Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Siren Song of Strategic Mobility and Tactical Survivability

The United States Army, which faces the dual problems of deploying sufficient heavy forces from the continental United States across oceans to distant battlefields and then winning against heavy forces that originated on that continent, struggle with lightness for the former requirement and heaviness for the latter requirement.

We are again hoping to find a magical solution to having vehicle survivability without weight:

“To break that direct tie between weight and protection, there is an increasing emphasis on looking at active systems,” Kallio said. “If you actively intercept a threat before it makes a terminal engagement with the vehicle, you can potentially take on or protect against larger threats without putting more weight on the vehicle.”

Active protection systems are one of the Army’s highest acquisition priorities, service officials have said.

At the turn of the century, I concluded that the wonder tank that meshes lethality and survivability on a 20-ton platform (the Future Combat Systems) would not be built (See "Equipping the Objective Force").

While active protection systems are surely necessary these days, it must be an additional layer of protection rather than a replacement for passive--and for now heavy--armor.

The problem is that any active system will face capacity problems of ammunition limits, limits on the number of targets that can be intercepted at one time, or limits on sequential targeting, aiming, and firing. Without thick passive armor behind the active systems, an attacker will have advantages to overcoming active defenses:

The problem is, what if an enemy fires something too heavy to be stopped by the passive [thin] armor yet too numerous to be stopped by limited APS capacity?

What if the enemy uses 30mm chain guns firing high velocity rounds to spray the FCS with penetrating ammo? With no heavy Abrams-like armor to defeat, why would an enemy bother with 125mm cannons?

Heck, why couldn't you use a carrier round for the big cannons that detects the target as the round approaches and releases dozens of submunitions outside the range of the APS that blanket the FCS and overwhelm the APS while still packing a punch to penetrate the thin legacy armor?

Or maybe enemy infantry just fires RPGs in volleys.

Or perhaps the enemy just goes for mission kills by using weapons that only aim to shred the tracks or wheels, or knock out the vehicle's sensors, defanging the target for the duration of the battle.

I just don't believe that we can solve the problem of weight to make our armored vehicles strategically mobile and tactically lethal and survivable.

Even if we find a light armor equal to our current armor, enemies on distant continents will always be able to add more of it--or other systems--to make their tanks (which never have to board a plane or ship) heavier than we can, if they want.

UPDATE: I should note that I once read that given our assets, we could ship a Stryker Brigade to South Korea by sea in the same time it would take to airlift it there.

Pursuing lightness only allows us to send fairly small forces long distances by air. If that's the game, why not just preposition heavier equipment for fairly small forces around the world?