The Case for Medium Cavalry
The Medium Cavalry Battalion is a version of the Armoured Cavalry Squadron using vehicles and systems that can easily be transported by C130 to give them greater strategic mobility. Assets such as aircraft, artillery and engineering are placed at battalion level to give it greater capability during small unit operations such as LIC and Counter-Guerilla warfare. Such a formation is ideal for use in the Long Range Strike Group. Such a force is designed for Expeditionary warfare and would be used to follow up initial gains made by units such as the 82nd Airborne.
The exact form the Medium Cavalry force will have will depend on what air-lift assets are provided for it. When originally writing this article my assumption was that the C-130 would be the likely choice. The C-130 can carry around 18 tonnes and has an interior volume of 10ft x 9ft x 40-58ft. The C-17 Globemaster can carry 77.6 tonnes in an interior volume of 18ft x 12ft x 85ft. Both need a runway of around 3,000ft and difference in wingspan is less than 30ft. By using C-17s the Medium Cavalry unit could make greater use of better protected vehicles of around 20-30t weight and move three with each airlift. The C-17 was designed to have both an inter-theatre and intra-theatre role although the latter is not currently common practice. If this changes the Medium Cavalry force is likely to be heavier and but even more capable.
Two suggested TOEs for Medium Cavalry forces are given here and here
In my article on strategically deployable Light Infantry Divisions I include the suggestion that a useful support element would be a modern version of the Vietnam armoured cavalry units, using systems such as the M8 and M113. The armoured cavalry in Vietnam used a variant of M113 with increased armament and protection called the Armoured Cavalry Assault Vehicle or ACAV.
Before we start, let's kill a silly idea that seems prevalent. Cavalry are not just for reconnaissance. When they were horse-mounted cavalry were regarded also as a highly mobile strike, patrol and raiding force. If mechanized cavalry weren't supposed to retain this capability why do they have so many MBTs? An Armoured Cavalry Squadron has 41 M1s and 39 M3s which can be compared to the 58 M1s and 58 Bradleys of an Armoured task force of twice the size. The mobility and versatility of Armoured Cavalry make them a very valuable force for Counter-Insurgency operations and similar conflicts.
For some obscure reason the US cavalry uses the term Troop for a company sized force and Squadron for a battalion, while in the rest of the world troop and squadron designate platoon and company sized units. To avoid confusion I'll generally refer to units in this article as companies and battalions.
Currently US Ground Cavalry Troops come in two flavors- a light motorized force using HMMWVs and a Heavy using M1A1 Abrams and M3 Bradleys.
To quote from FM 17-98
"The CFV platoon, equipped with six M3 CFVs, is found in the cavalry squadrons of an armored or mechanized division or in an armored cavalry regiment; it is also found in certain mechanized battalions, specifically in the 3rd Infantry Division. This has always struck me as the wrong way around. A force that has less tank battalions has a greater requirement for a strong cavalry force to act as a stronger screen and to counter any breakthroughs. There are also advantages for a heavy formation having a reconnaissance force that has greater mobility than the main force that it is scouting for.
The HMMWV platoon comprises 10 M1025/1026 HMMWVs. It is found in light cavalry regiments, in air cavalry and reconnaissance squadrons, and in mechanized infantry and armor battalions."
The current Heavy Cavalry Troop (Company) has two tank platoons of M1 Abrams, two Scout platoons of M3 CFVs and a SP mortar section. The Armoured Cavalry Squadrons (Battalions) that are part of Armoured Cavalry Regiments (ACR) have three companies (troops) each with 9 M1 Abrams in two platoons, 13 M3 CFVs in two platoons and a section of heavy mortars. There is also a tank company of 14 M1s and a battery of six Self Propelled 155mm. Armoured Cavalry Squadrons that are part of Armoured or Mechanized Divisions may have alternate organizations such as three M3/M1-equipped ground troops and two air cavalry troops equipped with OH-58D's (Kiowa Warrior).
The Light Cavalry Troop has two platoons of ten HMMWV each, two four vehicle TOW platoons and a section of towed mortars. Three such troops make up a Light Cavalry Squadron along with a company of TOW-HMMWVs and a battery of towed 105mm.
The HMMWV-based troops would probably only be really effective in very open country such as plains and deserts. Here they'd have room to avoid heavier forces and stand some chance of exploiting the range advantages of their TOWs over tank guns.
Scout Platoons and Tank/TOW platoons usually work together. While a Scout Platoon approaches an objective the Tanks or TOW provide overwatch. During offensive operations the Scouts find targets for the tanks' guns or TOW missiles or act as a defensive screen. A similar arrangement was used by both British and German Reconnaissance units in the Second World War. German Armoured car companies included a platoon armed with L/24 75mm guns, usually mounted on Eight-wheel armoured cars. British Squadrons (Companies) had a close support troop with 75mm Howitzers. These were either mounted on Armoured car variants or M3 GMC Halftracks.
The HMMWV-based force has the advantage of being easily deployed by airlift, but is somewhat limited in capabilities. Many HMMWV-based squadrons are being converted into Stryker based RSTA Squadons. These have a surveillance troop with UAV, NBC-Recon and SIGINT platoons and three Recon troops. Each Recon troop has a mortar section and three platoons of four vehicles each with four or five dismounts. Good features of this new organisation are the Surveillance troop and the increased number of dismounts. Less useful is the Stryker vehicle, which requires the same sort of transport assets as the better armed and protected Abrams and Bradley. Because it is so heavy if flown in a C-130 the Stryker can be carried less distance than it can drive on a tank of fuel. TOW capability of the Squadron has been removed, the intention being to rely on the shorter ranged Javelin. The unit has no tanks or other large calibre long-range direct fire systems. There appears to be no organic tube artillery in the Squadron. Equipping with Strykers has greatly decreased the unit's strategic deployability for a questionable change in capability.
The Heavy Cavalry CFV Scout platoon is not without its down points:-
The M113 ACAVs used in Vietnam were known for their agility, mobility and all around firepower- a useful ability in small unit operations is the capability to fire in two different directions at once. The M3 is a very heavy vehicle and lacks even the firing ports of its M2 sister.
Vietnam ACAV platoons included a section of infantry but even when this was present the unit was often short of dismounts. The current Heavy cavalry unit has no infantry sections, just two dismounts per M3. FM 17-97 often mentions that the most thorough reconnaissance is conducted dismounted and that in many situations this may be the only practical means. It also frequently remarks that both the HMMWV and Bradley-based Scout Platoons are limited in the number of dismounted scouts they can employ at any time
For fighting the Soviet invasion of Central Europe the Heavy cavalry unit may have made sense. Now the Army is waking up to the fact that it has a global expeditionary role and that it may need to deploy a credible presence in days, not months.
A modern Cavalry force needs to be better protected and more capable than a HMMWV force but still capable of being easily deployed by air-lift. It should have greater mobility than a heavy tank unit, allowing it to scout places heavy vehicles cannot. It needs to have a range of surveillance and sensor capabilities but must also have adequate combat power. Sometimes the best scouting system is a dismounted infantryman so the unit needs a useful number of dismounts for both combat and scouting.
The above requirements suggest there is a very good case for a cavalry formation based around the M113.
The questions now arise.
- The M113 has roll on-roll off transportability from a C-130. It retains this capability even if up-armoured. If necessary it can be airdropped.
- Using Applique armour it has a better level of protection than any practical wheeled vehicle of equal or greater weight.
- The M113 can be heli-lifted by helicopters such as the Chinook, giving a force a mechanized vertical envelopment capability. Fast moving hard hitting raiders can be inserted deep into the enemy's rear areas.
- It is fully amphibious with minimal preparation. A river or deep paddy field does not pose an obstacle to maneuver.
- It can mount a wide variety of weapons.
- It has sufficient capacity to transport non-combatants, stretchers etc.
Was the success of the ACAV dependent on the conditions encountered in Vietnam, such as relatively low visibility ranges?
Can M113 cavalry be effective in modern medium or high intensity conflicts?
To answer this we need only look to the test lab of armoured warfare, the Middle East.
Israeli tanks use a screen of M113s to counter such threats as ATGWs. The tanks form a Hard core and the light tracks a swarm of gnats. The M113s can often move over terrain not suitable for the heavier tanks. If the M113s find a enemy that they can't destroy with their often considerable firepower they can usually contain it for the attentions of the tanks and artillery.
What I'm going to propose is a Medium cavalry force composed of M113s, Tankitas and either M8 or possibly M60Z tanks. The Tankitas have the same mobility as the M113s but their greater firepower and protection will prove useful when the gnats encounter the enemy, buying time for the Scout Platoon to disengage and the 105mm armed vehicles to come into action.
The M113s used by the Scout Platoon would probably be a Reconnaissance variant mounting the sensors, communication and navigation equipment their role requires. Even with this extra gear they should have enough internal capacity left to all the platoon to field a useful number of dismounts.
The entire force can easily be air-lifted by aircraft such as the C-130.
Let's look at the organization of this unit in more depth:-
There will be a Headquarters company, an Air company, a Support company and between two and four Ground maneuver companies. There may be a Reserve Tank company and/or a Surveillance company.
A Maneuver Company (Ground Troop) will have:-
In combat a Scout platoon will usually pair up with a sister tank platoon and support elements to form a formation we'll call a Demi-company.
- Two tank platoons each with four or five tanks. These will probably be M8s to preserve the battalion's capability to be deployed by C130. These may be the Artank variant of the M8 that I have proposed. During a long term deployment the M8s may be replaced by heavier vehicles.
- Two Scout platoons each with two Tankitas and four Scout-carrying M113-IFVs. This can be divided into two sections each with a Tankita and two M113s.
- Mortar section with at least three weapons. This is either organic to the company or attached from a battalion platoon.
- Maintenance/supply platoon mounted on variants of M113.
- Engineer squad in M113 ESV.
- FIST/JUS section.
Alternately the tanks are grouped together in a single Tank platoon of nine vehicles and the company has three Scout platoons each of two Tankitas and four M113-IFVs. This arrangement gives the company more dismounts and gives the option of using of the tanks as a decisive mass. If necessary a section of three tanks can be placed with each Scout platoon to give a formation similar to the Vietnam ACAV platoons.
The company HQ may also have a 2-3 vehicle Jeep section. This will be equipped with M151 MUTT, Mercedes Wolf, LRVs or GPVL and mount at least one machine gun. The GPVL or LRV is preferable since all other vehicles in the company are amphibious. The Jeeps are used for liaison, moving stretcher cases and security patrols. In certain situations Land Rovers or Toyotas may prove useful for low-profile reconnaissance and the battalion may have a few of these vehicles.
Battalion command includes:
The Support Company includes.
- A unit of tracked, armed and armoured logistic vehicles such as the MTVC. Ralph Zumbro suggests ASP-30s and Mk-19s as armament.
- Two Armoured Vehicle Launched Bridges (AVLB). Certain designs of bridge can also be used as ramps in MOUT to allow infantry to rapidly access upper stories. Armoured Recovery vehicles would also be present.
- Integral infantry platoon (Optional), mainly used to secure Battalion command area but can also be used to man static OPs.
- Medical section
- Mess section.
Several companies are developing Reconnaissance projectiles for Grenade launchers and Field Artillery, Doubtless mortar rounds will also become available. The Indirect fire weapons of a Battalion will therefore have an increased role in information gathering.
- Long Range Anti-armour platoon equipped with a versatile system such as EFOG-M for long range precision strike capability.
- Air defence platoon, preferably with a versatile system such as Starstreak.
- Platoon of 120mm SP mortars, preferably in Assault Gun Mortar configuration. An M8 hull mounting an AMOS turret is also possible but would not be so compact or well armoured.
The Battalion will have at least enough mortars for one to be assigned to each Scout platoon. Extra sections could be assigned as the Battalion commander sees fit.
- The Support Company may include a Reserve M8 Tank Platoon.
- Ralph Zumbro has suggested that a battalion could also make good use of a battery of 105mm howitzers. The force could make do with just three or four pieces, or have six like the current Heavy Cavalry battalions. These would either be towed or in Wespe configuration. Possibly the same capability could be offered by additional 120mm mortars in either Assault Gun or towed Gun-Mortar configuration. These weapons will probably not be organic to the battalion but attached from the parent regiment when needed.
Many of the weapon systems suggested for the Support company may not be organic to the Medium Cavalry Battalion but attached from higher formations as needed.
Surveillance Company includes. The topic of helicopters brings me to the real sweetener:-
A Vietnam-era Armoured Cavalry battalion included a company of helicopters. This had an Aeroscout platoon of OH-6 or OH-58, an Aerorifle platoon of infantry in Hueys and an Aeroweapon platoon of AH-1 Hueycobras.
Brigade would usually use this company independently of the rest of the Battalion but the fact remained that if an Armoured Cavalry battalion was attached to your force it came with helicopters.
The Medium Cavalry battalion should also have a helicopter element, but (as Mr. Zumbro suggests) this time it should include Chinooks. A Chinook can heli-lift M113s. It could probably also move Tankitas, Assault gun mortars and Wespe-style M113 SPHs. All this adds up to the capability to make a potent force suddenly materialize where a enemy least expects it and wants it. Ralph suggests that the Chinooks include mounting points for armament so they can become ACH-47 Gunships when the need is felt.
I'd also include AH-6s in the helicopter company to give an agile scout-attack capability.
The Air Troop may also be responsible for operating the formation's UAVs.
To simplify Battalion logistics helicopter armament will use the same ammunition as weapons mounted on ground vehicles where practical. ACH-47s will therefore mount .50 and 30mm weapons rather than 20mm cannon.
The current Armoured Cavalry Regiment (Brigade) based on M1 and M3 vehicles includes three Armoured Cavalry Squadrons as described above and an Air Cavalry Squadron with several companies (Troops) of various helicopter types. Ralph's idea is to move this asset back to battalion level for support in small unit operations.
A Medium Cavalry unit for supporting an Armoured or Infantry Group would probably have:-
A Medium Cavalry Battalion that is part of a LRSG Group may not have systems such as EFOG-M, Artillery, NBC recon, EW, SIGINT, GSR and JUS elements organic to the Battalion but attached from the Group for small unit operations. For larger operations these elements would be retained under Group control as part of the C4I Battalion or Artillery/Strike Battalion.
- HQ Company including AVLB Bridging unit, Medical, Maintenance/Recovery, Logistics and Mess elements.
- Two or Three Ground Troops with Tanks, Tankitas, M113s, Engineers and 120mm Mortars.
- Air Troop with AH-6 and (A)CH-47.
- Surveillance Troop with EW, NBC Recon, SIGINT, GSR and UAV.
- Heavy Weapon Troop with EFOGM, ADA and possibly more 120mm Gun-mortars or a section of 105mm Howitzers.
The proposed Cavalry battalion is structured so that it has a considerable capability for independent action. It has considerable organic support elements and its maneuver elements are larger than conventional companies. In view of this Doubled Platoons (Demi-companies) will probably be commanded by Captains and the companies by Majors.
In effect the maneuver elements of this force are two (or more) mixed companies of Tanks (M8) and Light Track (M113 and Tankitas) and a company of Helicopters. All of these elements are organic to the same unit and therefore used to working together as a cohesive combined arms team. This suggests that the helicopter company will be very effective as the battalion's Maneuver Air Support (MAS).
The Helicopter company therefore :- In turn the ground elements destroy forces located by the air elements and suppress enemy air defences to permit helicopter operations.
- Moves Ground elements over obstacles or defences for vertical envelopment.
- Scouts ahead and to the flanks of the ground force and disrupts any enemy formations.
- Provides tactical air support to ground elements engaged by the enemy.
- Provides vertical replenishment.
Given the versatility and combat effectiveness of such a cavalry formation it would be one of the first units of an expeditionary force that would be sent to a theatre once an airhead was established. Mike Sparks takes this to the logical conclusion by proposing an Airdrop-capable Cavalry formation.
Ralph Zumbro has suggested the idea of a force of equal numbers of ACAV and IFV M113s in the same platoons. This would be a useful force for counter-insurgency, limited warfare and Operations Other Than War (OOTW). This mission, which we'll call Light Tracked Cavalry I'd assign to my proposed Medium Mechanized Infantry battalions. A modern M113 in IFV configuration has greater firepower than a Vietnam-Era ACAV. Israeli APCs seem to have wing machine guns as a standard fitting. The difference between a ACAV and a IFV is therefore simply one of substituting passengers for ammo.
If desired the commander can reduce the number of men manning an IFV to create more room and allow more ammo to be carried. The dismounted men can be used to establish and defend the base from which the IFV attack columns operate.
There is no reason not to use Infantry in a Cavalry role. If you've got the tools available then used them. Infantry are warriors first and should whatever gets the job done most effectively.
A light tracked cavalry force based on the Wiesel was another possibility but I have doubts as to how practical a combat vehicle the Wiesel will be.
Cavalry articles by Ralph Zumbro.
Information on Vietnam Cavalry Units.