Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Getting There Firstest With the Mostest--and Then Dying There

The Army is still pursuing light vehicles. Although it is unclear if that is just part of the objective. Let's hope the Army doesn't again believe the wonder tank can be built.

Moving forces from the continental United States to any battlefield and then supplying them is a tough job for the Army. The dream of a survivable tank light enough to be airlifted to the battlefield (as if the Air Force would build the lift to make that matter) and making for a better logistics problem persists, it seems, but has remained out of reach.

The concept reached a recent peak with the Future Combat Systems (FCS) program that crashed and burned. Before that idea fell apart stretched between the contradictions, I argued the dream of the wonder tank would not be built (see "Equipping the Objective Force").

Is the dream still alive?

The U.S. Army is seeking lighter armored vehicle concepts to better prepare for fighting in future battlefields, the service announced.

Lighter combat vehicles, Army officials say, support the branch's strategy for placing a heavier emphasis on armored mobility.

I will say again that armored mobility is not enhanced by a vehicle light enough to be easily killed by the enemy. A slower but heavily protected vehicle will be more mobile than a light but burning vehicle that is not going anywhere.

Not that a lighter vehicle isn't useful for some missions. But the Abrams and Bradley combination has proven its value and the Army needs to find a way to replicate their protection in the face of new threats.

The siren song of strategic mobility must be resisted if the end result is just strategic defeat on a distant battlefield.

UPDATE: It does seem like the Army wants a new main battle tank:

“I think for the very near term, the Abrams is still near the very top of its class,” said Lt. Gen. John M. Murray, deputy chief of staff for financial management, referring to the third-generation tank built by General Dynamics Corp. that entered service in 1980.

“I think we have parity,” he said during a March 22 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Airland Subcommittee. “I think there is parity out there. I don’t think we have overmatch.”

But really, that's long been the case. The Leopard II, Challenger, and Merkava are excellent and have long been in the same league as the M-1 Abrams. And they are allied tanks.

The Russian T-90 as a modernized Soviet T-72 may approach in some capabilities but it is no match. And the new Russian Armata is a concept vehicle in no danger of being fielded.

And this is welcome to hear:

Murray said the Army is “just about reaching the limits of what we can do with the Abrams, so it is time for us to start looking at a next-generation tank.” But, he added, “There is nothing on the horizon that indicates a fundamental breakthrough in technology where we can come up with a lighter tank.”

The wonder tank can't be built.

But the M-1 is getting old as is its partner the M-2/M-3 Bradley, which need to be replaced to keep our heavy forces going in the future.

UPDATE: The replacement for the Bradley sounds like it will have similar capabilities:

Thomas said the infantry fighting vehicle design will be based on a “squad-centric, mounted maneuver concept” that provides for a two-man crew and six dismounted soldiers, splitting the squad among two vehicles, “so they are going to be operating mounted as they would operate dismounted in fires teams.”

Or will it? The wording is unclear. Right now the Bradley can carry 7 passengers, I think. But the 3 squads are split among 4 vehicles, so the dismount capacity is not fire team-based.

Does the plan mean that the squad will be 6 strong split into 2 3-man fire teams, meaning the new infantry fighting vehicle carries 4 or 5 (allowing room to jam in squad leaders, a platoon leader, and a platoon sergeant)?

Or does the plan mean that each vehicle can carry 6, allowing for two 4-man fire teams plus extras?

If the latter, then the plan to operate as mounted could be done today with the Bradley by adding two more Bradleys to each platoon.

I'll have to watch for more information on this.