Light Armored Cavalry of the Future
by Ralph Zumbro

There will be no more Task Force Smiths, Right?

And just how many times have we read in ARMOR that a given Colonel was given 24 hours to ready his troops and equipment for movement to Bosnia, or Central Africa or some other world renowned vacation spot. In an article printed in the Jul-Aug, 1957 issue, Henry Kissinger made the point that the relationship between force and diplomacy is so intertwined that you cannot have one without the other. The Politicos supply the situation, we supply what force, or possibility of force is needed. To quote an earlier editor, "It is not the business of ARMOR and its staff or writers to get involved in political discussions, we write for the regiment on down."

We don't create policy, but we are the hinge upon which it swings.

The current problem is that we are not a believable deterrent. We don't have a "game plan" and most of our would-be opponents know it.

Teddy Roosevelt once said, "I speak softly, but I carry a big stick."

In today's world, Teddy would need a golf bag full of various "sticks" to be able to tailor them to a variety of situations. You don't haul out your M1A2C "driver", to bust out of a sand trap, and most of the places we are going to be sent, are one big sand trap, including, possibly, our own southern border. It is a LOT worse down here than you are being told. And much of it is tank or ACAV country.....Or horse country; the Border Patrol base in Sonoita AZ is already using horses. Sooner than later, there is going to be a call for the cavalry, whether halfway across the globe or right here at home. Many of the places that we used to feel safe camping in, are now free-fire zones....INSIDE the USA!! I have had to personally bounce illegals out of my campsite, and our Border Patrol regularly gets shot at. This cannot last long.

In the case of TF Smith, it got so bad that the troops were dragging WWII M26s off their museum pedestals and reactivating them on the way to Japan. A good case could be made that the rebuilding of defunct American Armor was the foundation of Japan's heavy industry. Time after time, we have been caught with our britches in defilade and our brains in "travel lock", by the world situation. In 1941, for instance, we had just 300 tanks, and a lot of designs, most of which were going to the Brits. In 1917, the only thing that got us going in time was Pershing's eleven months of OJT in Mexico. There is a lot of unpublished history behind that comment, but we really owe Pancho for getting us to start building up when we really didn't want another war. At that, research proves that Pancho was being financed out of Berlin.

The record goes back through the Civil War to the Revolution, to the Romans, Greeks, and probably the Egyptians when the Hyksos chariot blitz hit them. Fortunately, this time, the bag's full of hardware, all we need to do is figure out what to do with the surplus of equipment that sits in our storage parks. The best way, of course, would be to build test units and run them through the training centers, but in the current climate, probably wargaming is the best we can hope for. At least we will then have a plan and know where the hardware is stashed.

The one thing we know for certain is that the main force is a bit too heavy and cumbersome for small wars, OOTW, border patrol, and similar tasks. What we need to do is create an echeloned deployment. General George S. Patton, of 11th Cav Vietnam fame, once described a particular procedure as "Pile On." Basically, he got his forces lined up and kept applying pressure until something gave. That, we can do with what we have. Create a light, easily-deployable force that can be kept parked on a runway in C-130s or C-17's, whichever suits the eventual TO&E, and then have the back-up units ready to roll in 24, 36, or 48 hours. BUT, the baddies have got to know that they are just one aircraft flight away from finding out that the sky IS falling. Also, current theory notwithstanding, wheels full of air won't do the job. What did the task in Panama when the armored cars couldn't push barricades of defunct autos out of the way was Sheridan tank tracks that ground them down, and then blew holes in walls that a man could WALK through.

In RVN, at one time, 1/69 was the most decorated unit in the U.S. Army (Proof exists) and we got that reputation by running steel tracks through burning buildings, using our hulls for battering rams, grinding down bunkers and pulverizing human flesh in the sprockets, not zipping around on rubber bags full of air. That heavy thud-thud-thud of track slap is a psychological weapon not to be despised. When it hits the fan, wheels simply cannot do enough damage.....and rubber burns.

The infantry's historical running mate is light armor. From the times when bully boys with shields and hook swords fought at the sides of chariots, through the days of the medieval retainers who protected the belly of their knights’ destrier, to now, the combination has been unbeatable. We had the MECZ or mechanized infantry in WWII and Korea, and the ACAV with a few dismounts in Vietnam. Their battlefield predecessors were the Panzer grenadier, and the Desantniki. Or, for depth, the Ph'frr, the running infantry who protected the chariot horses of Ramses the Great, before the walls of Kadesh. Just now, however, we're a bit short on light mech. forces. What we're passing off as mech. infantry in Bradleys are really light armor with dismounts. Those grunts don't know it, but they are basically tankers.

We've got the hardware, all we need to do is arrange it for predictable needs. and this article will look at just what can be created out of an all-M113 force, which would be fully air-deployable to the theatre, and helicopter-mobile while in the theatre. One of the totally immutable laws of war is, YOU GO WITH WHAT YOU'VE GOT and what we have is the old battle box, or Gavin AFV and a host of derivatives, all of which are maintainable by existing mechanics. With just a little skull work, when a quavery, panicked, voice out of Washington yells "Crank 'em and roll 'em," we'll have our sh--er--act, together.

Figuring The Abrams as the ultimate non-atomic enforcer, and an upgunned 35-50mm Bradley as the medium tank of the future, we can look at a modified ACAV as the workhorse of the next decade or so. Remember, while R&D cooks up the next generation of hardware, we are going to be out in the hills on tracks doing America's business. That means that you go with what's in the motor pool or what you can draw from Ordnance in 24 hours. The ACAV kit is still available, it has been found, and all that is necessary is to simply order them up. The old Browning, however, is getting a bit long in the tooth, however, so let's take a look at some other options.

There exists a gas-operated 30mm version of the chain gun, the McDonnell-Douglas (now Boeing Phantom Works) M230 and the ASP-30, both of which fire the Lightweight 30mm shell, which has a fairly well developed ammunition suite. The selection now includes TP, HEDP, HEI, and AP. This is important, as one of the things that the old .50 does not do well, is break down cement walls, unless you use a rather large chunk of your basic load. And it has almost no effect on straw hooches. The solid shot training ammo for the 30mm, however, gives a remarkably good imitation of a jackhammer. Further, given a powered mount with optical sights, that training ammo would be the answer to most snipers. Another advantage for OOTW situations, is that the use of solid shot reduces collateral damage, and it's even painted the right color, UN blue. If things get sticky, there is a good HE-MP round with both shaped and HE-FRAG effects, which will allow you to extract yourself while the big boys come howling cross-country to suppress whatever is throwing HEAT rounds at you. Light wooden construction and straw hootches light up very nicely when hit by a WP round......And a burst of WP through the firing slit of a bunker creates an effect that is simply awesome. For foreign deployments, it is worth noting that the British 30mm ADEN Mk IV, and the French DEFA gun share that ammunition, along with one of our Gatlings.

For the time being, the ASP-30 can simply be bolted into the same mount that the old .50 was setting in, and we have modern main armament. Next, let's look at the problem of the wing guns. For most situations, I'd vote to keep the 7.62mm/.308 caliber, for the simple reason that in built up areas, it will penetrate more masonry, car bodies, people, and wooden structures than the 5.56mm. That sword, however, cuts both ways. What has to be looked at here, is that the main armament is firing in the forward arc while the wing guns fire to the sides. Just how much penetration do we want here? Some thought needs to be given to this, as while working through a city, especially one made of straw huts, it is all too easy to put holes in your flankers on the other side of the row of houses. In RVN, using the old 90mm, we always had the option of sticking the gun tube in through the window and putting a delayed detonation shell into the floor, or cold-cocking a hostile with the blast deflector, but those days are gone forever. The point to be made though, is that something that is effective at rock throwing distance is desperately needed. While it has been done, by both my mentors and myself, expecting the TC to stand in the cupola with a sack of hand grenades is going to cost us TCs.

There is one quick fix available, and that is the OSV or OpFOR Surrogate Vehicle, used at Ft Irwin. The hull is a standard M113 with a roof adapter that lets it use a two man turret equipped with a dummy cannon to make it look like a tank. The important thing is that the turret is a modified Bradley model. The top deck has been pierced for a two man turret. Take that hull, pull the training turret, install the live version, install the German 50mm gun that will fit, and reinstall the port guns to replace the wing guns and you've got something that can go downtown. There are a whole host of options that can be made to fit that combination, including the bolt-on armor kit.

Auxiliary armament is another category that is usually overlooked. Most of the ACAVs usually carried one version or another of the M79, and there are several excellent street sweeper versions of the old "thumper," in existence. Many vehicles also adopted an RPG and nowadays, a light recoilless, such as the 84mm Karl Gustav, would be almighty handy in a street fight. While it isn't politically correct to even think the word "Flame Thrower," I didn't get the nickname, "Zippo," just because of the spelling of my last name. I can personally attest to the effectiveness of the weapon. You can sometimes even get people to surrender just by coating them with thickened fuel and then let their imaginations work for a few minutes. The one thing that they CANNOT do when coated with jellied gasoline, is shoot anything. All they can do is stand there staring at you with big soft, houndawg eyes, waiting......We learned that one from the Engineers in a flame track that worked with us for about a month.

With a working ACAV, we need to look at the TO for a while. The four tank platoon has one serious flaw. One mobility kill and all you have is a two tank or ACAV light section to go fight your war, as one vehicle has to be left back with the cripple. With a five tank platoon, you at least have a heavy section out doing damage and two full crews working on the cripple. Another thing that needs to be looked at is platoon trains. A lone platoon doing search and patrol work with infantry on board, or a doubled platoon consisting of a mech. infantry Plt. and an ACAV Plt. is going to burn a lot of ammo, fuel, food, and general supplies. It cannot be expected to run fifty or a hundred miles back to base for sustenance, nor can one normal company HQ be expected to feed the patrol unit, unless drastically augmented.

One solution is to haul trailers from base to base as you move around an area. They can be hauled by the combat vehicles from one LZ to another, or leapfrogged by company trains, as necessary. The HQ that supports these platoons has to draw extra trucks from battalion, or from division transportation, because there simply aren't enough in a HQ designed for Desert Storm or the Fulda Gap. Adequately beefed up, however, the job CAN be done. There are at least two of my old company commanders alive who can attest to the fact that we had to send an ammo/POL section out into Indian Country with orders like. "Third platoon is working this here grid square, find 'em and fuel 'em." This is NOT the way to have to run a war. The ammo, fuel, and general supply section needs its own TO, armament and commo.....We built our section up out of spare parts, misfits, and painful experience, but we weren't tracked, armed or armored.

In an earlier article, I recommended doubling an armor platoon and a mech. infantry platoon and adding a HEMMT and a resource sergeant with a work section. That idea still sounds good, and General Kirk might have been referring to articles like that when he commented that "People who advocated getting light and deployable were quietly labeled pests and mostly ignored." Lord God Almighty DAMN!!! Sometimes there is no satisfaction at all in being right. The point, though, is that one ACAV and a squad of Mech Inf in an M113, can set up housekeeping on a terrain feature or in a friendly village, and dominate/patrol a rather large swath of territory. That infantry carrier, though, needs a rather close look. Right now, light mech infantry in the current version of the M113 is supported only by the .50. They need something better and of course, that something will take up room in the hull, reducing the troop load.

However, if the new six road wheel, "stretched," M113A4 MTVL, is used, you can have a turreted mortar, and still haul an nine-man infantry squad. A two man 60 mm mortar turret is serious support, as it gives indirect fire capability and two or three of them in an area can combine fires. They also have a direct fire capability for bunker-busting and can use a HEAT, or in the case of Thompson-Brandt of France, even APFSDS or Canister ammunition Alternatively, a one-man cupola with a ASP-30mm should allow the use of a ten or eleven-man squad. I suspect that a lot of "mission tailoring," will be normal practice in the future. Fortunately, there are LOT of options available for a vehicle that is almost forty years old and STILL evolving.....To the point where it is almost a new design. See the sidebar for some mighty tempting options.

About this time though, you don't exactly have a platoon anymore, but it isn't yet a company. What you have, is five ACAVs with a TC/gunner, driver, two wing gunners, an ammo handler, and some auxiliary personnel, such as medics, riding mechanics, snipers and whatever, call it six men per track. That's thirty men, including the lieutenant and platoon sergeant. OK now, take four infantry squads and pair them up with the line tanks, that's 12 men, including vehicle crews, per vehicle, or 48 men. So far we have 78 troops. Now add a M577 for the HQ and keep one ACAV close to it.

For starters, let's put the infantry lieutenant in the M577, along with an armor liaison, a radio tech and a couple of operators, and send the armor officer out with the maneuver element. With the resource sergeant and his collection of thieves, you're getting perilously close to one hundred men for two lieutenants, but that can be worked out. The old Pentomic infantry platoon was 50-odd men and we regularly operated with many attachments. Next higher might just require a major for a commander with a captain as company exec, so let's look at company HQ for a while, and what vehicles it might require. Based on the M113 chassis, of course, and we'll only be looking at combat vehicles, not Jeeps or HUMMVs......Not just yet.

Being an old wrench bender and junior college vo-tech teacher, as well as an armor tech, I have a different set of priorities than most writers.....Tactics has no value to a commander whose vehicles don't run, and they have no value to a unit that is out of combustibles or stalled before an impassable terrain feature such as the Schat al Arab, or the Great Rift, or the Gobi Desert. SO, let's take a close look at company maintenance.

First off, we aren't using tanks so we don't need a huge M88 recovery vehicle, and there were several times we could have used several of them in RVN. With a M113 based TO, we can do just that. There is in existence, a maintenance version called the M/R or Maintenance and Recovery vehicle. It is equipped with a 20,000 lb. winch and a 3,000 lb. hydraulic crane. They can be had factory built or as kits which Bn. Maintenance can convert on the spot from M113s out of storage. This gives full armored cross-country mobility to the mechanics, and three maintenance tracks could even be split up to go with the maneuver elements, each pulling a parts trailer. Normal armament is the old Ma Deuce, and for this use, the .50 might be just right. Three tracks, the rest of company maintenance on the road in five tonners would work about right. And an armed M/R vehicle would add firepower to whichever unit was getting the help.

This is extremely important!!! The supply/sustinence/repair column has GOT to be hardened, as many times, it will be ambushed enroute. It needs guns, armor, and communications and should be almost an autonomous operation. I know, I was there, and without a steady stream of supplies, parts, and technicians, your mobility is seriously impaired. A unit in LIC needs a supply column that is organized, armed like a line unit, and works directly for the Exec.

J.F.C. Fuller once stated that a cross-country armored unit should be accompanied by a trains unit that he likened to an armored snake.....And that was in the 1930s. What things boil down to is that you have to be able to bring a full power pack out to a crippled unit, install it and take the damaged pack back for repairs. You also have to be able to unstick mired tracks, and repair damaged treads. This requires multiple vehicles and cross-trained tankers in the line units. It is also going to require something that we haven't had since WWII, a tank-infantry team that has been assigned and trained together so that the troops know each other as buddies, not as a bunch of apes that came out of the night and linked up just before leaving the LD. To quote a Marine Major (Jeb) Stuart on Okinawa, "The tankers and infantrymen lived in each other's pockets, stood guard, lived, died, cried and fought together, and they were unbeatable."

There is also a dozer version of the 113, and again, the kits can simply be ordered up and mounted at unit level, as they will fit the standard hull. Since the blade is foam filled and doesn't detract from buoyancy, it might be possible to equip one ACAV in each platoon as a blade vehicle. As a matter of fact, the dozer kit is being offered as a part of the new stretched six roadwheel hull as an engineer vehicle. Maybe we ought to build an engineer squad into this oversized company or whatever we are going to wind up with, and let them arrive in the engineer tracks. Both the mechanics and engineers will need road vehicles, of course, and that brings up another capability, and this one ought to be kept in battalion transportation.

That is the link between the road convoys and the troops in the hills. What is needed is the ability to off-load from road convoys directly onto a cross-country platform, and it is coming. There is a replacement for the venerable M548 in the works, and the people at United Defense call it the Mobile Tactical Vehicle-Cargo, or MTVC. It is a stretch version, has an armored cab, gun cupola, and a 3000 lb. crane. The cargo capacity is seven tons, or six pallets, which should be just about right....Looks like about one fuel pod and two ammo pallets and assorted supplies, and it's even armed and armored. It can, using its own crane, pick pallets directly off the loboys and load them onto its own back. We've needed something like this forever.

A section of those carriers, each armed with, say, an ASP-30 or a Mk-19 40mm grenade launcher, (there's now a flechette round), escorted by a pair of headquarters ACAVs and perhaps an armed M/R track and an ACAV from the receiving unit, would not be something to be casually ambushed....The supply column could bite back, for once. As a matter of fact, they'd probably generate quite a few kills before the word got around.

Next is a little item that is usually held at battalion and is probably going to be shifted up to division, if somebody doesn't stop the process, and that is the AVLB. Yes, there is a bridge version of the M113, as a matter of fact, I know of at least three. One simply tows a light assault bridge, one extends a scissors like the heavy tank version, and the last uses cables to shove a shorter bridge straight out in front of the hull, again, see the sidebar.

The Norwegians even have a technology that makes the bridge vehicle amphibious. They simply made a bridge segment that is sealed, waterproof and that floats. In operation, they lay the bridge in the water, run the launching vehicle in behind it, hook up and pushboat the platform across. Designed with enough buoyancy, and with an outboard motor, that bridge section could also become a powered raft for ferry work. What should be looked at here, is that most failed nations desperately need bridging. One German demonstrator at an engineer conference told me that "Balkan bridges don't ever get repaired until they cause enough trouble to require invasion." Combat in RVN experience says that that newly laid or repaired bridges also attract guerrillas like magnets. OK fine, ship an excess of bridge decks, plant them all over the area with the carriers, and then cover them with ambush teams and snipers. Better yet, declare a dusk to dawn curfew and then dust the bridges off with airburst VT every so often. The idea is to kill barbarians and protect civilians. Right? So use the bridges as bait. Guerrillas, historically, are very seldom a large portion of the population, and any garden profits from a periodic weeding.

An armed maintenance/supply platoon, allied with a dozer equipped engineer squad, mounted in armed M113s would go a long way to giving company HQ something it has long needed, a self-defense capability. Let's see just how far that can be carried. The company commander gets his own ACAV, and the crew doubles as HQ clerks. Same for the First Shirt. His crew are his driver, company clerk, runners, etc. If this is carried all through the HQ section, to include the Exec and the Supply and Operations Sergeants, we can probably provide at least four more ACAV/infantry pairs.

There is now in existence the XM577A3, which is a stretched command vehicle with the long needed diesel generator, and a vehicle mounted telescoping mast. By simply using all the excess HQ troops as combat vehicle crew, we effectively "harden," the unit by creating a self-defending LZ which releases all the line units for patrol work. Even the cooks can be given this treatment. Look, for instance, at the room available in the old deuce and a half mess truck. There's more room than that in a stretched M113, or one of its open cargo derivatives, and you've just added another gun to the perimeter defense.

It is possible here, to get extremely devious. With a little subtle cross training, the HUMMV drivers belonging to the Exec, Company Commander, and First sergeant, could be simply told that they are now company scouts and sent out to patrol roads and empty terrain. You just grab a few cooks and supply handlers, a commo tech or ordnance assistant and a few other malingerers, give them local guides, and tell them that they have volunteered for scout duty.....worked for us. One extremely creative Lieutenant, Joe Somolik, built a whole ACAV company that way, right under everybody's noses.

This type of HQ, once developed, can handle a rather large collection of line and auxiliary units, and probably will have to. In any UN deployment, we can expect to have to support and control not only allied units such as Norwegians, Turks, Kenyans and the like, but also Special Forces teams, Rangers, Intelligence teams, and indigenous units, such as local militia. The problem is we don't HAVE such a TO right now, and if we don't at least wargame it, we're going to get caught short....Again, Colonel Smith.

Available M113 Variants

First, let's take a look at the problem of enemy armor. We have the use of the TOW version of the M113, of course, and there is the M113A3/TS, which is a combination of a hull pierced for a larger diameter turret and equipped with a Giat 90mm turret, effectively creating a light tank, or a medium if the heavy armor kit is installed. If you're using a 90mm turret, pick an APERS or fragmentation round, screw a FLIR fuze into it and you can take out helicopters

Italy has an anti-aircraft M113A3 mount with four 4 x 25 mm guns....YIKES! Remember that the 25mm chain gun could penetrate a T-54 in Desert Storm and that a quad .50 was only 12.5mm, imagine the old quad's firepower at 25mm with DU projectiles. Boresight and converge them at 1200 meters and you could DISSOLVE armor.

We also have the ADATS, and the 20mm Vulcan. There are GE Blazer turrets in many versions, including the Avenger configurations, one of which combines a 30mm tri-barrel with a 70mm Hydra pod on one side and a four-tube Stinger on the other. Talk about an aircraft trap.

Now, about that AVLB. Even the folks at UDLP, (formerly FMC) didn't know about this one, as it was created about two management generations ago, and on the other side of the continent, 1n 1968. What had happened was that in RVN, an ACAV size bridge was desperately needed. The first thing that was done, was to make a bridge that would fit on an M551 chassis, but that was still too big. Next, an Engineer field modification was cooked up and formalized.

A launching frame was mounted on a standard hull, and two other M113s were used to carry standard aluminum bridge balks. In practice, they were laid out on the ground, lifted to the tow shackles with chain hoists, and then lifted off the ground with the same hoists, which were connected to the hull's lifting rings. Crude but effective. Next a miniaturized AVLB, hydraulics and all, was designed and built, and the photo shows that it was done and existed. The bridge weighed 1224 kg and could span a 10 meter gap, and carry 1500 kg. The best information I have says that after prototyping, a further 29 were ordered in 1969. What caused them to vanish is that the war was winding down, and they were manufactured by the U.S. Army Mobility Equipment R&D Center at Fort Belvoir. If they were ever manufactured and shipped to Southeast Asia, they are STILL THERE. They may be in storage at Belvoir.

Now let's look at the list of standard, off-the-shelf, variants available. Bulldozer conversion. Fitter/recovery, Mortar carrier, Vulcan 20mm, flamethrower/foam projector, open cargo carrier, several command versions. TOW/ADATS/Rapier, Smoke vehicle, Autocannon versions, Armored ambulance. Artillery/FAC vehicles, Artillery reprovision vehicle, Arty Aiming Circle, Armored Infantry Combat Vehicle. That's about enough to go fight a war with.

There's even a recon version, a cute little four roadwheel model called the Lynx, used by Canada, Belgium, and the Netherlands, which is also fully amphibious and mounts a 20mm cannon. It has about 80% parts commonality with the standard hull......We haven't had this much interchangeability since the Sherman-based series of vehicles.


We, as armor, simply don't make proper use of our mortar capability and that is probably because it is a bit short ranged for high speed mobile war. That limitation need not apply to area war, and the 7km range of a 120mm mortar would serve to make a large area unsafe for nocturnal activities. Accuracy and speed of fire, we have got. We've all seen the shoot and scoot demonstration, where a mortar unit is gone before its rounds hit the ground. Fine, we have it, let's use it.

We could, for instance, develop a "racetrack" inside a secured zone so that the mortars did not have to set in a fire base, but could move to prepared spots......Then we put light infantry on overwatch and nail the hostiles who try to mine the firing points. This is one of the finer almost lost points of counter guerrilla war. Create something that they can't resist. Then either set an ambush or lay your own mines on the way out and listen to the screams as they come in with their own.....THEN call in airburst from the mortars.

There is another way to get adequate artillery support, but the old technique is almost "heresy" to modern heavy tankers. In fact, the last officer that used it was Lt. John Mountcastle in 1/69 back in 1968. General Mountcastle recently retired as Chief of History, U.S. Army, and the knowledge is still available. What would have to be done, is to create a Battalion reaction platoon equipped with straight M1 tanks with artillery controls, diesel engines, auxiliary power, and an ammo section. There is a paper in the Armor School's vertical file, called, "A Bigger Hammer," by a Col. Alphin, which looks over the use of the tank as a battlefield bully, and the Colonel makes the point that by far the most common use of the Sherman was as a bunker-buster, an artillery piece, strongpoint reducer---whatever--infantry fire support tank. We need those artillery controls back, gentlemen. Before someone shrieks that. "that's for the redlegs," ask yourself this. Do you want to be out in the hills on tracks doing America's business defending against asymmetric sub-national group attacks or sulking in a stateside motor pool waiting for The War in 2020 to duel enemy heavy tanks in a replay of Desert Storm??

Another point that the good Colonel made is that every round made for the 105mm howitzer is rated for the acceleration that the 105mm tank gun would give it. That means that with no fancy development costs, we can have long range HE, WP, Illumination, Airburst, and fuze delay, deep penetration.....Hell, just for grins, lets add leaflet shells. The point is, that we have the equipment, let's get our brains out of travel lock and figure out how to use it so that we have a plan when the call goes out.