Gentlemen of armor.......Time’s up, As of 11 Sept, 2001, the old rules apply. You go with what you’ve got or get left out. There is no more time for internal/infernal service bickering about the specific vehicle. Either we reorganize quickly into something more viable or, like General Herr, who wouldn’t give up his beloved mounts, get replaced by something that works. For those of you who haven’t read the history, in 1940, the General of Cavalry was just reluctantly admitting that, yes, we could maybe combine horse cavalry and the newfangled armor, when Adna Chaffee walked into the brand new Pentagon with the TO of a panzer-style division and George Patton in his pocket. The rest is history. Sometime in the very near future, the following will happen.
Through a crisp, clear desert night, three columns of men marched across the dusty plains of the northern Sudan. Ahead of them, a screen of scouts trotted nervously. The two outer columns were what was left of an Army Ranger assault team that had gone in for a forcible extraction and gotten trimmed down more than a little bit, while accomplishing the mission. Someday, if they survived, it would go down in history as one of the great raids....IF they survived. The screen of scouts were what was left of the Navy SEAL team which had HAHOd in ahead of the Rangers. By ghosting in on high altitude winds, they’d avoided the newly installed French radar that protected the secret rendezvous in the Southern Sahara outlands. Once on the ground, they’d wrecked the radar, and mortared the AA sites, allowing the Rangers to come in with a conventional airdrop. High tech, however, was becoming an ever more evident part of Pan Islam's war against civilization and they’d been jumped by a Sudanese/Somali/Arabic rapid response team which was, in their Captain’s reluctant words, “a pretty damn good batch of troops,” Not quite good enough, however, to prevent the SpecOps team from capturing a surviving group of Bin Ladin’s lieutenants, who’d been plotting another catastrophe in the west.
The central column, a group of men in a hodgepodge of green and khaki fatigues, were coffled neck to neck like an old slave column, but marched with an unbowed, slightly suspicious pride. Almost, the captain, a largish, bulky man, thought, as if they knew something we don’t. As the thought crossed his mind, his radioman trotted up, a worried expression on his slightly pinched face. “Capn, we got problems,” the man said. “our extraction planes’ve been shot down over Somalia--the missiles came out of a refugee camp--and the local AWACs patrol reports fighters scrambling from down south. Satellite surveillance reports a fast armored column from Abd-al-Dar on a direct intercept with us.....Somebody KNOWs where we are.” The captain’s savage, muttered, almost growled, response hasn’t been recorded for posterity, but it covered enough time for his mind to come to the one obvious conclusion.
“Jonesy, dig out your bugsniffer” he growled, nervously scratching his two day old stubble, “and go over those apes very carefully. One of ‘em’s obviously wearing some kind of transmitter.” With a quick “Rog, Capn.” the man dropped his pack, pulled the mini SINCGARs out, and dug around under his gear. Pulling a small, antennaed box out, he went over to the column of captives. Meanwhile, the Captain halted his formation and sent a tersely worded command to the screen of SEALS, which promptly halted in place and sent out a small local security patrol.
The group of captives had promptly, in the fashion of experienced infantrymen, dropped to the sand for a rest, only to be ordered to their feet by a peremptory thumb gesture from the commoman. Some measure of unease began to filter through them as he carefully “sniffed” each one electronically. At the fifth man, he stopped, scanned more carefully, and turned to the officer who followed him. “This’s the one, L-T.” he said. The lieutenant, who’d been ordered out of his column by a whispered command from the Captain, said. “OK, strip him,” and with one quick slash, a hooked skinning knife in the commo-tech’s hand opened the captive’s garments. The other captives looked on, distinctly nervous now. They had never seen Americans act quite so savagely.
At the first sign of success, the Captain stalked over to watch, only to hear, as he walked up. “Shit, L-T, he ain’t wearin’ it, it’s embedded in his thigh muscle, right here below the left hip, it’d take a surgeon and some time to get it out.” Time was what they didn’t have, and the Captain came to another obvious conclusion. There are some things the commander simply has to do himself. “Smitty,” he said, Put an X over the location of that transmitter, and then radio this in to local control, and hope they’ve got an alternate for us.” Turning to the Lieutenant, he said. “Garth, send for the medic. I’m going to TRY to be a bit humane, but not real hard.” With no warning at all, the Captain, who’d been a West Point quarterback, lashed out a right cross that hit the Captive’s “sweet spot” just to the left side of the point of his jaw!
A hollow “thok,” sounded, the man dropped like a sack of camel manure, and Smitty duly marked the spot on his leg and walked quickly off, to set up his small base antenna. The sound of a bag dropping to the sand announced the arrival of the medic, The commander, in a few terse sentences told him what he wanted. As the medic set to work on what the military calls “emergency field surgery” a tinny voice, characteristic of the eastern languages, addressed the Captain in stilted English. The leader of the coffle had come back down the line, dragging two other men with him.
“There is no need for such brutality, Officer,” the man said, “indeed, you have only a few hours until our rescue is affected. If you surrender your unit to me now, and release us, I would try to intercede for you with the commander of the approaching armored column.” The captain’s mind, now working at high speed, jumped to another conclusion.....No one had told his captive that the approaching column was armored....The ape had to have at least a receiver hidden on him.
Grabbing the captive, the highest ranking of the group, he whipped out an ancient Ka-Bar, one of his Grandfather’s gifts, a souvenir of the Pacific war, and slashed him loose from the coffle. Slamming the knife back into its belt sheath, he took the man by the upper lip and the crotch and back-marched him some distance off. “Smitty,” he snapped, go over this Wog’s headdress, VERY carefully. “I got a message, sir” the commoman said, as he trotted up. “Not damn yet Jonesy” the captain growled, “this ape’s got some kind of receiver, maybe even a transmitter that your first scan missed. Check his head and that turban-looking thing, take it apart if you have to.” At that point, the man’s eyes got that fanatic/beautific, “Die for ALLAH expression, and again, like an automatic reflex, the captain’s right hand formed into a spearpoint and lashed into the captive’s solar plexus, following up with a classic rabbit punch to the back of the neck. As the man slid bonelessly to the ground, the captain’s hand entered his mouth.
While Jonesy unwound the turban, the Captain pried the man’s mouth open and methodically examined his molars, until he found one that wiggled. “Medic,” he hissed, “come here and bring yer kit. We need another field extraction.” The medic, who had by now gotten the transmitter out of the first captive, came over and handed a small, bloody, Teflon coated device to the captain, who immediately smashed it between a rock and his pistol butt. “That’s one,” he said, “This tooth here, third molar back, upper right, is probably phony, remove it.” The medic, whose only dental tool was a pair of extraction pliers, obeyed and soon handed a discolored, obviously false molar to the captain. “I’d handle that fairly carefully, was I you, sir” he said. “some of those poisons can get through your skin and if we get it back, maybe analysis will tell us who made it” Nodding, the captain handed the tooth to the medic who dropped into a small plastic bag. Suddenly, another figure loomed through the night.
“Here the bugger is” Sir, the commotech said, holding a small transceiver. “It was embedded in that turban-thing of his, the hat itself was the antenna, and he turned on and off by leaning his head back against his collar. That’s why we missed it on the first scan, it was turned off.”
“Is it still off?” “Dunno, Sir, but we could take the batteries out and take it home for analysis too, I still got a hot message for you.” Smitty said as he, taking the Captain’s nod for a command, popped the plastic lid off and removed a standard camera battery. “OK, what’s the skinny from HQ,” the commander asked. “We’re to change course, jump one valley over, perch at these here grid coordinates and wait for ‘forcible extraction!’ Sir. HQ was damned reticent about details, they just said. ‘don’t go near anybody or anything until the relieving force contacts you...unquote. Er. Sir, did you ever box, I didn’t know anyone could hit that hard”
“Some,” the captain said, his eyes getting a sad, lonely, faraway look, “Dad died in desert storm, my mother and sister were in the World Trade Center....they never found a trace. Now the Army’s the only family I ‘ll ever have.” With that, he stood up and keying his personal transmitter, said. “Break’s over, new course 087 magnetic, move ‘em out.”
To quote George Patton, “There is NO school solution to any armored tactical problem.” All we have to do is match up existing transport with existing fighting vehicles and get going. To date, the only perfect, off the hardstand match up we have, are the tried and proven C-130, the many variations of the M113, and the CH-47.....I am going to mention the LAV just once, and the word is NO. You don’t send brave men off to fight in top-heavy, road-bound tincans.
Not when the actual survival of civilization is at stake. And especially not with a desert full of warlord specials, T55s and T62s awaiting them.
When the politicians send out the SpecOps troops, hard targets are not far behind. If we don’t provide them with a viable alternative, they will use nukes, and THAT will unite previously fragmented Islam. Next will be Armageddon. A look into a distinctly cloudy crystal ball shows another Armor/Airborne linkup. No Airborne force has ever felt quite safe until its armor came cross-country and linked up with it. The problem we face now, is just how do you get armor on the ground eight borders, three oceans, and seven time zones away? Obviously, you can’t do it with the Abrams, nor is that classic breakthrough vehicle a close range slugger. Nor does it have the diesel endurance for patrol, search and destroy work. We can reconfigure the Bradley to fight as a medium tank, but not in the first wave. That job belongs to the light forces, and just now, we don’t got any, unless we use the many and varied configurations of the tried and true battle box. The old '113 has a few tricks left. Indeed, having been in and on several newer versions, I can state that what is available now, is really different enough to deserve another designation. Remember, the Sherman went all the way up to M4A3E8......And that was before the Israelis got at it.
The '113s are available with turrets up to 120mm (mortar) or 105mm tank gun, or 90mm Cockerill, and armor kits are available that will hold off shaped charges and up to 30mm shells. That’s all we need, after all, we expect infantry to go in unarmored, don’t we?.....That brings up another point. Every successful commander from Alexander to Rommel and beyond, knew to keep his infantrymen’s load down. When Rommel wrote “Infantry attacks” he complained about the 85 lb load that the WW1 German “Fritz” had to carry.....That’s just about what our troops are burdened with right now. Pull the extra gear, put it on the carrier, and the grunts CAN wear armor into battle. If Paratroopers drop and secure an DZ/LZ/AZ, the planes can bring both the light armored vehicles and the trooper’s armor. A man who is carried to the LD does not need to worry about the weight of his armor. A relatively bulletproof infantryman not only fights better, he cuts down the casualties the “media” are so worried about.
Another point. I rove this continent, looking for military stories for my books, and I talk to many people. The populace is NOT worried about casualties. They know the stakes already. It is the media who are completely out of touch with reality. Time after time, some store clerk or mechanic has said. “well, it looks like we’re in for a long one,” with complete acceptance of the necessity of the task in their tone of voice and body language.
The best way, probably, to initially set this up, would be to simply create combat transportation companies integral to an Airborne Division, and habitually link the drivers to a particular company. The next thing would be to heavy up a battalion’s worth of '113s, with 90mm Cockerill turrets, wing gunners, and side ports, and use them the same way the LVT(A)s were used in WWII. There’s good info in those old island battles, by the way. Each one of them is a combat study in small wars, all by itself. All you have to do is turn on a good browser, such as google, and type the battle’s name in, to get thousands of reports. I even found an informal Imperial Japanese Army site.
We wouldn’t have to fiddle around with existing TOs much, just make cross attaching habitual. The problem that seems to be cropping up most often at the NTC is the non familiarity of the “slices” that get sent out. The CO and staffers there have told me that they get the hardest fights from the full Regiments that get sent. Col. Walker, who rode with the O/Cs at the same time I was riding with the BLUEFOR and the OPFOR, last November, got the same info from the O/C commanders. Units that are habitually linked up and whose officers and NCOs know each other, are much more coherent than “slices” that are pulled off the hardstand and DucTaped together days before shipping out. Forget all this IBCT or whatever, and bring back the old regimental combat teams or the Combat Commands....use what worked.....The clock’s ticking.
Artillery, however, is where we might have to be a bit creative. Here, having been in on the creation of the old 1st Abn Field Arty Bty, in Baumholder Germany, in 1960, I might have a few valid suggestions. We used the old M-2 105mm howitzer, at 5000 lbs per gun, and a pair of ¾ ton trucks per gun crew, three guns per platoon, two platoons per battery, and three batteries per battalion. This gave us 18 tubes, 105mm, per battalion. We could airdrop with the gun, gun truck, and the ammo truck. Battery and battalion trains, of course, came in overland. For you youngsters, we rode the old C-119 with the clamshell doors off, and it got cold up there. On ground deployments, of course we always had a 10-tonner with a days supply of ammo with us, but with aerial resupply, we can just bring in C-130 loads by LVAD. Remember please, that we we not trying to face Hussein’s main body with this unit. It is a quickly deployable force to take and hold an airhead for the heavies, or to extract a raiding force that got its unarmored tail in a crack.
So with the new light gun and a pair of HumVees per gun section, we could easily duplicate that TO, which was capable of some pretty fast hipshots, at about five minutes from road convoy to a round in the air....close enough to target for the FO to correct. The procedure was for the very hot lead section to swing off the road, pick up the firing azimuth from FDC and the driver would find a level place while the Section Chief took the engineer compass and lined up the driver to get the tube on line. Then HE acted as the aiming stake with a hooded red flashlight while the gunner and assistant gunner and the crew got set up. There wasn’t time to dig the spades in. We just jumped on the trails and rode the suckers down....Round on the way, SIR!
'Course, there were some screw-ups, like the time one whole platoon shot their muzzle covers off, and the time we put a registering round into Nabollenbach supply depot, but we eventually got pretty good. What has to be remembered is that there is a 105mm HEAT round for that gun, and there is always the “Swifty.” That was a little 105mm version of the Shillelagh, which had the same warhead as the 105mm howitzer HEAT round. If your forward, (and only) TOC is also your artillery park, and your guns can fire not only final protective fires but work as Antitank weapons and you have an outer screen of Stingers, you’re pretty secure. For a Soldier, that is. It’s a risky trade by nature.
What has to be remembered, AGAIN, is that we’re not facing the main force with this unit. We’re the entering force. To quote a Four-Star with whom I had a short conversation out at the NTC, “Always offset your airhead, it’s vulnerable.” He was dead right, of course, but by offsetting it, you gain time to bring in a heavier holding force. By the time the hostiles recover from an unexpected air assault by armor, you can either be in place with a battalion of Abrams, or simply, be gone.....Like this.
Six hours later, with a false dawn barely lightening the desert sky, the captain and his small command group, which consisted of the RTO, two lieutenants and the units’ top soldier, knelt behind a screen of bushes on a low ridgeline, overlooking a long valley. “We’re dead on, Capn,” the RTO said, after checking his satellite tracker and comparing the land with his map, “now what, sir. We don’t have much night left.”
“That’s right Mike,” one lieutenant, a sandy haired, lanky individual interjected, “it gets full dawn and our butts are in the proverbial.....What’s THAT? A low melodious whistle which they instantly recognized as the “Garry Owen” drifted down the ridge, followed by a shadow which ghosted in and then materialized into a human shape carrying a Ruger expeditionary rifle and wearing a small pack. “Didn’t want to spook you gents,” the man said, squatting comfortably beside them, leaning on his rifle. “I HAHOed in about a half hour ago, been casing the LZ and spotted Y’all coming up. Er, I’m Lt. Biggs, 2nd Armored Cav Expeditionary Force.”
“Armored!” the captain almost exploded. “How in hell are you going to get armor in.....? “Just watch, sir” the man said. Er. I’d appreciate it if you’d pass the word not to fire on shadows, I’ve got a squad of Pathfinders down there setting up a glide slope transmitter for our birds. There’s a company of light armor with AT guns and missiles coming in airmail.” Even as he spoke, the men could begin to pick up the unmistakable whine of a C-130s props on an approach. “We know where almost every C-130 capable road or strip on the planet is, Capn, and you were directed to this one....RATS!” As he spoke, Bigg’s head cocked and his eyes went distant as the radio in his helmet took his attention temporarily.
“We’ve attracted unwelcome attention but it’s being taken care of. There’ll be an air battle going on above us, but the birds will get in....probably.” Simultaneously, they looked anxiously up to see the swirling contrails of fighters and the darting streaks of missiles. By then the advancing light made the approaching Herkybirds visible and the heavily laden ships began to stream down over the small team manning the transmitter. The road was long, with only one turn, and the planes began to disperse into a parking pattern at the curve. The ramps whined down and from each ship a grotesque armored shape emerged. “We’re all C-130 compatible,” Biggs explained. “Everything down there is built on a M113 Gavin chassis with rubber band tracks and electric propulsion. We can run for a while on batteries, and with no thermal signature. We came a long way, so didn’t mount the extra armor, which’ll affect our tactics a bit. Er. I’m to be your liaison officer. Jensen, over here and bring security.”
Another scout, burdened with a radio pack and leading a pair of heavily armed light infantry types, trotted up and unslung his equipment. The two scouts carried only light packs, canteens and the expeditionary rifles. The captain looked them over with interest, as they were a new (to him) type. The men each were armed with a Ruger expeditionary rifle and wore a Soviet style chestpack of 30 round magazines. Each wore a kevlar back and breast and a Fritz helmet with a small radio antenna. They’d just folded their thermal glasses up and were taking swigs from the camelback water packs that they wore. Each also had a buttpack with two days rations and a poncho. If need be, their endurance could be stretched to three days.
Their pistol belts were festooned with a bewildering array of small objects, almost like a Batman style utility belt. After a glance though, the Captain ID’d most of the gear and turned his attention back to the rapidly growing force in the valley. Already he was beginning to feel more at ease. They now knew that the force coming after them was composed of a mix of T-62s and BMP-2s, about a Russian style 10 vehicle company of each. What made him nervous was that he didn’t see any heavy armor in the mix below him. “We can’t move heavies without larger airlift,” Biggs said, almost as if reading his mind. “However what we have is bad medicine enough for this op.” Pointing to a cluster of tracks which had set up in line he said. “That’s our eight tube 120 mm mortar battery and.....There he GOES.” With a whine and a whoosh, a device like a 55 gallon drum with a man in it rose from the mortar position. “Bounce can” Biggs explained. They have a cruise missile engine in the base and about an hour’s endurance....Make good FO’s. They just pop over the horizon and set down. They all carry stingers...Wups....Gun tracks’r moving out.
Down in the valley, two columns of Gavins, each armed with a pair of 106mm recoilless rifles in a single turret, rolled silently, eerily toward low spots on the ridge. Spaced one hundred yards apart, they slid over that ridge, coasted down into the valley and shut down. The captain looked through his thermal glasses and was amazed. Nothing showed! Until the John Deere standard issue generators were cut on, the vehicles would HAVE NO thermal signature. Each crew now proceeded to erect camouflage nets and rearrange their local vicinity....They didn’t have much time. Suddenly the mutter of idling aircraft engines was drowned in a series of hollow BONKs as the mortars went to work.
“Smoke first,” Biggs explained, “we can see through it, they can’t.” The tubes fired again, slowly and methodically and suddenly Bigg’s RTO spoke up. “The FOG’s are in the air and homing in on TC hatches, sir. The operators are giving good intel before each one destructs, Wups, there go the scatterable mines and it still ain’t bright enough for the A-rab TCs to spot them. OK gents, it’s clobberin” time.” As he spoke, The cracks of .50 cal spotting rifles reached their ears and then the whole plain below the ridge lit up with 106 mm backblasts which, the Captain noted, were not nearly as bright as even a 105mm tank gun.
From places where he’d not even known men were hiding, the modest thumps of manpack TOW missiles issued and were followed at an interval by more red-black chrysanthemum shaped explosions as an entire Pan-Arab task force died. The bright new morning was now soiled by over twenty burning funeral pyres as the Gavins moved out, cautiously tracking in on their victims. “The guns’re loaded from the top hatches, Sir,” Biggs explained. “Now each pair of tubes carries one HEP and one cannister and each turret also has Ma Deuce. Won’t be ANYthing left down there.” He cocked his head again in a characteristic gesture and said. “Your transportation’s coming, Capn, better get your people ready. You can pull in your security screen, you’re already inside ours. Suddenly the shriek of an Egyptian F-16 cut the air as the pilot came in low and fast, executing the traditional victory roll and then blasting straight up to where contrails still laced the sky. A low crunching of gravel was the only sound that announced the arrival of a dozen light infantry carriers to pick up the refugee raiders and their captives. The coffled terrorists, eyes now wide with both fear and wonder went quietly into a single track, being stuffed in like sausages in a pack. The Rangers and Seals spread themselves over and in the remaining vehicles and all rolled quietly to where the C-130s were now waiting in line. “One strafing run’d get ‘em all, the captain muttered and Biggs laughed. “There’s a screen of stinger launchers that’ll be on the last plane and a cover of fighters, Capn. We’ve always had all this hardware, the only thing lacking was the will to use it, and 9-11 finally knocked the Brass up in Disneyland off top dead center” As he spoke, they were strapping down inside a Hercules while the various crewmen worked with a practiced ease, strapping and lashing down their combat vehicles.
There was a turning sensation, then the engine’s hissing whine rose to take-off levels and with a huge thump, the JATO units cut in and operation extraction was AIRBORNE ARMOR.
Time’s a-wasting, gentlemen. We’ve owned all this equipment, including the bounce can, since the 1960s. That means that we’ve had this capability for decades, while we were reinventing the Tiger tank. I’ve personally used most of it, including the expeditionary rifle, which burns Russian 7.62x39 ammo, making resupply on the other side of the planet rather easy. I have run 113s and M-48s in combat in RVN, and have made heavy drop back in the late 50s to mid 60s. We have the gear and it WILL perform as written. Which will it be. Will you sit quietly, sulking in your tank parks waiting for “your kind of war,” or will you be out on light tracks, doing America’s business. If we DON’T police the world’s nastier corners, civilization itself is doomed. The fanatics of the world don’t like us and have made us their target. The only real defense civilization has is its soldiers.....Who don’t want to play this new game.