2009/06/13

Challenging the IFV concept - Part 2

.
I argued yesterday that the IFV concept of today isn't even close to the answer to a tactical problem that it was meant to be in its conception.

IFVs are compromise vehicles;
jack of all trades, master of none.

IFVs can move infantry into a battle with tank-like mobility, but just few.
IFVs can support tanks with autocannon (20-40mm) and ATGMs (2-4km usually), but they're poorly supplied with ammunition for this .
They have elaborate fire control and weapon stabilization systems, but little capability against difficult aerial targets.
They can lay suppressive fire with a coaxial machine gun, but no better than tanks can do.
They are armoured for survivability, but much less than the main battle tanks.

- - - - -

An especially disappointing compromise of the IFV is its passive protection. The armour protection is in between MBT and light, 'rear area' AFV armour levels.
Few modern IFVs attempt to come close to MBT protection levels at least against shaped charge and mine weapons; count me as unimpressed.

The whole concept of a high-cost compromise vehicle seems to deliver too little bang for the buck in general; especially too few infantrymen. The IFV concept suggests that IFVs are THE transport vehicle for infantrymen in heavy brigades. IFVs are expensive and relatively thirsty, so their quantity is dangerously low (A Puma-equipped Panzerbrigade with a single Panzergrenadierbataillon would end up with only about 300 infantrymen seats in IFVs).

There's no need to reinvent the wheel, though - we just need different compromises AND the readiness to get rid of an one-size-fits-it-all vehicle. Standardization benefits can be had with vehicle families of specialized vehicles just as well.



HAPC

The Israelis never bought into the IFV concept (and therefore deprived us of the opportunity to have it reality-checked in one of their wars). They kept the MBT/APC fleet until quite recently when they added a specialist vehicle concept; the heavy armoured personnel carrier (HAPC).

That's the American battle taxi concept mated with MBT-like survivability.

I think that makes a lot of sense; the relative lack of secondary fire/explosion threats in such a vehicle and the smaller silhouette (no turret) makes this concept even more survivable than MBTs (that doesn't need to be true for specific examples).

I propose to adopt this concept for the task of moving infantry on the battlefield till they dismount and do their job in the combined arms team of tanks, infantry and indirect support fires. HAPCs can carry a full group (10-13), not just the small ones we got used to see in IFVs (6-9).
The HAPC should be based on the same components and have the same (if not better) protection level as the MBT; the requirement for a rear door/ramp requires a different internal layout and therefore a different hull, though.

The HAPC concept has just one flaw; these vehicles are thirsty (heavy) and expensive.
Again, it cannot be the primary vehicle for a brigade's infantry. It can only fill the high survivability battle-taxi niche.


APC

The Heer had serious resource restrictions in WW2; one of these was a lack of SPW. It was only able to equip few Panzergrenadier units with SPW and equipped all else with trucks instead. That wasn't perfect, yet successful as the divisions had at least this reduced SPW inventory.

We're still in a similar situation, just at another level. We cannot afford (and sustain) HAPCs for all heavy brigade infantry. But we can afford to have some of the infantry in HAPCs and most in normal APCs (armoured personnel carriers).

Those APCs should have rear area protection standards; artillery fragment protection, bullet-proof, mine-protection and reduction of shaped charge behind-armour effects (spall liner).
Every such APC should be considered as a transport/utility vehicle, not as a combat vehicle. The self-defence armament could easily be limited to a 7.62 machine gun, at maximum a 20mm lightweight autocannon. The dismount strength should be the same as the HAPC's, but with a bit extra volume for extra equipment.

This is pretty much the classic APC concept as known by M113 and Fuchs. A cheap wheeled APC based on a medium truck chassis could satisfy as well.



RFCV

APC and HAPC replace the infantry transportation job of the IFVs . That's no complete substitution for an IFV, though.

The rapid fire capability of an IFV (coupled with usually much greater max. gun elevation in comparison to MBTs) is valuable and shouldn't be ditched.
A replacement vehicle for this (let's call it rapid fire combat vehicle, RFCV) should first fix a major flaw of the IFV; its inferior protection. A rapid fire vehicle with autocannon(s) would be a duel vehicle, in line-of-sight of the enemy just like MBTs. It needs MBT-level protection like HAPCs. This level of protection is not available for IFVs because the dismounts add too much volume and surface.
No matter how well an IFV is protected; a dedicated firepower vehicle that simply got rid of the dismount requirement (or limited it to a scout team's size like two) can be better-protected.

The RFCV should share the chassis with MBTs and have a IFV-like, but improved firepower.
It should be master with rapid fire, not just mediocre. Its ammunition should either leave no lethality wishes left or it should be available in such quantity that suppressive fire is possible for minutes (yes, I'm talking about heavier barrels than usual).

The Russians have shown off prototypes of such a concept, the BMP-T.

I'm still trying to understand the concept behind the automatic grenade launchers on that vehicle, but otherwise it's pretty much something that I could agree on.

My T-95 speculation could be understood as an upper limit, high-tech extreme of the RFCV concept. This upper end would be too expensive for a force that doesn't have huge quantities of medium tech MBTs in storage.

A variation of the RFCV concept could integrate a mortar for efficient indirect fire support; turreted medium mortars are proven tech and could easily be installed coaxial to an autocannon. The result would look a bit like the BMP-3 turret (a full gun is usually pointless for a vehicle that fights side-by-side with MBTs, though).


I have favoured a move away from the holy cow Schützenpanzerwagen / infantry fighting vehicle for years. The concept itself is outdated, was never fully realized in practice and it's in my opinion inferior to more specialized vehicles that actually delete the need for a medium chassis family. The IFV also hurts our heavy forces because it's a major reason for their terrible quantitative infantry weakness.

.

16 comments:

  1. One more thing the idea of splitting up the IFV into HAPC, APC, and rapid fire tank is that the HAPC would no longer be an offensive asset and would therefore be more dedicated as a troop transport, so rather than sticking around and participating in a firefight, it would be safely transporting and supplying large quantities of infantry on the battlefield in situations where light APC-level protection wouldn't be appropriate. This would make mechanized infantry immensely more deployable and increase the momentum and staying power of armored formations.

    ReplyDelete
  2. How would these various vehicles fit together into a platoon/company/battalion/brigade structure?

    My general problem with having dissimilar, niche vehicles to serve various roles is never having enough of the right type when you need them.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Well, the alternative is to not have enough IFVs/infantry from the start and losing them quickly due to mediocre protection.

    A heavy brigade could have two mixed MBT/HAPC/RFCV combat teams, two APC-mobile infantry battalions and one truck-mobile infantry training battalion (plus some offtopic units).

    ReplyDelete
  4. The GMG on the BMP-T seems like an alternative to light artillery.

    Given the Russian problems in the Chechen cities, an area-suppression (Anti-Pers) and anti-bunker weapon like the grenades is probably useful in situations where you want to effectively clear out a unit of OPFOR.

    Using the cannons on infantry may be satisfying for the Russian IFVs, but it is not an effective use of resources for eliminating light infantry, either in an open field or the built up urban environment. Same reason for having several small-caliber MGs on Tanks and AFVs, but providing a more damaging round at range.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Yes, the AGLs fit to an infantry fire support mission.
    I'm puzzled by the quantity (two) and seemingly limited field of fire (only forward), though.

    A terrain with settlements, agricultural areas and forests (fairly typical in Central and Eastern Europe) requires IMO that heavy brigades are able to move along the open areas (agricultural areas) and suppress (if necessary) fires originating from forests and settlements.

    There's no rapid action (exploitation of protected mobility) possible if you assault every encountered opposition - you should to circumvent strong points (made easier by low force densities).

    This scenario places a strong emphasis on suppressive fires to the sides - the AGLs are useless for this due to both their low MV and their field of fire.

    The field of fire also looks suboptimal for urban ops and on roads through forests.

    They even stabilized the AGLs - that makes sense only for fire on the move (fire on the move only forward with low velocity shells?).

    The Russians came close to my concept, but added this strange assault gun mission-only AGLs to it.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Sven,

    In your brigade, three fifths of the battalions are less well protected than an all IFV brigade.

    Modern IFVs like the up-armored Bradley are reasonably well protected against older ATGMs and RPGs.

    They should really only get in trouble if they have to face modern anti-tank weapons. If this is a known threat, they would have to change tactics. Of course even a HAPC unit would have to do so as well.

    A four Bradley platoon can carry a full set of 3x9 squads. There is just is no weapons squad. However the Bradleys more than make up for the lost firepower. The squads are split oddly across the 4 vehicles, but it seems to work.

    And if you have to face peer opponent with an IFV-armed brigade, your brigade will have far fewer mounted, anti-armor weapons.

    IMHO, this was the real benefit of IFV in U.S. service - to "stack the deck" with anti-armor weapons.

    NATO was facing 5:1 odds against in armored forces in Europe. Every imaginable vehicle needed to be able to kill a BMP or T-80.

    ReplyDelete
  7. "..three fifths of the battalions are less well protected than an all IFV brigade."

    And the fifth (the only part that gets sent into offensive combat) is much better protected while the others would fight on foot and avoid getting caught in vehicles.

    Btw, my setup has much more infantry strength - with affordable vehicles.

    "Modern IFVs like the up-armored Bradley are reasonably well protected against older ATGMs and RPGs."

    I never assume major inadequacies in hostile forces. They would likely not dare to force a war of necessity on us if they were ill-prepared.

    "And if you have to face peer opponent with an IFV-armed brigade, your brigade will have far fewer mounted, anti-armor weapons."

    It depends. the Puma gets Eurospike, a weapon that can also be used from an APC hatch on tripod.
    High-end RFCVs would have a much better AT capability than any IFV ever had and even a medium tech BMP-T easily outclasses all IFVs in ATGM firepower.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Sven, you really can't count on only the HAPC battalions being sent into "offensive combat". What happens after they take their initial objectives and have to rest and recover? Is the whole brigade out of the fight?

    What if you find yourself in a situation like the early days of OIF, where offensive and defensive actions are occurring everywhere - a so-called "non-linear" battlefield?

    ReplyDelete
  9. I draw a line between hostile forces in company to brigade strength that oppose friendly forces with combined arms combat on the one hand and recce or circumvented units in platoon to company strength that bother support elements.

    The IFV concept will neither provide enough infantry nor enough IFVs to protect support units against the latter.
    Fully-trained and organized infantry in APCs should be good enough to face the smaller threat.

    Actually, the IFV-based TO&Es would leave no infantry and often times no APCs for 'rear area' or convoy security at all.

    I think my trio combat vehicle + APC concept is actually superior to the MBT+IFV concept against irregular/disorganized opposition at a given budget.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I think our problem today is we are sidetrack with an obsession with armor protection. All you say about the limitations of IFVs are true, such as little protection, reduced firepower, small crew. Yet, looked at another way, these can be assets.

    Less armor means the vehicle is more agile, with less wear and tear and longer lifespan. They can also be speedier which is essential in an urban environment where you are faced with an agile and stealthy foe like the insurgents.

    They have less firepower, but the IFV shouldn't really be used like a tank. If you shoot at something, it is going to shoot back, and this brings you back to the real offensive asset of the IFV, its crew.

    The primary purpose of these battle taxis is to ensure the highly skilled and heavily armed modern infantryman has an adequate ride to showcase his 21st century training. Now armed with GPS and a radio, the infantry can call in precision strikes to handle threats bigger than himself. Thanks to new battlefield robots,and extremely powerful man portable weapons, ground troops can perform many operations normally the domain of heavily armed and armored tanks.

    Again the drawbacks of the IFV as you insist they are, actually are its assets, if you focus more on its lithe and lethal cargo, the infantry, rather than the mothership itself.

    Obsession with platforms is what has got us in so much procurement mess as is, with tanks, planes, and warships which are too heavy and too costly to build in adequate numbers, and too precious to lose in combat if we ever have a war of attrition in the air or at sea as we have on land in recent decades.

    ReplyDelete
  11. IFVs are rarely if ever more agile on the battlefield than the (heavier) MBTs in the same formation.

    There's simply not enough infantry quantity in a heavy brigade to consider it as a strength - no matter how skilled.

    I don't feel obsessed with precious, well-protected platforms since I followed a classic spear approach; irresistible, hard tip and flexible, not so hard shaft.
    This compromise principle was proven to be a good idea in face of resource restrictions again and again since ancient military history.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Sven,

    Another problem with a hybrid brigade like this is the ease with which the enemy can determine the primary thrust of your advance. Just look for the HAPCs. In a uniform brigade, the enemy can't tell this just by looking at vehicle types.

    If a brigade needs additional rear area security forces, then just attach another MP or infantry unit, or assign rear area security to a different unit altogether. Keep the primary TO&E pure.

    Just MHO.

    I'm not against the HAPC, per se, I would just keep as separate and attach them as needed.

    ReplyDelete
  13. You seem influenced by an argument that was used for CavRgts with their M3 Bradleys and Abrams.
    I don't think that this (Corps level) example is applicable to a brigade.

    I don't see how a classic MBT/IFV brigade would be any better at this point anyway. The MBTs are not meant to be attached to rear units as security element. IFVs would be very short in supply and likely not intentionally used as mere security elements at all.

    A very agile leadership and organization leaves very little time to make use of such identifications anyway. They're fast enough to penetrate a hostile division's defence sector in 15 minutes, after all.
    Keep in mind there are no multi-layered defensive fronts possible with modern force densities. This means heavy brigades can exploit their battlefield agility as a whole unit and realize an extremely high tactical speed and agility.

    ReplyDelete
  14. VNC communication counsel16 June 2009 at 12:25

    For everyone's information:

    Christopher F Foss, Jane's:
    "Heavy duty: upgraded MBTs take on challenging urban operations

    In recent years an increasing number of militaries have found themselves involved in urban operations and, as a result, some countries have upgraded part of their existing main battle tank (MBT) fleets to enhance their capabilities during these operations."

    et cetera: http://www.janes.com/news/defence/idr/idr090611_1_n.shtml

    ReplyDelete
  15. I really like reading your thoughts on this subject, as it's something I've given a lot of thought to myself. I wonder what your thoughts would be on this:

    Essentially, a solution I have in mind (and which is to an extent actually being implemented by the Israelis) is to base an entire family of heavy combat vehicles on a common chassis and have specialized variants that still share common components such as engine, drive train, and so on.

    My idea is to base this family around an MBT like the Merkava, which has its engine mounted in the front. A front-mounted engine offers a lot of advantages for an MBT. It offers better protection for the crew against frontal hits, and it creates a large volume in the rear that can be used for all sorts of purposes. The Israelis normally use this space for extra ammunition, but in an emergency it can be used to carry troops or evacuate casualties, and having that back door makes evacuating a hit vehicle much safer.

    As I'm sure you know, the Israelis have already introduced an HAPC based on their Merkava, which has all of the advantages you've described for such a vehicle, with the added benefit of sharing many parts in common with the tank. I've heard that they may also be working on a version of this HAPC armed with a 30mm autocannon.

    My idea is this: Build all of the heavy brigade vehicles around this common chassis, including tanks, APC's, IFV's, HQ vehicles, armored ambulances, ARV's, SPAAG's, SPG's, mortar carriers, and so on. The front-mounted engine makes this easy, and the common chassis with common components across all vehicles goes a long way to minimizing the logistical complications that specialized vehicles would normally entail.

    The autocannon/IFV version is a particularly interesting case, as I wouldn't see it being the primary vehicle for mechanized infantry, rather a support vehicle. I would keep a minimal troop carrying capacity, which could be useful for carrying specialists such as heavy weapon squads, engineer teams, forward observers, and the like. Of course, there's no reason not to follow the tanks' example and use this extra space for ammunition instead of troops, if the tactical situation requires it. The keyword here is flexibility.

    When I read your essays on this subject, it seemed to me that a common, front-engine chassis for all heavy brigade vehicles would be the obvious solution, yet you did not seem to address such a possibility. This especially surprised me since you mentioned the Israeli example, who pretty much invented the idea. Such a solution would greatly reduce the obvious objection to your idea, that different vehicles mean more logistical troubles. I also think that economies of scale - producing more vehicles of a common chassis - would reduce the cost problems of such large and heavy vehicles, although I am not sure how much.

    What are your thoughts on this possibility? Do you think the common-chassis-for-all-heavy-vehicles idea is feasible, and do you think it might be an effective solution to some of the problems you have highlighted in these essays?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Heavy vehicles are too much of a mess in regard to price, maintenance and thirst. Units which include heavy armour are restricted in regard to choice of routes (bridge weight limits).
      The heavy brigades would end up being much too infantry-weak again. Yours is a concept for the United Arab Emirates or Oman only.

      IIRC I did write about how normal APCs should be really cheap, maybe even a simple logistics truck with driver's cabin protection set and a bulletproof squad cabin container on the back.
      There's demand for many thousand such vehicles, and they should not make logistics even more troublesome than they are already.

      HAPCs should be battlefield taxis, without a permanently assigned squad.

      And you would need a light tracked AFV family anyway, for there is such demand among forward observers, in armoured recce, for battlefield air defence, as mobile command post etc.

      Delete