Sunday, May 07, 2017

Times Change and So Must the Army's Force Structure

I agree with this author that if you want to fight a tank, bring a tank; and that the Stryker armored personnel carrier even with a 30mm gun is inadequate to fight tanks. But I disagree that it is futile to arm up the Stryker and I think we can trust commanders not to confuse a 30mm-armed light Stryker with a heavily armored Abrams that has massively effective armor.

I just don't think it is wrong to up-arm the Stryker even if I agree with the basic point about fighting heavy armor. But the ability to kill enemy light armor is nothing to discard lightly just because it will lack the ability to kill tanks.

Yet I'm not defending the Stryker brigade's role in conventional combat against heavy forces.

I've long been critical of using Stryker-equipped units (first called interim brigade combat teams--IBCT) for high intensity conventional warfare against heavy armor (see page 28-33):

Experience with IBCTs may well give the Army a better sense of what light armor can do and lead it to accept that it cannot succeed in all threat environments. The IBCT has a limited role as an early entry force and clearly recognizes that it is not the main fighting force. It will eventually be supplanted by heavier divisions if the enemy is heavy and will fight as a maneuver unit of a division.

So yeah, with its large infantry complement, it is useful for counter-insurgency and for urban warfare, or in support of heavy forces. But we can't expect more.

As I wrote early on in this blog:

I'm not comfortable with the organization of the Stryker Brigade Combat Teams (formerly Interim Brigade Combat Teams: IBCTs). Yes, we need something between walking infantry that is strategically mobile yet tactically immobile with little combat power and heavy armor that is strategically immobile but tactically mobile and highly lethal and survivable. The Stryker Brigades are the medium forces we are fielding that are supposed to bridge that gap.

Essentially a light mechanized brigade, a Stryker Brigade is more strategically mobile than a heavy brigade and has good tactical mobility. It has good firepower too, but lacks the survivability of heavy forces. It has lots of infantry for peace operations. Designed to be flown in after other forces have seized an airhead, the Stryker Brigades will provide significant firepower quickly; but will hand off the main battle to heavy forces when they finally arrive. How quickly is a question of debate since they are fairly heavy despite being lighter than a heavy brigade. And just how much Air Force airlift can the Army count on to get one overseas in a crisis?

Unless adapted and augmented, the Stryker brigade cannot stop heavy armor. As far as I'm concerned a 30mm gun for the vehicle is a welcome start but hardly the end of the line for making Stryker brigades capable of fighting heavy armor--as an interim solution to replacing them with units designed to fight heavy armor.

Heck, while I was fine with making these light mechanized infantry units that could bridge the gap between heavy armor and foot infantry, I wanted such units to come at the expense of the foot infantry and not from the heavy armor:

The Army certainly needs IBCT-like forces. The creation of these medium units, however, should come at the expense of the Army's light forces and not the heavy forces. If we want foot infantry, we already have four divisions of Marines, paratroopers, and Rangers. Fortunately, the digitized Legacy Force will remain the core of the counter-attack force for some time. We have time to reconsider whether we can have lethality, survivability, and lightness.

But what happened is that we lost heavy forces as we fought insurgents and terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Our need to field forces to fight insurgents and terrorists is at a lower level now, however, because we built Iraqi and Afghan forces that can fight them if we provide support and limited direct combat assistance.

And as Russian threats to Europe grow, with North Korea and even China potential land foes too, we need to not only retrain our troops for high intensity conventional combat, we need to increase the number of heavy brigades in our Army again. So we need to either convert light infantry or Stryker units to heavy brigade combat teams.

And if the Marines are thinking of taking on Russians in the Baltic Sea region or in Norway, they'd best keep a heavy armor capability up to the task, too.