Challenging the IFV concept - Part 3

Combined armour and infantry attack, Soviet WW2 style

The above photo -staged or not- roughly shows the classic combined attack by armour and infantry.
Both are line of sight forces, and complement each other - in this example at the expense of the tanks' speed and the infantry's stealth.

The tanks carry much firepower and much protection, but cannot sense much (poor fields of view) and cannot deal well with infantry underground or in buildings. The preferred defence against this was to chip away the infantry with mortars, artillery, machineguns and rifles and then exploit the tanks' weaknesses.

The introduction of the Panzerfaust in the German military during the Second World War forced the Red Army to prefer a combined attack with an infantry screen ahead of the tanks, so the infantry could clear most Panzerfaust and Panzerschreck threats for the (even) more scarce tanks.

This was also an important tactic during the Cold War, with the infantry screen pushed forward up to about 400 m in front of the tanks to counter the increased effective range of man-portable anti-tank weapons. The ground forces of the Cold War knew other patterns of attack as well, but this one is the most interesting for the purpose of this article.

Back in 2009 I criticised the IFV (infantry fighting vehicle) concept because technical changes had made the idea of having the infantry fighting mounted on its own tanks very questionable - the original rationale for such a pattern has become invalid long ago.
Over the years I became aware that I hadn't addressed the other rationale for the IFV nearly as much - the perceived utility of the autocannon. And this is where the notion of a combined infantry/armour attack with infantry in front of the armoured vehicles is most important. 

25 mm Sabot discard hazard area - 400 m x 14°
A minor quibble in this regard is that APFSDS is an important munition for modern IFV's main weapon, the autocannon - and that "DS" stands for "discarding sabot", which can be described as "a good reason for infantry NOT to be in front of a firing IFV". The sabots are dangerous, and dozens if not hundreds of them can be sprayed by an IFV's autocannon within seconds.
The hazard area is only "forward" of an IFV on a firing range; in battle, it's all-round because sudden threats which provoke an answer with 25-40 mm APFSDS may appear in all directions. The problem was recognised in the 70's and led to restrictions put into field manuals.

This problem didn't exist when the original IFV idea was formulated, though. Back then discarding sabots were very uncommon and not employed in autocannons.
Discarding sabot, kinetic energy penetrator (the arrow)

Think about it; when would an autocannon make much sense?
For firing not at close range, but for firing at longer ranges. Machineguns and low muzzle velocity 76 mm guns would make much more sense at short ranges.
The original call for a (modest 20 mm) autocannon was in large part about supporting the dismounted infantry from behind - several hundred metres behind.

And that's pretty much what's rarely going to happen the way it was intended by the inventor(s).

Under which circumstances would the IFV support dismounted infantry in such a way typically?

Cold War literature (field manuals, books, articles, letters) gives a clear impression: Defensive positions were identified and subjected to artillery (or mortar) fires, the mechanised team moves forward, infantry dismounts, combined attack happens, armoured vehicles keep exploiting their great firepower to help the infantry attack, infantry clears defensive positions in the path of the attack, another mechanised team dashes through in good order and engages hostiles farther behind, survivors of original mechanised attack team reform and push forward as well. With variations.

The implicit assumption (and all too-often the foolish doctrine for infantry defence) was that the hostile forces would defend in Second World War style, preferably in field fortifications, maybe even in elaborate field fortifications with top cover. Well, this or an equally dumb defence in the outskirt area of a settlement or woodland area.

And that's simply not relevant any more. Top cover was amazingly efficient during the Cold War, but nowadays even 'dumb' high explosive shells can be fired with very good accuracy and very small dispersion (dispersion worsens at long range, though). Howitzers aren't about area fires any more, modern ones are a point attack weapon on the first round. 'Smart' munitions improve this even more - even the still relatively cheap range dispersion correcting ones.

So you cannot survive for long in a detected, identified and reported position if you face such fire support. Top cover or not doesn't matter all that much any more.
Keep in mind soldiers only keep fighting after 80+% casualties in exercises. In real combat, 20-40% casualties break an assault or a defence. Two thirds surviving the artillery fires would not suffice to maintain the resistance.

So the typical defence of today would rarely allow for a prediction of the points or lines of resistance. Instead, the defenders may rather ambush. They would typically initiate contact without forewarning.
The fight may also easily be over before infantry could dismount and advance hundreds of metres in front of IFVs. And IFVs which dashed forward to dismount their passenger infantry very close to the defenders would rather not be able to exploit the long range (~2 km) qualities of their autocannons. It's also questionable whether the theoretically possible employment of electronic timed shrapnel munitions such as the German IFV Puma's 30 mm air burst munition (sounds so much more modern than "shrapnel") would be practical during such a dash under actual battle conditions.
And the advisable employment of smoke to mask the IFV dash forward would play into the defenders' hand by masking their withdrawal at no smoke ammunition costs to them.

not going to be a dominant scenario anytime soon

Defenders could just as well initiate contact at a long ranges (600+ m), but hardly any other defenders than those with long-range anti-tank missiles would have a good reason to do so, as long range combat allows the armoured vehicles to make use of their strengths.
Besides, even Cold War experiments showed that hardly any anti-tank guided missile team was knocked out by direct fires. Indirect fires accounted for most (simulated) casualties, another punch in the face of the case for 20-40 mm autocannons on infantry-carrying armoured vehicles.
And Post-Cold War anti-tank guided missiles have further reduced the chances of IFVs and MBTs to reply with direct fires: Fire-and forget missiles with infrared seeker, missiles with fibre-optic link and laser beam rider missiles which have their beam only directed at the target (and thus detectable by laser warning equipment) as late as possible have reduced the time window for effective return fire to less than the few seconds required for a target engagement. New propellants have also reduced the exhaust flame and smoke trail of such missiles to 'barely visible' in daylight.

The hostiles have thus the tools to render obsolete the old school armour/infantry cooperation during an assault. They can tactically react to the firepower of IFV autocannons and thus render them much less relevant. The all-mounted infantry/armour combat team would run into infantry AT weapons and would be unable to pre-empt their fires. The infantry/armour combat team with dismounted infantry would still be slowed down to foot soldier speed in armour-friendly terrain, while rarely being able to deploy to good effect.

The IFVs' autocannons are unlikely to be a decisive weapon in all but a few exceptions. Said exceptions will tend to include either unlucky or incompetent adversaries.
The suppressive tactical effect of autocannons may actually be detrimental: They reduce the worthwhile tactics repertoire of the hostiles, but that's not necessarily beneficial in itself. Hostiles who see little prospect in fighting in face of autocannon firepower will tend to be more elusive, and thus less vulnerable, to attempts of creating quick and decisive tactical successes. In other words: Hostiles which don't accept a duel on relatively open terrain because autocannons and indirect fires are too powerful there will retire to more infantry-friendly or defence-friendly terrain, and clearing an area for safe employment of 'rear' support troops will require much more effort in face of such defenders. Much more infantry (or paramilitary forces) will be required. And infantry numbers isn't exactly a strength of the IFV concept, with as few as seven or eight seats per multimillion Euro vehicle.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -
The entire IFV concept is unsound.

And this shouldn't surprise: As I've described almost fire years ago, it's based on experiences from 1945. It hasn't been adopted by the one 'Western' army with relatively much high intensity warfare experience (the Israeli one). The IFV concept has 'proved itself' only in concepts against hopelessly outclassed enemies (Iraqi army: Tactics and training on the level of 1916, equipment from 1970's, largely destroyed in 1991 by 1980's opponents, remnants mopped up in 2003 by 1990's opponents).

- - - - - -

Now at least a fig leaf of constructive criticism again (and this time not as hardware-centric as in 2009):

Infantry and armour can be combined for good effect.
Some terrains permit almost no involvement of armour (such as when only two or three tanks of an entire battalion can be effective because the fight is on a forestry road). Some terrains offer no excuse for exposing infantrymen to risks (such as flat, low vegetation areas as they're common in Eastern Europe where collectivised and mechanised agriculture made use of huge fields). Other terrains on the other hand allow infantry and armour to employ their strengths - but rather not one behind the other or even both intermingled.
It's much more realistic to assume that the dismounted infantry would fight where armoured vehicles' field of view or mobility would be badly restricted. Such as in woodland or among houses. The infantry has now its own explosive shell projection ability in form of bazookas, Panzerfaust-type weapons, RPG-type weapons and portable recoilless guns (and had so for 70 years!). There's no need for direct fire support by assault guns or infantry guns any more. Autocannons have little relevance in such places as well, though they can in principle fire through walls and tree stems. This niche can be filled with machineguns if it's deemed relevant enough by an army.

German doctrine emphasized the quick change from dismounted to mounted combat and back for quite some time, but the insistence on tying both vehicles and infantry together in both modes hasn't been helpful. The infantry fight without much line of sight support by IFVs or MBTs is going to be the normal, not the exception.

In the end, dismounted small unit-sized combat teams need to fight in their tactical niches and mounted unit-sized combat teams need to fight in their tactical niches. The "combined arms" of infantry and armour will both be able to combine with indirect fires (artillery, mortars) through radio calls, but their proper combined employment is one of fighting alongside on different terrain and of fighting serially: Armour fighting alone with infantry as quick reaction reserve on call and infantry fighting alone after leaving the vehicles or fighting on quite confining terrain with very few armoured vehicles as fire support.
I don't see how anyone could come to the concept of an IFV from this. I do understand how the conditions of 1945 motivated the (original) concept of an IFV, though.



Source for the 25 mm sabot discard hazard area graphic: U.S.Army (link). A German field manual (for the Panzergrenadier company) once warned about a danger zone for 20 mm sabots of 700 m length and 100 m width! IFVs use saboted munitions only with penetrating projectiles, though; those are meant to penetrate walls or light armoured vehicles.

P.S.: I assure you, (West) German field regulations did pretend even as late as in the 1990's that Panzergrenadiere infantry shall fight either dismounted with support by IFVs or mounted on IFVs. The field manual (AnwFE 232/100, dated 1990) wasn't exactly a zenith of military art, though; it had some inconsistencies and avoided contentious issues. I don't know today's version, but the Heer is buying a new IFV these days.


  1. A wonderful article, particularly your point about APDS rounds in auto cannons.

    Question: do you see a combination of heavy machine gun and a gun-mortar preferably a 81mm system as being a viable armament choice for APCs? This would allow the AFV to support infantry with direct and indirect fires regardless of disposition.

    Finally, a quibble with the statement: “Keep in mind soldiers only keep fighting after 80+% casualties in exercises. In real combat, 20-40% casualties break an assault or a defence.”

    This is likely true for western armies, but the Japanese soldier overwhelmingly fought to the last man, the North Koreans and CHICOM were fairly zealous too, and in current experience there have been no shortage of situations where Chechens, Hezbollah, and others have willing deployed forces with the intent of fighting to the death. I do not think we can discount enemy tenacity, and need to factor in this reality, not only for our troops mental preparedness, but also for the logistic implications.


    1. The Japanese only fought to the last man when trapped on an island. A better example are some North Korean forces in 1950, but they suffered more than 40% losses over weeks, not within minutes as in an artillery strike.

      I mentioned the 81 mm gun-mortar back here
      http://defense-and-freedom.blogspot.de/2010/11/airborne-afvs.html It doesn't make sense on an APC/HAPC.

    2. I am not proposing an IFV like turret for APCs, just a limited traverse mortar to project smoke, illum, and HE bombs along the lines of of the mortar in the Merkava tank.


  2. "The Japanese only fought to the last man when trapped on an island."

    And 99% of their fighting (against the US) was on Pacific islands. When fighting in Manchuria, Burma, and down the Malay peninsula they were on the offensive, no need for fighting to the end.

    Senjinkun, or worse, bushido, were not just temporary ideas.

    1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battles_of_Khalkhin_Gol

      Japanese were taken prisoner of war quite often in more regular battles.

      Look; I didn't make up that part about the percentages myself. It's been a long-recognized issue with military exercises. The psychological factor (survival instinct) is not represented well in such exercises, and it breeds a bias towards destruction and a neglect of demoralization and preparations for handling POWs.

      I was really hinting at the literature about the problem, not making anything up. And it's not even interesting whether there was some odd exception in history somewhere, sometime. No army is homogenous anyway. Some Wehrmacht divisions kept fighting at regimental strength after months of taking losses, others yielded during initial attacks already.
      On average, German, British and well-formed Soviet divisions were the sturdiest on the offense, while those with the least anti-tank effectiveness (such as Italians in Africa 1940, defenceless against Mathilda tanks) were the most fragile ones.
      Freak anecdotes aren't nearly as interesting as such rules of thumb.

    2. "And 99% of their fighting (against the US) was on Pacific islands."
      This is just as wrong as characterizing the Pacific theater as primarily jungle warfare – it was not. And the point has nothing to do with the USA.

      The Philippines has a landmass of 300,000 km2, larger than England and on par with Germany.

      Borneo has a landmass of 743,330 km2.

      No belligerent in WWII had the dedication to duty of the Japanese soldier driven by socio religious and legal imperative. Japanese formations remained cohesive even after suffering disproportionate casualties as great as ten to one against them. This was true wether they faced Indians, Soviets, Americans, British, Australians, or Kiwis; and regardless of whether they were fighting on Islands or on continental Asia. Example:


      The 1939 Battles of Khalkhin Gol, is not representative as: 1) the Japanese employed colonial troops (Koreans) understandably of questionable loyalty, and 2) the Russians claimed to have killed 60,000 of 75,000 IJA troops and captured 3,000 – questionable numbers.

      A better representative Soviet invasion of Manchuria, but note that the overwhelming numbers of Japanese POWs surrendered after Japan surrendered.


  3. Technological comment: In the Canadian Army during the Cold War, there was the possibility of dismounting the M2 HMGs from the M113s for use in the defence. Given that the M2 can kill BMP and BTR type targets when properly sited, that's very handy. You get better gun stability and accuracy, can protect the gun and crew better than on a 113-sized target, and can displace with less visual signature but less speed. It was never mentioned in the offense, because I don't think we ever intended to take the offensive with 4CMBG; but if we needed to knock out some guys behind walls and serious trees and so on, dismounting one of the M2s on the platoon's M113s and bringing it forward would have done the trick. This is a low-cost immediately-available solution to what you linked into with the LWMMG, with the added benefit of not increasing the basic weight load of your garden variety GPMG gunner. Arguments about "Well that's a valuable capability anyways, because .338" are centered on the Afghan experience anyways.

    Tactical and organizational comment and question: A lot of the push-back against "the IFV is unnecessary" comments come from professional mechanized infantry, armoured reconnaissance and infantry officers. They'll tell me things like "Well, if I'm tooling along in my LAV and I bump some BMPs, I really like that the 25mm can deal with those immediately regardless of target aspect." What I've figured from your three posts on this topic is that you'd advocate an APC with an HMG or HMG-MMG combination, as per the 14.5mm/7.62mm combo extant on Soviet APCs, carrying a full section of 10-13. This fits very nicely with the primacy of Infantry, returning a lot of organic ability to the Infantry arm while keeping them mobile. These characteristics don't change, only the intended level of protection for different tasks - APC/HAPC divide. You've also written on the "moving squares" conceptualization of modern warfare and the unpredictability of the battlefield. The IFV concept hedges bets against exactly these factors; "What happens if they contact armour? How do they deal with it? ATGM or heavy autocannon answers," and force-protection concerns which ultimately led to the MRAP APCs as a specific response to a specific occupation-war hazard. As much armour and as much gun as possible to keep the (increasingly smaller) group of infantry and crew aboard as safe as possible under all circumstances. What is your proposed solution? I'm looking at answers to a problem that doesn't involve "Shouldn't happen because of recce screen victory" or "tanks will be available to defeat such threats," since both cannot be guaranteed.

    1. I'm generally no fan of sending IFV companies out on independent missions, without reinforcement by more capable fighting vehicles (MBTs).

      The ATGM armament is more likely a HE projector against infantry than a useful weapon against hostile MBTs in all but extremely open terrain (flat desert). The engagement sequence of a MBT against a suddenly detected target at 2 km distance is about ten seconds till impact. Even a Puma with Eurospike is not going to win a 4vs4 fight like that. Survival will depend on countermeasures (multispectral smoke mostly), so you could break contact instead of trying to fight vehicles which were optimised to fight vehicles - while carrying a squad in your back.
      It would ask much from mech infantry leaders to mobilise their self-discipline and voluntarily accept defencelessness in an APC against MBTs - but that doesn't mean giving them the illusion of survival chances at expenses is the way to go.

      Besides, a man-portable ATGM firing post with its own thermal sensor could easily be mounted on an APC as well, and the distinguishing feature of an IFV - the turret with autocannon - isn't needed for this.

    2. Fair one; and as ATGW develop, especially in the fields of target acquisition & tracking and soft launch, the potential for the squad to defend itself (or more realistically, deter tanks from pursuing) in the perennial "Oh fuck" moment improves, firing while mounted from the roof hatches.

      I see that your No.4 blog post in this series answers some of my other questions.

    3. I think the middle ground is an APC with a remote weapon station with stabilized HMG/GPMG and guided missile mount. The weapon station is pretty light compared to a turret and can be mounted on the roof, leaving lots of room to carry people inside. You get accurate firepower while moving, some modicum of anti-tank power (basically just as much as an IFV), yet all the APC's weapons can be dismounted and used by the infantry if needed. You can get mounted weapons, dismounted weapons, or some advantageous combination. All the while you don't have to devote space and weight to an armored, manned turret.

    4. Missile launcher => reserve missile ammunition = one dismount less + secondary fires/explosion hazard

      I don't consider an APC as a combat vehicle (though old USArmy field manuals describe "base of fire" employment for M113s), but as a transport vehicle - it doesn't need more armament than an ammunitions carrier that's with the same battle group.
      HAPCs on the other hand need to dash to the drop-off point, unload, run back - preferably with concealment. Again, no good reason for any armament at the expense of dismounts. An OWS with an AGL firing smoke grenades only would make more sense than any machinegun or autocannon on an HAPC.

    5. The vehicle armament would be more for flexibility than for primary weapon. The optics on some of those stations can be pretty good. An M113-like hull could sit pretty low, and hang back and use powerful sensors to spot threats to dismounted infantry. The weaponry on it could vary based on mission. Most of those weapon stations are modular.

      You wouldn't have to have lots of reserve missile ammunition, only what the mechanized squad would normally carry.

    6. I see no reason to arm an APC better than a mortar carrier, for example. Nobody appears to demand an OWS with HMG and ATGM on a 120 mm mortar carrier.

      Again; the people are USED TO the concept of having an infantry carrier very well-armed, but there's little in the state of art of war and technology of war that would lead to this.

      Also keep in mind APCs may be busy carrying munitions, wounded or reinforcements. Tying them down as a base of fire is a typical peacetime theory.

      Besides, the concealment used to benefit the APC and infantry movements would interfere with stand-off fire support.

    7. Historically, the LVT series of amphibious vehicles followed a similar progression cargo=>APC=>IFV, but the ultimate fire support version the LVT(A)-4/5 with a small howitzer was found to be very specialized and only useful for the initial assault waves. The Marines found it to be not terribly useful once it got out of the water.

      Perhaps there is a historical lesson here applicable to APCs and IFVs?


    8. SO,

      Hmm, using APCs and IFVs in a base-of-fire role is hardly peacetime theory. This was done very effectively in Vietnam with M113s, with BMPs and BTRs in Afghanistan, M113s in Grenada, and is done today with modern IFVs.

      The standard US infantry platoon has 3 x rifle squads and a weapons squad. The standard US mechanized infantry platoon trades the weapons squad for the firepower of 4 x IFVs.
      Recent urban conflicts have clearly demonstrated the value of organic firepower over having a few more dismounts in a weapons squad. We trade a pair of dismounted M240s and their crews for 4 x 25mms, 4 x coax and 4 x TOWs, all in stabilized turrets with high-end EO/IR optics.

      You spend considerable space on the ill effects of firing APDS over the heads of forward infantry, but don't mention most IFVs carry primarily HEI for their autocannons. This can be fired over the heads of infantry just fine. APDS/APFSDS is only needed when engaging enemy light armor (though it has some utility shooting through walls in MOUT).

      While we don't have direct experience with high-end vs high-end IFV/tank combined arms combat (thankfully), we have considerable experience in simulations and exercises which show the value of IFVs. Lanchaster's Square Law holds true. The number of anti-armor systems you can bring to bear matters. Yes, you can attach an ATGM to the back of an APC, but then you pollute your doctrinal purity as a carrier of infantry (rather than as a combat vehicle). And this opens the gunner up death by all manner of indirect fires, not to mention having a limited firing arc.

      The IFV is clearly a trade-off. You lose dismounts, which hurts in certain situations, but you gain a tremendous amount of organic firepower and high-end sensors, which helps in others.

    9. "Hmm, using APCs and IFVs in a base-of-fire role is hardly peacetime theory."

      I wrote about APCs exclusively when I described that as peacetime theory, not about IFVs or upgunned APCs.
      The U.S.Army field manual described unshielded M2HB gunners on simple M113s providing a base of fire. That's bollocks.

      "simulations and exercises which show the value of IFVs"
      ... and which are rigged to display the value of IFVs.

      "The IFV is clearly a trade-off. You lose dismounts, which hurts in certain situations, but you gain a tremendous amount of organic firepower"

      I spent most lines of part 3 on showing how this organic firepower is unlikely to be brought to bear against capable opposition - but I didn't expect to make much of a dent in the belief of IFV fans, of course.

    10. One of the people who contributes to TJOMO wrote something along the lines of "If the troop carrier has a robust combat capability it will be employed in combat, leading to one of two scenarios:
      - "Good work seizing that village. Remount and follow us forward."
      "I have 50% more infantry than I have troop carriers."
      - "Good work defending that village; fall back to the next phase line."
      "I have a lot of empty troop carriers."

      In short, this author was trying to illustrate that the primary purpose of the vehicle is to get the troops into combat, not support them once they're there. That's a nice side benefit, but for some reason we assume Light units are still capable of carrying out their mission, so clearly we're OK with the firepower that "mere" Infantry have - this leads to the fundamental disconnect between IFV / APC thinking; who does the fighting, the track or the troops? One must also guard against the "equipment tail wagging the doctrine dog" problem in thought experiments like this.

    11. Some doctrines want IFVs to fight mostly not in support of infantry, but at high tempo (tank-like). That should be done by properly protected tanks not bearing the burden of six or seven lives to be protected in the rear compartment.

      The support of dismounted infantry can be done by tanks if only their gun isn't too long for traversing in the terrain and if the gun has enough maximum elevation. The introduction of remote-controlled with heavy machineguns on the turret can solve both problems even with old tanks (Abrams TUSK upgrade included one already). A versatile medium QF main gun which allows for a good max. elevation is another option.

      The Panzergrenadier/mech infantry job in the current technological environment should be the "infantry" component of combined arms. APCs (and HAPCs for following tanks closely and for the most dangerous APC jobs in general) suffice for this.

    12. No disagreement from me. The primacy of the Infantry is the important doctrinal factor, everything exists to get the proverbial bayonets onto the objective. To this end the reduction of the basic infantry unit is to be resisted. Infantry fighting mounted, and then being given light tanks with high ROF weapons to support larger tanks, was a function of interpreting "drive by" battles of 1941 in the Western USSR in a very generous manner.

      The topic of what constitutes a sound infantry squad composition is a different matter. Lots has been written on that. IFV proponents lately have been propping up their infantry side with comments from Danish NCOs to the effect that with a six man team + CV9035DK, they didn't feel limited in their abilities. But that was in Afghanistan, against a rather different sort of enemy.

    13. The problem with small squads is (besides the difficulty with heavy AT munitions such as Pzf 3) that they break down once there's one WIA to care about.

    14. The Danes argued that this wasn't the case. I disagree with both what the Danes say and what was drawn from this in terms of a lesson. In Afghanistan, casualties become the mission. This has been documented as screwing with us in exercises over the last two years. The lesson drawn from this is that small groups are therefore capable of fulfilling the mission. That's just wrong - the mission changed to evacuate the casualty, not storm the defended locality with fire and movement. Then it was decided whether or not to carry on with the original task. Tempos are inordinately slow in this war as well; sitting around waiting for fires for hours is normal. What the fuck is that?

      Small groups lose the basic ability to fire and move effectively. You've argued in the past that this isn't necessarily the end-all-be-all, regarding some recent writings on suppression and others on the nature of infantry warfare, but it does work and to lose that capability is not justifiable.

    15. SO,

      "The U.S.Army field manual described unshielded M2HB gunners on simple M113s providing a base of fire. That's bollocks.

      And yet they WERE used for base of fire. Combat drove them to be used this way, not "peacetime theory". Gunshields were added. Additional MGs were added. The utility of a heavily-armed APC was greater than that of a lightly-armed one.

      "simulations and exercises which show the value of IFVs"
      ... and which are rigged to display the value of IFVs.

      Rigged how? I'm sure there were some that were designed to sell whichever IFV was being pitched, but to suggest there is some ongoing, unbroken conspiracy that all major nations (except for the Israelis) are in on to prop up the value of the IFV demands at least some proof.

      "I spent most lines of part 3 on showing how this organic firepower is unlikely to be brought to bear against capable opposition - but I didn't expect to make much of a dent in the belief of IFV fans, of course."

      Your arguments were

      1) APDS can't be shot over heads
      2) Modern ATGMs make disruptive counterfire less effective
      3) Most encounters will be of shorter range and ambush or movement-to-contact.

      My responses,

      1) Shoot HEI, HEAB or coax over heads, or move laterally to a position where APDS can be employed.
      2) True, but modern top-attack ATGMs call into question the viability of HAPCs as well. Anything without an effective APS or DIRCM will be in trouble.
      3) Ambushes and movement-to-contact are tailor made for IFVs. Counter-ambush drills teach those in the kill zone to turn towards the ambush and respond with as much fires as possible. Clearly IFVs are better suited to this than lightly armed APCs. Movement-to-contact is similar in the need to quickly respond with fires.

      You don't address the need to fight similarly-equipped opponents. Look at the Chinese or Russian TOEs. You will see Soviet-style mechanized organizations with BMPs and tanks. Friendly forces may have to defend against attacks from such organizations.

      The greatest thing about the autocannon is its flexibility. It outranges most infantry weapons. It has useful HE/frag and suppressive effects. It can kill light armor more economically than ATGMs and at greater range than RPG-style weapons. It can even kill tanks from the side or rear. It has some ability to deal with common field fortifications and troops in buildings. It allows tanks to conserve their ammo for use against enemy tanks and targets requiring their larger HE content.

      On a modern IFV, the autocannon is in a stabilized turret with IR/optics that can see out past 4km and shoot accurately on the move.

      In short, the autocannon is a very flexible weapon and there are plenty of cases where it can be used. This has been shown in actual combat, in numerous NTC rotations, and in simulations.

      Personally, I'd like to see a HIFV that combines the armor of a tank with an autocannon/ATGM turret. Perhaps even an autocannon/low-velocity gun combo like on the BMP-3. Just don't put all the rounds in an unarmored location at the base of the turret.

    16. "Your arguments were

      1) APDS can't be shot over heads
      2) Modern ATGMs make disruptive counterfire less effective
      3) Most encounters will be of shorter range and ambush or movement-to-contact."

      (1) means the APDS/APFSDS armament and potential to use it are problematic, something which many are not aware of. "Use HEI" does not negate this point because the AT firepower of an IFV is and stays problematic.
      (2) Actually, even SACLOS ATGM teams were hardly ever defeated by autocannons in exercises, or in real battle.The often-heard justification for autocannons (countering ATGM teams) is thus an illusion.I think the American IFV fan DePuy even admitted this at some point when he was writing about field fortifications and top cover.
      (3) American counter-ambush drills are well known, and pointless against competent adversaries. The (no longer practised) infantry counter-ambush assault (driven by geometrical analysis) was even more stupid.
      A competent ambusher has either firepower overmatch or the ability to slip away before the surprised target can reply in force. Aggressive counter-ambush drills only work against harassing ambushes in areas without civilians.
      There's no conspiracy needed to rig tests in favour of IFVs. It's like how Superman authors don't use Dr Moriarty as opponent or let Sherlock Holmes wrestle with the Hulk.
      Any simulation meant to be used with IFVs will be designed to let IFVs show their strengths. An army with an ordinary armoured recce vehicle won't have a simulation which requires dismounted inspection of bridges for mission success, as their recce AFV has no dismounts.
      Such simulations are inherently biased towards the hardware that's already in use or under development.
      The rest of your comment (especially the concern about hostile IFVs and the HIFV thing) only shows the hazards of looking at a vehicle and seeking solutions in a vehicle:
      It's the units, the battle group, which matter, not the vehicles.
      A Rambo jack-of-all-trades vehicle is a stupid way to address challenges.

    17. 1) IFVs have plenty of opportunities and tactics to allow the use of sabot that doesn't involve firing over heads. Move laterally. Bounding overwatch that isn't positioned directly behind dismounts. Firing during movement-to-contact engagements when infantry are still mounted. In defensive fighting positions.

      The Bradley has two ready boxes for 25mm: a 70 rnd box for sabot, and a 230 rnd box for HEI. This clearly shows what they intend to fire more of.

      2) It is not "The" justification for autocannons. It is "a" justification for having them. I have mentioned other justifications.

      3) who are these competent adversaries es you keep speaking of? The Chinese? Russians? Hezbollah? Hamas?

      Ambushes allows a weaker opponent to gain local superiority for a time. So no, ambushes aren't always performed by those with firepower overmatch. I would be surprised if, historically, they were even in the majority.

      Aggressive counter-ambush drills are still preferable to just meekly dying in the ambush zone. They force the ambushers to focus on the aggressive units. Aggressive tactics can also fix the ambushers in place, lest they succumb to counterfire. This allows other units to move to encircle the ambushers.

      If you don't agree with aggressive counter-ambush tactics, what is your alternative?

      The NTC isn't a simulation meant to be used with IFVs or designed to use IFV's strengths. It's an attempt to replicate "realistic" combat scenarios against a Soviet-style armored force. That OPFOR armored force does have IFVs. It is still reasonably representative of the type of peer/near-peer force we might face.

      Perhaps instead of all of these simulations being "rigged" to show the value of IFVs, IFV-equipped units actually DO have value over their APC counterparts.

      I agree you need to look at the battlegroup. However you fail to note that an IFV equipped battlegroup has significantly more anti-armor systems than an APC equipped one. I have mentioned this in the past. Against peer/near-peer opponents with armored formations, this is still very important.

      I disagree with your characterization of jack-of-all-trades vehicles. Flexibility is a benefit. Instantaneous direct-fire firepower is a tremendous benefit. Virtually all modern armies have come to the same conclusion. The biggest downside, IMHO to IFV/HIFVs is their cost. The weapon system is expensive.

      Adding an HE/gun-launched ATGM projector to the armament of an IFV is certainly controversial. The Russians went this way with the BMP-3. I think there is a lot of utility there, and it allows tanks to carry more sabot, but it may come at too great a cost.

    18. "IFVs have plenty of opportunities and tactics to allow the use of sabot that doesn't involve firing over heads."
      You don't pay attention. This doesn't matter. I merely pointed out it has troubles and limitations with sabot ammo. No amount of pointing at other cases makes the troublesome cases go away (and no matter how you position yourself, you cannot always predict which direction you need to shoot).

      "who are these competent adversaries es you keep speaking of?"

      The only ones who could possibly attack our alliance, for all other employment of armies is stupid and self-harming. We need neither IFVs nor APCs nor MBTs for anything but collective defence. No incapable forces will attack our alliance, ever.

      "The NTC isn't a simulation meant to be used with IFVs or designed to use IFV's strengths."

      You don't get my point because you don't pay attention to my words, let's just pass over it.

      "I disagree with your characterization of jack-of-all-trades vehicles. Flexibility is a benefit."

      It is, but trying to blend two legs of the combined arms triad into one vehicle is not "flexibility"; it's a mistake.

    19. I do try to pay attention.

      You attempted to build a case against autocannons. I attempted to respond to each one of your points. If I did not interpret your points successfully, my apologies.

      One of your points (sabot over heads) was a corner case that can be worked around. Yes it is a problem. It does not invalidate the value of autocannons.

      Infantry can't operate in near proximity, forward of tanks when the fire, but that doesn't invalidate the value of tank fires in support of infantry.

      There are many who could attack our alliance (depending on how you define "our alliance"). The US is obliged by treaty to come to the aid of many nations (e.g. Taiwan, Japan, Philippines, South Korea, NATO countries). This puts relatively high on the list of potential adversaries a resurgent Russia, China, North Korea. All use variants of Soviet-style armored formations.

      There are also various "non-state actors" who have attacked our alliance. They are arguably incapable of facing us directly on the ground, except in specific circumstances.

      Help my get your point.

      Armies are designed to fight potential enemies. I listed some above. Many use mechanized armored formations and tactics developed from the Soviet era. Alllied, IFV-equipped, armored formations in simulations and operational testing have shown their value.

    20. OK, sorry.

      The sabot thing was about chipping away some undeserved appeal of autocannons. It doesn't mean autocannons don't work, and pointing out that some munitions work without trouble is in my opinion superfluous at best because it's describing the common status quo ante belief, not adding anything. I did point out myself that the problem only exists with saboted munitions, after all.
      A choice for one system or another, one component or another is about weighting advantages and disadvantages, and I was pointing out how the autocannon is far from stellar is far from always superior to 'lesser' armaments. This was meant to be one building block of a case against it.
      Keep in mind I'm also in favour of a medium calibre QF gun (~76 mm, 60 rpm) with high maximum elevation backed up by HVM instead of 120 mm cannons. MBTs would cover much of what an IFV can do in such a combination.

      Korea is de facto no mechanised forces power; they have scrap metal, not an actual mechanised force.
      Russia and PRC have classic mechanised forces, but they are also easily able to horribly punish the use of poorly protected IFVs in a MBT environment. And there's no doubt at least the PRC could and would swamp the area with infantry, so the poor infantry 'strength' of an IFV-based brigade would be a decisive shortcoming in all but desert terrain.

    21. A few more dismounts in an APC vs an IFV won't level the playing field vs hordes of Chinese infantry.

      If anything the greater firepower on the IFV would play a more pivotal role, IMHO.


      Yes, the autocannon is not always superior to other armaments, but it is "good enough" at many tasks. It complements the tank's main gun as well as coax and dismounted MGs.


      I recall your interest in the 76mm/ATGM combo. I didn't get from your previous posts that this was intended to replace the MBT's gun armament. I thought this was mounted on a separate vehicle and was supplementary to both the MBT and APC.

      As an MBT armament, it is certainly one way to go, but there are drawbacks. The 76mm is neither fish nor fowl. It's overkill for taking out light armor, but can't kill MBTs and doesn't have a very large HE round. Can it breach rebar-reinforced walls? I don't know.

      HVMs, while promising, are unproven. It's unclear how many could be carried by such a vehicle, how many are ready for immediate firing, or how long the reload cycle is, or min range issues (> 400m?).

      An MBT carries 40-odd 120mm rounds. All can be tank killers, if necessary (HEAT or APFSDS). All could be ATGMs (LAHAT, Falarick), though not likely. All could be multi-purpose (MPAT, HEAT-MP, APAM, HEP, HE).

      How many rounds of each would a 76mm/HVM combo carry? Regardless, the mix will be relatively fixed at the time of design (though one could imagine multi-use stowage areas).

      Certainly HVMs can have penetration advantages over 120mm APFSDS, but they (probably) cost a lot more. They can have range advantages over "dumb" 120mm munitions, but not necessarily gun-launched missiles.

      If we had seen a push towards increasingly heavy armor for OPFOR MBTs, I might agree more. But as it is, the 120mm seems to have enough life in it to deal with current and near-term threats.

      Depending on the configuration, HVMs are a candidate to up-arm IFVs as well.

    22. NW,

      " That's a nice side benefit, but for some reason we assume Light units are still capable of carrying out their mission, so clearly we're OK with the firepower that "mere" Infantry have - this leads to the fundamental disconnect between IFV / APC thinking; who does the fighting, the track or the troops? "

      Light units are capable of carrying out DIFFERENT missions. Beyond a relatively low threshold they need SIGNIFICANT support (armor, fires, mobility).

      Ask a light infantry company to hold an area (terrain dependent) against an OPFOR armored battalion and you are asking them to be speed bumps. Ask a Mech Inf company to do it, and at least they have a fighting chance (14 x vehicular armor killing systems plus dismounted anti-armor).

    23. What's going to matter against an infantry-rich opposing force is whether your army has invested in gold-plated vehicles or has an in-service design for quantity-production APCs and is doctrinally prepared for their employment.

      "good enough" - doesn't matter, for the question is whether it's "optimal".

      "76mm (...) can't kill MBTs and doesn't have a very large HE round. Can it breach rebar-reinforced walls? I don't know."

      Certainly so with the AT projectile, and HE with a good fuse should do so as well. Keep in mind there are reinforced concrete-breaking bazooka rounds.
      And I do remember you pointed at much smaller calibres being able to penetrate a MBT's side.

      About ammo: Panther carried 79 75 mm cartridges, T-44 carried 58 85 mm cartridges. Much more than 40 round is easily possible in a 40 ton vehicle.

      HVM range; LOSAT demonstrated a tank kill at about 6 km, which is much more range than relevant in practice.
      The problem with 125 mm and 125 mm is the gun elevation, the blast, the sabot, the muzzle flash, the low rate of fire and the de facto impotence against aerial threats. It was optimised against MBT frontal armour, and that's an uncommon target surface.

    24. SO,

      "Optimal" for what? Killing troops? Killing enemy light armor? Shooting through walls? Destroying light field fortifications?

      It's impossible to incorporate enough specialists that are "optimal" for every role. The autocannon is not a specialist, it's a generalist meant to complement the tank gun. It is good enough at a wide variety of roles.


      The 76mm and can undoubtedly penetrate rebar reinforced walls, but can it create breach holes (i.e. holes large enough for a man to enter)? It takes several 105/120mm HE/HEP/APM rounds to do so. Is 76mm big enough to cut rebar? I don't know. Autocannons (at least 25mm) can't do it reliably.


      Whether MBT frontal armor is uncommon or not depends on your assessment of future enemies. Vs China or Russia, it certainly would be a common target.

      We should design for the worst case, not fighting 3rd world rejects, right?

      Heck, why bother with HVMs if MBT frontal armor is uncommon? Just put existing ATGMs on it.

      IMHO, tanks don't need to kill aerial threats. But if we want them to have some capability, you can incorporate LAHAT or some other guided munition. Unfortunately to have a robust AA capability, they likely also need a search and/or fire control radar.

      Autocannon- and missile-armed IFVs can also supplement this role. 30+mm ABM would be valuable for dealing with low flying UAVs.

      I think the 76mm is an interesting idea. I've thought about it in the past as well. Just not sure it's really a great fit.

    25. Optimal for the battlegroup mission. Which in my book means fighting vehicles fight and infantry has to be adequate. There's no doubt a trueblood fighting vehicle can be more powerful than a burdened IFV.

      76 mm HE fused inside a wall will inevitably create much destruction, and you could easily expend two 76 mm instead of one 120 mm. 120 mm HESH and even MPAT risk to collapse a building instead of merely opening it.

      MBT frontal armour may or may not be penetrable by 120 mm, an aggressor against NATO would likely be very much motivated to make sure at least the MBT turret front is safe.
      Side armour penetrations were and will be the big deal anyway. And 76 mm could be paired with a few HVM to deal with the frontal armour no worse than a 120 mm could, anyway. People wouldn't be able to stand the concept without a hope to penetrate MBT frontal armour, that's why HVM.

      "IMHO, tanks don't need to kill aerial threats."

      Think some more about dispersed tactics, and you'll see it's a big deal. I suspect the pro-IFV crowd will use the high elevation of autocannons as a fallback position if pressured much, ever. I still see no need for it because of the potential of 76 mm.

      Look at what you wrote about IFV here. It's almost all about the IFV as a fighting vehicle. Now remember what I wrote in part 1&2; Panzergrenadiere should be about the "infantry" in "combined arms". We've got two principal fighting vehicles (MBT & IFV), yet very little infantry nowadays. That's because people like you fell for the temptation of looking at individual vehicle combat rather than at the combined arms triad balance.

    26. I believe I am looking at the combined arms balance. But one must recognize that the "optimal" balance changes depending on the METT-TC. There are situations that demand more infantry and there are situations that demand more firepower - especially anti-armor firepower. The MBT/IFV combo caters towards the later.

      IFV-based mechanized infantry is really an armor/infantry hybrid where the vehicle is an integral part of the fighting unit. It is doctrinally somewhat different. In contrast, "pure" infantry units treat armor as just a ride, if available at all. IMHO, both have merit.

      A well-rounded military will have a variety of organizations that can be matched to different situations. There is no "one size fits all".

      The US Army currently has light infantry formations, mounted/motorized infantry formations (Stryker), and heavy formations. The first two preserve your infantry "purity", the last emphasizes firepower in an armor-heavy hybrid.

  4. To my knowledge mounted combat has lost its importance for the German Panzergrenadiertruppe. And not just since the Balkans and Afghanistan but since the 80s. Panzergrenadiere would only fight mounted if they're providing close protection for their own vehicle ("Nahsicherung"?), usually when in a fighting position.

    But the quick change between mounted movement and dismounted combat, fighting in close cooperation (line of sight) with their own IFVs and MBTs down to the platoon level still distinguishes them from other infantry (at least in the German military).

  5. I was hooping you'd continue this series for a long time. Good article again. While i thought about the concept of the IFV the MI-24 series came to my mind. This helicopter seems like a flying IFV. It has a lot of firepower, good sensors, is very manouverable, is armored and has fewer dismounts than a transport helicopter of the same size. The russians made it rather large in order to fit everything while most IFVs are supposed to be smaller than a MBT. I'm curious about your thoughts of this MI-24 concept (i know, you cant directly compare flying contraptions with driving ones) as it is pretty unique. At least the NATO states never tried it and always had separate transport and attack helicopters.

    My second question would be how you would structure or deploy your mechanized infantry (no TOE stuff of course). At the moment you have your infantry being brought in via HAPC, some MBT for the heavy guns and (i assume) some support tanks like the BMP-T (which could hang back with its autocannons). Would you require any other vehicles (on what kind of chassis would you put your mortars in such a heavy unit?) or ditch some and roughly how would the balance of vehicles be?

    1. Actually,
      Battlefield helicopters are horribly cost-inefficient in my opinion. A few light ones for liaison purposes and a handful of attack helicopters to provoke caution make sense, maybe even a handful of heavy lifters - I don't think any other purpose-built military helo is cost-efficient for a country's defence.

      The archives about the origin of the Mi-24 could be interesting. It may have been inspired by a mix of UH-1 gunships AND AH-1 gunships.
      I would set up battalion-sized mechanised battlegroups divided in tip of the spear (tanks, HAPCs) and shaft (indirect fire support, engineers, working-on-the-move HQ, supply trucks, ShorAD, cheap APCs with more infantry).
      Meanwhile, mostly separately tasked infantry units would be employed (or attached) for missions in 'closed terrain'.
      Artillery would be tasked to serve within range, quite irrespective of which HQ it's subordinated to.

      But the whole system takes half a book to describe. ;)