Monday, January 4, 2016

Disaggregated ARG Operations

Continuing our discussion of the LX(R) and amphibious groups, let’s look at the current Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) trends. 

Marines traditionally deploy as a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) consisting of around 2300 troops, 4 tanks, a half dozen artillery pieces, a dozen or so LAVs, a dozen or so AAVs, and a couple dozen mixed helo and fixed wing aircraft.  This force is distributed among three amphibious ships which comprise the ARG.  Historically, the MEU/ARG train together and deploy together so that the full capability of the MEU is available at all times.  Two or three ARGs have usually been deployed at any given moment.

The MEU/ARG is the nation’s forward deployed, quick reaction force.  The idea is that the force is already on site and ready for action when trouble occurs.  There is no need to assemble, train, and transport those forces.  The MEU/ARG is already there.  Of course, that assumes that the MEU/ARG is in the right spot to begin with.

Now, however, we are seeing new trends in ARG deployments.

  1. Only one ARG is deployed at a time.
  2. The ARG is splitting into individual ships rather than staying as a group.

These trends are a consequence of budget constraints.  Well, more accurately, they’re a consequence of priority constraints rather than budget.  The Navy has prioritized new construction over deployments, maintenance, training, etc. but that’s a topic for another time.

Considering the size of the world and the number of potential hot spots, a single deployed ARG is less than optimal, to say the least.  Of course, one can debate the entire forward deployed MEU concept but that, too, is a topic for another time.  The Navy/Marines are committed to the MEU/ARG concept so we’ll go with it for the sake of this discussion. 

The hope is that the MEU/ARG is deployed to the most likely place it will be needed and is, therefore, on-scene when trouble occurs.  With only a single ARG deployed, what are the odds that the group will be at the right spot at the right time?  Consider all the potential hot spots in the world right now:  Russia, China, Iran, Syria, North Korea, and Africa to name a few.  Consider the immense geographical area those spots cover.  One, or even a few, ARGs cannot hope to cover all those.  Even covering a single general area is a challenge.  Consider the Chinese area which includes the East and South China Seas out to the first island chain and beyond.  That’s a huge area to cover even for a dedicated MEU/ARG and that’s just one of the potential hot spots in the world.  I don’t envy the person who has to decide where in the world to send the only deployed ARG.

In addition to having only a single deployed ARG, the Navy has taken to dispersing the ARG.  Each of the three ships is being sent off on independent operations.  As long as the MEU is not called on to act, that’s fine.  Three ships can do more port visits, flag showing, partner training, or whatever than a single group can.  Of course, most of those types of missions don’t call for an amphibious ship and could be handled by lesser, much cheaper ships.  However, if the MEU has to act, the dispersed force becomes a problem.  A single ship contains only a third of the MEU’s combat capability (that’s not true since the ships are different sizes and the combat capability is not necessarily uniformly distributed but we’ll conceptually treat it as thirds for the sake of discussion) and that’s not much if combat is required.  Of course, the MEU could simply wait until the dispersed ARG reassembles but that negates the quick reaction concept which is the reason the MEU exists.

Quick reaction - what does that mean?  Well, it’s all relative.  If an embassy is suddenly attacked (Benghazi, for example), quick reaction means within the hour and the MEU will have only what it can instantly transport via helicopter.  If an unfriendly country is building up force for a cross border excursion, quick reaction might mean days or weeks in which the MEU can slowly assemble, unload, and prepare for combat.

Historically, the most common MEU actions are embassy defenses and evacuations, civilian evacuations, rescues, raids, and humanitarian assistance (shouldn’t be a military mission but it is).  These kinds of missions tend to crop up quickly and with little notice thus “quick reaction” tends to be on the order of hours.

So, what does “quick reaction” mean in relation to the dispersed ARG?  It means that an independently operating ship may well find itself in the position of having to conduct a mission on its own with only a third of the MEU’s capabilities.  That’s a sure fire recipe for getting in over one’s head – for getting involved in an action that is beyond the capability of the fractional MEU. 

In independent operations, an individual amphibious ship can carry several hundred troops.  That’s kind of an odd amount for operations – more than a Company, less than a Battalion.  Presumably, the MEU’s tanks and artillery would be evenly distributed if the ARG’s ships were disbursed.  That would give each ship one tank and an artillery piece.  Again, that’s an odd amount.  It’s not how tanks and artillery are organized, trained, or operated.  The embarked Marines would constitute a very lightly armed force, incapable of any kind of sustained operations.  The danger is that, eventually, they’ll get dropped into a situation they’re not equipped to handle and find themselves in over their heads with no help to call on. 

While we can probably get away with a light force for embassy evacuations or low end hostage rescues, those kind of situations have a way of spiraling out of control – witness the Somalia Blackhawk incident.  Further, we have all manner of forces that can do the same job without the added expense of operating amphibious ships.  Airborne divisions and Special Ops forces can deploy from the US for those rare occasions.

On the other hand, for the 99% of the time that the ARG, whether aggregated or disaggregated, is not actively conducting combat ops, the missions are well within the scope of a single amphibious ship:  show the flag, port visits, cross training with foreign nations, etc.  Of course, those missions are well within the scope of a yacht with an American flag or a Cyclone class PC – they don’t have to be conducted by one of the most expensive ships in the world carrying a third of a MEU.

Thus, there seems to be little benefit to disaggregating the ARG.  It splits the combat power of the MEU to a dangerous level and gains nothing that can’t be provided by an American flagged yacht.  Independent operations are a very questionable concept that is driven by budget rather than operational or tactical requirements.  In short, if it’s worth deploying a MEU/ARG, keep it together!

57 comments:

  1. I think for some of your listed missions, a single assault ship with escort might be ok. Embassy support and civilian evac will likely not require more than a couple hundred troops plus helo support.

    Problem is you will never have the right equipment. You can bet you sent the LHD to china. And your lumped with the LPD tanks and artillary trying to evac your civis. 150 miles from a port cross hostile terratory.

    As for flag flying with a battle group thats just funny. Thats what the LCS is for. Isnt it ?

    Pull an American MEU into port it will just scare the sh*t out the populus even with many allies. And thats not the effect you were looking for.

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  2. Hasnt the deployment of large numbers of marines in the ME, only being reduced very recently, affected the usual maritime deployments? And having 3 deployed probably hasnt happened for a considerable time, as there are only 7 standing MEU ( 3 on each coast and 1 at Okinawa) and they can only be at sea for 15 continuous days.

    Just checking the latest MEU organistaion they total 2059, made up of HQ 169, reinforced infantry battalion 1200, aviation squadron 417, logistics battalion 273.
    So its a bit less than your numbers.

    It seems the marines recognise that they will have split deployments..
    "Additionally, operational necessity may occasionally require ARG/MEUs
    to be divided into smaller, more widely separated formations. Doing so imposes risk and is not the preferred method of employment. When operational necessity makes such risks acceptable, an ARG/MEU may operate in a split or disaggregated manner."

    http://www.hqmc.marines.mil/Portals/61/Docs/Amphibious_Capability.pdf

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    1. Wiki lists 2300 for MEU size. 15th MEU's website lists 2200. Marine Times website lists the 24th MEU as 2400. Jacksonville (NC) news website lists the 22nd MEU as 2400. 31st MEU website lists 2200. marines.com website lists the MEU as 2200.

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    2. The Marines do, indeed, recognize that they will have split deployments - hence, the post!

      Recognition of a bad idea only makes it official. It doesn't make it a good idea! The Marines need to carefully consider the lessons of Somali and Benghazi before they commit to actions that may quickly exceed their capability.

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    3. My numbers came from the hqmc.marines website, and it had detailed numbers for each part.The 15th MEU seems to use rounded up numbers for all except the reinforced battalion ( eg CE is 'around 200'). Of course ecah deployment will differ slightly and I would hope that a split MEU would be allocated the extra numbers.
      It seems to be common now for squadrons to be extra staffed for the capability to be split into detachments.
      Not to forget just to get an MEU deployed would require 2500 headcount on shore just for the paperwork.

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    4. Numbers aside, I hope you got more out of the post than the size of the MEU. If not, I failed!

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    5. Your numbers are correct, I was only adding some detail ( rounding up is the bane of modern life).
      My point is that a split MEU is fine, as its planned that way, and makes sense if you are down to essentially one MEU deployed at a time. ( someone may have more precise details)

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    6. Your numbers are correct, I was only adding some detail ( rounding up is the bane of modern life).
      My point is that a split MEU is fine, as its planned that way, and makes sense if you are down to essentially one MEU deployed at a time. ( someone may have more precise details)

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  3. It really depends on the nature of the situation what is needed, but yes, I suspect that the capability will decline.

    Plus if you have fewer MEU ships, the ships that you need the most urgently have the bad habit of being in maintenance. That raises that risk.

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  4. Another question becomes where or not this is credible at all against a moderately well armed opponent, to say nothing of a fully developed nation state.

    If it's not credible, then a case could even be made that it should be scrapped entirely and the money perhaps put to better use.

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    1. Well it is credible potentially in certain circumstances, low-intensity conflicts/raids, i.e. fighting wars against non-country actors, taking an island, potentially even seizing landing sites for forces prepositioned in nearby countries/islands, which are to be landed with LST/Landing crafts, which the US no longer wishes to poses as a class of ship.

      I think though they serve little military purpose given the lack of strategic shipping, landing capabilities, how poorly equipped and small the landing forces are, and the lack of a creddible armed forces to follow on. The US has very poorly armed/armoured ground vehicles, the bradley and stryker are both very controversial. And past experience in iraq/afghanistan and every other war since ww2 shows that america does not have what it takes to win anymore.

      To afraid of civilian casualties, and they fundamentally do not understand international politics, and the way the local people think and feel, they are to self-centered and arrogant... That is why US foreign policy is a failure.

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    2. Anon, setting aside your view of the US as self-centered and arrogant, the rest of your comment is pretty much on the mark and well said. So, with the shortcomings you point out, what do you propose the US do as regards MEU/ARGs?

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    4. "Who does understand the internal politics of the entire world? We may be bad at it, but who's better?"

      Well, Putin, China, and Iran certainly are playing international politics better than we are. I would suggest that Assad is also and, depending on your definition, perhaps NK, too.

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    5. I'm not a ground combat expert by any means. I agree that the Bradley has proven itself but the Stryker seems questionable. When it has entered combat it has needed to be up-armored and now the Army is trying desperately to up-gun it. The basic Stryker seems somewhat deficient.

      It's not an IFV nor is it an APC, both of which would be useful. It's kind of like the LCS - not really good at anything useful other than very low intensity patrolling.

      Aren't the Stryker and JLTV almost filling similar roles: transport of troops in very lightly armored vehicles with little firepower? I'd much rather see us invest in IFVs and/or APCs.

      As I say, I'm not an expert and the Army's opinion may differ greatly from mine.

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    8. Strongly disagree with both.

      The Bradley - read the book the Pentagon Wars (the movie sadly is just a shallow mockery of the book).

      It has some pretty serious deficiencies.


      The Stryker is even worse - think of it in a way as the LCS of land vehicles. The wheels and mass mean that the ground pressure is very high. It will be very prone to getting stuck (and has been in soft soil). The high profile too makes it very vulnerable to attacks (which is partly why the US Army wants it uparmored, it has survivability issues).


      As far as the US - I'd argue that Anon has a point. At the very least, the senior political and military leadership is quite self centered and arrogant.

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    9. "If "playing international politics" means being a bully, a crook, a back stabber or authoritarian, ..."

      It means accomplishing your political goals and all of those countries are doing a better job of it than we are. The fact that their countries and people may not be enjoying the standard of living that we do is a separate issue. Politically, they're accomplishing what they want. Do I really need to go through the long list of political gains each has made?

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    10. Way out of my league, here, bug the Stryker seems to compare poorly with other APCs like the Namer, AMV, and Piranha which claim to be able to withstand 25-30 mm among other characteristics.

      The other disturbing aspect of the Stryker is that it is being used as a poor man's IFV in its base APC configuration - a role for which it is poorly suited.

      The Stryker, like many other US platforms, has appeared acceptable only because it has yet to face any serious threat. Accounts I read of Stryker use in Afg/Iraq all too often make it seem quite lacking for the roles it's being used in.

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    14. "Ever hear the saying, "the ends don't justify the means"?"

      They're accomplishing their political goals. I don't have to agree with them or their methods to recognize that they are succeeding. We, on the other hand, are accomplishing none of ours on the international stage.

      Disagree with their goals and methods but recognize political acumen when you see it.

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    15. "Trade offs."

      There comes a point when the trade offs result in a bad product. The Stryker seems like that bad product when I look at the other APCs.

      We can rationalize the design shortcomings any way we want but when the time comes for high end combat we'll find out what the Stryker's flaws are in no uncertain terms. I look at comparable Russian and Chinese APCs (and tanks, IFVs, etc.) and we seem to be behind the curve. While we're designing and building for low end, light combat emphasizing mobility, our opponents are building for a high end fight that is going to be a rude awakening for us. The Ukraine operation is offering us lessons but we don't seem to want to learn them.

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    18. Strategic mobility is pointless if the force can't stand up to modern combat.

      So, you're saying that the entire world is wrong in their APC development and that we, and we alone, have it right? I hope so, but I look at so many of our military acquisitions the last few decades and I reach the opposite conclusion.

      I'm not a ground combat expert so I haven't got the knowledge to debate point for point about the specifics of armor, firepower, etc. I simply look at the rest of the world and I know which APC I'd want to be in and it's not the Stryker.

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    20. "It's also pointless to have a force that can't get to the fight in time..."

      Ding, ding, ding!!!! We have a winner. Unfortunately, you've take that simple and brilliant statement and extrapolated the wrong conclusion from it.

      The answer is not to build lighter, it's to concentrate and the transport issue and figure out how to get what we NEED to where it's needed. This is symptomatic of our current military thinking. For example, we build a V-22 and then build a vehicle to fit inside it. That's bass ackwards. First, you build the vehicle you NEED and then you build the transport aircraft.

      We need to build the tanks, IFVs, and APCs that we NEED and then figure out how to transport them.

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    21. "We've made MASSIVE gains around the world ..."

      Couldn't disagree more. We've turned the Mid East into a nightmare, we've allowed Russia to turn actively hostile towards us, China has seized the S/E China Seas and first island chain without firing a shot, our allies have come to distrust us, we've abdicated out leadership role in world politics, and the list goes on. This is probably the lowest point for American international politics in my lifetime.

      Gotta disagree.

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    23. All of that means nothing if your force of soldiers on scooters (or in Strykers, as the case may be) get chewed up by the enemy's heavy armor when they get there.

      Sure, we can suppose that we have total air superiority (or we wouldn't be doing it, right? cause the military never does anything dumb) and our airpower will completely eliminate the enemy armor. Of course, if we're just going to hand wave our way out of problems can't we assume we'll have multiple airfields to transport our own armor and that they'll be close to the battlefield? Or, do we have to assume worst case transport but best case battle conditions?

      You don't design the military around what's easy or cheap or light. You design the military to fight the worst case. If that requires heavy armor then you figure out how to transport it to the battle. Surely you see that it does not good to get to the battle if the forces you bring can't win?

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    25. Just as no potential enemy sees an LCS as a deterrent, no enemy with heavy armored divisions will see an SBCT as a deterrent. Putin, for example, hasn't been deterred by anything about the West.

      To be fair, deterrence is like proving a negative. Unless someone blurts out that they were deterred, it could have happened and we'd never know it. That said, an SBCT doesn't present much firepower to act as a deterrent to armored forces.

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    26. "You design a military around what gives you the most useful combat power for a given budget."

      As I've stated before, you design a military to accomplish a mission (preservation of the nation, presumably). This is an existential requirement. Therefore, budget is not really a factor. You either provide the needed budget (reducing social programs, if need be) or be conquered by a neighbor.

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    30. We warned Putin against aggression towards both Crimea and Ukraine. He ignored both warnings. Nothing about our military is deterring him. Now, let's be honest. It's not the military capability that he's ignoring. It's the political will to back up our warnings that he's ignoring. He knows we won't take action. No amount of military might will compensate for a complete lack of will to employ it.

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    31. "If preserving the nation is our military's only mission, then we can slash military spending dramatically."

      ????

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    33. Commitment to what? We've issue red line warnings and then ignored violations. What are we committed to? How would an SBCT demonstrate our commitment if we have no intention of using it?

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    35. Did the attack on the USS Pueblo prompt a response? Did the forcedown and subsequent seizure of the EP-3 prompt a response? History has shown that it is actually quite difficult to prompt a response from the US even in the face of direct attacks and seizures of its military units. Units don't create deterrence - the will to respond creates deterrence and we don't generally have it.

      Going beyond will, then the question of capability arises. Strykers and LCSs aren't exactly heavy hitters that would keep unfriendly forces from acting.

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    37. Even if you believe the incident was an accident, which I don't, the subsequent seizure of the aircraft, stripping, and dismantling, with no return until around 3 months later would certainly constitute an act of war. In addition, the crew was held prisoner for a couple of weeks and interrogated under less than civil conditions. It's kind of hard to imagine how the incident could have been any more provocative! Our response was an apology!!!!

      NK seized a US Navy ship. Again, how much more provocative can it get?

      Keep rationalizing these incidents if you wish but they clearly illustrate that our concept of deterrence and your opinion of its effectiveness as a point of policy is highly suspect.

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    38. I really don't see much of a jump from seizing a US military aircraft, capturing a US Navy ship, or attacking a SCBT and I certainly don't see where our response would likely be any different. History certainly doesn't suggest otherwise.

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    40. Discussions do tend to meander, do they not? :)

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  5. Looking at the History of the USMC, from their island hoping in the pacific to post WW2 I think you will see their effectiveness has dissipated, in that when we are not talking about island hoping they are no longer and effective fighting force.

    Consider Desert storm, 1M soldiers took part in that including many USMC personnel, but for the most part all those soldiers, their vehicles and equipment were prepositioned over a very lengthy time, and not conducted as a USMC amphibious assault, because the truth is the USMC is not a viable force for fighting a real war, with a country that has an actual army.

    Sadly in cases where such forces can be deployed in large enough numbers to be rather effective, for instance in suppressing the piracy being launched from Somalia, they have not and will not be deployed due to lack of political will. Yet I think such a lightly armed and armoured force could do quiet well in suppressing those pirates.

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    1. Anon, you may be somewhat misunderstanding the purpose of the USMC. It is not their job to fight a war singlehanded. Their job is to seize landing points that follow on forces can exploit. In some cases, their job may be to conduct stand alone missions such as flanking attacks or diversionary attacks. These kinds of missions are what the Marines are sized and equipped for although one can (and I certainly do!) argue whether their current size and capabilities are in line with those missions.

      Why would we have wanted to conduct Desert Storm as an amphibious assault with only a small Marine force? Or, is that not what you're suggesting and I'm misunderstanding your point?

      Your point about political will is appropriate and often true but is not a characteristic of the Corps, per se.

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    2. You say that, but USMC is indeed outfitted as a light infantry force suitable only for occupation, how are they going to hold a beach/head or port-city with 7ton HMWVs.

      Point is that if USMC is not needed to conduct amphib assault, why even have it? Like you said?

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  6. In regards to the tracked vehicle debate, and I apologize if I got off topic, I'd say that a medium weight tracked vehicle is needed.

    It should ideally have:
    1. Very wide tracks for low surface ground pressure
    2. Relatively low profile
    3. V shaped hull (for survivability against IEDs) - there is a bit of a tradeoff here because you want a low profile, but the V shaped hull will raise it somewhat
    4. Active defense system (something like Israel's trophy)
    5. Modular armor, and ideally the ability to mount Explosive Reactive Armor bricks
    6. Anti-spall liner
    7. I'm not a fan of IFVs, but if you have them, you must have blow out panels for the ammo storage
    8. Fire extinguisher system extensively tested (the Bradley was known for false alarms)
    9. A diesel engine would be best for this, probably mounted in the front (for faster rear loading/unloading), plus like the Israeli Merkava, it provides a defense point against frontal damage. Hybrid electric is also an option, for maximum range.
    10. External storage of fuel (the M113 historically had the tendency to burn when hit causing casualties in the vehicle for the occupants)


    Extensive real "live testing" of this vehicle with random aim points. It would need a lot of testing against real weapons before I'd declare it ready for action.

    I'm not a big fan of aluminum armor (burns under heat, and weakens), although there are some that support it. Titanium is very expensive and spalls, although the strength to mass can be good, as is the corrosion resistance and ability to keep its strength under heat.

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    1. Altand,agree with most of those points, so that would be 30-40tonne, non-amphibious? Also why do you disagree with installing a cannon on the vehicle so that it can be called an IFV?

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      Would like to see several other improvements as a minimum though:

      1.) Reduced observability, russians allegedly have new composite add-on armour which passively reduces IR and and radar signature due to it's composition.

      2.) Distributed APUs, you can have something like the Free-Piston system distributed, so that you can hopefully limp away and move your turret if you are hit, and also run your systems without the main engine on.

      3.) Decent unmanned turret, big cannon with dual ammunition feed, airburst munitions with ATGMs/rockets and a decent optics, i.e. commander and gunner optics, + 360degree sensors, like the T72M upgrade had.

      4.) Multiple External hard-points for cheap/expendable drones, to launch/recover and charge from. Particularly useful in urban conflict for peaking around corners/through windows. Even if all they can carry is a short-ranged 360Degree optical/ir sensor.

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      Nowadays we have unmanned turrets, so there is separation of ammunition storage and crew compartment, and there is no more internal space taken up than would be by having a remote 12.5mm MG, frankly can't see many disadvantages here.

      Also think that it would be a good idea for nations to consider reactivating some of their in-storage cold-war tanks, strip them down, up-armour them, and convert them to Heavy IFVs like isreal did to NAMER.

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    2. Forgot to mention, I think a regenerative propulsion system, either mechanical or electric would be a good way to reduce the logistics burden by lowering fuel consumption and realizing real cost savings.

      BAE was exploring a hybrid-electric propulsion system upgrade to CV90 to reduce fuel consumption by 10-30%, BAE SEP developed for sweeden was also hybrid electric.

      There are some legitimate potential advantages from a Hybrid Propulsion system, weight/fuel/space/power increase by simplifying the drive train.

      With an electric drive train you can reverse at the same speed, similar to what you would get by using the CVT transmission found in the latest Japanese tank, important since most armor is at the front.

      Also it provides a small reserve that can be tapped into if your engine is knocked out, to get your ass out of there.

      >works very well with a redundant, distributed APU like the Free-piston system.
      >lowers your profile, which together with the slight V-hull would make an acceptably IED resistant vehicle, that is reasonably low profile.

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      BAE also experimented with active dampening in the CV90 for suspension, increasing its maximum speed over rough terrain. I think such improvements in situational awareness, mobility, firepower and armor would translate into a huge advantage over the current vehicles....

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    3. Yeah I agree with a medium weight vehicle and a regenerative hybrid system would be worth looking at.

      There is some added flexibility with such a drive system and potential for fuel savings, which in turn means a smaller chain and less soft targets (fuel trucks) for the enemy to target.

      I think that if unmanned turrets are to feature, then there must be variants to specifically carry such weapons.

      Interestingly enough the Russian Armada tank is claimed to have a totally unmanned turret.

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