Understanding the Roles of Military Vehicles.
Commanders are usually advised to know the capabilities and limitations of their weapon systems so that they can best deploy them. The use and employment of Military vehicles also needs to be considered and fully understood. In Iraq for the last year we have seen widespread use of vehicles inappropriate for the operations being conducted. Troops are being made to ride in HMMWVs and Trucks that do not provide adequate protection while more effective and proven vehicles sit unused. Some studies estimate that more than half the casualties and fatalities so far incurred could have been prevented if troops had been mounted in vehicles such as the M113. That's 300 to 400 young men that might still be alive serving their country and with their families but are not due to using the wrong tools for the job.
The important characteristic of a military vehicle is not its weight, or whether it is wheeled or tracked, but its capabilities. The capability it has to operate in the environment that it is used in, and the capability it has to perform its intended mission.
A commander needs to recognize the conditions in the area he is operating in and correctly identify the type of mission he is likely to be performing. He must tailor the selection of vehicles appropriately and spare no effort in trying to acquire the necessary systems. Not using the correct vehicle type is akin to banging in nails with a screwdriver. Deliberately not trying to equip your troops with the best equipment possible morally approaches manslaughter.
One of the most widely used weapons on the modern battlefield is the RPG-7 and similar systems. Some combat forces and insurgent groups are fielding 50-80% of their infantry with such weapons. This threat has significant implications for the application of current military vehicles and the design and procurement of future systems.
I see military vehicles falling into three broad groups. As is often the case, boundaries between them are a little blurred in some cases.
Soft-Skin Military Vehicles.
First of all are the softskins. These are military vehicles without any armour, or protection just designed to resist fragments not small arms. Many of the so called Armoured HMMWVs of pre-M1114 vintage are of the latter category. Soft skins are essentially for peacetime soldiering or for operation in rear areas where there is little chance of attack by enemy guerillas. In modern and future conflicts such situations are unlikely, but still we see softskins being used, even by front-line units. Vehicles such as the HMMWV should not be used in such operations since there are plenty of more suitable options.
Some soft vehicles such as motorbikes can prove very useful on a modern battlefield, but need to rely on avoiding combat for their survival. This may not be possible on the non-linear battlefield, or require a screen of more capable systems to pacify the area they are about to enter. Even when this can be done the soft vehicles will be vulnerable to artillery and mortar fires.
Commanders and troops must be aware that the term "Light" in Light Patrol Vehicle refers to the threat level of the patrol, not the weight of the vehicle. A better term is "Low-threat Patrol Vehicle"
A popular idea with some armies is a jeep, HMMWV or other light wheeled vehicle mounting an ATGM system such as TOW. The claim is often that such a system can outrun tanks and its weapons out-range the tank. Modern ATGMs require the launch vehicle to remain stationary for both the launch and the guidance phase, giving tanks ample opportunity to return fire with their main guns. Published effective range for tank guns assumes that another tank is the target, so actual effective range against a less armoured target of similar size will be greater. A range advantage can only be exploited where the terrain allows, which will not be the case in many parts of the world. Tanks will often travel in the company of infantry with mortars or SP artillery which can bring a soft ATGM vehicle under fire from greater ranges, even if the vehicle is in defilade. While a infantry squad with ATGWs can dig in and construct overhead cover, a light wheeled vehicle's tyres will easily be shredded by fragments.
Battlefield Combat Vehicles.
The second category are the true combat vehicles. This category has some sub-divisions.
Firstly, there are the Frontal Battle Vehicles or Assault vehicles. These are the vehicles most likely to be subjected to enemy direct fire systems. An Assault vehicle should be capable of off-road maneuver and have sufficient armour to resist RPG attack. Frontal Battle vehicles include Tanks and APCs such as the Bradley and M113. While no combat vehicle is totally RPG proof armour does improve the odds. In Vietnam an RPG penetration of an M113 was estimated to have only a 0.8 chance of causing a single casualty. Only one in seven hits managed to penetrate, so the chances of each hit causing a single casualty was less than 12%. Modern M113s with applique armour have even higher levels of protection. Some wheeled vehicles can be considered to be battle vehicles if they are operating in terrain that allows them good cross country mobility and distance to avoid close range RPG attack. Certain terrain such as urban environments will make their tyres too vulnerable to RPGs or other methods of attack.
Battle vehicles have an obvious role in large scale battles or Major Theatre Warfare (MTW). Their role in smaller conflicts such as counter-guerilla operations is just as important. The small unit firefights and ambushes that characterize this form of warfare mean that a force will benefit from the organic firepower and protection that a battle vehicle provides. The presence of innocent collaterals will often prevent support from artillery and air-power, making accurate direct fire weapons the only acceptable option.
As we have seen in Grozny and Mogadishu, an RPG armed foe in urban terrain can simultaneously attack vehicles with a barrage of rockets from various directions. Only tracked battle vehicles can carry a sufficient level of protection to stand a chance against such an assault. Even then such vehicles will not last long unless accompanied by sufficiently numerous and capable infantry support. Tanks can assist the infantry by demolishing obstacles with long range fire and providing smoke, illumination, machine gun and sensor support. APCs and IFVs can also carry ammunition for infantry weapons and special equipment such as portable barricades and ladders. The use of tracks also allows vehicles to cross barricades and rubble.
Not all combat vehicles are as well protected. Platforms such as Self-propelled guns are often only lightly armoured. Such vehicles may be termed "Secondary" or "Second line" combat vehicles since they can only operate safely in areas where enemy RPG attack is unlikely. How easily we can maintain such safe areas on the future non-linear battlefield is a matter of debate. Also in this sub-category we can include those vehicles that rely on being well behind the enemy's forward areas for defence. This includes certain light or non-armoured reconnaissance vehicles and Airborne Infantry Fighting Vehicles (AIFV) such as the Russian BMD series. How useful these will prove now that even village militias may have access to RPGs and LAWs remains to be seen. Commanders of units with such vehicles may have to avoid any terrain where infantry or guerillas can approach within 300m. For a reconnaissance unit this will very much limit the performance of its mission.
Black-top Combat Vehicles.
Road Security vehicles are sub-class of combat vehicle I term Black-tops. Black-tops are armoured vehicles that are mainly intended for operation on roads. They may have some cross-country capability, since in many parts of the world roads are little more than dirt and mud.
In any non-linear battlefield situation a primary target for the insurgent/guerilla will be the lines of communication and supply. In effect the roads of a nation will become "front lines".
Armour protection level for vehicles must be at least sufficient to resist small arms and the vehicle should be resistant to mine attack (not just anti-personnel mines). An important feature of a black-top vehicle is that it should have acceleration and sufficient cruising speed for it to operate as part of a supply convoy on a MSR. In Vietnam road and terrain conditions were such that tanks and M113s could be used to escort convoys. On better roads a military truck can travel at 58mph and it is understandable that a convoy will attempt to minimize its time in hostile areas. Escort vehicles not capable of similar performance may be seen as a mixed blessing.
Ideally the Black-top combat vehicle would be RPG resistant as well as small arms and mine protected. Achieving this while still retaining sufficient performance and a reasonable size is difficult. The FV1611 Humber Pigs used by the British army in Northern Ireland were given a measure of RPG protection by the fitting of various cages and grills, a program known as Operation Bracelet. The Humber also had a spaced double skin of armour and a capacity of only 2+6. By not attempting to carry a full squad weight was kept at around 7½ tons while retaining a reasonable level of protection and top speed of up to 56mph.
RPG cages were also used on some vehicles operated in Grozny. The LAV Strykers sent to Iraq were also fitted with a cage defence (which the army has renamed "Slat armor") but crews used the space under the cage for baggage. During the RPG attack in Mosul, 28th March 2004 these were ignited and the cage held the burning items in place and provided a good airflow.
Electronic field generators intended to prematurely detonate RPGs or disperse their jets may also be useful for Battle and Black-top vehicles, although it would be prudent to not rely on these as the sole defence.
Systems such as FCLAS may also be of use, although it is unlikely they can be used when civilians or friendly infantry are close.
An alternate but superior and proven approach for a Black-top escort vehicle was that of the Guntruck.
In addition to an infantry carrier, several other types of Black-top vehicle are needed. Most obvious is a cargo carrier, which will undoubtedly be the most numerous type. Some form of direct fire vehicle with capability to destroy obstructions or obstacles at a distance will be need. This suggests that it be armed with a main gun of at least 76mm calibre or a gun-mortar of 60mm or more. A vehicle mounting a high rate of fire automatic cannon of 20-25mm and SP mortar systems would also prove useful in suppressing ambushers. Multiple mortar or Salvo mortar systems might be used to provide rapid saturation bombardments. Recovery vehicles and systems to detect and clear mines and obstacles will also be needed.
On this page I suggest designs for dedicated Road Escort Vehicles.
So far we have looked at vehicles for large scale warfare and counter-insurgency.
There is another area of military responsibility that is grouped under the term "Military Operations Other Than War" (MOOTW or OOTW). Unlike some, I do not consider COIN/Counter-guerilla/LIC to be OOTW. As an aside, I also prefer to think of LIC as a Local Intensified Conflict rather than "Low Intensity". MOOTW includes such missions as:-
Many of these missions require a force with full combat capability. Peace Enforcement involves the instigation and maintenance of a truce when one or more of the belligerent parties is not consenting to the intervention. Peace enforcement therefore may entail the use of armed force to separate combatants and to create a cease fire that did not exist. The Peace Enforcement force must therefore have a combat capability at least equal to that of other forces in the area. Humanitarian aid and post-conflict aid operations may see guerilla or bandit activity, particularly against convoys. The motivations of a bandit or criminal may be different from those of a guerilla or terrorist but the methods for defending a convoy against them are the same.
- Peace Enforcement.
- Internal Security/Police assistance/ Civil disturbance.
- Non-combatant Evacuation Operations (NEO)
- Humanitarian Aid
- Environmental Aid
- Disaster Relief
- Post-conflict Aid.
- Demining operations
- Border security.
MOOTW missions that are unlikely to need combat vehicles I group under the term Low Aggression Military Operations (LAMO). Vehicles suitable for such missions I call Blue-tops or LAMOVs. Blue-top vehicles are NOT combat vehicles.
What sort of capabilities does a vehicle for LAMO need? We'll work on the assumption that there is very little danger from RPGs or similar weapons. If this is not the case then the situation should be considered to be one where combat vehicles should be used. There is also always the potential that a situation will degrade into a more aggressive one. For this reason it may be prudent to keep a reserve of combat vehicles close to hand for such eventualities.
The LAMO vehicle should offer good protection against small arms and anti-vehicular mines since both are likely to be present in a post-conflict area. For many missions a non-threatening appearance will be deemed as desirable. It should also be able to operate among civilian traffic without any special precautions. While it seems likely that such a vehicle would be wheeled many of these criteria eliminate big beasts such as the LAV Stryker and similar. Road conditions or access to disaster areas may be restricted so good cross country performance will be an asset. In flood conditions amphibious ability will be useful, and the vehicle should at least be capable of deep fording. In certain situations mob-violence is a possibility, so systems to deal with this should be present on all vehicles and vehicles should not be so light that they can easily be overturned. Self-defence capability will also be needed. Both Smoke and CS grenade dischargers should be fitted as standard. There will also need to be provision for carrying a wide range of equipment. For checkpoint duty metal and explosive detectors and inspection mirrors will be needed. Auxiliary weapons will probably include shotguns with LLW ammo and some system for the remote laying of a large scale smokescreen, such as a modified M72 LAW or the 3BT. Standard communication gear will include a distress beacon and ground to air system for communication with helicopters. Armament will probably be Machine guns, Light Cannon or Mk-19 grenade launchers. Provision for mounting a 84mm Carl Gustav, 90mm M67 or 106mm M40 would prove useful for defending checkpoints or suppressing snipers.
Turrets such as the CETME TC-7/106 that mount a pair of 106mms and a HMG already exist. With a little modification an under-armour loading system could be created. Mounted on a suitable vehicle these would be a very useful system for Peacekeeping and LAMO operations. The 106mm RCLR armed LAMOV would be supplemented by a vehicle mounting a 60-81mm Gun Mortar. In addition to existing HEAT, Canister and mortar rounds a HESH round and a selection of Less-lethal ammunition should be developed for these weapons.
Probably at least two basic models of vehicle will be needed. One would be a run-about and liaison vehicle carrying 4-5 personnel, the other a large version capable of carrying at least a squad. To my mind the most versatile configuration would be a Land-Rover or Transit van-type arrangement with a rear opening door and a passenger/cargo compartment with capacity for 8 men. This could carry equipment such as EOD robots or electronic systems. For the troop transport role the vehicle would have firing ports and centre-line passenger seating designed to minimise injuries from mine detonations. Features to improve passenger comfort during long patrols will probably include a cooled drinking water supply, water boiler and climate control. A utility variant would be of flatbed/pickup configuration and may have fold-down armoured sides so it can also be used for troop transport. Such a version would have obvious applications as a mortar carrier if such capability was needed. For missions such as border security a variant with an extensive suite of surveillance and detection systems would be useful.
Many current vehicles meet these needs, including the British Tactica, South African Mamba or RG-31 Nyala, German Dingo, French ACMAT TPK 4.20 and Israeli Wolf or M463 Rhino.
For lighter duties there are numerous Patrol vehicles that are based on the ubiquitous Land Rover. As well as the logistics and maintenance advantages these vehicles are more maneuverable around town than HMMWVs etc.
In certain regions the tracked BV206 or similar vehicles will be very useful.
The current configuration HMMWVs just about meet the above criteria. Armour and mine protection is low and many are light enough for a mob to overturn.
How many vehicles are actually needed for LAMO missions also needs to be considered. The German army is apparently only planning to buy 56 Dingoes. IF the LAV Stryker is intended for peacekeeping missions, does the army really need 1,830 in six brigades of 310?
Let us look at two US Army vehicles within the context of the above.
First of all, let us consider the HMMWV, particularly the car configuration Armament carriers. It should be obvious that these are not combat vehicles, and have no place in any environment where an enemy is likely to employ RPGs. This is borne out by what we are currently seeing in Iraq. Iraq is currently in a state of insurgency where military weapons including RPGs and Command Detonated Mines are being used. Some studies indicate that half of the fatalities experienced during this last year of occupation could have been prevented if personnel had been moving in vehicles such as the Bradley and M113 instead of HMMWVs.
As a LAMO vehicle the HMMWV has more to recommend it, although both small arms protection and mine resistance of many models is open to question. Vehicles such as the Tactica, Mamba and Dingo appear to be superior.
The other vehicle I wish to look at is the current apple of the Army brass's eye, the LAV Stryker. Is the Stryker a Battle vehicle? The Stryker's resistance to mine and RPG attack is still in doubt. The vehicle in Mosul was written off by just two RPG hits. In an urban environment enemies will be able to get close enough to specifically target the tires with various means of attack.
Comparing the Stryker to a proven platform such as the M113 is interesting. The Stryker carries 2+9men and weighs around 19 tons. The M113 weighs around 11 tons and can carry 2+11. The M113 is smaller, better protected, has a lower ground pressure and can turn on the spot. It has better cross-country mobility than the Stryker and unlike the Stryker is fully amphibious. The Amphigavin modification has even better amphibious performance.
The Stryker cannot be carried by a C-130 unless the aircraft's fuel load is reduced, reducing the range. The Stryker can actually drive further under its own power with a tank of fuel (300 miles) than a C-130 can fly it! The bulk of the vehicle inside leaves no room for an emergency escape gangway, so transport requires safety regulations to be waived. When carrying the Stryker the C-130 cannot land on semi-prepared forward airfields. The M113 is fully C-130 transportable and can also be airdropped or lifted by helicopter. C-17s and C-5s can carry larger numbers of M113s than Strykers, allowing for a quicker force build up.
Each Stryker costs $3 million, while brand new M113s cost only $550,000. The army already has a stockpile of 13,000 M113s that are already "brought and paid for". 700 are currently (1st May 2004) sitting unused in Kuwait alone.
Strykers in Iraq are currently being used to escort convoys, mainly in the northern regions where the likelihood of convoy attacks is lower. The Stryker's theoretical 62mph top speed was soon found to be unsafe, so vehicles are currently restricted to 45mph, just a few mph faster than an M113A3. The driving position of the Stryker only allows the driver to drive with his head out of the hatch or using the periscopes. At high speed these options are either unsafe or uncomfortable. Compared to the Stryker there are certainly alternate road security vehicles that are faster, better protected, better armed, more compact and/or cheaper.
The term Peacekeeping is often used in connection with the Stryker. It is generally agreed that a Peacekeeping force should appear low-key and non-threatening. It is most effective as a lightly-armed, defensively oriented observer force that practices restraint in both appearance and application of force. Excepting the Abrams, the Stryker is possibly the most aggressive and intimidating-looking vehicle in the US Army inventory.
Rather than being the ideal vehicle for 21st Century Military operations the Stryker appears to be a poor choice for ANY of the Army's likely missions.