AIR-MOBILE SELF-PROPELLED ARTILLERY FOR THE "MEDIUM" BRIGADE COMBAT TEAM
LTC Larry Altersitz, USAR (Ret)
Is this a great country or what? Every time a new philosophical concept on the structure, role or mission of the U.S. Army is put forth, people like us get a chance to babble about it in print ! Let's not take ourselves too seriously, folks. Our mission is very serious: winning the Nation's wars. We get nervous when around people who aren't amused by the absurdities and disconnects in work and life, even in combat situations.
Why Self-Propelled artillery?
"…an antitank cannon on its own wheels takes an awful battering when being towed across the desert, especially in rough going, but when put into combat, its sights may be off enough to cause misses. Why not, someone must have reasoned, simply lift the cannon into the bed of the towing vehicle and strap it down. The trick was an instant success, and has been used ever since. Not only does the gun save on wear and tear, but the crew can get it into action quickly, as they are riding in the back of the truc and the driver only has to turn away from the intended target and stop. There is also the advantage of being faced in the proper direction for a fast getaway"
---Ralph Zumbro, The Iron Cavalry, pages 309-310
Use existing Army vehicle types as the SP chassis: "Lightweight Crusader"
The final shape of the Medium Interim Brigade Combat Team into the current impotent, road-bound Stryker wheeled trucks without an ability to fire either mortars or tube artillery from the vehicle is yet another failure to transform our Army. A true 3D maneuver, air-transportable Brigade Combat team (BCT) must be mobile and tracked using existing Army M113 Gavin-type MTVL vehicles as the baseline vehicle. These have an amphibious capability, so water barriers won't limit the medium BCT's mobility. It makes little sense if BCTs are based around LAV-III "Stryker" type rubber-tired trucks, since the Army already has 13,000 M113 Gavin type vehicles in the inventory, so using a M113 variant does not constitute a new vehicle type for the BCT, which right now also has vulnerable FMTV and HMMWV wheeled trucks. An BCT will not be as heavy as a mech/armored brigade, or as light as the airborne/air assault/light brigades. The emphasis will be on mobility and C-130 air-portability, with the additional firepower vehicles can carry. The basic platform chosen for the Infantry and Armor for the BCT, the Field Artillery, and probably ADA, is going to have to be ready to use the same platform or one already in Army service like the M113, to save cost of purchase and reduce logistical problems. The vehicle we suggest is the 10-ton XM1108 armored cab variant of the M113A3 that has a large flat bed behind the cab. The existing flatbed can accept weaponry like a MLRS launcher and/or a howitzer; the LAV/Stryker truck will require extensive, costly and time-consuming re-design to be cut down to accept an artillery system. As you see below, it looks like a "mini-MLRS" vehicle.
The XM1108 would have steel chain roller "band tracks" to save over 2,000 pounds of weight and provide no-maintenance, low-vibration, and noise-free high speed travel along roads without damaging them while maintaining cross-country and advance against small-arms fire mobility. The XM1108 can even be fitted with hybrid-electric drive and infra-red camouflage coverings to be a "stealth" platform with 600 mile range and enormous electric power available to operate artillery loading mechanisms. Consider this system a "Lightweight Crusader" or the McAuliffe Airborne/Air Assault Artillery System (pronounced "Mass") in honor of the 101st's Division Artillery commander, BG Anthony C. McAuliffe who led the defense of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge in WWII. He refused to surrender, counting on air-delivered supplies to sustain his forces. Certainly, Army light forces need a lighter version of Crusader, and this could be it.
XM1108 HIMARS would be more stable than the wobbly FMTV truck-based HIMARS!
EXCLUSIVE VIDEO! See the unstable wheeled HIMARS fire!
Have the Howitzer able to detach from the SP prime mover using PLS
So, what parameters bound this discussion? We think a Medium Force maneuver battalion should be supported by a 105mm howitzer battery, preferably the Royal Ordnance long range howitzer, mounted in a 6400-mil capable turret capable of depressing below the horizontal, for unexpected emergencies.. But to revolutionize the way we fight, we propose that the howitzer turret be mounted on a Palletized Loading System (PLS) flat rack that can be loaded/off-loaded from the XM1108 flat bed area. This way, if the vehicle is needed elsewhere or needs repairs, the gun system can be switched to another M1108 carrier. This was once proposed for the M109 series 155mm howitzer in the 1970s, with a removable turret to go on the chassis.
Air-mobile Self-Propelled Artillery: use the howitzer detach feature for split-loading
By being able to split the howitzer from its tracked self-propelled mover, both can be then sling-loaded by Army CH-47D/F Chinook helicopters for short tactical moves. The LW Crusader detaches its howitzer using PLS to the ground and the lift helicopters then can hover over each part separately and hook up by sling-load team to be flown where they need to be. But unlike towed artillery that once heli-lifted in place, usually without prime movers, this artillery fire base can move itself on the ground to a new firing point to enhance survivability by avoiding counter-fires. It provides better fire support for maneuver units including direct fires vital to winning in urban combat. Detachable howitzer/vehicle interface also makes it easier to parachute airdrop the system via separate platform loads out the rear ramp of plentiful USAF C-130s. On the drop zone, the XM1108 rumbles over to its howitzer PLS flat rack and loads it onto its flat bed area for mobility/firing.
Enhanced Munitions make lightweight SP Howitzers "king" of the battlefield
The use of Rocket-Assisted Projectiles (RAP) and Base Bleed (BB) adaptors to make RAP-BB rounds will give a great extension in range. 105mm also gives the Artillery an anti-tank capability if HESH (High Explosive Squash Head) and HEAT (High Explosive Anti-Tank) rounds are included in the howitzer basic load, along with a direct fire system a little more sophisticated that the "Mark 1 eyeball" looking thru a direct-fire telescope. A laser rangefinder coupled to a ballistic computer with a selector switch for the round being used would make a great system. You also have Smoke, Illum, WP and anti-personnel (Beehive) rounds available. We don't know if it's worth the engineering/manufacturing costs to have DPICM rounds for 105mm (if they don't already exist) or re-shape a SADARM skeet to fit a 105mm projectile. But efforts to develop enhanced 105mm rounds to include guided, top-attack projectiles means that light units equipped with M119 105mm guns can also gain the benefit of increased lethality.
The GS artillery for the BCT should also be mobile and tracked. I don't know if any effort has been made to place a NATO 155mm on a modular tracked platform, but I do know an European country has developed a 105mm on a wheeled platform that is modular (gun removes from truck body by a crane in under an hour). The Israeli’s have both 105mm and 155mm fixed howitzer systems based on M113 Gavin-type tracked carriers, ready-to-go "off-the-shelf" for Army purchase if we don’t want to come up with a home-grown SP Howitzer. Even if the system were produced under license and was fitted with the new M777 Light Weight 155mm Howitzer cannon, an auto-loader like the French GCT or Crusader, we wouldn't have to "re-invent the wheel". It has to be a tracked, self-propelled system to keep up with the BCT: towing the howitzer on wheels and getting stuck or restricted to roads will not do. I wouldn't go with a 155mm as the DS system, since the BCT should have the weapons that will minimize collateral damage. The Lightweight Crusader SP155mm system at 40 tons should not be disqualified from consideration for the BCT GS mission since its now C-17 transportable. But the goal should be a C-130 portable tracked system.
Any Artillery supporting a BCT must have counter-battery and area suppression assets. The obvious choice is an MLRS system. The FMTV-truck-based HIMARS might be a candidate, since it is in final development and testing and would seem to fit the long-range needs of a Medium Force, to include ATACMs missiles with 300 km ranges. But, the current HIMARS platform is not amphibious. Nor armored. Hmmm; "Is a puzzlement" to quote Oscar Hammerstein II. But none of the existing or planned FMTV support vehicles are amphibious, nor are HMMWVs, or trailers or LAV-III/Strykers. HMMMMMM. Guess we better have an Engineer Bridge Company with the BCT (negates the alleged airlift advantage of an all-wheeled force not needing truck transporters for heavy tracked M1/M2s), or a serious amount of cargo helicopter assets when we reach a water barrier. The CH-47D/F can only lift vehicles under 12 tons, disqualifying 18.8 ton LAV-III/Strykers, but would be able to lift the XM1108/105mm SP system for short distances.
Red Legs must swim: the world is criss-crossed with rivers and lakes
Or maybe we develop a flotation kit that is attached to vehicles. Attach U-shaped brackets to the vehicle frame, with the opening facing down and a cotter pin to hold the fixtures in place. The fixtures attach to the brackets and are shaped like the litters used on Korean War MEDEVAC helicopters. Inflatable bladders covered with 16-ply Kevlar (or another synthetic fiber) to prevent punctures from enemy fire would reduce dependence on bridges or bridging equipment. An on-vehicle compressor would inflate the bladders as needed. Fixtures could be sized for vehicles and locations on vehicles (front bumpers, sides of cargo area, etc.), and the inflation system could be permanently attached to the vehicle with connectors for the bladders.
So, what have we proposed? 18 x 105mm DS howitzers and 6 x 155mm GS howitzers that are tracked, amphibious, with a 6400-mu capability; a HIMARS FMTV truck battery for long-range counter-battery/ force fires; a standard HHB and a Service Battery, or an HSB to save on positions. All support vehicles, if not built off the basic BCT platform vehicle, should have some limited swimming capability, to relieve pressure on bridging assets. OK, not TOO radical, on the fringe grass of the Field Artillery putting green, but not into the gallery.
It's only fair to warn our fellow Soldiers that we’re going into uncharted featureless terrain, so keep your GPS batteries charged. I believe we need more rapid short-range area firepower coverage for quick responses. It would also be nice to have an indirect fire, quick-response anti-armor system. MLRS is an excellent system, but it is costly in terms of rocket price and the logistical burden of moving those 6-packs; it is a high-value target attack system. Do we have a possible solution? Is the Army Green?
120mm Mortar/7Omm Light Rocket SP Battery
Field Artillery is there to help armor and infantry fight, to do this it must be able to render fire support on the scene quickly and not be subject to enemy "hugging" tactics. In WWII, U.S. Army Field artillery had SP guns on tracked platforms. We must create a 21st century equivalent using rapid-fire mortars and rockets. The 120mm Mortar/70mm rocket SP Battery would use the automatic, rapid-fire, breech-loading turret mounted twin-120mm mortar used by the Swedish Army on a stretched-body M113A4 Gavin MTVL vehicle (used by Combat Engineers as Squad Vehicle). It would use a Strix or Merlin type indirect anti-armor round against hard vehicle or structure targets, and a Direct-Fire anti-armor round, probably a HEAT or HESH type due to the mortar's relatively low-velocity. On top of the turret, would be a rack with three 17-tube 70mm rocket pods, attached to the sides of the turret by legs. The rack would be connected to the mortar mantlet by two support rods, allowing the rack to be elevated by the mortar. The rocket pods would have HE 17-lb warheads for area suppression missions. Think WWII Calliope launcher on M4 Sherman tanks. We could use other warheads, but HE would be the standard, set on Fuze Quick. As we know, the hard part of Artillery is fire direction. As long as an FDC, or an on-board computer, can make the calculations, anyone trained to set the elevation and deflection could fire the rockets. The mortar has to set an azimuth of lay and aiming stakes/collimator to function, so a reference is already in place. Ceramic splash plates would prevent vehicle damage by rocket wash, and the vehicle would tow a mobile tracked amphibious trailer (Used for the Engineer’s ESMC "Mongoose" system) that carries extra mortar rounds, rockets, fuel and supplies.
This battery would be organized with four 3-tube/launcher platoons and a Battery Hqs. A platoon would habitually go with a maneuver battalion headquarters to act as reinforcing fires for the battalion, but ready to support anyone with rocket fires. It would still be under Artillery control, but placed forward to best support the commander's scheme of maneuver. The fourth platoon would be used to add fires to the main effort in an attack.
Any maneuver force needs fire support. But fire support must be able to keep up with the maneuver force, or it is irrelevant. The thoughts proposed above are presented as possible ideas to meet the needs of the BCT.