Tag Archives: militariana

Bradley Advanced Survivability Test Bed

We’ve known that crew survivability can be enhanced by isolating crew from the ammo, and providing blow-out panels to direct any cook-offs away from the crew. These features are usually designed in from the beginning, as in the M1 Abrams or T-14. Let’s look at a test bed designed to add these features after the fact.

The M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle and M3 Cavalry Fighting Vehicle carry an awful lot of ammunition, and aren’t super well protected. US Army studies indicated that an infantry carrier like the Bradley was likely to be targeted by anything on the battlefield, including the antitank weapons that it really wasn’t designed to resist. While explosive reactive armor could be added to supplement existing armor, this wouldn’t do very much against APFSDS rounds.

The Bradley Advanced Survivability Test Bed (ASTB) implemented a pretty extensive redesign of stowage. Most of the TOW missiles were moved to hull stowage racks outside of the crew compartment, with three missiles in an external compartment in addition to the two in the launcher. Two more were stored low on the floor of the crew compartment, although these could be replaced with Dragon missiles that were of more use to the dismounts. This limited amount of stowage in the crew compartment was intended to allow the vehicle to fight if the external stowage was not immediately accessible. Reserve 25mm ammunition was compartmentalized, with blow-off panels and separation for the rounds provided in the compartments. As a result, reserve ammunition capacity was reduced from 600 rounds in a regular M2 to 588 rounds in the ASTB.

Fuel was also mostly moved to large, external tanks at the back of the vehicle to prevent fires in the crew compartment. A 30 gallon “get home” reserve tank was provided internally.

The ASTB was also fitted with spall liners, additional applique armor, and protection for the sights. These features would get rolled into production models of the Bradley after live-fire testing of several models, including the ASTB, in 1987.

As for the rest of the features, I do not know why more were not adopted.

On the BMP

Let’s talk about the BMP, specifically the BMP-1 and BMP-2. The BMP-1 was pretty revolutionary when it first appeared, and was extremely influential. Interestingly, the design requirements go back to the early 1960s, when Soviet Doctrine came to embrace tactical nuclear weapons and chemical weapons. This led to a desire for a vehicle that would be highly mobile and allow infantry to fight from inside in order to minimize exposure to the expected hostile battlefield environment. By 1967, Soviet interest in heavy use of tactical nuclear and chemical weapons had waned, but the design requirements were set (go figure).

The BMP-1 used the powertrain from the PT-76, came with amphibious capability, and provided NBC protection for the crew of three plus the eight dismountable infantry inside. The infantry were provided with NBC-sealed firing ports for their Kalashnikov assault rifles and machine guns, and had roof hatches to operate weapons with a backblast, like RPGs. These ports were arranged four per side and two aft. The turret of the BMP-1 had a 73mm smoothbore gun that fired the same projectiles as the standard infantry recoilless rifle, a coaxial machine gun, and a rail for Malyutka ATGMs. The turret distributed some platoon/company level support weapons down to the carrier vehicle. This turret was a one-man affair, as Soviet doctrine of the time had the commander dismount with the rest of the infantry in the back to lead them.

The BMP-1 had a number of notable shortcomings. The lack of armor is one, and the small size meant that any hit would strike important, flammable things. The commander-outside-the-turret arrangement made fire control difficult, and forced the gunner to work as an ersatz vehicle commander when the squad dismounted. Wartime experience in the 1973 Yom Kippur war was decidedly mixed. The Egyptians were satisfied with their BMP-1s, which were used to support missile-equipped antitank infantry teams. The Syrians used their BMP-1s in head-on attacks that left them to be smashed by Israeli antitank guns.

The effectiveness and widespread use of antitank missiles in the Yom Kippur War was also a problem, since even the most rudimentary missiles outranged the 73mm gun on the BMP-1. A quick response to suppress an antitank missile team (and screw up their command-guidance concentration) would also be hindered by the separation of commander and gunner. Hence, the BMP-2 received a two-man turret with a 30mm gun that had a much more reasonable trajectory.

San Antonio-class BMD Ship

Ballistic Missile Defense is tricky. It requires lots of radar power and plenty of missiles. Right now, you can use your Aegis-equipped ships like the Arleigh Burke-class for the job. But those weren’t designed for the role, and the current state of the art SPY-6 radar is as big as you can fit on one. That is still not ideal for BMD work. Could we do better? Could we make a big air/missile defense ship, preferably on an existing, proven hull? Huntingon-Ingalls has some thoughts on the matter. They currently make the excellent San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock, and think it would be a great candidate for conversion. Let’s look at their proposal.

The San Antonio-class is a large, modern ship for amphibious operations. They are 684 feet long, 105 feet wide, and displace 25,300 tons. They have a large helipad aft for operating MV-22s and have a well deck to launch and recover landing craft or amphibious vehicles like the LCAC. They’re currently in production too. At present, armament is limited to two RIM-116 launchers and two 30mm cannons. They also have provision for a 16-cell Mk 41 suite, but are not fitted with those at present.

HII’s proposed conversion ditches the well deck and and sports a redesigned superstructure capable of mounting four 25’x35′ (WxH) S-Band AESA arrays for better search and discrimination of ballistic missile targets. Four X-Band Arrays would be fitted above the S-Band arrays for tracking and fire control. The large hull of the San Antonios allows the BMD variant to carry no fewer than 288 Mk. 41 launch tubes.

The large hull of the San Antonios allows for plenty of extra power generation and cooling equipment, so that won’t be a problem. The large hull also allows for a higher radar mount without compromising stability. One currently noteworthy limitation is that the San Antonio-class LPDs are only capable of about 22 knots. For the role it’s designed for, that’s not a huge limitation, but they’d slow a task force down if included in one. And the number of tubes would make them tempting to include in a task force.

Finally, let’s talk cost. To the good is that the San Antonio-class production line is hot. An existing hull is no small savings. On the down side, a fancy Aegis-type suite plus big radar that isn’t going to be cheap, and I know of no appropriately-sized radar offhand that would do the job. Radar development isn’t cheap. Overall, I’d say it’s a good idea if you’re really dedicated to BMD, but without actual price numbers, I can’t really give it a great thumbs up/thumbs down. My gut is that it’s a bit too expensive for what it is, given current budget priorities.

Deploying the 6.8 mm SPC 2 Cartridge

The 6.8 mm SPC cartridge was designed to improve the firepower of US special operations forces without requiring the issuing of an entirely brand new rifle. It’s one of many alternative calibers for the AR-15. While it had the backing of Remington, and was designed with the help of some active special operations forces, a number of issues have come up to get in the way of its popularity. These include (in no particular order) two different SAAMI specifications for the cartridge, more effective 5.56 mm cartridges, ready availability of 7.62x51mm carbines, a whole bunch of other important gear that’s not going to pay for itself, and the round not being a non-NATO standard has mean that it hasn’t been adopted by the organizations that worked to develop it. However, a middle eastern special forces unit has adopted the weapon as a compact carbine. Let’s take a look.

This unit contracted with LWRC for the gun, with the goal of having a very short barrel (8.5″) and plenty of firepower. Given a relatively large order of more than 30,000 carbines, LWRC decided to make some changes. To ensure reliable feeding, they worked with Magpul to design 6.8-specific magazines. These are wider than standard AR-15 magazines, and the magwell on the new guns was widened to accept them. The new magazines have that same great windowed PMAG design, hold 30 rounds, and weigh 1.32 lbs fully loaded.

Other than the aforementioned 8.5″ barrel, the rifle has a quadrail handguard, pistol-length buffer tube, PDW-length stock, and a short-stroke gas piston system. The top rail of the handguard is removable to clean or service the gas piston. The rifle is the SIX8-UCIW. A version with a longer barrel, as well as an SBR version are available for civilian purchase, though obviously without select fire capability.

LWRC also worked with ATK (the parent company of Speer) to get a round that would function well in a rather short barrel. ATK obliged with a special round that will do the job, even with military flash suppressants. And yes, it’s SPC II spec.

Ok, what do we think? Well, it’s a solid execution of the “PDW” concept for a protective detail rather than for rear echelon troops. A short, relatively light package with plenty of firepower is exactly what this will deliver. I’m not a big fan of ‘nonstandard’ cartridges for general issue (who, admittedly are not expected to have super-short 8.5″ barrels), but I like the thought process here. Another tool in the toolbox, and one that fills a useful niche at that.

OH-58D Kiowa Warrior

Usually our procurement posts are all about buying shiny new stuff. And that’s fine. But sometimes you can get some “pre-owned” stuff for a great price, often from major powers who have decided they don’t want it for no good reason. Let’s take a look at one such item now: the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior.

The OH-58D is a derivative of Bell’s venerable and popular 206 JetRanger. The -58D had a more powerful engine than earlier models, and added a Mast Mounted Sight. This globe-shaped module above the main rotor contained a thermal imager plus a laser rangefinder/designator, and allowed the Kiowa Warrior to observe the enemy while the fuselage is obscured by terrain. The OH-58D has two hardpoints that can take small rocket pods, Stinger missiles, or Hellfire missiles.

We should also take a brief moment to talk about the related trainer. The TH-67 is a Bell 206B-3 purchased for use as a primary trainer. It’s available with IFR-rated instruments if desired. It’s another great choice if we’re considering the OH-58, since we’d get some fleet parts commonality. Plus, it’s a common, reliable, and cheap civilian aircraft, and a trainer should be cheap and reliable to facilitate plenty of flying hours.

The Bell 206 family is very popular on the civilian market, and is still in production. As a result, getting spares shouldn’t be a problem. Current models (the model 206L-4) have a strengthened tailboom and improved gearboxes. Other options on offer from Bell include replacing the tail and tail rotor with those of the Bell Model 427, replacing the main rotor and gearbox with those from the Bell Model 4071, and upgrading to a bigger Honeywell HTS900 engine with over 800 hp.

Once we get our hands on the Kiowa Warriors, we can also start considering options for sensor upgrades in the MMS, tinkering with the communications suite, and adding a blue force tracker. As is, the OH-58Ds were very successful in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US Army2 had wanted to replace them with the gold-plated and ill-fated RAH-66 Commanche and then the ARH-70, which also went way overbudget. Currently, the Army has no scout helicopters and is trying to fill the void with other things. Oh, and complain to Congress.

We’d like to take the perfectly good ones they’re trying to sell through the Excess Defense Article and Foreign Military Sale program.


  1. The Bell 407 and 427 are themselves derivatives of the 206 by way of the twin-engine JetRanger development projects of the 80s. 
  2. Who has never known what the words “good enough” mean when they can dream of “better.” 

The ACR’s Aviation Squadron

We’re not quite done with examining the circa-early-1990s ACR. In addition to the three Armored Cavalry Squadrons, the ACR had its own organic air support in the Aviation Squadron.1 Let’s take a look. As always, I’ve seen plenty of variation in the support units.

  • HQ & HQ Troop
    • (3) UH-60L Blackhawk Transport Helicopters
    • (3) EH-60L Electronic Warfare helicopters
    • (1) OH-58D Kiowa Warrior Scout Helicopter
  • (3) Attack Troops, each with:
    • (6) OH-58D Kiowa Warrior Scout Helicopters
    • (4) AH-64A Apache Attack Helicopters
  • (2) Heavy Attack Troops, each with:
    • (4) OH-58D Kiowa Warrior Scout Helicopters
    • (7) AH-64A Apache Attack Helicopters
  • (1) Transport Helicopter Troop
    • (15) UH-60L Blackhawk Transport Helicopters
  • Aviation Unit Maintenance Troop
    • (12) M978 Tanker HEMTTs
    • (18) 600 gal. fuel bladders
    • (7) M977 Cargo HEMTTs
    • (7) M35 2.5-ton cargo trucks
    • (6) M923 5-ton drop-side cargo trucks with cargo trailers
    • (18) Fuel PODS
    • (6) Forward Area Refueling Equipment sets

When I first read of this, I was somewhat opposed, on the grounds that helicopters require lots of fuel. On the other hand, attack helicopters are pretty damn awesome, and scout helicopters are super useful. The above is some serious strikebreaking firepower, and I can’t argue with that. Or won’t. Whichever.


  1. Which I’ve also seen referred to as the Air Cavalry Squadron 

Book Review: MG34-MG42: German Universal Machineguns (Volume 1)

Another book review, this time looking at another offering from Collector Grade Publications.

This book covers the development history, manufacturing history, and use of the MG34 and MG42. It also provides a detailed account of accessories used with these weapons, as well as identifying marks and various ways to troubleshoot malfunctions. Detailed pictures of the many subvariants of these weapons are also included. There are also really cool evaluations of these weapons from both German soldiers as well as Soviet and American experts looking at captured examples.

For me, this book ended up being a mixed bag. I really liked reading about the development history of how the Germans went from the MG 08/15 to the MG34 and from there to the MG42. I also really enjoyed reading about the different tactics used. Less interesting to me was all of the various “Collectible” details, like serial numbers, identifying marks, and minor version changes. Seeing the comparative evaluations was also pretty awesome. It was nice to see German gunners complaining about the rate of ammo usage and the Americans really liking the quick change barrel mechanism, to name two examples.

I also found the accessories section to drag. Some were cool. Some were kinda lame. It’s very much encyclopedic, and often skimming is the best answer. Or having it more as a reference for looking things up in than for reading cover-to-cover.

Now, let’s talk price. I got mine for the sticker price. For me and my interests, anything much above sticker and I’m going to call this a pass. I’m happy at the sticker price. I’ll also note that Collector Grade books are a pretty solid investment in a lot of ways: the out of print ones generally command ludicrous prices in good condition. So if you’re on the fence and can be trusted to take care of your books, I’d suggest you buy it. If you end up not liking it, you won’t lose any money (and might make some) on the resale.

The Armored Cavalry Squadron

Moving up the table, Armored Cavalry units can’t use the term “battalion,” because that’s what lame units without horses in their history use. They prefer “Squadron” at that level of organization. Let’s take a look.

  • HQ & HQ Troop
  • (3) Armored Cavalry Troops
  • (1) Tank Company
  • (1) Artillery Battery

We’ve already discussed what’s in the Armored Cavalry Troop (circa 1990). Let’s look at the other components.

HQ & HQ Troop

  • Squadron HQ
    • (4) M998A1 HMMWVs
    • (2) M1038A1 Cargo HMMWVs
    • (3) M939 cargo trucks with cargo trailers
    • (1) M934 Expansible Van with trailer
    • (2) M3A2 Bradley CFV
    • (1) M113A3 APC
    • (3) M577A3 Command Vehicles
  • Troop HQ
    • (1) M998A1 HMMWV
    • (1) M1038A1 Cargo HMMWV
    • (1) M939 cargo truck with water trailer
    • (1) M934 Expansible Van with trailer
  • Battalion Communications Platoon
    • (1) M998A1 HMMWV
    • (1) M934 Expansible Van with trailer
    • (1) M577A3 Command Vehicle
  • Fire Support Element
    • (1) M998A1 HMMWV
    • (1) M577A3 Command Vehicle
  • AVLB Section
    • (3) M60 AVLBs
  • Battalion Medical Platoon
    • (1) M1038A1 Cargo HMMWV
    • (2) M577A3 Aid Stations
    • (8) M113A3 Medevac APC
    • (2) M934 Expansible Vans with trailers
  • Battalion Support Platoon
    • (1) M1038A1 Cargo HMMWV with cargo trailer
    • (6) M939 cargo trucks with cargo trailers
    • (7) M977 Cargo HEMTTs
    • (8) M978 Fuel Tanker HEMTTs
    • (2) M49 tankers with tanker trailers
  • Battalion Maintenance Platoon
    • (2) Cargo HMMWVs
    • (1) Cargo HMMWV with cargo trailer
    • (2) M934 Expansible Vans with cargo trailers
    • (1) M984 HEMTT Wrecker
    • (1) M936 Wrecker
    • (3) M88A2 Armored Recovery Vehicles
    • (5) M939 Cargo Trucks with cargo trailers

Tank Company

  • Company HQ
    • (2) M1A1 Abrams MBTs
    • (1) M113A3 APC
    • (1) M998A1 HMMWV
    • (1) M1038A1 Cargo HMMWV
    • (1) M939 cargo truck with water trailer
  • (3) Tank platoons, each with:
    • (4) M1A1 Abrams MBTs
  • Company Maintenance Section
    • (1) M1038A1 Cargo HMMWV
    • (1) M113A3 APC
    • (2) M934 Expansible Vans with trailers
    • (1) M88A2 Armored Recovery Vehicle

Artillery Battery

  • Battery HQ
    • (1) M998A1 HMMWV
    • (1) M1038A1 Cargo HMMWV
    • (1) M939 cargo truck with water trailer
    • (1) M978 Fuel Tanker HEMTT with M989 HEMAT ammunition trailer
  • Communication Section
    • (1) M1038A1 Cargo HMMWV with cargo trailer
  • Survey Section
    • (1) M1038A1 Cargo HMMWV
  • (2) Firing Platoons, each with:
    • (1) M998A1 HMMWV
    • (1) M1038A1 Cargo HMMWV
    • (1) M934 Expansible Van with trailer
    • (1) M577A3 Command Vehicle
    • (4) M109A6 Paladin Self Propelled Howitzers
    • (4) FAASVs
  • Fire Support Team Section:
    • (4) M981 FIST-Vs
  • Combat Observation/Lasing Team section:
    • (2) M981 FIST-Vs
  • Ammunition Section
    • (8) M977 Cargo HEMTTs
  • Battery Maintenance Section
    • (1) M113A3 APC
    • (2) M934 Expansible Vans with trailers
    • (1) M578 Light Recovery Vehicle

Some things to note. First, it interests me that the 4th company is a tank company. You can’t argue with that armor, I suppose. I’m also really happy to see that the squadron has some organic artillery capability. I rather like this idea. More artillery is always good, and I like having some always available to the squadron commander, on account of being organic to the squadron. My only complaint is a lack of any sort of anti-aircraft capability, but that’s a pretty common failing for US Army TO&Es. It’s also pretty easily fixable.

The Armored Cavalry Troop

Armored Cavalry units had an interesting table of organization that pushed combined arms. These units were designed to hit hard, and a look at a troop (company-level asset) TO&E shows that they brought a lot of firepower to battle. Each troop consisted of a headquarters section, two scout platoons, two tank platoons, a maintenance section, and a mortar section. Let’s break it down and then we’ll provide commentary.

  • Headquarters Section:
    • One M1A1 Abrams
    • One M3A2 Bradley
    • One M577 Command post
    • Three HMMWVs
    • One 5-ton truck with water tank trailer
  • Two Scout Platoons:
    • Six M3A2 Bradleys (each)
  • Two Tank Platoons:
    • Four M1A1 Abrams (each)
  • Troop Maintenance Section (18 men):
    • One M88A2 armored recovery vehicle
    • One M113A3 APC
    • Two 5-ton trucks with cargo trailers
  • Mortar Section
    • Two M106 mortar carriers

Some variation in utility vehicles can be found in tables depending on era. My primary source is Tom Clancy’s Armored Cav which is regrettably light on the details of support units in an early-90s troop.

The first thing to note is that there’s not a lot of infantry here. The M3-series Bradleys have only two dismounts a piece, which gives the troop only 24 dismountable soldiers. On the other hand, the M3s have twice the stowed ammo of an M2, so they bring lots of firepower to the table. This is also one of the few places where a platoon with six subelements (namely the M3s) can be found in an official table.

The troop also brings some form of all three elements of combined arms: infantry, armor, and artillery (the mortars). I really like that. Would that it had more infantry though. It wouldn’t be too hard to replace the scout platoons for conventional mechanized infantry platoons. While I’m talking changes, I’d prefer to replace the M106s with some sort of turreted mortar carrier like the Rak.

I’m also curious how a mechanized infantry platoon might work if it had six IFVs in it. I would probably assume a nominal organization where a “squad” is the IFV and it’s dismount team. But there are other thoughts; the US army has indicated a desire to go this way in the future with the dismounts grouping into larger squads after disembarking.

Overall though, I really like the core concept here. As always, pushing more differing vehicle types to lower levels pushes more logistics and maintenance requirements lower as well. The US Army was able to make it work, at least as long as a plausible serious threat was present. I’ll probably shamelessly crib from this all the same.