. On the other hand, if the target came up and the tank crew immediately came up to fire, but did not fire for 10-15 seconds, the crew loses points with every second they are exposed to the enemy’s fire. In the offense, when you are already exposed, time starts immediately and you must be quick. In 50 seconds, you may have two targets. A third may be presented on a 15 or 20 second delay. This might seem like a long time, but sometimes it takes a lot of time just to find the targets. It takes 70 points to qualify each engagement.

If a crew qualifies seven of ten engagements and scores 700 points or greater, than he is “qualified” as Q1. If he qualifies eight of ten engagements with a score of 800 points or more, than he qualified with a “Superior” rating. And for those that qualify nine (or ten) engagements and score 900 points or more, they have qualified with a “Distinguished” rating. A crew that fails to qualify “Q1” will re-fire engagements until he has qualified 7 of them with 70 points, and is qualified as a “Q2.” This is not good. But it happens.

A change with the M1A2, which is hard for older tankers to get used to, is the extremely abbreviated nature of fire commands now which literally saves seconds with each engagement.

There are lots of traditions associated with tank gunnery. Some good. Some not so good.
-Not changing whatever worked. One former PSG shot every gunnery wearing the same red long underwear regardless of temperatures, and always included his stuffed teddy bear, even after his angry wife once ripped its arm off. I’ve shot every gunnery but my most recent with the same pair of gloves.
-Blessing the tanks. Some units used to to put the tanks on line and have the chaplain bless them.
-No peaches are allowed on the tanks. No one knows why, but that is good enough reason.
-Firing a HEAT round with a roll of toilet paper soaked in flammable fluids placed over the spike. Frowned upon but spectacular.
-Loading a lieutenant’s hat in the breech and firing it. Dumb. Having witnessed this result in a sabot round stuck in the chamber and hours spent freeing it, this is not worth it by any means.
-The earning of the right to wear tanker boots after qualifying.
-Steak and eggs on the range after qualifying.
-Kill rings on the main gun of the tank. One ring for a Q1, two rings for Superior, and 3 rings for Distinguished. Tan tanks get black rings; green tanks get white rings. The top tank gets gold rings.

On the way!

P9250086 _DSC8090 _DSC8092 _DSC8111 _DSC8226 _DSC8247 _DSC8283 _DSC8307 130924-A-WZ642-944 130924-A-WZ642-945 P9140011 P9180054 P9210059 P9240064

This is the office on my home-away-from home…

…..

That’s brand new track on the tank. Considering my tank rolls more and farther than any other in the BN, we deserve it! Yes, the fender is damaged from taking the tank into a wooded environment for crew training. Hey, that’s why they are cheap.

New paint job on the CIPs panels: 8th CAV crests. WARHORSE!!!

My crew after I had the distinct honor and privilege of pinning Army Achievement Medals on them for shooting Distinguished. Then, into the tents behind for steak and eggs, and watch some of “The Beast.” Great night.

Just hanging out after the final night run AAR. The paint is barely dry on the crests.

Showing off the kill rings the next morning. Three means we qualified Distinguished. Gold rings would be for the top tank. We weren’t even close to D34 with a 1000 point run.

I am looking at a job in art one day; all of the new artwork was mine… Kill rings and 8th CAV crests.

Gunnery was always a lot of hard work and late nights (and early mornings, as always) but it was also a lot of fun. And shooting stuff was the whole point of being in the combat arms.

The Challenge of Airborne Armor

Craig’s recent posts on the SPAT and the Ontos build on an earlier post I did on the M551 Sheridan armored vehicle. All these vehicles had a common heritage. They tried to find a practical combination of mobility, firepower, and protection that could give light and airborne forces greater firepower on the battlefield, while still being small enough to be delivered by air.

Weight is always a critical issue for the designers of armored vehicles. But when you need to be able to drop those vehicles by parachute, it is even more critical. There’s a very finite limit on the amount of lifties an airplane can generate, and trying to get a C-130 to lift more than that will only lead to disaster. And there are so few other airlifters in our fleet, designing an armored vehicle that can only be lifted by C-5s or C-17s severely limits its air-drop utility.

This isn’t a new problem. Almost from the very first days of airborne operations, planners have struggled to match the strategic and operational mobility of airborne forces to firepower that was strong enough to keep them from being swept off the battlefield by conventional forces. The very first airborne units in our Army were limited to small arms, machine guns, and some light mortars. They were superbly trained, but would not have lasted long against determined enemy opposition. By D-Day, US Airborne Divisions had some light artillery and some light anti-tank guns, but no real armor. They were restricted by the lifting capacity of the C-47, which was suitable only for troops and bundled cargo, and the gliders of the time, the Waco CG-4 and the British built Horsa. The British also designed the Hamilcar glider to carry a light tank designed specifically for airborne forces, the M22 Locust. The Locust never saw combat with American forces, and only the slightest service with British forces. It was not considered a success.

But the problem of armored firepower for airborne and light forces had not disappeared. It continued to plague planners in the post-war years.

The British 1st Airborne Division had learned the hard way that lightly armed airborne troops could not attack into the face of armored formations. US planners had learned from that, and sought a way to bolster the strength of airborne forces. The results were mixed at best.

Craig did an admirable job of describing the M56 Scorpion which offered good firepower and mobility, but no protection. And he also described the M50 Ontos, which also struggled to find a balance between firepower, mobility and protection. Next in line was the M551 Sheridan. Like the other vehicles mentioned, it was not entirely successful. It wasn’t a complete failure, mind you. But it suffered from the compromises that had to be made to meet very stringent weight requirements.

So it stood for a long time that the Sheridan was the only armor for the airborne forces. Eventually, old age took its toll on the fleet, and the Sheridans were due for a well earned retirement. The question became, what to replace the with? At the same time, the Army was looking to increase its strategic mobility by converting one of its two active cavalry regiments to a lighter formation that could be moved primarily by air. The 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment traded in its tanks and Bradleys for lightly armored (and lightly armed) Humvees. This made the unit easier to move, but again, it was pretty light on staying power. The Army took another crack at coming up with an air transportable armored vehicle.

Eventually, after running through a couple different acronyms and the usual program shenanigans, the contractor presented to the Army the XM8 Buford Armored Gun System. It it one of the few vehicles that could honestly be described as a light tank. It was fully tracked, had a 105mm main gun, and was actually fairly small. And it was light enough to be transported and airdropped from C-130 aircraft.

Now, as always, there is the pressure of weight constraints to be balanced against the vehicles vulnerability to anti-armor weapons.  In order to get the M8 weight down to a level that would fit onto a C-130, they had to accept very thin armor, barely enough to stop small arms fire and some artillery fragments. That meant the M8 would be very, very vulnerable to any anti-tank weapons. The solution to that problem was bolt on armor. Normally, any armor on a vehicle actually forms an integral part of the hull, and is part of the load bearing structure. But for the M8, the contractor came up with two additional levels of armor that could be bolted on in the field with simple hand tools, and increase the protection of the vehicles.  For instance, the 82nd might be forced to drop in someplace unpleasant, and to drop, would have to accept the risk of going in with just the lightest armor. But as soon as possible, the additional kits of armor could be flown in and applied. The M8 would never have the level of protection that an M1 Abrams would have, but it would be a good deal better armored than either an M551 or any Humvee.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AcBIvW5HQnE&w=448&h=252&hd=1]

The development of the M8 was actually fairly smooth (compared to a lot of programs, at least) and the vehicle had just been accepted for service and was just about to be placed in series production when the entire program was cancelled. What happened you ask?

Well, in 1996, the President and the Secretary of Defense told the Army they were going to cut end-strength another 20,000 troops for the Army. The Army was aghast at the cuts, and asked if they could keep some of those troops if they found other savings. And one of the easiest ways to save money was to NOT spend a billion or so on buying the M8. The deal was made.  Eventually, the Sheridans were withdrawn, and the 82nd was without any armor.

With the advent of the Stryker brigade, we’ve seen (and written about) the Stryker MGS or Mobile Gun System. It fulfills much the same role as the M8, but has less armor capability. Nor is the Stryker expected to be airdropped. It is, however, expected to be moved by air, in addition to surface shipping. The same challenges of balancing protection, mobility, and firepower are still with us.

TUSK

For over 50 years, the US Army had a simple doctrine for using tanks in urban combat-Don’t.

Oh, sure the manuals listed ways to use tanks in cities if you had to, but the emphasis was on avoiding towns and cities. Tanks bring three big assets to a fight- mobility, survivability, and firepower. Fighting in the close terrain of a city sacrifices mobility. And to a certain extent, survivability. Because ranges are so short in cities, and there is a lot of “high ground” readily available on rooftops, and potential ambush points from alleyways and such, tanks can become vulnerable to a lot of short range, man portable anti-tank systems such as RPGs. Reducing two of the three biggest assets of a tank is really changes the risk/reward calculation.

Also, during the Cold War, while the Army focused so much of its intellectual energy on a possible fight in Western Europe, they had a curious inability to honestly address urban warfare. There are few places on earth with as many cities, towns and villages as Western Europe. Yet the Army seemed to think all the fighting would take place outside of town. This in the face of all the evidence to the contrary. After all, the Army had to fight in all those very same cities and town when they defeated Germany in WWII.

In Desert Storm, you could hardly have designed a battlefield that was more suited to the way the Army hoped to fight. No cities,  very few civilians running around, and a mechanized, force on force fight. It’s no surprise the Army was happy to operate in the open desert, and leave the assault on Kuwait City to the Marines and our allies.

But the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the subsequent war there were another matter. By necessity, the Army wound up fighting in cities. The learning curve was steep. And city fighting is an infantry intensive form of warfare. Armor was no longer the “Arm of Decision” but another source of supporting fires, much like artillery and close air support.

After a couple years of fighting in cities, tankers started screaming about some of the upgrades their tanks needed to both do their job better, and protect their crews, and reduce the vehicle’s vulnerabilities. Enter the TUSK or Tank Urban Survival Kit.

m1-a2-tusk-kit

Most of these are pretty minor modifications. The tank itself can still perform its regular hot-war mission of blasting other tanks at long range, and running around like crazy in the enemy’s back yard.

The tank/infantry phone is great because the team leader on the ground can tell the tank exactly what he needs. M1s never had it before, because it never made a lot of sense when the Army envisioned battalions of tanks and Bradleys charging across the field at 40 miles an hour. Again, they  didn’t want to hear anybody saying anything heretical like “tanks will find themselves creeping along at 3mph in a city.”

The loader’s shield didn’t make a lot of sense in Western Europe either. You want to keep the profile of a tank as low as reasonably possible. And in a tank battle, the loader is not likely to come under small arms fire very much. Indeed, his weapon was added almost as an afterthought. But in city fighting, having that machine gun is very handy. And since it is, and the ranges are so short, having a shield makes a great deal of sense, even if it does raise the profile somewhat.

Some other components, like the thermal site for the loader’s weapon, and the remote weapon station for the commander, weren’t really practical earlier, or anywhere near cost effective. Now that they are, they’re being added.

The additional armor on the sides and the slat armor on the engine compartment? Well, an RPG is unlikely to destroy an M1 on the side, but it could damage the running gear, and leave it immobile. This solves that problem. And the slat armor addresses the same issue.

Any tankers our there wanna add something?