Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Light Or Heavy - Either Could Work

The US military has for some time been pursuing a path of “lightness”.  The Marines have drastically scaled back their tank companies and dropped the 120 mm towed mortar, for example.  The navy has totally abandoned armor for ships and considers the non-survivable LCS to be a warship.  The Army pursued a vision of lightly armed Strykers.  All manner of light “jeeps” have been pursued.and procured.

I guess the theory is that our speed of movement will cancel out and overcome the enemy’s firepower, numbers, and armor – a questionable proposition, at best.

We’re now trying to mount 20-30 mm guns on top of jeeps.  We’re looking seriously at developing light/medium “tanks” that have large guns and only lightly armored bodies.  Hit hard, move fast, I guess.

Is this trend to lightness viable on a modern battlefield?

Well, consider this.  The Russians and Chinese are developing artillery that fires submunitions that are far deadlier than previous conventional artillery shells.  These submunitions include enhanced fragmentation and thermobaric explosives.

“Over the past 20 years the Russians have improved on our steel rain technology by developing a new generation of bomblet munitions that are filled with thermobaric explosives. These munitions generate an intense, blast wave of exploding gasses that are far more lethal than conventional explosives. A volley of Russian thermobaric steel rain delivered by a single heavy-rocket launcher battalion produces a lethal area 10 times greater than an American MLRS battalion firing conventional, single-point detonating warheads.” (1)

Imagine that firepower being applied against a bunch of US soldiers running around the battlefield in essentially unarmored jeeps.

Or, consider the prospects of a bunch of light tanks when confronted by a bunch of heavy main battle tanks like the new Russian and Chinese ones.

So, are we saying that a light, mobile, unprotected force can’t win on the modern battlefield.  This is probably going to surprise you but the answer is that they can win, however, there is a massive caveat.  The caveat is numbers/attrition.  If the light force has sufficient numbers and is willing to accept significant attrition, they can win.  Those light tanks will suffer massive casualties (and their crews with them) but with sufficient numbers can eventually kill the heavy tanks.  Those soldiers running around in JLTV (Joint Light Tactical Vehicle) “jeeps” will suffer massive casualties when exposed to firepower but with enough of them they can achieve their objectives. 

Joint Light Tactical Vehicle

The degree of attrition will be massive but victory can be attained.  The problem is that the US military has neither the requisite numbers of vehicles nor personnel to absorb the kinds of losses that such a force would suffer.  Neither do they have the transportation capacity to get such numbers to the battlefield even if they had the numbers.  Further, the degree of callousness required to plan for and accept that level of attrition is beyond any mentality the US has shown in recent times, if ever.  The closest we’ve come to accepting that kind of horrifying attrition is the Civil War and that’s because we didn’t know any better way of fighting.

The other approach, the heavy approach, will also work and with a lot less casualties.  A thermobaric bomb, or heavy artillery, or cluster munitions, or armored divisions can prevent a lot of friendly casualties and seems the far more sensible way to approach war.

We need to carefully evaluate our approach to war and make sure that we are fully committed to whichever path we choose and we need to thoroughly understand the ramifications if we choose the path of lightness.


(1)Breaking Defense website, “Bring Back Artillery Submunitions; Russian Threat Too Great” Bob Scales, 21-Oct-2016,


  1. Light or heavy, how about the golden middle.

    A new Tank design for the US Army that weights around 45 ~ 48 tons and a new family of APC/IFV around 20 ~ 25 tons.

    The US has not developed new tanks or APC/IFVs since the late 70ties, meanwhile a lot of new technologies have emerged:
    reliable active protection systems, engines got more smaller powerful and efficient, new types of ceramic composite armor, tanks can fire guided projectiles that can hit beyond 5 miles, EO/IR sights get better basically every year.

    The US army should at least fund some experimental armored vehicles to see what can work and what not that can be implemented in a future design.

    1. I'm not a land combat expert nor an armored vehicle expert so I can't address what can and cannot be done in the middle weight range. I would imagine that a middle weight vehicle would be the worst of both the light and heavy ends of the spectrum: too lightly armored to go toe to toe with Chinese and Russian main battle tanks and too heavy to take full advantage of the mobility that lightness offers.

      Russia and China are both developing families of heavy armored vehicles. We would do well to ask ourselves, why? Why are they putting their resources into heavy armor and heavy weapons when we're headed down the lightness path? I believe that they're on the right path and we're on the wrong one.

      All that said, if someone can design a middle weight vehicle that is reasonably survivable and lethal AND SHOW HOW IT WILL EFFECTIVELY FIGHT ON THE MODERN BATTLEFIELD (a CONOPS, if you will), then I'm willing to be convinced.

    2. Well only the Russians so far have demonstrated a new family of heavyweight vehicles that is the T-14 Armata tank ( weighting 48 tonnes ) and the T-15 Heavy IFV based on the same tank at around the same weight.

      The new Chinese tank VT-4 is so far the heaviest tank developed by china weighting 52 tonnes.

      However both countries have several thousand of older but still very good MBTs especially Russia with the T-90 and T-72B3.

      My point was that since the US has enough M-1s and is planing to modernize them to the M-1A2 SEPv3 standard, building a new somehow lighter tank in bigger numbers would be a good supplement to the M-1 force.
      And if it is around 45 tonnes that's not unprotected at all just look at the Japanese Type 10 tank as an example.

      P.S. and a lighter tank compared to the ( M-1A2 that is )
      Would be ideal for the Marines.

    3. Just as a minor point of interest, the VT-4 is, apparently, a simplified export version of the Type 99G (Type 99A/A1/A2). Wiki gives the Type 99A weight as 58 tonnes.

    4. So, how would these middle weight tanks function on the battlefield? What would be their role? What will they do that will help?

    5. They'll allow you to free up M-1s for more demanding tasks.
      If you're carrying out a large scale offensive operation you could concentrate the M-1s on the most dangerous and demanding locations in theater, while the rest of the front is covered by medium tanks at locations where enemy tanks do not pose such a danger or are of older types.
      Another thing that since they're lighter than a M-1 they're a lot more tactical flexible, and if designed with logistics in mind they should have a lighter logistical footprint.

    6. "They'll allow you to free up M-1s for more demanding tasks."

      How is that different from the current Bradley which operates with the Abrams?

    7. In a classical offensive operation Tanks are in front of IFV's, taking aim at anything enemy that comes in front of then.
      You cannot do a offensive using IFV's alone.

    8. You're advocating using medium weight tanks alone to "free up" heavy tanks for other tasks. I'm asking how that's different from using Bradleys or upgunned Strykers to free up heavy tanks?

    9. Because a Bradley, or a Stryker Mobile Gun System stands bad even against legacy upgraded tanks like the T-72B3 for example.
      The best way to counter a tank is with another tank.
      Another think i mentioned above was that the US should at least start develop new experimental armored vehicles, it needs a lot of catching up to do in that field.

    10. A medium weight tank isn't going to fare well against heavy tanks, either.

    11. Tanks, regardless of size and weight, aren't meant to fight by themselves, though that has happened in the past. Tanks fight as part of a combined arms team with infantry, reconnaissance, mortar, engineer and artillery in support.

      And, light and medium tanks have a role on the battlefield of today and tomorrow. Initial entry operations are often done with light forces with heavy forces following.

      But, light infantry has always needed some armor support to be effective. Twenty years ago, the Army was set to field the M-8 Buford to replace the Sheridans in the 82nd Airborne Division. There were plans to add a light tank batallion to each light infantry division. Armor protection on light tanks, like the M-8, can be upgraded through the use of armor plating or explosive reactive armor.

      Heavy tanks, while fearsome, are not invulnerable. The Javelin and TOW can defeat any enemy tank out there.

      The Army upgrades to their Stryker vehicles is a good move. Strykers will now have a medium cannon on par with the Bradley and the Marine's LAV-25 and can now fire the Javelin ATGM.

    12. "Initial entry operations are often done with light forces"

      An interesting statement that I don't believe is true - at least, not in the context of a peer opposed entry. I can't, off hand, think of an example where this has successfully occurred. Care to provide one?

      I suspect that your statement is predicated on a definition/semantics condition. We'll see.

    13. Operation Overlord with the deployment of some 30,000 airborne and glider troops to secure key areas and disrupt enemy forces prior to the main landing.

      Though not against peers, Operations Urgent Fury (Grenada) and Just Cause (Panama) are other examples. Sheridans were airdropped into Panama for their first use in combat. In Desert Shield, airborne and infantry forces were among the first units deployed to Saudi Arabia.

      In the early stages of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Ranger and Airborne units were used to capture airfields, though resistance was rather light in each case.

    14. You just proved my contention! Operation Overlord was the least "light forces" ever assembled. It was the very definition of a heavy assault. The airborne/glider troops were just one small part of the massively heavy forces operation and were nearly wiped out and would have been in another 24 hours had the other forces not linked up with them. Citing them as an example of light entry forces is like saying a rifle squad invaded Iwo Jima - yeah, they did, along with a gazillion pounds of battleship and cruiser high explosives, aerial bombardment, artillery, tanks, etc.

      The Overlord airborne/glider forces is the classic example of light forces being unable to survive against heavy forces!

      Your other examples, as you noted, were not peer warfare. I think it's safe to say that light forces cannot secure entry against a peer defender. That's our problem today, we are too light and trending lighter - hence, the point of the post.

    15. Nobody is contending that light forces can defeat heavier forces by themselves, much survive long on their own. But, they have, and always will have, a role to play. For any army, it is about balance and it is worth discussion if today's Army and Marines are too light.

      But, heavy forces require significant logistical support.
      A tank company (14 tanks) needs 7,000 gallons of fuel to move just 250 miles. Then there are the needed maintainers, spare parts, and ammunition, to keep the tanks and other armored vehicles in the field.

    16. And airplanes need fuel and maintainers and spare parts and so on. If the airplane (or tank) is useful enough in war then we find the way to support it, as we've always done.

      This "lightness" trend is a peacetime trend based on budgets and business cases. When war starts, we'll quickly remember that heavy forces win wars. When WWII started, we didn't "lighten" our forces, we "heavied" them to the maximum extent possible.

      We've forgotten what war is and what we need to wage and win it.

    17. One of the more interesting things I read was an engineer stating that using current manufacturing tech they could reduce the M1 weight by 25%. I'm not sure if she was correct but that would be interesting even if it turned out to 15%.

    18. "A medium weight tank isn't going to fare well against heavy tanks, either."

      If were talking Sherman's VS Tiger tanks, yes.
      But a T90 VS a M1A2 or Merkava mk4 is a different story

    19. The T-90 is a heavyweight, main battle tank.

      Every analysis I've seen of the T-90 vs M1 concludes that the M1 has a huge advantage, mainly due to its far more advanced sensor suite (first sight advantage), fire control, and superior rounds.

      Further, the T-90 is not a medium weight tank in any practical sense. It is no easier to transport than an M1 on any practical basis and has virtually the same footprint which means no greater number can be stored or transported in a given space. Its weight, while less than the bloated M1, is still huge and if the Russians are like the US Army, the recent versions have probably put on significant weight.

      A medium tank would be something in the 15-30 ton range. The Chinese, for example, are developing tanks in the 30-35 ton range, such as the VT-5, that they claim can be air dropped and can maneuver in hills and mountains that heavier tanks cannot. The old Sheridan, on the lighter end of the spectrum at 15 tons, was air transportable and could be LAPES deployed.

      It is the transportability and rough terrain maneuverability that define a medium weight tank in practical terms.

    20. "It is the transportability and rough terrain maneuverability that define a medium weight tank in practical terms."

      Anyone who has seen the T-90 and other Russian designs perform in the field has to conclude that the Russian MBTs have a distinct edge in mobility compared to western MBT designs.

      Also, individual AFV comparisons are as of little consequence as comparing a Roman legionnaire to a German tribesman - tanks vehicle qualities are relevant only when defined in fleet terms, because tanks are designed to support operations en masse.

      A lot of hidden qualities and hidden defects come to light when we start looking at groups, fleets, and systems instead of individual items. The caveat being that the days of concentrating an armored corps are likely over.


    21. "tanks vehicle qualities are relevant only when defined in fleet terms, because tanks are designed to support operations en masse."

      Absolutely fascinating. What would be an example of a fleet characteristic that would not be readily apparent in an individual specification?

    22. "The caveat being that the days of concentrating an armored corps are likely over."

      What do you mean by that? Are you referring to the susceptibility of concentration to artillery and air power? Or something else?

      I see concentration being not a physical location phenomenon but a fires phenomenon. For example, the shoulder-to-shoulder riflemen of the 1700's were concentrated physically in order to concentrate their firepower on a given target. If they had spread out, the limited range/accuracy of their muskets would have destroyed their concentration of fire. Once the machine gun appeared, the physical concentration could be spread out while still maintaining a concentration of fire. With modern missiles and artillery, physical concentration is not required to achieve concentration of fire.

      Thus, side-by-side tanks are not required to achieve massed fire by tanks (even more so if the tanks are considered to be frontal fire control nodes for artillery!). So, I don't see that concentration of armored fires are a thing of the past. Perhaps (quite likely?) I'm missing your point?

    23. "What would be an example of a fleet characteristic that would not be readily apparent in an individual specification?"

      Human factors (ride quality/crew position comfort): specifically the degree (time) to which the crew can continue to advance in and fight their vehicle. Tracked vehicles are enormously fatiguing to operate/ride in due to vibration, and poorly designed or cramped crew stations hamper the ability of armored columns to strike deeply into the enemy formations (corps, army, and beyond). Movement warfare is really a race against time: a race to break through a line before local reserves can be called up, and a race to break through the enemy decision loop at successive levels of command. Stopping, whether caused by enemy action, logistics depletion, or crew exhaustion, basically tends to reset the clock to static (attrition warfare) as lines reform. The WWII German army (Heer) armored formations tried to assign two crews per tank, which enabled them to extend operations by swapping crews during breaks to refuel or rearm – an organizational solution instead of a technological solution.

      Another example:

      Operational range: I am not talking about fuel consumption, although it is a factor, but rather the unrefueled range of a tank. Even though it has the worst fuel consumption of any vehicle in an army; in armored formations the tanks are not the biggest consumers of fuel. Far more important is the ability of a tank to extend operations without demanding a logistics halt. Fan boys laud the King Tiger tank for its many technological wonders, but in many ways, the ridiculously short operational range of ~70-110 miles seriously hampered its utility in exploiting break through. (see: Sledgehammers: Strengths and Flaws of Tiger Tank Battalions in World War II by Christopher W. Wilbeck with the intro by the tank ace Otto Carius).‎

      A final example:

      Power plant characteristics: much derision has been heaped upon the M1 Abrams for its ridiculously thirsty Honeywell AGT1500 gas turbine and other annoying traits (e.g. exhaust temperature), but critics almost never acknowledge several advantages, that admittedly may, or may not win the argument, but are useful points of discussion:

      1. The gas turbine is more compact and weighs about half the weight of an equivalent diesel power plant of that era, leaving almost 1.25 tons of usable weight – a very great deal for a tank designer to play with.
      2. Fuel consumption: much has been said about the thirst of a gas turbine at partial throttle settings, but at full throttle operations in open terrain, the basic thermodynamics and stochastic ratios governing energy extraction from fuel hold, and the differences between fuel consumption in a diesel and gas turbine are more comparable.
      3. The depot maintenance interval for the gas turbine is almost twice that of an equivalent diesel power plant of that era, a key logistics factor for expeditionary forces.
      4. A gas turbine can be shut down allowed to freeze to -58 °F (-50 °C) or lower and restarted with no worries (assuming the fuel does not freeze) – a diesel engine will not tolerate nearly the same level of abuse. If you plan to operate in northern/eastern Europe, or in Alaska, this could be critical, and the cost of running diesel power plants continuously to avoid freezing may erase any advantages in fuel consumption.

      I am not trying to pick a fight, but point out that tradeoffs are not quite as obvious, depending on your point of view. The Swedish (Stridsvagn 103 (strv 103)) and Russian (T-80) gas turbine powered AFVs were not accidents, or knee jerk reactions.


    24. "The caveat being that the days of concentrating an armored corps are likely over."

      I mean that the concentration of PGMs and other weapons, combined with the costs of weapon systems will tend to force ever greater dispersion upon the battlefield.


    25. "I mean that the concentration of PGMs and other weapons, combined with the costs of weapon systems will tend to force ever greater dispersion upon the battlefield."

      Given that firepower concentration is what matters and given the limited range of a tank's weapons, this might suggest that artillery is the preferred weapon of the modern battlefield - it is capable of long range, lethal, concentrated fires from multiple, dispersed locations, unlike tanks.

      Should we be constructing an artillery-focused army rather than a tank-focused one? The tanks, in such a construct, would become armored "spotters" for the artillery rather than primary fighters. I'm not a land combat expert so what do you think? Just mentally meandering, here, not really putting forth an actual proposal! Just following the logic.

      The Russian-Ukrainian combat experience, what I know of it, suggests that an artillery-focused army might, indeed, be effective.

    26. More thoughts on AFV fleet performance…

      Mobility is not determined by the first, or most agile vehicle to cross a given obstacle, but by the *last vehicle(s)* to cross the obstacle after the ground/bank/obstacle has been torn up by hundreds of vehicles that proceed it. These can often be the least capable vehicles (e.g. maintenance shop trucks). No commander is going to accept leaving a portion of his force stuck in frozen mud except in the most extreme circumstances. Note that relatively immobile vehicles can sometimes benefit from following more capable vehicles. Consider a fuel truck that cannot drive through deep snow, or pass through a forested area: If tanks knock down trees to create a path, or plow a road and compressed the snow – the trucks can follow.

      Also consider that "top speed" ratings for vehicles are almost irrelevant as an army moves at the speed of its slowest unit.

      An army cannot outrun its fuel and ammunition by much more than the operational range of its AFVs.

      The mobility of an army's trucks (logistics) impose more mobility constraints than the mobility constraints of AFVs.

      No one seems to care about fording rivers except the Russians: if your AFVs can cross a river, but your fuel trucks cannot, your column will stop until engineers create a ford for the river.


    27. "Should we be constructing an artillery-focused army rather than a tank-focused one?"

      I might not go that far, but I would argue for a substantially more indirect fire assets and MRL capable of delivering PGMs to long range.

      How much “more” indirect fire? I advocate adding a self-propelled mortar platoon (8 tubes) to every tank or Mech Infantry battalion, and believe every armored brigade should have 18 self-propelled howitzers, and 18 MRLs capable of firing podded rockets from 127mm/5”, 160mm, and 203mm (not HIMARS or M270 MLRS).

      You might want to look up Colonel Douglas MacGregor and his Recon Strike Group concepts.
      He reportedly advocated adding MLRS to ACR squadrons a couple of decades ago. I am not a true believer, but I like most of his ideas.


  2. China and Russia are preparing for conflicts that are on their doorsteps. We have to transport everything across an ocean.

  3. "its easier to transport lighter equipment" is somewhat misleading since we have plenty of locations, at least in regards to a Russian threat, in Europe. If we're thinking of shipping armor after hostilities, we've already messed up. Also, tanks probably won't play any decisive role in an Asian campaign either, regardless of their weight.

    Light ships, tanks, and other assorted vehicles however, are better suited towards counter-insurgency campaigns, which is clearly the Pentagon's mindset, with its generational warfare theory towards the middle east.

    1. "tanks probably won't play any decisive role in an Asian campaign either, regardless of their weight."

      Why not? It seems odd that China is building so many armored vehicles if there is no decisive role for them?

    2. And they're making a new light tank also, albeit for mountain warfare (presumably)

    3. Historically, they were decisive in some tactical situations, in some locations. They will not be decisive in a Chinese conflict at the operational or strategically level.

      At a logistical level, since all our tanks, chiefly the m1 and m2/3 are several tons heavier then their most likely competitors, they have higher fuel requirements naturally. The also have tight maintenance requirements, for example, if memory server me right, the m1 has to have it's engine serviced every 36 hrs and it's air filters replaced on a shorter rotation. If not, it may stop working. China, will most likely have the same issue.

      In regards to why China is producing so many and in so many variations, the usa is not China's sole competitor in the region. The kinda have to tailor their procurement towards several distinct geographical areas, of which the Indian border, consisting of mountains, is more suitable to light tanks then their heavier models.

    4. "the Indian border, consisting of mountains, is more suitable to light tanks then their heavier models."

      So, who do you think their heavier vehicles are intended for?

    5. So you anticipate an eventual Chinese invasion of Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam?

      Hmm ... Most readers assure me that China is a peace loving country that just wants to help the world! You seem to have a different view of China.

  4. I don’t believe the trend is towards lightness. If anything the trend is towards heaving up light formations.

    The Army has the following active duty units:

    10 ABCT
    7 SBCT
    14 IBCT

    31 brigades

    The largest category is our light infantry BCTs. They currently have few organic vehicles and armor. Heavier JLTVs and M-ATVs are replacing armored HMMWVs in these units.

    I believe most of the SBCTs came from light infantry units. So they were heavied up in the conversion.

    So the trend appears to be from light to somewhat less light or medium.

    1. From Wiki,

      "In 2016, ABCT CABs adopted a triangle structure, of two armored battalions (of two armored companies plus a single mechanized infantry company) plus a mechanized infantry battalion (of two mechanized companies and one armored company).[7] This resulted in the reduction of two mechanized infantry companies; the deleted armored company was reflagged to the Cavalry Squadron."


      "In July 2015, the Army announced the reduction of 2 additional BCTs as part of ongoing reductions to an endstrength of 450,000. In addition to the reduction, one active Stryker BCT will convert to an infantry BCT"


      "After the 2013 reform's round of de-activations and downsizing, ... 17 to 10 armored brigade combat teams"

      Very recently, the Army has begun to frantically scramble to upgun in response to Russia's expansionist activities. Unfortunately, the Army has a long way to go because of all the "lightness" they've engaged in.

    2. Don't confuse general downsizing with a trend towards lightness.

      When they went from 45 to 31 BCTs, they lost

      7 ABCTs
      1 SBCT
      6 IBCTs

      An even split between heavy and medium/light.

    3. You're quite right about downsizing, in general, however, there are enough other examples of "lightening" including the several I've provided.

      I also note that on a mathematical basis, the downsizing went from 17 to 10 armored brigades (-41%) versus the infantry that went from 20-14 brigades (-30%). Mathematically, the armored brigades were reduced to a greater extent thereby "lightening" the force.

      Also, remember that I'm addressing the entire military, not just the Army. The Marines have clearly lightened their force as has the Navy.

  5. I wonder where you feel active protection and some of the new trophy type systems fit into armor?

    1. Naval ships already have active protection in the form of CIWS and RAM/SeaRAM and similar systems in foreign navies.

      Trophy, specifically, is VERY short ranged and would offer no protection for a ship against a Mach+, multi-thousand pound incoming missile. The concept is valid but the system is simply not sized to deal with anti-ship missiles. Once you begin to upsize it sufficiently, you've got the current CIWS type of systems.

    2. Sorry the comments drifted to USMC and their armor. I was thinking their medium weight/armor with active protection is a definite way to reduce attrition from enemy fire.

    3. A pure naval idea of CIWS without much armor requires layering. In my mind even a small frigate would want passive ESM, a SeaRam and medium missile such as ESSM with corresponding radar. Of course these ideas don't occur in a vacuum. To me that cries out for a change in strategy. Mini Burkes (new class without BMD and without AAW outside ESSM range) and a BMD ship.

    4. "I was thinking their medium weight/armor with active protection is a definite way to reduce attrition from enemy fire."

      I thought you were talking about ships. Sorry about that.

      If Trophy-type systems were 100% effective, no one would need tanks at all. Just mount a large caliber gun on a truck along with a Trophy-type system and you're done. Of course, the odds that a Trophy-type system will be 100% effective against incoming tank rounds, artillery barrages, and larger anti-tank missiles is nil. It's one thing to stop the occasional small RPG type rocket. It's another to stop, say, a main battle tank round which is 3 times faster and heavier. Also, Trophy is only good for a couple of firings, as I understand it. It would be quickly overwhelmed in an artillery barrage, assuming it can even deal with vertically approaching shells.

      Finally, note that attack-defense is a never-ending pendulum. It shifts a bit one way and then the other develops new technology and it shifts the other way. Russia, for example, claims to have developed the RPG-32(?) which is claimed to be able to defeat Trophy by using a "pre-round" that flies ahead of the real round and causes the Trophy to expend its protection.

      The overall point is that no protective system will ever be 100% effective and no system that is even somewhat protective will retain its advantage for long. So, good old fashioned armor is still the best bet. Thus, light vehicles are simply targets waiting to be destroyed not matter what kind of protective system they might have.

    5. "The overall point is that no protective system will ever be 100% effective and no system that is even somewhat protective will retain its advantage for long. So, good old fashioned armor is still the best bet. Thus, light vehicles are simply targets waiting to be destroyed not matter what kind of protective system they might have."

      The problem with this statement is that armor is not 100% effective either. It's the game we play. Both are important. Surviving the hit through defensive armor or not getting hit through tactics of quicker kill chain, stealth, movement, EW or active protection of varying type is a balance that must be played.

      We sometimes get stuck in binary thinking about topics. It's not either/or, but both. But it also could be different balances on similar/same platforms.
      We've heard the arguments that light vehicles are going to be destroyed in mass during the next conflict. It never seems to happen that way.

    6. The race towards lightness is really the quest for rapid deployment forces to support the endless American appetite for intervention.

      The impetus for this was the abomination deployment of TF Hawk to support operations in Kosovo. The Army was not pleased with the result and this culminated with General Shinseki’s push for more deplorable forces. The exigent requirements of OIF and the aftermath only reinforced this view.

      Unfortunately other nations are looking at alternate methods of war. The Israelis and Japanese also seem to be concentrating on armor centric land forces.

      These developments seem lost on the U.S. defense establishment, which has proved incapable of defeating illiterate farmers and goat herders after 14-years of war, and wise only proposed solution is another generation of war.


    7. "General Shinseki’s push for more deplorable forces."

      Well, today's forces are certainly deplorable!

    8. "The race towards lightness is really the quest for rapid deployment forces"

      There are two broad approaches to rapid deployment. One, is to lighten the forces until they can be easily and quickly transported. This leads to infantry zipping around the battlefield in jeeps. Two, is to improve the transport capabilities so that we can get survivable, lethal forces to the battlefield quicker.

      Of course, there is the third, hybrid approach which is to improve transport capabilities while modestly lightening the forces. I fear this combines the worst features of both main approaches.


    9. Making meaningful transportation throughput improvements is difficult, and highly sensitive to local infrastructure.

      There is a third approach to rapid deployment that works better than your other three, assuming you have some foreknowledge of where you will fight: pre-positioning hardware. (e.g. Reforger, MPS ships)

      Flying people is much easier and faster than flying or moving equipment.

    10. There are some serious problems with pre-positioning.

      1. Pre-positioned storage presents a concentrated, tempting, and completely vulnerable target. Imagine China hitting our MPS ships at the outset of a war. We'd lose huge quantities of equipment in a heartbeat.

      2. Pre-positioning only helps if the equipment can be moved to the battlefield. In the case of MPS ships, the same problem applies as with amphibious assault - how to get heavy equipment ashore someplace useful without a port. If we need a port, then we limit the flexibility and usefulness of the pre-positioning.

      Air transport, no matter how we redesign and improve it, can still only transport a fraction of the necessary material. We need ships which means we must have access to safe ports for unloading. I've stated many times that I think a core (maybe THE core?) capability of the Marines should be port seizure/repair/defense. Without a port we cannot sustain a high intensity war on foreign soil.

      Recall the Gulf War/Desert Storm. Without access to the ports, we would have been unable to build up the necessary mass of equipment and supplies. Had Sadaam somehow destroyed the port facilties we used, we would have had a hard time even starting the combat phase!

      Consider Russian Special Ops forces and/or cruise missiles and the concept of pre-positioning in Europe. Those pre-positioned supply sites would be a huge target! That doesn't mean they wouldn't be useful and viable, just that we need to give some thought to undefended storage areas and how we can protect them.

    11. CNO,

      Too much emphasis is put on specific systems, endless "tracks versus wheels" debates, and spectacular simplifications of deep operational theory.

      These considerations should drive the theory=>strategy=>organization=>acquisition chain; but they do not have much effect.

      Land forces need to return to true strategic operations considerations: works from theorists like JFC Fuller and Tukhachevsky need to be dusted off and re-evaluated.


  6. The IDF had a history of converting MBTs to APC/IFVs, with the Centurian to the Nagmashot/Nagmachon and later many T54/5 to the Achzarit.

    The 2004 Israel Gaza conflict again exposed the vulnerability of the lightweight M113 to IEDs and RPGs and though Stryker was offered it was rejected by the IDF.

    Though an expensive option they re-started the option to convert their early Mekava Mk1 MBT to the Namer IFV, the Mekava design had the advantage of being front engined allowing rear access and exit.

    The new ~$3M 60T Namers are more heavily armoured than the latest Mekava MBTs as the weight saved by taking off the turret is added to Namers armour. The latest edition will add Trophy.

    The US Army trialled the Namer but developed their own version, the 84T Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) , estimated to cost $17M each, $28/37 billion program cost, it was cancelled in early 2014.

    The Army went forward with an updated 36T M2 Bradley with no turret, the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle, AMPV. GD have exerted strong pressure through Congress for increased buys for the doubled V hulled Stryker, Army appears not to be that enthusiastic.

    1. Nice summary. Do you have an opinion to offer?

    2. Your example of the Israeli Namer APC (actually a heavy APC, HAPC) is interesting for the contrast it offers when compared to the Marines "APC", the AAV. The AAV, not really a true APC, offers only protection against light arms fire and shrapnel - nice, to be sure - but offers no protection in the type of battle that we anticipate against a peer such as China. China will be using much heavier firepower than light arms and the Marines will be very vulnerable.

      Any thoughts on the wisdom of either approach: the HAPC or the pseudo-APC AAV?

    3. The U.S. has lots of old M1's. Are you suggesting that we convert them into HAPC's?

    4. Recent Ukraine experience where the Russians wiped out a Ukrainian armoured column with the Russian queen of the battlefield artillery, tube and rockets, with the thermobaric munitions.

      Light IFVs look like death traps.

    5. "Light IFVs look like death traps."

      Yes, and the Army's pursuit of glorified jeeps, the JLTV, to roam around the battlefield in will result in soldiers being utterly wiped out when faced with artillery.

      The Russian-Ukrainian example contains many lessons for us and, sadly, we are failing to heed most of them.

    6. Tanks aren't immune to artillery.

      Better a JLTV than an unarmored HMMWV. Even in heavy units, there are more trucks and HMMWVs than tanks. All are vulnerable to massed artillery and MLRS strikes.

      The Russian-Ukrainian conflict showed the need for robust and rapid counter-battery as well as counter-UAV capabilities. Improved C-RAM for mobile forces would be nice too.

    7. "Tanks aren't immune to artillery."

      No, but they are immune to all but a direct hit as opposed to a "jeep" which is susceptible to moderately near misses and simple shrapnel.

      "Even in heavy units, there are more trucks and HMMWVs than tanks."

      I don't know that that's true but I'll accept it for the moment. The point is that "jeeps" that are intended to run around the rear area are fine - they provide rapid and easy transport. The problem arises when the "jeep" becomes the front line vehicle as the Army/Marines have been pushing towards. They are not discussing the "jeep" as a rear area transport convenience; they're discussing the jeep as the front line vehicle and they're now trying to mount all manner of add-on weapons on them. A recipe for disaster.

    8. Tanks are not immune to near misses. Fragments can cause significant damage. Read through the article I posted.

      Rear areas are prime targets for long-range, MLRS strikes.

      In front-line roles, JLTVs are replacing armored and unarmored HMMWVs. It's actually a net improvement in mobility and protection over what we have now.

    9. The M1 Abrams is immune to near misses for all practical purposes. Could an occasional near miss with exactly the right set of circumstances disable a tank? Sure, but that's the unlikely case.

      Regarding the study you linked, did you read it? If so, you noted that the tests were conducted against M113, M557, and M48 tanks!!! The M48 Patton tank was built in the 1950's - hardly indicative of a modern armored tank!!! Likewise, the M113/557 were built in the 1960's and do not even remotely represent a modern armored tank.

      If the article you linked is your evidence, you need to go back and find something relevant. Find some data showing M1 Abrams subject to near miss destruction in any significant numbers.

    10. Reread it.

      They did a second test against modern armored vehicles and a third test against a modern mechanized infantry team in a defensive position. All circa 1988-9, eight years after the M1 was fielded.

      And there are more M113/557s in an ABCT than M1s.

    11. Reread it yourself. Nothing in the article mentions that testing was conducted on Abrams tanks and, in fact, the third test refers to Fig 3 which shows a damaged tank that is clearly not an Abrams. The tank shown has very small wheels and an open side without any skirt armor - as best I can tell, an M48.

      I repeat, either find some data or let it go.

      Regarding the number of M113/557s, that is utterly irrelevant as no one has claimed that they have any immunity to artillery.

      This, by the way, is exactly the kind of irrelevant, tedious argument that I detest. It has nothing to do with the premise of the post and simply wastes time.

    12. It states clearly, "The second test was conducted over a period of seven months. It was designed to provide updated fragmentation data for modern armored fighting vehicles and tanks."

      Was an M48 a "modern tank" circa 1988?

      They do show a picture of a damaged Bradley as well.

      But whatever.

      M113s, Bradleys, HMMWVs and trucks compose the vast majority of vehicles in an ABCT. Lose them and you lose a combat-effective ABCT. Tanks won't just soldier on by themselves with no command vehicles and logistics. A strike on an HQ or convoy will render the unit a mission kill or out of gas.

    13. There is not a picture of, or reference to, an M1 Abrams or any modern armored tank in the article you cited. Do not try to twist things to make it appear otherwise. Be clear, honest, and straightforward. You disputed my statement that tanks are, for practical purposes, immune to near misses by citing an old test on 1950s era M48 Patton tanks. You have offered no evidence, whatsoever, that a modern tank is routinely susceptible to destruction from near misses. Acknowledge it and move on.

      Trying to obfuscate the issue by noting that non-tank vehicles can be destroyed by artillery is utterly irrelevant since no claim to the contrary was made.

      There's nothing wrong with misstating something. Simply acknowledge it and move on. As you do so, try to further the discussion with comments relevant to the premise of the post.

      This snippet of discussion is ended.

  7. CNO
    Happy New Year and thanks for your time and effort for the best analysis/blog on the US Navy.

  8. I guess they listened to you...ONR had issued an RFP for an Armored Recon Vehicle (ARV)to help "extend the reach of the Light Armored Reconnaissance (LAR) battalion". 8 vendors selected and now a follow on RFI to propose additional functionality (Source: ONR RFI Announcement # N00014-18-RFI-0010).


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