It seems to be a natural tendency of humans to try and classify and compartmentalize things. This often helps us understand the world, but can be taken to extremes by some, even to the extent of trying to ignore things that don't fit the system, rather than adapting the system to handle the real requirements.
In future we are likely to see an even greater use of military forces deployed over continental distances. Often these forces will initially be in a minority and will have to deal with situations that are unanticipated. In other words, they and what little equipment they have needs to be versatile and flexible. Certain armies in the past have managed this. Contrary to the stereotype of inflexible robotic Prussians the German army of World War Two was noted for its resourcefulness and adaptability.
Self-propelled howitzers were used direct fire, not only defensively, but aggressively in support of attacks.
Infantry-carrying half-tracks were fitted with racks for the launching of Nebelwelfer rockets.
Tank Destroyers would advance with the infantry, acting as Assault guns and Assault guns would serve as Tank Destroyers.
Both Tank Destroyers and Assault guns would sometimes maneuver alongside tanks.
Best known multipurpose system was the famous 88mm Flak guns. As a Tommies' joke had it:-
"Anti-aircraft, Anti-tank, Anti-social"
A nice account of the various uses the 88 was put to may be found in this article:-
Other sources confirm that 88s were used in an indirect fire also. The timer fuse of the anti-aircraft shell allowed it to be air-burst above positions. The feats described with the 88 are all the more impressive when one considers that the standard Flak weapon was a tall and heavy towed system and was usually operated by Luftwaffe personnel, not Army Artillery.
How can we make a future military formation more flexible? Obviously there is a need for specialized systems but the priority is not to make these too specialized. Rather than distinct categories such as "Armour", "Artillery" and "Air defence" we need to think of these as the overlapping circles of a Venn diagram.
Here are some suggestions:-
Air defence unit. Many air defence systems have distinguished themselves in ground combat. We have already mentioned the 88 and to this list we can also add the M163 Vulcan, M42 Duster and several other anti-aircraft gun systems that were used in Vietnam. Equally systems such as the Russian ZSU-23-4 are deployed so that they can be used against infantry concentrations and light vehicles as well as providing air defence. The Swiss ADAT system (in use with the Canadian army) has been designed with a dual anti-aircraft and anti-tank role. The HMMWV Avenger system has successfully been used with Hydra FFAR pods fitted instead of Stinger missiles Some writers have suggested that the Stinger or Starstreak MANPAD missiles might have a anti-vehicular role. In fact Starstreak has been test fired against ground targets, and was found to be effective against MBTs at 6km range A future ADA battalion should obviously have an range of different systems and where practical these should be designed with a dual role. Short-range ADA vehicles should mount guns as well as SAMs, and have sufficient armour, secondary armament and defensive systems to allow them to operate as infantry support platforms. They also have potential in defending other vehicles against RPG-armed infantry teams. It has even been suggested that such vehicles have potential to destroy ATGWs fired at the formation. Something like the Blazer turret fitted to a M113 would be a good start. The Swedish LVFV90 mounts a 40mm weapon and can therefore use the same ammo as the 40mm armed CV9040 IFVs usually present in the formation it defends. The next generation of Heavy IFVs are likely to be armed with 35mm Bushmaster III cannon so it makes sense that the ADA vehicle should mount the respected Oerlikon KD 35mm anti-aircraft weapon.
Such vehicles will prove useful for convoy escort, urban operations or many other situations where targets may be found at high elevations. Such a 35mm armed vehicle is also likely to mount SAM pods too. APCs carrying MANPAD teams should be fitted with 25mm cannon turrets to give the a dual capability against aircraft and ground targets.
To meet this need I propose a system that I call “Troubadour”. Troubadour is intended for use against both airborne and surface targets and would be useful in the defence of bases and airheads. The 23mm ZU-23-2 Sergey continues to be a threat to both helicopters and sophisticated fast jets. One only needs to watch a few news broadcasts to see that these weapons are often used against ground targets in both offensive and defensive roles. Troubadour would be a towed system and would resemble the M45 Quad .50 mount and Israeli TCM-20 in that it would include an armoured capsule for the gunner to give some protection when used in a ground fire role. The Swiss Oelikon Diana system has such a gunner's position and mounts either a pair of 25x184mm KBB or 25x137mm KBA cannon. (25x137mm is the same round used by the Bradley's Chain gun). The power supply of the Diana can be diverted to drive the trailer's wheels allowing the vehicle to be easily moved without a towing vehicle. Such a capability might be used to rapidly move the system from a concealed position to a firing position. Troubadour would resemble the KBA version of Diana but have the addition of a pair of pylons that can each mount a four-round Stinger pod, the same SVML (Standard Vehicle Mounted Launcher) boxes used on the Avenger and Linebacker vehicles. Such pylons can also mount FFAR pods. FFAR may be more useful when the Troubadour is used against ground targets, although Flechette rockets have obvious ground to air applications. Where practical the Troubadour will use the same systems as the Avenger, such as the FLIR, Laser Rangefinder (LRF) and targeting computer. The electo-optical systems likely to be mounted on the Troubadour also give it a surveillance role. The remote control capability of the Avenger system will also be added so the Troubadour can be operated by a gunner up to 50m away, possibly further. Many modern AAA gun systems include cameras as part of their electro-optical suite so remote operation should be practical. A datalink that provides the operator with a Slew To Cue (STC) capability will also be of use. Some modern systems such as the Taiwanese T82 integrate the sighting system into the operator's helmet so that he can direct the guns simply by following the target with head movement. With modification it may be possible for the LRF system to also act as guidance for Starstreak missiles which will be useful against targets heat-seeking missiles have difficulty locking on to. Laser-homing FFAR are another potential weapon option for Troubadour. The increased application of airborne drones in a variety of roles suggests that light anti-aircraft systems will have an important role in future. The reduced situational awareness an RPV has compared to a manned aircraft will probably make them more vulnerable to simpler ADA systems such as light cannon and heavy machine guns. Larger drones can be engaged like any conventional aircraft. Smaller drones, which may be bird-sized or smaller may be more problematic targets to hit with existing weapon systems. Programmable Airburst Munition technology is currently available in calibres as small as 30mm. It is likely that in the near future we will see cannon rounds of 23mm and 25mm calibre with this capability, resulting in anti-air shrapnel rounds similar to those currently available for the35mm guns with the AHEAD round. Such rounds would produce the equivalent of a number of shotgun blasts in close proximity to the distant small drone. It is possible that very-high rate of fire machineguns such as the GECAL 50 might have some capability against small airborne targets, although their range might be limited in this role and the expenditure of ammunition per target excessive. Some ADA systems are beginning to experiment with Directed Energy Weapons (DEW). Rather than mounting such a device on one of the pylons it may be possible to mount the projector system over the operator's pod. Potentially such a system could engage incoming missiles and mortar bombs as well as drones. In addition to their proposed anti-air role DEWs may also be used to detonate unexploded ordinance or suspected explosive devices. If a laser does not have sufficient energy to damage a target it may still dazzle sensor systems or a pilot. DEWs such as masers may have a disruptive effect on the electronics of a drone target or guided munition. Large drones may have shielding against this but smaller models probably cannot justify the weight penalty. Troubadour can be towed behind vehicles such as M113s or HMMWVs. The preferred mode is to carry it on the back of a flatbed vehicle such as a truck, Uta or M1108. In this mode the system can either be fired from the vehicle or unloaded for ground firing. Ground firing makes the system easier to camouflage and frees the transport vehicle for other duties. Firing from the vehicle creates a mobile system similar to but more versatile than the HMMWV mounted Avenger and allows the system to undertake missions such as convoy escort duty.
Anti-Tank Battalion. In theory much of the anti-tank capabilities of a division could be met by indirect fire guided projectiles fired by the divisional artillery and mortars. An important role of the Anti-tank formation would therefore be fire control so the unit would have a number of FIST vehicles or vehicles carrying similar equipment. Such a unit could also control air attacks and direct Naval Gunfire.
In practice the use of indirect-fire anti-tank systems such as Copperhead CLGP has not been widespread, at least in the west.
Even if this was not the case this is not to say that an Anti-tank battalion will not include its own organic anti-armour weapons such as TOW, EFOG-M and Ground Launched Hellfire. Both of the latter two systems have an indirect fire capability and may be employed against targets other than vehicles, for example against helicopters and bunkers or supply dumps. We may in fact see increased emphasis on the Anti-armour unit's capability as a long-range precision strike system.
The above weapons also need to be supplemented by higher velocity weapons that will be effective within the minimum range of ATGWs. These may be TOW or Hellfire compatible unguided missiles, a LOSAT type weapon mounted on a more suitable platform or a gun armed system such as a Tank Destroyer, Medium Tank, Tankita or Assault Gun-mortar.
"With the 105mm and its ammunition, the capabilities are endless. As with the 90mm before it, it is a creditable artillery piece. When you get a stable position, range and record all suspicious areas in daylight, and put them on your range card. This allows the interdiction of roads and trails at night. One of the standard administrative practices in these Third World brouhahas is to declare a sundown curfew, and you have almost free-fire at night. In RVN, many captured VC said that the sudden arrival of a tank shell at a stream crossing or a pass in the hills in the middle of the night had cost them many comrades. We even registered the parking slots in company base and made range cards for them. That way, any tank in for repairs need only range and traverse to one target on the card to be able to be part of the fire plan. Even a tank with its pack pulled could work the turret manually and keep that quadrant covered. What we really lacked was someone organic to the company with artillery FDC experience. If that lack is repaired by cross-training, any platoon on base camp duty can act as the resident artillery battery. The dozer tank can build you a ramp that will get the necessary elevation for long range work".
The conventional tank's capability as a indirect fire system is something that tankers need to consider more.
Carlton's idea is for a vehicle that will replace both the conventional MBT and the Self-Propelled Howitzer and therefore be capable of firing at ranges and elevations greater than those possible with a modern tank gun.
There are two approaches to the creation of an Artank as Carlton suggests. The first is to fit a weapon such as a howitzer to a tank turret. For a 155mm weapon this will probably make the turret too large and too heavy and consequently mean a reduction in armour or ammo capacity or an unacceptable increase in weight or bulk. An alternate approach to this suggested on my Heavy Assault Howitzer page. Fitting a smaller calibre howitzer to a turret has been done in the past, and might be again. One must ask why fit a 105mm howitzer when a modern MBT already has a 105mm or 120mm "true" gun of much higher velocity?
This brings us to the second option which is to retain a conventional high velocity tank gun but increase the maximum possible elevation. Being able to fire at a higher elevation would also be useful for direct fire in mountainous or modern urban terrain. Although a tank modified in this way could be used as an indirect fire battery I see a more common use being for what I call "high trajectory direct fire" for example against a target that is visible to the tank crew but would be out of range of conventional direct tank fire. I've suggested elsewhere that new medium tanks such as upgraded M60s should retain the 105mm gun as armament. As a rifled weapon capable of firing HESH (HEP) rounds this would be well suited to the above ideas. The British L30 120mm gun should also be suitable. The German Smoothbore 120mm used in the Abrams is likely to be less accurate for high trajectory fire, and does not at present have suitable ammo.
Most 105mm or 120mm Tank gun mounts cannot be elevated more than 22 degrees so it is likely that it is not possible to build a mount with increased elevation while maintaining a low-turret profile.
This may not be the case with smaller calibre weapons. On my page on the Tankita I discussed AAI's RDF/LT and a variant known as the CAT/LCV. The latter was intended to use its 75mm main gun as an anti-aircraft system to supplement its SAMs and both models could fire at high elevation to a range of 12,000m. I've suggested that a Tankita armed with a 76/90mm gun would have equal if not superior abilities.
The 76/90mm armed Tankita would be the modern weapon system closest in capabilities to the German Flak 88s. The Tankita has obvious capabilities against armour and strong points and is more maneuverable and better protected than the 88. In indirect fire 76mm shells may not break up an armoured formation like 155mm but they will certainly be effective against infantry which are likely to be a more common target in future conflicts. And it is worth mentioning that a Tankita used for indirect fire would not be replacing 155mm artillery, but supplementing it. A Tankita firing APFSDS or proximity-fused shells will bring down the most heavily armoured helicopters. How effective the gun will prove against fixed-wing aircraft without the complexity of a radar system is uncertain. Possibly the Tankita's fire control could be slaved to another vehicle mounting a radar system, as was intended for the CAT/LCV. Guided projectiles are also a possibility. A sister model of Tankita mounting a 30mm GAU-13 cannon has also been suggested and this has obvious ground to air and anti-vehicular abilities. That Tankitas will probably be an organic part of Mechanized infantry battalions will make their capabilities even more decisive.
Artillery. Modern artillery has far greater potential than simply providing indirect fire bombardment. Wider issue of Guided projectiles and bomblet rounds would give the artillery the capability to become the major tank-killing system of a division. Infantry, Armour and the Anti-tank battalions would locate and then contain the enemy armour for the artillery to attack. Concepts such as indirect ARA would greatly increase the firepower of artillery units while making them less vulnerable to counter battery operations. Note that iARA does not need dedicated helicopters - any available transport helicopter can be used. The same platforms can launch Hellfire missiles at targets designated by ground units- a much safer tactic than exposing helicopter gunships to ADA systems.
Conventional artillery weapons can be supplemented by weapon systems such as 155mm mortars mounted on M113s and ground vehicles mounting the same launch-packs as iARA helicopters.
The discussion on Artanks suggests another system. For many decades Russian forces have used a 130mm artillery gun much admired for its range and effectiveness. The same weapon is used on Russian Assault guns though as far as I know these do not have high elevation capability. The UK, Germany and France are working on a 140mm tank gun. While these can be fitted to tank turrets the size of the rounds and the need for an autoloader make the practicality of this doubtful. Once again, a better option may be to adopt an assault gun configuration capable of high elevation fire. It's not unreasonable to expect that a 140mm high velocity gun would be at least equal in range to a 155mm howitzer. 5.5" (140mm) was the standard medium field piece of the British Army in the Second World War. A 140mm gun on an assault gun type body would be a useful weapon system both for divisional artillery and to reinforce armoured or infantry attacks. The only problems with this idea at present is that the prototype 140mm gun is probably smoothbore, and that no Guided projectiles in 140mm currently exist. It is probably unlikely that anything other than a 155mm will be of interest to conservative armies.
Infantry. By their very function infantry should be flexible but some changes can be made to make them more capable and reduce their need to call on divisional support. Elsewhere I have described a future infantry battalion in more detail. Other ideas are suggested on the pages below.
Reference to this and the comments above will show that the platoon of 30mm and 76mm armed Tankitas offer the unit anti-tank, anti-aircraft and indirect fire capability. The 120mm Assault Gun Mortars are equally as versatile and can contribute to the battalion's anti-armour abilities with bomblet rounds and 120mm PGMs. The anti-armour platoon will also deploy such systems as EFOG-M, TOW or Hellfire, with Missile Launcher Rockets available for demolition or close range firing.
An Infantry battalion acting in isolation or as part of another Group is supported by a Service Support Company (Infantry) which includes a small force of trucks, light tracked vehicles (Millenibren or BV206) and ADA systems (such as Troubadour). If an Infantry Brigade is formed these Support Companies are formed into a Battalion.
Mortars In the future we are likely to see increased use of smaller-sized more self-reliant formations and it is probable that they will need an organic indirect fire capability.We are therefore likely to see mortars not only as a component of Infantry and Cavalry forces but also with Armoured and Engineer battalions too.
For dismounted infantry units 81mm mortars are likely to remain the weapons of choice. For units that have transport assets other than human feet and backs 120mm mortars have much to recommend them.
The potential of the 120mm AGM systems is described on a separate page. 120mm Gun-mortars may also be useful as armament for heavier vehicles. Muzzle-loading systems such as the M120 are light enough to be moved by man-power when needed.
The full potential of modern 120mm Mortar systems has yet to be fully exploited. As well as seeing these weapons as part of an Infantry or Armoured Battalion we may see Mortar battalions fielded as part of a Division, Brigade or Strike Group and allocated to maneuver elements that need extra support. World War II CW Battalions were mainly used to lay Smoke and Explosive fires and had 36 4.2" mortars. One company of 12 weapons was believed to be equal to a battalion of 105mm Howitzers.
The modern 120mm mortar is an even more capable weapon. While I can see the majority of the mortar battalion armed with muzzle-loading M120s there would be at least a platoon of self-propelled automatic systems such as Vena or AMOS. These can be used for saturation fire or long-range delivery of guided rounds. Such a battalion might also have a couple of platoons of 155mm or 160mm Mortars.
FEEDBACK Emery Nelson writes:- As I'm sure you're all aware I'm a big fan of heavy mortars and this goes back to Israeli army experience in Lebanon. That led to the discovery that mortars are the favorite and arguably the most important weapon in the Soviet/Russian army. This was largely because of their experience in the Great Patriotic War. Unlike the U.S. army, WW II was the last real fight the Russians had (until Afghanistan) so that experience made up much of their thinking. After I started advocating heavy mortars for MOUT, I stumbled on tons of U.S. Army experience indicating their value and more importantly, attempts to provide larger mortars than we had in the inventory. But by the mid 80s this knowledge had been completely lost. By the late 80s the Israeli experience in Lebanon, the understanding that we were totally unprepared for MOUT, and the fact that that mortar development and production cost next to nothing caused us to adopt the 120 mm mortar, a copy of the Israeli "Tampela", which in turn is a copy of the Soviet 2B11 which is a copy of the same mortar the Soviets used during WW II............. We've got to do a better job at not letting knowledge get lost. An army that does that will be on its way to saving untold numbers of lives at the beginning of conflicts.
Lloyd Smith pointed out that since a mortar round falls straight down, you get the perfect 360 degree daisy cutter explosion.
EN: The Lloyd Smith article is just the kind of thing I'm talking about. How the army could lose that kind of info for 50 years is beyond me. BTW the Sultan 160mm was the most effective weapon the Israelis had in Lebanon. When they took Beirut they found out very quickly that the 155 and 175mm howitzers were unsatisfactory for MOUT. But they had some captured Soviet Mortars and large stocks of ammunition that they quickly put into service. It became very obvious that heavy mortars were the true path. The second time around in Chechnya the Soviets basically destroyed Grozny with Mortars and FAE.