Sunday, June 25, 2017

Making an Amphibious Combat Vehicle - Direct Fire Variant (Modern Day AMTank)

Earlier this week we talked about the options (here) facing the Marines with regard to its tank force.  With news that Congress is pushing the US Army to get going on its modernization and upgrading of its vehicles, the USMC is faced with a dilemma.

Do we do the same, stick with what we have or chart a new course?

I put forward what I see as potential options and even covered a few of the issues with them (again here).  What I want to do now is pull back the covers on each of them in a little more depth.

AMTanks during WW2 and why we needed them...

Landing Craft Infantry Rocket
The ACV-Direct Fire Variant proposal is nothing new. During WW2 AMTanks were used to great effect in the island hopping campaign that formed the fighting ethos of the Modern Day Marine Corps.

During that time period it was all about firepower.  Understanding the enemy and his motive for fighting took a distant backseat to finding, fixing and destroying him.

The US Navy provided magnificent fire support in the form of its devastating battleships, gun cruisers that would make dashes toward the beach to cover the landing force and to kill fortifications, destroyers that would get even closer even though they had paper thin armor, rocket filled landing craft that would saturate entire grid squares with salvos of 'death from above' and I recently learned even PT Boats/Coast Guard ships that would not only provide fire in the form of light cannon/machine guns but also act as rescue craft in case an Landing Vehicle Tracked (LVT) suffered a mishap at sea.

But it wasn't enough.

Marine Planners and Analyst soon realized that a missing ingredient was direct fire during the actual assault.  Even if every pre-planned target was hit and hit again, the Japanese had become masters in building fortifications.  They buried them deep and built them strong.  They were also adept at hiding them from our recon aircraft.  In essence a 24 hour bombardment with millions of tons of ordnance expended would result in a defense still capable of inflicting heavy casualties.

The Japanese were a determined foe and fought with the kind of zealotry that would make modern day terrorist blush with envy.

LVT (A) - 4 AMTank
In stepped a modified LVT to provide the direct fire needed to cover the last mile.  According to books covering the fighting in the Pacific, Marine AMTankers fired almost continuously...once they got within range of the beach, across the reef and while leading the assault inland.

So why a modern day AMTank?  Why should we consider an Amphibious Combat Vehicle-Direct Fire Variant?

So why should we consider a modern day AMTank?  Because currently the USMC operates (and I'm still looking for that article with the interview of a retiring Marine Colonel who commanded 2nd Tanks) around 60-70 M1A1 Abrams.

It's a beast of a tank make no mistake, but as it said in the article (if I'm recalling correctly), the force is so small that tribal knowledge is being lost. Sure we can still 'tank' as long as the Army is still in the game, but Marine Tankers operate in unique environments (aboard ship) with a unique reason for being...supporting the infantry.  If Marine Tanks is dying then we either revitalize it or we let it wither away.

AMTanks could revitalize it.

This is workable...Allies are proving that...

Some will say that an 8 wheeled, amphibious direct fire vehicle is beyond the pale and unworkable.  I say they're wrong.  Below are examples of eight wheeled direct fire vehicles that are catching the attention of many in the armor community.

The pic above shows the Japanese Maneuver Combat Vehicle.  The Japanese are making a big push to upgrade their defenses and fast moving armor that can operate in all conditions is one of their "must haves".  The MCV fits that bill being able to use Japanese roadways and arriving to the fight with a powerful 105mm cannon.  Can we expect it to stand toe to toe with enemy tanks?  Not hardly, but that's not it's role.  It's to provide fire for other forces. Its an on call direct fire for Japanese commanders.

Here you have Iveco's Centauro II.  I personally feel its the best of breed and edges a wheeled combat vehicle as close to tank like performance as we'll ever see.  From my reading on websites (including Italian military forums) this is almost the ULTIMATE cavalry vehicle.  They expect it to move fast, hit hard with it's 120mm cannon and then get away before the enemy can find and fix it.

I believe either of the candidates for the ACV would make an AWESOME platform for the Centauro turret, and would give us a direct fire vehicle that would make us the envy of Marine Corps units around the world (only the Chinese seem to have locked onto the idea of a modern day AMTank type vehicle).

Imagine a future Marine Corps mission set off the coast of Africa.  Boko Haram is once again acting up in a coastal African nation and the national command authority requests a raid to signal American resolve and to reassure an ally.

Our MEU has been disaggregated and the big deck is off playing baby aircraft carrier so the mission falls to a San Antonio class LPD.  Sitting in its well deck are 16 ACV Infantry Carriers, and 8 ACV AMTank variants.  Mission planner set out the parameters and its decided that the 8 ACV-IC and 4 ACV-AMTank will make a run to a suspected village under the control of Boko Haram. Overhead cover will be provided by V-247 Attack Tiltrotor (Unmanned).

This would be a joint operation with the host nation providing traffic control and once feet drive the speed of march would be 40 mph arriving at the objective at 2AM.

I won't dig any further into the fantasy fight but suffice to say the Marine Corps was victorious, the AMTanks proved their worth and speed of march was an important factor.

But think about the parameters.  Able to swim from ship to shore, travel over land at 40mph, go 100 miles to arrive time on target at the objective and then to motor back to ship?

Mechanized raids would be a brand new ballgame.

So what are the downsides?

We've got to have a serious talk about how we're gonna deal with enemy tanks.  For ages its been said that the best anti-tank weapon is another tank. Is that still true?  We get everything with this AMTank concept except the armor to hang in the fight after taking a hit.

Is speed, swim, lighter logistics worth giving up the brute power/armored strength of a Main Battle Tank?

I really don't know.  Tomorrow we talk about planned upgrades to the USMC's M1A1.

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