Sunday, June 17, 2001


The December 1999 Military Debates

A long discussion started in Mail about the military and armor and the future. I have consolidated that here.




Dear Jerry:
You may recall my mentioning that social questions - like the maintenance of citizen-soldier armies - may have more to do with future war than technology will. An illustration occured to me.
You're certainly familiar with Nazi Germany's Pzr VIb (aka Koenigstiger, King Tiger, Royal Tiger, Tiger II). 74 tons, I think, combat loaded. Roughly the same dimensions as a US M-60 tank of about 54 tons, combat loaded.
Yet the Tiger II had only a fraction of the frontal armor of an M-60, about a third. Where was the rest? Oh, the engine may have been heavier, if less powerful. Perhaps the tracks and suspension were heavier too. Not all of this can account for the 28 tons difference (20 in overall weight, perhaps another 8 in the thinner glacis).
Where was the weight? Heavier armor on the rear, sides, top and perhaps belly. Why? Because the Tiger operated in an environment where tanks were quite rare and good, dedicated, well trained infantry quite plentiful. The Tiger needed that heavier armor in places besides the front because its threats came from all around, from infantry in mass, springing both from the folds of the earth and from societies willing to pay the price.
A tank today has almost no armor in the rear, sides and top. It can get away with this because Infantry has become quite rare, good infantry almost a forgotten legend. (For reasons I won't bore you with at this time, the advent of the Infantry Fighting Vehicle, or IFV - Bradley's, Marders, BMPs, has effectively ruined the mechanized infantry of every army that has adopted them. See the earlier foray into Chechnya, for example.)
So what if you face in war another society that places a more limited value on human life, and is willing to inflict the necessary hardships on its young men to turn them into infantry in huge numbers? Perhaps in a very simple environment, like the desert, it will sometimes not matter. But in a complex environment (and given some time, good infantry will make even the desert a complex environment) modern tanks are hopelessly vulnerable in a way the Tiger II was not.
I entitled this passage "Combat Ecology" because I have suspected for some time that this is something like what Robert Heinlein meant when he used the term in Starship Troopers.
By the way, I know few soldiers who have not read SST. And we ALL agree with its political philosophy. Kind of makes one wonder about our dedication to current political principles, doesn't it?
Tom Kratman


Dear Jerry,

Tom Kratman pointed out some systemic problems in modern armed forces, and correctly pointed to the kinds of problems we have and will run into because of it. An annecdote from personal experience may help to illustrate a few of his claims:

I was with B Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines in Desert Storm. Because the Marine divisions were infantry heavy (mechanized as well, but in such a way that we had to dismount to fight effectively) with some armor support, we were handed the job of attacking into the teeth of Iraqi defenses, advancing through the complex environment of oilfields and associated infrastructure in southern Kuwait, and conceivably fighting in Kuwait City. The experience taught us several things:

1. Well trained infantry in properly conceived combined arms task forces can still be effective on the attack. Relying on supporting armor, artillery, and aircraft, we were perfectly capable of 20+kilometer per day advances against some of the toughest opposition encountered during the ground campaign.

2. Well trained infantry can defend itself, even in a desert. On the morning of February 25, an Iraqi mechanized company, mounted in seven armored personnel carriers, supported by three tanks, tried to roll a platoon of my company which was occupying an outpost about 1000m to the front of the battalion. Four burning APCs and 25-30 casualties later, those that didn't surrender backed off at the approach of the rest of the company.

3. Target acquisition and identification turned out to be much more important than overall firepower. Our thermal imaging technology gave us the same kind of information dominance at the tactical level that other systems conferred on the Coallition forces at the operational and strategic level. Fog, smoke (except for hot oil well fire smoke), and night were little obstacle to maneuver and target engagement.

More recent experiences in Somalia, the Balkans, and Chechnya (up to and including the most recent developments) have, IMHO, just reinforced the above lessons.




" [...] Yet the Tiger II had only a fraction of the frontal armor of an M-60, about a third. Where was the rest? Oh, the engine may have been heavier, if less powerful. Perhaps the tracks and suspension were heavier too. Not all of this can account for the 28 tons difference (20 in overall weight, perhaps another 8 in the thinner glacis).

Where was the weight? Heavier armor on the rear, sides, top and perhaps belly. Why? Because the Tiger operated in an environment where tanks were quite rare and good, dedicated, well trained infantry quite plentiful. The Tiger needed that heavier armor in places besides the front because its threats came from all around, from infantry in mass, springing both from the folds of the earth and from societies willing to pay the price."

Actually, I think you might be surprised by the amount of armor the Tiger II carried at the front relative to the sides, rear, top, and bottom. It was very heavily armored on the front, so much so that no anti-tank or main tank gun then extant could defeat the armor even at point-blank range. From the top (and less so from the rear and sides), the Tiger II was vulnerable even to later variants of the Panzerfaust, which was the best man-portable anti-armor weapon of WWII.

The Panzerkampfwagen VI Ausf B (Sd Kfz 182), also known as the Tiger II, VK4503, and Königstiger, was produced in two major variants. The first fifty used the so-called Porsche turret, designed by Ferdinand Porsche for the VK4502, and recognizable by the pronounced bulge of the commander's cupola on the left center of the turret. The remaining 439 Tiger IIs produced (from 6 December 1943) used the improved Henschel turret. I believe that few of the Porsche turret versions saw action, and many were subsequently converted to other purposes (e.g. tank killers), or had the turret replaced with the Henschel version.

In both variants, the top/bottom of turret, superstructure, hull, and gun mantlet used 40 mm armor; the sides/rear of turret, superstructure, hull, and gun mantlet used 80 mm armor. The only difference was in the front armor of the two turrets. The Porsche turret used rounded armor which varied in thickness from 60 to 110 mm. The Henschel turret used sloped armor that was 180 mm thick. With the Henschel turret, the Tiger II had a combat weight of "only" 68 tons.

I don't know off the top of my head how much armor the M60 carries, but I doubt it's 540 mm at the front, or that it's that much less than 80 mm at the sides and rear. In fact, many Tiger II crews were concerned enough about the relatively light armor at the sides, rear, top and bottom that they mounted spare track links to provide additional protection in these locations. In fact, I've been told this process was semi-formalized, with later production models arriving from the factory with welded attachment points for track links.

Best regards.


Robert Bruce Thompson thompson@ttgnet.com http://www.ttgnet.com


To some extent, the discussion regarding tank armor misses the point. Modern tanks are not intended to exist on a battlefield alone. Combined arms is far from a new idea, and various Arab/Israeli wars illustrated the consequences of sending unsupported tanks against a competent foe.

Yes, in isolation, a modern tank is vulnerable to infantry weapons. However, the frontal Chobham armor used by modern NATO armies is proof against most shaped-charge weapons (the only kind of anti-tank weapon infantry can carry). Certainly side, top and rear armor are less strong, but simple physics dictate you can make one area nigh-unto-impregnable only by sacrificing weight elsewhere.

The M1A2 and the Leopard II are marvels of defensive strength melded with on the run lethality. Could we build a super-tank, with more than a foot of ceramic composite armor in all directions? Yes. Would it have any value on today's battlefield? No. The heaviest armored ship made today is unarmored by any of WWII's standards. This is a response to current battlefield realities. The exocet missle that sank one of our ships in an accidental firing some years ago would never penetrate the belt armor of a heavy cruiser from WWII. Should we continue to build battleships? No.

There are lessons to be learned from the weapons and tactics of earlier conflict. The easy mistake to make is to assume that the battlefield hasn't evolved.

Bryan Broyles

As you say, combined arms armies are not a particularly new idea.


Here are some other areas in which "Combat Ecology" may see potential battlefield niches opening or reopening up / already opened. Perhaps you or your contributors may have some thoughts. Use any if you think them interesting. Delete any or all if not.

1) Pure commerce raiding submarines, non-nuclear, weak on sonar adequate to take on - say - a Los Angeles Class SSN, stealthy (see Ben Rich's SKUNK WORKS). Attack subs now tend to be warship and other submarine oriented. They represent very large investments to "waste" on, say, a tramp steamer.

2) Antiaircraft mines. The Russians have one, the "StrellaBloc", which is a light ADA missile with an acoustic sensor.

3) Barrage balloons.

4) The use of simple cheap merchant ships to carry very large numbers of anti-shipping and other, land attack, missiles. (There is a parallel for this in the change from caravel to Man of War / Ship of the Line; those overtaking the much more specialized Galley and Galleas because they could carry more and larger guns.) The Navy's Arsenal Ship started this way but appears to be changing to a still very costly specialized warship. See Luttwak's The Pentagon and the Art of War for a parallel when the Air Force's System's Command killed the idea of using "cheap" Lear Jets and redundant navigation consoles to train B-52 pilots.

5) As helicopters evolve into rotary wing fighters, has there opened a place for the return of the Stuka, maybe a low performance, easy to fly, auxiliary powered glider, perhaps somewhat stealthed, carrying not more than 250 KG of ordnance?

6) As more and more modern weapons and command and control systems become dependent on GPS, is there an overpowering need for a means of attacking / interfering with / fooling GPS? How to fill that niche?

7) With aesthetic "reasoning" triumphing over common sense, should explosives come now in packages suitable for ad hoc creation of land mines (i.e., in shapes suitable for converting common cans to mines)?

8) Also per 7, above, is there a place for caltrops (4 pointed "jack", 2 inch prongs, one point always faces straight up, 38 per meter of front give obstacle value equivalent to triple standard concertina) to defend (sub-optimally) scatterable anti tank mines? Scatterable caltrops?

9) Given that no one has yet come up with a light anti tank weapon that is 1) of adequate range and accuracy to 2) hit a tank at more than 500 meters while 3) carrying a warhead powerful (heavy!) enough to penetrate the armor in front, should we revert to a Panzerfaust-like weapon of limited range (50-75 meters) that carries a very large warhead adequate for side and rear armor? Think of it as a gladius opposed to a sarissa.

10) Is all real cavalry now in the air? If so, given that aerial recon fails to give important detail, how do we keep an adequate recon ability on the ground?

11) Lasers for air defense to attack pilots' eyes.

I am also struck by two seeming anomalies. Back when the firearms were first becoming practical, and for several hundred years thereafter, they had nothing going for them any better than, say, crossbows, at least in terms of casualty producing ability. Of course they did produce nicely terrifying sound. Still, while inventors fruitlessly sought effective repeating small arms, there was at least one cross bow (Chinese, the Japanese had an inferior one) that would outperform any musket and was repeating and magazine fed.

The tale of the Monitor and the Merrimac (yes, I know, CSS Virginia) seems strange, too. The North answered an iron clad warship with an iron warship, yet neither could much harm the other. What if either side had instead produced a fin stabilized sabot round to penetrate the armor. In those circumstances, one would suspect that any wooden warship, carrying, naturally, many more guns, would have been able to take on an iron clad. In this case, perhaps asymmetric technology (ammunition v. armor) would have proven better than symmetric technology (armor v. armor).

Today, similarly, tanks are threatened by top attack weapons that attack through the fairly thin top of the hull. There have been at least two symmetric responses, both Russian, that attack the incoming missile. Perhaps the answer, though, is a more powerful engine and about 2 inches more steel on top (about 8 tons).

I am in any case, somewhat in awe of the men who adopted the musket and the iron ship, an awe that leaves me questioning my own skepticism toward new technology. For while crossbow or sabot may have been better at the time, they led nowhere likely to be useful in the short and medium term. On the other hand, the musket looked forward to the machine gun, while the Monitor looked forward to the New Jersey and the Nimitz.


Tom Kratman

This is all interesting and I hope to have some comments shortly. Meanwhile I put things here for discussion.

Dear Jerry:

If you don't post this, please pass it on to Brian Broyles.

I think Bryan Broyles is missing my point; which is perhaps my fault. The discussion of tank armor was illustrative, not dispositive.

However, in point of fact, modern tanks are - potentially - virtually alone in the close battle. We may have saved an enemy from needing to be a combined arms force by ceasing to be one ourselves. (Combined arms, by the way, is not an unmixed blessing. One of the major advantages of early armored divisions was their ability to move quickly, without the need for extensive coordination and planning, with limited and rationed combined arms ability. Yes, they had all arms, but in fragile and limited quantities. As armies recognized the potential of the armored division, so too they evolved methods of dealing with them. The armored divisions could then no longer operate more or less alone and unsupported. They needed help and had to coordinate for it, which took time. The time lost was gained by their opponenrts to make their task more difficult still. And so on. See Kursk.)

Yes, there is something with tanks that we mistakenly call infantry, riding in inadequately armored light tanks we call something else. Against similarly configured forces (i.e., also infantry poor) there is no problem. What are their chances in natural or artifically made close terrain against an infantry rich force? Quite poor.

To say that the battlefield evolves is a commonplace. It has evolved, for example, from phalangist to legionary to frankish horseman to heavily armored knight to Swiss phalanx to Spanish Tercio to...

I quite disagree about the battleships, at least to the extent of keeping what we had.


Tom Kratman

I'm afraid heavy armor, whether on a Tiger 2 or an Abrams, has become as obsolete as that on a battleship.

I have heard and read some rumblings behind the U.S. Army move towards medium brigades. Kosovo was the major public reason. One of the bottom line internal to the U.S. Army reasons was a recent firing test with the LOSAT (Line-Of-Sight-Anti-Tank) hypervelocity anti-tank missile.

The LOSAT is a 6 &; 1/2 inch dia., 10 ft. long, 150 lb laser beam riding missile with impact energy of 60 mega joules. [Compare that with the 12 MJ muzzle energy of a 120mm/44 cal NATO gun.] A test program is providing a company of them to the 18th Corps. Each launcher has four missiles packed on a Hummer chassis.

There have been a number of LOSAT tests. One, on a M-48 target tank, pushed the hull back 10 feet during impact, ignited a _stripped_ tank hull and exited the engine grill substantially intact. Another, on an empty-of-ammunition T-72, decapitated the turret. These test films are available, though tightly held.

There is another test film that is highly classified and available on a "need-to-know" basis. It is the result of a LOSAT hitting a late model M1A1(DU). Something arranged by former Army CoS. The description given to me of this video is that the Abrams was "bisected through the front slope and had a debris cloud blow out the engine grill."

The overmatch of the LOSAT is so great that no known tracked or wheeled suspension technology can build a fighting vehicle capable of carrying the armor needed to stop a LOSAT.

The bottom line is that heavy armor is obsolete. It can't get to the battle fast enough today and won't be invulnerable 5-7 years from now (even if we bought enough C-17s to get them there) because all our major foes will have a battalion or two of LOSAT class missiles by then. If you have to rely on electronic counter measures (ECM) to survive, just leave the heavy armor home and take more light armor with ECM. The logistics to transport and support a single company of 14 Abrams by air could support a brigade of paratroopers or a battalion of 40-50 light armored fighting vehicles.

What makes LOSAT really scary is that it has a third generation imaging IR sensor that can track multiple targets and a laser guidance beams that can time share between all the missiles in flight. Essentially, a platoon of four LOSAT-Hummers can volley fire 16 LOSAT missiles in less than 10 seconds. The time of flight to 5 km is on the order of 5-7 seconds.

This M1A1(DU) video is being used by the U.S. Army CoS Shinseki to essentially blackmail the Armor Branch so these Medium brigades can be stood up. As in, "You can be part of a new Armored Branch or unemployed, you choice. Do what I tell you, or else a streaming video of the LOSAT-M1A1 test goes on the Internet."

Trent J. Telenko [trent_telenko@hotmail.com]

And Telenko on a previous subject:

The M60A1's protection was superior to the Tiger 2's for a number of reasons.

The metallurgy of the late 1960s was superior to the 1940s. The M60A1 had a cast hull &; turret with superior sloping of its armor. The Tiger 2 has a welded hull with weak weld joints. (See "DEATH TRAPS: The Survival of an Armored Division in WW2," by Belton Cooper, P. 258) In addition, the boxed hull of the M60 series reduced the area of the hull to be protected. Where as the Tiger and Tiger 2 has huge, and inefficient for armor protection, hull sponsons extending over the tracks.

I got the following figures for M60A1 tank protection from an Aug 1999 post by Paul Lakowski over on the Heavy Metal Tanker's Forum:

"The M-60 turret has a maximium thickness around the mantlet(1/3 turret profile) of about 64cm narrowing to 43cm near the sides although several tankers told me the solid thickness is only about 30-33cm and there's a ‘flake ballistic blanket’ in this area. The rest of the front turret is ~127mm at very sharp angle, the LOS is probably about 27cm.

The Glacis is 110mm at ~ 64° which also works out to about 27cms. The lower hull varies from ~9-11cm at 55°. The side turret is reported to be 110mm while its about 6cm at the rear . The side hull is reported to be 65mm above the track and 40-45mm at angle below the track,while the rear hull is ~40 at angle &; 60mm verticle."

The site link is


Given all the talk about "modern war" running in your mail. The thing to remember that it is in the hearts and minds of men that battle really takes place.

Some people are really good at it. The article at this link talks about these "natural killers" and now to identify, recruit and direct them.


Trent Telenko [trent_telenko@hotmail.com]

Dear Jerry (and friends):

LOSAT raises some interesting parallels. I seem to recall that upon the early major fielding of mature ATGMs, they too could destroy any armor on the battlefield. They retained this ability for some years. Curiously, they didn't drive tanks out of existance. Why? Apparently there are tactical solutions to technological problems. What LOSAT can do to an M-1, Leopard II or T-90 that a TOW or Sagger could not do to an M-48 or T-62 escapes me, since dead is dead. Then, too, it is funny how often test ranges give results that combat results don't quite equal.

Can LOSAT be avoided, surpressed, overwhelmed with mass? One suspects so. Can good infantry route it out? The answer to this is probably also affirmative.

Will LOSAT be cheap enough to allow a soldier to fire even one in a 20 year career? One suspects not. Will it be cheap enough to allow large scale purchase? Maybe, but doubtful. As large as other, cheaper weapons which can also kill tanks? No.

But, not to be seen as old fashioned, closed-minded, or - God forbid - pessimistic about the wonders of high tech, can we really be certain that a different group from the scientists who are giving us LOSAT won't come up with a solution to LOSAT?

It is most unusual for an unusually effective weapon or doctrine not to generate an unusually effective response. And isn't that what LOSAT is, an unusually strong response to a weapon that has proven unusually effective for many decades?

By the way, what will LOSAT cost after the usual cost overruns, discovery that it isn't suitable for combat use except on alternate Tuesdays and must therefore have an extensive software upgrade, and placing it behind enough armor to make it just another tank borne weapon with sadly limited ammunition storage?

LOSAT's in Hummers? "Adjust fire, over".


Tom kratman

Well to an artilleryman, LOSATs in Hummers seem a fairly easy problem to fix. Fire Mission. HEAP 3 for effect...

Howdy Jerry,

I read the comments you've posted &; these are my thoughts, having been a modern US Army Ranger &; having had a military interest since I was young. I was also an armorer while in the Rangers.

Yes, modern heavy armor is or will be obsolete shortly due to kinetic energy weapons. What Trent misses, however, is guidance on a kinetic energy weapon is irrelevant. The velocity of such a weapon is so great, that guiding it isn't necessary. At near 50,000 ft/sec, ballistics as we have come to know them are irrelevant. I'm not talking about LOSAT, however. I'm speaking in terms of a rail-launched slug. He is quoting a TOF to 5 km as 5-7 seconds, where it should be in the area of 1/3 second when talking KE. Some of the tests I've read about (15 yrs ago) showed a T-72 front armor being laid open like a hot knife through butter with a 20 mm plastic round. Hardened armor plating of any kind can't stop even plastic at those types of velocities. Armor, specifically reactive armor, has advanced in the areas of ultra high explosives or even nuclear warheads, but hasn't begun to addresses hypervelocity type weapons. Also, w/ KE weapons, GPS is irrelevant. Find the target, fix the target, target destroyed...

What is currently being tested is very likely way, way beyond anything like that. From what I've seen, information that is currently available to the general public is usually 10 to 15 or even 25 years behind the current technology available, unless however, there has been some kind of security leak. We've had available to us for 10 years, anti-tank weaponry that could stop anything short of heavy armor that was carried by a single weapons team (3 men) on foot. (i.e., recoilless rifles--a Kevlar tube lined w/ hardened steel firing a self propelled sabot round w/ an effective range of 8-900 m.) In 1985, the only thing keeping kinetic energy weapons off the battle field was inefficient power supplies to power them. Look at the advances in hand held cordless power tools &; you can see we've made a lot of progress in that area. We should now be able to or be close to fielding a man carried 5 mm or smaller kinetic energy weapon which could easily stop light armor. Something in the neighborhood of 20 mm could stop heavy armor. This could be fired from a HMMV or attack helicopter.

The only possible defense against such highly trained &; very well outfitted light or even heavy infantry in the open battlefield is sheer numbers. Look at the Chinese. They are technically far, far behind us, despite our current administration. But they can field a military close to our entire population. That is what is truly frightening. Look at what happened to the Rangers, Delta Forces &; Special Forces troops in Somalia, specifically Mogadishu (sp?). They were far superior but were outnumbered on the order of 26to75:1 in an urban environment. This is were many future battles will be taking place because it more equalizes the low-tech &; the high-tech. It the open battle field, as Tony mentioned, there is no such equalizer. One platoon can hold off many, many more w/ our current technological advantages. But in an urban environment, such superiority is reduced considerably, although not entirely.

Our primary source of superiority will have to come from the science lab. With the advent of IR tracking &; vision, the old tactics of night fighting &; smoke screens became irrelevant. That, coupled w/ smart missiles will continue to be our advantage, but eventually there will be countermeasures even to those. Information will likely be or is the next advantage, at least in the near future. If we know where enemy troops are before our enemy's commanders do, we will be able to maintain our advantage. Having one trooper who can function as an RTO, platoon leader, &; squad leader, multiplies our forces, thus offsetting some of the numerically superior idea.

I believe KE weapons will likely be the next advance after the information age slows. They will also function in the next battlefield which may be off planet. The Holy Grail of weapons will most likely be directed energy, aka, the phasers of Star Trek. Or maybe it will be the a defensive type device, like the "shields" of Star Trek. In any case, it will have to come from the science labs.

Current chemical &; biological weapons are basically useless for close combat &; always will be. Whatever is harmful to the enemy is harmful to your own troops, barring of course something along the "White Plaque" scenario. Unless you are willing to use them on your own people, they will only to continue to be used by terrorists &; the like. Much the same are nuclear weapons. Unless we can build such a weapon that is far superior to the neutron warhead, that will kill people &; not render an area uninhabitable, they will be useless also in conventional warfare.

These are my thoughts.

Greg Lenderink -- CyberRanger - cybrrngr@frii.com - Rangers Lead the Way! "The CyberRanger's AO" - http://www.frii.com/~cybrrngr/ao "Larimer County 4-Wheel Drive Club, Inc. - The Mountaineers" http://www.mountaineers4x4.org - #17 -'71 Chevy K20,'70 Jeep CJ-5 NRA - http://www.nra.org

I am thinking the armor is obsolete/infantry is gone debate is ignoring a vital question, Who will we be fighting and what will they be doing? Wars are fought with what is available not what is on order. Battlefields are where the fighting is. The unique circumstances that allowed the Gulf War to be fought as it was are unlikely to again occur. The US is no longer able to field such a force and most likely opponents won't sit still for the time required to assemble one a third that size. Daniel P. Bolger in his books on infantry tactics makes a good argument for light infantry as the US's weapon of choice in the near future. This means that it must be a well-trained, well-led professional force.

The problem is that our wise leaders get financing from those who sell things to the military. Not those protected and served by it. Witness the present condition of the 10th Mountain one of only two Divisions of infantry we have left. The next generation of anti tank weapons are more likely to show up in the hands of our opponents than our own. A humvee with some rocket tubes are not profitable enough to get funded or sexy enough to attract a champion. Funds for realistic training and restocking of munitions are being spent on deployments.

With the Panama canal in the hands of the Chinese government our ability to project forces is further diminished. (A company owned by the Red Army has the operating contract when we turn control over to the Panamanians next year.) If we are going to fight in wars to stop "rogue governments" with what will have to fight these battles. Ospreys and LOFORS , F-22's and THAD or more probably. What ever is left over from are last misadventure used by the young men and women of America to proud to go on welfare and to poorly educated to take advantage of Colleges and Universities. Hopefully they will be led by Officers dedicated to the Constitution and the defence of America not political cronies and yes-men.

Thomas A. Weaver taweaver@thegrid.net


I must disagree with the predicate fact of Mr. Kratman's discussion, i.e. current mechanized infantry is insufficient to support modern armored warfare.

It seems his contention is that if infantry are to fight from their Infantry Fighting Vehicle, rather than using it as an Armored Personnel Carrier, then they are simply weak tank forces. I agree. However, current training in the U.S. Army concentrates on the vehicle as a transport, then as a firepower support device. That is the ideal use of an APC. Dismount infantry tactics are the tactics used by Army and Marine forces today, in the U.S. anyway.

The Bradley, as originally designed, had firing ports for all of the infantry. This was a bad idea, and led to the situation Mr. Kratman feared. However, the Bradley, as it exists now, covers those ports with reactive armor, returning it to its role of APC, with a good support weapon.

On a side note, I served with the Second Armor Division at Fort Hood, Texas at the time it was reflagged as the Fourth Infantry Division. This is important, because neither the unit identifier number, nor the M/TOE changed at all. We went from an armor division to an infantry division without change in personnel or equipment. Our divisions are completely integrated combined arms forces. The names now exist for little more than historical purposes. The First Cavalry Division is a bit differently constituted, but it is essentially a slightly heavy armored division.

I'd note my rank with my name, but it would mislead. I am, afterall, just a JAG (and not like that guy on TV), not a line officer.

Bryan Broyles

Captain B. H. Liddell Hart wrote a lot about the ability to fight mounted in modern war; that cavalry forces must be able to do that. Heavy infantry can follow up, and assist heavy armor, but once the breakthrough is made, the blitzkreig doctrine of operating inside the other guy's decision cycle demands that the entire force be able to move cross country at high speeds: maneuver is more important than fire once the breakthrough has been made.

Since our modern doctrine doesn't have conventional line to break through, and doesn't conceive of the battlefield as an area with zones, this complicates matters a lot. Agreed, our division system makes it difficult to see just what an "arms" designation means.

Through history the decisive arm has changed, but heavy infantry has usually be the key factor. For a while of course heavy cavalry dominated, and light cavalry, and there was even a point at which light infantry was decisive, but heavy infantry was the main factor. German Blitzkrieg in 1940 changed that and we have all ever since sought for ways to repeat that success, but it's not so easily done... Consider this musing on your letter, not a coherent answer.

Dear Dr. Pournelle, Please allow me to weigh-in on the medium force army. Trent Telenko says that General Shinseki is trying to blackmail the army's "Track Club" into accepting the medium force concept. Actually, Shinseki (an armor officer, himself) is trying to fight the advocates of the heavy forces, led by the ARMY TIMES. 

They have been fighting a smear campaign complete with cute headlines ("Medium Forces: Off Track?"), inter-service rivalry ("Will soldiers be forced to ride Marine LAV's?"), and downright deception ("Will the LAV replace the Abrams Tank?"). The truth, as I see it, is that the army Must field some sort of medium force. Currently we have light divisions (paratroopers and leg infantry) which can go anywhere in the world quickly, but cannot do much when they get there; and heavy divisions (tanks and mechanized infantry) which can defeat any force in the world, but are stuck in the middle of the USA and cannot get into the battle. 

Of the sixteen heavy brigades in the US and Germany, only three are near coastal ports. Nine brigades are in Colorado, Kansas, and central Texas. Four are in central Germany. We need a force capable of rapid deployment by air, but with mobility and firepower enough to defeat a lightly armed enemy and hold the line against a more powerful one until the heavy forces can be brought to bear. This means wheeled armored personnel carriers (APC) like the LAV, and some sort of either wheeled or tracked light tank with a 105mm cannon. Personally, I would like to see mixed light and medium divisions with paratroops, helicopter transport and attack, and wheeled medium forces. Such a unit could be strategically and tactically mobile, yet with some punch. I have more to say on the subject, but I fear this is running rather long. Thanks for posting the thread; it has been interesting.

Sincerely, Frank Luxem (FrankLuxem@worldnet.att.net) "The great thing is not to lose your nerve."-MAJ Peter Owensford, Falkenberg's Mercenary Legion

PS: Thank you also for MAJ Broyles' military humor I do have an addition, courtesy of my own branch: 25. Air Defense Artillery. Searches skies in vain for TBS (Tactical Ballistic Snakes) and LFS (Low Flying Snakes). Stands down, leaves the radar van and gets bitten by snake on the way to the mess tent. Medevaced to Ft. Bliss and is hailed a hero. Epitomizes ADA's motto, "First to Bite." ADA Center requests budget increase for THAASD (Theater High Altitude Anti-Snake Defense).

The LPH carriers which hold a significant part of a battalion of Marines (light infantry) grew out of debates in about 1958 to 1960. My contribution was the analysis of some actions in Africa when the Kenya Rifles revolted and the whole mess was put down by one British ship and a bunch of Royal Marines getting there quickly with some air power. I pointed out that ships such as that could project US military power anywhere and handle most of the small wars; see also Strategy of Technology by Possony and Pournelle.

ROME used a system of heavy infantry legions, which were undefeatable, backed up by rapid deployment light forces, but mostly the Roman forces were used to keep the client states in line; the client states furnished the light and medium troops. See Luttwak on the Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire. But later the logistics and deployment problems caused them to put in more and more and heavier and heavier cavalry, until the writers of tactics books for the Eastern Empire could say "If you have the favor of God and a few regiments of our heavy cavalry you need fear no man or nation." It was true for a long time, too, but the cataphracts were expensive and since they were both horse archers and heavy lance troops the training was long and costly.

The business about what will be the decisive arm is an important discussion, and perhaps we need to turn to it. Combined arms armies always work better than any single arm, but they are costly, and often hard to deploy.

As to what the US ought to have, I am supposed to be writing a book on the tactics and strategy of the next millennium.  I sure hope to get at it...


From: Stephen M. St. Onge saintonge@hotmail.com

Subject: Future of War

Dear Dr. Pournelle:

I've been enjoying this thread immensely, though it's likely to cost me far to much money (Lt. Col. Bolger's books look interesting, and since I'm buying the seven CD, 500 issue Mad Magazine collection Totally Mad anyway, I'm mightily tempted to throw a few of them in and save on shipping) Some comments:

1) Like Mr. Kratman, I'll bet on heavy armor against wonder weapons . The cheap, simple torpedo launched from a cheap, simple torpedo boat was supposed to kill off expensive armored battleships. The battleships added torpedo bulges (not economic on small craft) and quick firing guns on their decks, and survived the torpedo threat pretty well. Heavily armored German tanks were supposed to be destroyed by lightly armored U.S. tank destroyers and towed anti-tank guns. Only the German heavies cheated by having big guns, and they usually shot up the lightly armored tank destroyers at the long range, while the German infantry took care of the towed anti-tank guns.

Though Mr. Kratman doesn't use that terminology, his point about countering new weapons is covered at length in Edward Luttwak's wonderful Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace . Luttwak points out that war is _dialectical_, i.e., that every tactic and strategy carries the seeds of its own defeat over time. The opponents don't want to lose, so they adapt to whatever the enemy is doing So, someone will invent a technical, tactical or operational answer to the LOSAT eventually. Same with Mr. Lenderink's recoilless rifle armor piercers, maybe spaced armor where the outer layer gets penetrated by the hyper velocity round, and the inner layers stop the molten metal splash. And of course you can carry those hyper velocity weapons around a lot faster, with more ammo, on a tracked, armored chassis.

Still, wars aren't fought abstractly, but at specific times and places, with whatever's available then. It's interesting to contemplate the fact that had either side had a few fighters in the air at the Battle of Jutland, it would have won decisively. The vast majority of a dreadnought was invulnerable to air attack, but the fire control officers and their range-finders were sitting ducks for machine gun fire. Once the central control was gone, the other fleet could have pounded its opponent into scrap from beyond the other sides range. So quite possibly the LOSAT or some other cheap anti-armor weapon will dominate for a while. Just remember, 'this too shall pass.' Heavy armor will leave, and return again.

(Aside: the basic criticism of the generals of WWI is that when their preferred approach to war didn't work, they just kept doing the same things. The Somme in 1916, and Passchendale in 1917, were merely bigger versions of the failures at the Neuve Chappelle and Loos in 1915. On the German side, the Western Front attacks of 1918 were attempts at the quick knockout of the Schlieffen Plan, and failed for the same reason: deep penetrations and rapid manuvers were impossible when the attackers marched on foot, while the defenders rallied to halt them in trucks and railcars. The phrase 'the madness of war' seems to have been coined after the Great Idiotic Bloodletting of 1914-1918).

2) Thanks to Tony for letting me know something nice happened for our side on my birthday in 1991. All I'd heard about for Feb. 25th was the Scud that got through and took out the barracks.

To his point about the importance of target acquisition, I'll add that it's _always_ been that way. Marshall de Saxe noted that the vast majority of infantry, over 99%, were missing with smoothbores at ranges where they should have had 99% hits. Actually getting soldiers to hit their target has always been oddly low on most militaries' priority list. Perhaps the generals were afraid they'd get shot themselves?

3) I used to believe that story Mr. Kratman relates about the superiority of the bow to the musket, until I saw some evidence. The Discovery Channel (I think) actually tried penetrating typical late medieval armor with a longbow. Results: arm and leg armor was somewhat vulnerable, torso and head armor bounced the clothyard shafts nicely. Now consider that a arquebus delivered from 3 to 12 times the kinetic energy of a long bow, and was easier to shoot, and I think it becomes obvious why muskets were adopted so quickly.

Similarly, armor piercing ammunition for wooden ships to use against ironclads doesn't pan out, even assuming it was possible. High velocity means increased range. CSS _Virginia_, or its successor, would have just stood off from the wooden ships and set those big targets on fire, from ranges that would have left the woodies hard pressed to even hit the smaller _Virginia_, much less pierce the armor. Eventually, Northern _Monitor_ types with bigger guns did achieve armor penetration against the Southern _Virginia_ successors, but only because their armor let them stay alive in range of the Confederate ironclads.

I do, though, think his ideas of weapons 'returning' in various niches may be correct. Here's three more: the German airfield defense "ribbon rockets," which rolled out a steel tape behind them, with the end anchored to the ground (C'mon, flyboy, let's see your lowlevel attacks now!); the flieger-faust, a small recoil-less launcher that shot a burst of nine 30mm rockets at low flying aircraft; the spigot mortar, for lofting a heavy projectile a short distance against armor, fortifications, or that tank in defilade.

4) For more on Mr. Telenko's point about 'natural killers,' see Lt. Col. Dave Grossman's On Killing, which is the only book I know of on this subject. While I have some quarrels with it (I reviewed it on Amazon), he does present his case well, along with a wealth of information not otherwise readily available. Did you know that in Viet Nam, the vast majority of the riflemen did fire at the enemy? I didn't.

5) While I certainly agree with Mr. Broyle's that infantry should generally fight dismounted, I think the big reason those firing ports on the Bradley were a bust was that you couldn't hit anything shooting an M-16 out them while you jounced across country. Add a thermal imager, and a stabilized, built in machine gun, and the possibilities are interesting (I'd like to claim originality for this idea, but actually I stole it from H. G. Wells's 1903 story "The Land Ironclads." Another strange example of military resistance to accuracy).

By the way, ain't it nice to discuss these subjects in a forum where ALL the participants are polite and rational? Now if only we can get this outbreak of civility to spread.

Enough already. Please go finish _Mamelukes_, and write the book about future war, and the more Falkenberg/Spartan novels. We impatiently await!

Best, St. Onge

P.S. The hyperlinks are to Amazon. Our spending is your gain!

There were in my judgment several reasons for replacing archery with musketry, but the most important was cost of training. The longbow took considerable training and strength to use properly, but properly used it got of many flights of high-angle fire, which did little damage to the oncoming heavy cavalry, but did a LOT to their horses. The horses couldn't stand volleys of arrows, and either stampeded or refused to move, or just died. 

The result was that to attack the English hedgehog you had to cross the field dismounted, under arrow fire that probably didn't kill you but may well have injured you, and when arrived, exhausted, you were fought by men as well armored as you, but fresh and not tired out at all. Meanwhile your support crossbowmen couldn't fire because they didn't have high-angle trajectory fire worked out. 

Indeed, the only secret to defeating the English hedgehog was one discovered by Joan of Arc: don't attack it. The English system was wonderful for defense but wasn't much on the attack for almost the same reasons plus the fact that French crossbowmen were quite deadly at medium range. Let the English draw up in battle array, then stay out of range and starve them out or more likely let fever and dysentery take their toll. Fletcher Pratt points out that Joan had the moral authority to let the French convince themselves that it wasn't God's will that they throw their lives away in futile attacks...

Musketry, as you point out, penetrated armor at least as well as crossbows -- and a yeoman could learn to use a musket in weeks. His powder and shot were expensive, but then arrows weren't all that cheap (but they were reusable...) It was in Elizabeth's time that England declared the musket rather than the longbow to be the national weapon. That's rather late, actually. It was her successor, James, who made the witty remark upon seeing a knight hoisted onto his horse by a petard: "Ah now I see the use of that armor. It prevents anyone harming my knights, and prevents their harming anyone else." James VI and I wasn't known as a witty man, usually.

Fighting mounted is still important for classic cavalry operations, and the addition of a stabilized machine gun on a Bradley would seem to me a worthwhile thing, although I have heard arguments about ammunition and fuel supplies. The purpose of light armor is to protect from shrapnel from area weapons, of course. If you can make them stay buttoned up, you're pretty well assured that the infantry won't take out your armor. Israel had a lot of experience fighting infantry with armor in the Suez campaign, of course. And I am rambling.


Jerry (and friends):

Jerry will no doubt be better armed to write that book once we have all poured our vitriol onto his we site.

re Stephen St. Onge's generally quite good and on point commentary:

1) Not higher velocity armor piercing ammunition. Smaller in cross section armor piercing ammunition. Again, illustrative, not dispositive.

2) Don't stabilize the gun for firing port weapons. Too expensive, too complex, too likely to break. On the other hand, if the FPW is mounted in a vehicle the size, weight and stability while moving of a tank, one suspects accuracy will increase dramatically. It would not, however, solve the basic problem of the IFV. That problem? Essentially, any mech infantry company commander who puts the effort into training his footsoldiers that I had the luxury of giving when commanding a mech (M113) infantry company (D-2/21, 24th ID, 1985-1987) is NOT going to be putting enough effort into Bradley gunnery and maintenance to hope to compete with his peers. He will suffer career death. Generals tend to be just like the society they spring from: concerned with stats and the merely measurable. Faced with important things like Tank table VIII, DUI stats, gender sensitivity training...well, what chance does poor old infantry training have to compete. Nothing in war that's very important is measurable; nothing that's measurable is likely to be very important.

3) Not longbow, mag fed repeating cross bow. They'd been around for - at least -centuries. There was not much armor for the battlefield by the 18th century, and it had been dying for a century, too. Besides which, I have read that the Chinese repeating cross bow would collanderize much armor. But in any case, my point was that the human instincts in the case of both the musket and the iron ship were strangely correct.

I'll comment at a later time on decision cycle theory. I'd like to have all you folks rip apart my reasoning on why DCT is a terrible, and terribly useless, philosophy of war.



Actually, anything that exists exists in some quantity and can be measured, said the Vienna Circle philosophers, and they had a point. McNamara gave systems analysis a bad name, but then he made up his data. You can prove anything if you make up your data.  All McNamara showed was that lying and self-deception are bad ideas, and that has been known since the time of Croesus.

Operations research is a valuable tool, used properly.

Jerry; As a longtime reader of your column both on paper in Byte and on the net and books, (since the 70ies) I enjoyed the current discussion on Armor.

On the subject of how and why Americans fight, as well as the political/social decisions involved, I would recommend to you the book "This Kind of War" by T.R. Fehrenbach, Tne Macmillan Co. NY, Library of Congress catalog no. 63-9972. While it was written thirty plus years ago, prior to Viet Nam, (In which I served) about the Korean War, it had many lessons in it that are still valid today, on the shape of war, and what a mechanized army can and cannot do against a third world army.

Keep up the good work.

Frank Wilson FASWILSON@Compuserve.com

I have long recommended Ted Fehrenbach's books -- he has an excellent history of Texas among other works -- and I have long thought THIS KIND OF WAR to be one of the essential works for anyone trying to understand military theory.

Dear Dr. Pournelle: I have to put my tuppence in on the military debate. As I understand it, the primary rationale for going to a lighter vehicle is not so much the viability or lack thereof of heavy armor, but strategic mobility. At present, heavy armor has to be either prepositioned or transported by ship. The former works only if one has a very reliable ally in theater, while latter works only if one has about six weeks notice. Not that a lighter vehicle combined with conventional tactics is the only option. 

There are several others, including: 

  • a. Heavy-lift airlift, probably water-based, and possibly using ground effect concepts (I was involved in some WIG test planning for DARPA. There is definitely something there, but the Soviets used the wrong design) 
  • b. Deep strike with lightly armed troops to take and hold rear areas, combined with heavy use of operational fires to destroy hostile forces when they move to relieve the pressure. 

Experience over the last thirty years has shown that our firepower works OK against foes in the open - but flushing them out of their holes is a big problem. (It's an application of naval strategic principles to land warfare. I'm working on a paper on this concept)

V/R: Michael L. McDaniel

I'd be interested in reading it. Again, for small wars, I advocate LPH type ships with Marines aboard.

The following is long but worth the effort:


An active duty Army officer sent me this. He was an armor battalion commander in Desert Storm. This should be interesting reading in comparison to the discussion to date, which seems to have a lot of armchair origin.

Also this is an excellent example of asymmetry in action.

J.L. Dodd LCDR, USN (ret'd) submarines &; destroyers brown water on request

********************************************************************* Foreign Military Studies Office AUGUST 1988

Foreign Military Studies Office 604 Lowe Drive Fort Leavenworth, KS 66027-2322 WARNING! The views expressed in FMSO publications and reports are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government. A Weapon For All Seasons: The Old But Effective RPG-7 Promises to Haunt the Battlefields of Tomorrow by Mr. Lester W. Grau Foreign Military Studies Office, Fort Leavenworth, KS. This article appeared in the May-August 1998 issue of Infantry under the title "The RPG-7 On the Battlefields of Today and Tomorrow" *********************************************************************

The RPG-7 anti-tank grenade launcher is one of the most common and most effective infantry weapons in contemporary conflicts. It is rugged, simple and carries a lethal punch.

Whether downing US Blackhawk helicopters in Somalia, blasting Russian tanks in Chechnya, or attacking government strong points in Angola, the RPG-7 is the weapon of choice for many infantrymen and guerrillas around the world.

The RPG-7 is the lineal descendant of the World War II German Panzerfaust. It is relatively cheap, quite effective and found everywhere. The RPG-7 was adopted by the Soviet Armed Forces in 1961.

Today, it is part of the TO&;E of over 40 different countries' armies and several of these countries, besides Russia, are licensed to build their own.(1) Other manufacturers include Bulgaria, China, Iran, Iraq, Romania and Pakistan.

The RPG-7 is a shoulder-fired, muzzle-loaded, antitank and antipersonnel grenade launcher which launches a variety of fin-stabilized, oversized grenades from a 40mm tube. The launcher with optical sight weighs 6.9 kilograms (15.2 pounds) and has a maximum effective range of 300 meters against moving point targets and 500 meters against stationary point targets.

The maximum range for antitank grenades against area targets is 920 meters, at which point the round self-destructs after its 4.5 second flight. The antipersonnel grenades reach over 1100 meters. Among the production grenades are the PG-7, PG-7M, PG-7N, and PG-7VL antitank grenades with armor penetrability of up to 600mm of rolled homogeneous steel. The PG-7VR is a tandem warhead designed to penetrate explosive reactive armor and the armor underneath. The OG-7 and OG-7M are high-explosive antipersonnel grenades.(2)

The Soviet Army assigned one RPG-7 per motorized rifle squad.(3) Forces involved in regional conflicts tend to add more RPGs to their organizations. In the Iran-Iraq War, the Iranian 11-man squad had two RPG-7 gunners. In the Soviet-Afghan War, the Mujahideen (4) averaged one RPG for every 10-12 combatants in 1983-1985. By 1987, they were two RPG-7s for every 10-12 combatants.

The Mujahideen formed special armored-vehicle hunter-killer teams where 50 to 80% of the personnel were armed with RPG-7s. This could be up to 15 RPGs. When there weren't mortars available, these groups also used their RPG-7s as a form of pseudo-artillery and conducted RPG preparation fires.(5)

Constricted terrain (mountains, forest, jungle, and population centers) leads to close combat. When the combatants are 10-30 meters apart, artillery and air support is practically nonexistent due to the danger of fratricide. Close combat is a direct-fire brawl in which the RPG-7 excels.(6)

Combat in the High Desert

The Soviet -Afghan War lasted from 1979 to 1989 and pitted the local Mujahideen against the Soviet occupiers and the Afghan communist government. Afghanistan is a rugged land, full of towering mountains, vast deserts, "green zones"(7) and occasional forest. Guerrilla warfare favors the use of light infantry.

The Soviets never fielded enough light infantry to match the quality light infantry of the Mujahideen. The RPG-7 was the Mujahideen weapon of choice and they proved its value as a light-weight killer against Soviet tanks, armored personnel carriers, trucks and helicopters. The Soviets tried to stay at least 300 meters away from the Mujahideen--out of AK-47 Kalashinikov assault rifle and RPG- 7 moving target range.(8) The Mujahideen, on the other hand, tried to get in close and "hug" the Soviet force to escape Soviet artillery and air strikes while using their RPGs to good effect.(9)

Among the forces that the Soviets deployed to Afghanistan were two spetsnaz brigades.(10) The spetsnaz forces were not authorized RPG-7s in their TO&;Es. Instead, they were issued RPG-16s or RPG-22s.(11) The RPG-16s and RPG-22s lacked the range and punch of the RPG-7, so spetsnaz troops used captured Chinese and Pakistani RPG-7s. They preferred these RPGs to the Soviet-manufactured model since they are lighter, and have a folding bipod and a convenient carrying handle.

The spetsnaz found that the RPG-7 was ideal for taking out Mujahideen firing positions dug into mountain slopes. They would aim the RPG-7 to hit above and behind the firing position, showering the firing position with shrapnel and pieces of rock.(12)

The Mujahideen used the RPG antitank grenades against both vehicles and personnel. The antitank round has a lethal bursting radius of some four meters and can kill with blast and shrapnel. The Mujahideen learned that the best way to destroy a vehicle was to engage it with two or three RPGs simultaneously from a range of 20-50 meters. The chances of hitting the target with a lethal shot are greatly increased by firing a number of shots at close range. Further, the vehicle under attack has less of a chance to react to the attack.

The rebels in Tadjikistan in 1992 applied this same technique when attacking T-72 tanks equipped with reactive armor. Since they lacked the anti-reactive armor PG-7VR tandem warhead, the first gunner would hit the tank to blow a hole in the reactive armor and the second and third gunner would fire the kill shots at the exposed area. This "double-teaming" also usually took out the tank's vision blocks, so if the tank survived, it was blind allowing the RPG gunners time to reposition, reload and reengage. Another "trick of the trade" was to throw a fragmentation grenade on the T-72's front deck to take out the driver's vision block before the massed RPGs opened up on the tank. The optimum shot for the Tadjik rebels was against the rear section of the T-72 turret.

The biggest danger to the RPG gunners was infantry accompanying tanks, so they tried to take out tanks that were out of immediate infantry support range. Further, RPG gunners usually were accompanied by supporting snipers and machine gunners and an assistant RPG gunner carrying an assault rifle.

These could protect the RPG gunner from enemy infantry. It was absolutely necessary, if the RPG gunners were not firing from prepared positions, that they change firing positions after every shot. This was especially true if they failed to kill their target with the first shot or the target had a supporting vehicle in overwatch. RPG gunners who were caught up in the heat of the moment and stood their ground were quickly killed.(13)

RPG-7s were especially valuable in executing an ambush. RPG positions were selected with particular care, then dug-in, reinforced and camouflaged. The area behind the firing positions were soaked for two-four meters in depth with water to prevent a tell-tale cloud of dust. The firing position was hidden within local foliage--brush, reeds, corn and tall grasses up to two meters high. It was only necessary to have a clear view of the target and an unimpeded pathway where the grenade could fly without be deflected by twigs and foliage.

No matter how well camouflaged and watered-down a position, the launching signature of a RPG is unmistakable. The flash and the whitish blue-grey smoke is a clear giveaway and the surviving RPG gunner is one who quickly shifts positions or dives deep into a hole.

Helicopter hunting

While the RPG was designed to kill tanks and other combat vehicles, it has brought down a number of helicopters as well. During the fighting in Mogadishu, Somalia in October 1994, the two US Army Blackhawk helicopters shot down were by the RPG. In Afghanistan, the Mujahideen found that the best anti-helicopter tactics were anti-helicopter ambushes. The first variant was to identify likely landing zones and mine them. Then the Mujahideen would position machine guns and RPGs around the landing zone. As the helicopter landed, massed RPG and machine gun fire would tear into the aircraft.(14)

If the Mujahideen could not lure helicopters into an ambush kill zone, the RPG could still engage helicopters. The Mujahideen found that a frontal shot at a range of 100 meters was optimum against an approaching helicopter.(15) As before, the more RPGs firing simultaneously, the better chance of a hit and escape from an avenging wingman.(16)

Should the helicopters be flying further away, it was better to wait until the helicopter was 700-800 meters away and then fire, trying to catch the helicopter with the explosion of the round's self-destruction at 920 meters distance. Chances of hitting a helicopter at this range by the self-destruct mechanism were very limited, but they served to discourage reconnaissance helicopters and air assault landings, particularly if a SA-7 Strela or a Stinger shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile was also firing.(17)

Combat in Cities

In December 1994, the Russian Army entered the break-away Republic of Chechnya and attempted to seize the Chechen capital of Grozny from the march. After this attempt failed, the Russian Army spent two months in deliberate house-to-house fighting before finally capturing the city.(18) During the fighting, the Russian conscript force was badly mauled by the more-mature, dedicated Chechen force. During the first month of the conflict, Russian forces wrote off 225 armored vehicles as nonrepairable battle losses. This represents 10.23% of the armored vehicles initially committed to the campaign.(19) The bulk of these losses were due to shoulder-fired antitank weapons and antitank grenades.

The Chechen forces were armed with Soviet and Russian-produced weapons and most Chechen fighters had served in the Soviet Armed Forces. The Chechen lower-level combat group consisted of 15 to 20 personnel subdivided into three or four-man fighting cells. These cells had an antitank gunner (normally armed with the RPG-7 or RPG-18 shoulder-fired antitank rocket launcher), a machine gunner and a sniper.(20) Additional personnel served as ammunition bearers and assistant gunners. Chechen combat groups deployed these cells as anti-armor hunter-killer teams. The sniper and machine gunner would pin down the supporting infantry while the antitank gunner would engage the armored target. Teams deployed at ground level, in secondand third stories, and in basements of buildings. Normally five or six hunter-killer teams simultaneously attacked a single armored vehicle. Kill shots were generally made against the top, rear and sides of vehicles. (See diagram 1) Chechens also dropped bottles filled with gasoline or jellied fuel on top of vehicles.(21) The Chechen hunter-killer teams tried to trap vehicle columns in city streets where destruction of the first and last vehicles will trap the column and allow its total destruction.

The elevation and depression angles of the Russian tank barrels were incapable of dealing with hunter-killer teams fighting from basements and second or third-story positions and the simultaneous attack from five or six teams negated the effectiveness of the tanks' machine guns. The Russians attached ZSU 23-4 and 2S6 track-mounted antiaircraft guns to armored columns to respond to these difficult-to-engage hunter-killer teams.(22)

Staying Alive

The Soviets were not the only modern army to worry about the effectiveness of the RPG. South African and Namibian forces fighting Angolan guerrillas in Namibia during the 1980s learned to give the RPG a wide berth. Their standard drill, when travelling in an armored personnel carrier and encountering Angolan guerrillas with an RPG, was toimmediately begin driving around the guerrillas in an ever-widening circle. They would fire into the circle with automatic weapons. The moving vehicle was harder for the guerrilla RPG gunner to hit and the soldiers were able to exploit their mobility and firepower.(23) Dismounting troops to advance on guerrillas while the stationary personnel carrier provides supporting fire is a good way to lose the carrier.

Tanks and other ground combat vehicles need to be protected against the RPG. Sandbagging and mounting reactive armor were reasonable solutions until the introduction of the anti-reactive armor PG-7VR tandem round. The best short-term solution appears to be fitting combat vehicles with a light-weight stand-off screen.

When the Soviets moved through heavy vegetation in Afghanistan, they would sometimes walk a wall of high-explosive fragmentation rounds in front of the vehicles to keep the RPG gunners at bay--or at least to ruin their aim.(24) This is an expensive option in terms of artillery or mortar rounds, but it does work.

When practical, the best way to protect ground vehicles from the RPG is to put infantry well forward of the vehicles to find and destroy the RPG gunners. Combat vehicles should stay out of urban areas or areas dominated by overwatching terrain and tall trees until the infantry has cleared and posted the area. Moving under smoke or at night also helps protect ground vehicles. Convoys should have a security escort, smoke laying capability and helicopter coverage. All vehicle drivers should have several smoke grenades.(25)

There are several ways to protect helicopters from the RPG:

Vary the take-off and landing directions from the helipads.

Never fly a "race-track" or other identifiable pattern.

Never follow streets, roads, canyons or river lines for any length.

Always allow 500 meters between the helicopter and its wingman. This allows the wingman full range of his weaponry to engage RPG gunners.

Vary the flight tactics and flying pattern, sometimes flying with two helicopters and sometimes with three.

Prep a LZ with an over-pressure system (fuel-air)before landing.

Use pathfinders on any LZ before committing the full landing force.

Never set patterns by time, formation or sequence of events.(26)

The RPG-7 and asymmetrical future combat

The RPG-7 will be around for a good while yet. It is a proven, cheap killer of technology which will continue to play a significant role--particularly when conventional forces are pitted against irregular forces. Russian veterans are enthusiastic about the RPG-7 and have suggested that the Russians need to develop an antipersonnel round, an incendiary round, a smoke round, an illumination round and other special-purpose rounds to give the RPG-7 more flexibility in future combat. (27) US soldiers need to be aware of the RPG-7 and how it has been deployed. The chances are, whenever a US soldier is deployed to a trouble spot, the RPG-7 will be part of the local landscape.


1. Aleksandr Sykholesskiy, "Artilleriya partisan: RPG vlokal'nykh vooruzhennykh konfliktakh" [The guerrilla's artillery: The RPG in local armed conflicts], Soldatudachi [Soldier of fortune], February 1996, 42.

2. Terry J. Gander and Ian V. Hogg (editors), Jane's Infantry Weapons, Surrey: Jane's Information Group, 1995, 303-305. For a thorough discussion, see Scott C. Janzen, "The Story of the Rocket Propelled Grenade", Red Thrust Star, April 1997, 21-25 or http://leav-www.army.mil/fmso/fmso.htm.

3. I. M. Andrusenko, R.G. Dukov, and Yu. R. Fomin, Motostrelkovyv (tankovyy) vzbod v boyu [Motorized rifle (tank) platoon in combat], Moscow: Voyenizdat, 1989, 26-28.

4. Holy warrior. The Mujahideen were fighting for their homes and their Islamic faith.

5. Sykholesskiy, 42.

6. Ibid, 43.

7. The "green zone" is a fertile, agricultural region of gardens and vineyards bisected by a network of irrigation ditches and adobe walls. It is practically impassible for vehicles.

8. Ali A. Jalali and Lester W. Grau, The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War, to be published in 1998, chapter 15.

9. Sykholesskiy, 43.

10. Special forces. These are a blend of long-range reconnaissance and commando forces.

11. The RPG-16 and RPG-22 are one-shot antitank weapons similar to the US LAW (light-weight antitank weapon).

12. Sykholesskiy, 43.

13. Ibid, 44.

14. A second variant of the ambush was to position heavy machine guns in caves dug into canyon walls where they could fire horizontally across the narrow canyon. They would then bait the aircraft by positioning an attractive target on the canyon floor. The bait would lure the aircraft into the canyon where multiple machine guns would open up on its flight path. Jalali and Grau.

15. Sykholesskiy, 45.

16. In the Somalia fighting, both helicopters were brought down by a tail shot by a single RPG-7. Mark Bowden, "Blackhawk Down", The Philadelphia Enquirer, http://www3.phillynews.com.

17. Sykholesskiy, 45.

18. For a discussion of changing Russian urban tactics, see Lester W. Grau, "Russian Urban Tactics: Lessons from the Battle for Grozny", Strategic Forum, Number 38, July 1995.

19. N. N. Novichkov, V. Ya. Snegovskiy, A. G. Sokolov and V. Yu. Shvarev, Rossiyskie vooruzhennye sily vchechenskom konflikte: Analiz, Itogi, Vyvody [Russian armed force in the Chechen conflict: Analysis, outcomes and conclusions], Moscow: Kholveg-Infoglob-Trivola, 1995, 138-139. For the same period of time, forward-support Russian maintenance personnel repaired 217 armored vehicles, while depot maintenance repaired another 404 armored vehicles according to Sergey Maev and Sergey Roshchin, "STO v Grozny" [Technical Maintenance Stations in Grozny], Armeyskiy sbornik [Army digest], December 1995, 58. These were not all combat-induced losses, but it seems to indicate that 846 of 2221 armored vehicles (38%) were out of action for some period of time during the two-month battle for Grozny.

20. "Pamyatka lichnomu sostavu chastey I podrazdeleniy povedeniyu boevykh deistviy v Chechenskoy Respublike" [Instructions for unit and subunit personnel involved in combat in the Chechen Republic], Ameryskiy sbornik, January 1996, 37.

21. Novichkov, 145.

22. Ibid, 123 For a more complete treatment of the subject, see Lester W. Grau, "Russian-manufactured Armored Vehicle Vulnerability in Urban Combat: The Chechnya Experience", Red Thrust Star, January 1997, 16-18 or On Line Version.

23. Author discussions with a South African officer at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas during March 1995.

24. Lester W. Grau, The Bear Went Over the Mountain: Soviet Combat Tactics in Afghanistan, London: Frank Cass Publishers, 1998, 24-26.

25. Author's opinion.

26. Author's opinion based on conversations with Major Darr Reimers, an army aviator.

27. Sykholesskiy, 61.

Jerry, I saw that RPG article when it first went up on the FMSO site. There have been a number of developments in light anti-armor technology since then.

The FYEO newsletter reports that the Israelis have developed a laser guidance package for the venerable RPG-7 series. It is similar in concept too the Paveway laser guided bomb kit. The launcher has a laser designator. While the fuse for the PG-7 warhead is replaced with a laser seeker and canard wings.

This turns the RPG-7 into a light anti-tank missile with a range of 900 meters. Tactics with it revolve around who is designating and who is firing the grenades.

The US Naval Air Warfare Weapons Division (NAWCWPNS) at China Lake has developed a laser/inertial guidance fire-and-forget missile with a 340m/s speed and range of 3,200m.

Each "Spike" missile weighs 1.8 kg and is 40mm in dia. and is 50cm long. The loaded with one missile, the launcher weighs 4kg full up. The target cost of each round is $10,000 and can kill anything less protected than an MBT's front slope.

The NAWCWPNS intends it to be a squad level weapon for Marine squads a'la the RPG-7. (See the 11/99 issue of International Defense Review, p. 14)

Trent Telenko


Jerry, A little history is in order.

The original LOSAT launch platform was a stretched (seven vice six road wheels) Bradley fighting vehicle that carried four LOSAT ready to fire and 16 more missiles in an automatically reloaded magazine. Average reload time for four missiles was 15-20 seconds.

The Bradley-LOSAT was to be part of a mech-infantry battalion's "Echo" or anti-tank Company with the extended range (10-15 km), top attack, FOG-M. There were to be 12-16 launchers proportioned 2/3 LOSAT and 1/3 FOG-M.

When the Cold War ended. Bradley production was cancelled and the LOSAT was moved to the XM8 Buford light tank chassis. The Buford-LOSAT carried eight ready to fire missiles in two pods of four missiles. It had no reload magazine.

Then Buford was cancelled to pay for Bosnia, at which point LOSAT nearly died.

The LOSAT program was re-scoped yet again and placed in a Hummer, which carried four ready to fire missiles and had four more in a trailer for reloads. It was intended to provide the 82nd Airborne Div. with a heavy punch anti-tank company of 12 launchers and 144 missiles (IOC 2003).

I've run into this "Hummers die from artillery, so LOSAT is no threat," argument before. The Hummer is after all a soft target. Against a M1A2 class tank opponent with full combined arms support, the exchange ratio of a Hummer-LOSAT to MBT will probably be 2-to-1 in the MBT's favor.


Shinseki's Medium brigades won't be armed with a Hummer-LOSAT. They will have something like a USMC LAV. Proponents of the LOSAT have stated in old MARINE CORPS GAZETTE articles that an LAV could carry four LOSAT ready to fire and another four in an auto-loaded magazine. The exchange ratio between such vehicles and Abrams class tanks will be better than four-to-one in the LAV-LOSAT's favor.

That is all she wrote, when it comes to heavy armor, because all our likely enemies that require us to ship large numbers of Abrams will be able to afford a battalion or two of the missiles. Hells bells, Sweden is working on a LOSAT equivalent missile. It is dead certain China and Russia are working on missile in that class and will sell them everywhere it is hurtful of US interests within 10 years.

Our current fast sealift can deliver a brigade of US Army heavy armor anywhere in the world in a week to ten days and a US Army heavy division in six weeks (given strategic warning and the political will to act on it). One or two battalions of LAV-LOSAT class launchers in the hands of a Third World military will rip the heart out of those heavy units.

And this is assuming that the ports for those ships, and airfields our troops land at, are not blown to Hades by GPS guided Scud derivatives first.

If we cannot project power with near invulnerable armor, and we know that light infantry cannot cut it in the face of Third World armor, then we are left with airpower and light armor with lots of ECM.

Trent J. Telenko [trent_telenko@hotmail.com]

We have pronounced the Main Battle Tank dead at least three times in my lifetime, but it keeps rising from the grave. Armor people say the best thing to fight a tank is another tank: the only remedy to heavy cavalry is more and heavier cavalry, said the knights. Of course both light cavalry and heavy infantry were able, in the right places, to defeat heavy cavalry, which was doomed as the decisive arm as soon as the Swiss rediscovered disciplined infantry; gunpowder finished the knights, but they were in fact gone before that.

The one lesson of history is that the decisive arm shifts, and that discipline and combined arms skillfully applied general wins no matter what the decisive arm may be.

Thanks for the history. It's clear we need some rethinking.

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

There are two items which may help defend LOSAT against artillery. First, I have seen photos of a LOSAT launcher mounted on the XM-8 light tank chassis. The second is called "Shortstop." It is a 35 lb. black box which interferes with VT proximity fuses and sets them off several hundred meters short of their targets. The army is fielding it now. According to Aviation Week, they tested this device the old fashioned way; they set them up in the middle of an impact area on a gunnery range and tried to blow them up with artillery barrages. Shortstop supposedly worked 100% of the time; no shell exploded nearer than a couple of hundred meters from the device. This will be a blessing to anyone who ever had to crouch in a foxhole hoping the big one wouldn't go off right over his head. If Friedland or Covenant had them at the Gap, Falkenberg would have had to find both a new line of work and a new girlfriend. Of course, Shortstop is an electronic device and can fail. But it is a great improvement in defense; impact fuses cause shells to dig big holes in the ground, which is damaging, but not as lethal as VT airbursts.

Of course, there are much larger problems with the army, but i just thought people might be interested in those two tidbits.

Sincerely, Frank Luxem FrankLuxem@worldnet.att.net "We're going to hold onto them by the nose, and we're going to kick them in the ass!"--Attributed to either George S. Patton or George C. Scott

What one person can think up another can defeat... you can put a pretty sophisticated autocorrelation system into an artillery round now...


Dr. Pournelle, I read the alt-mail discussion with interest. Why? My primary MOS while I was on active duty was Anti-tank Assaultman. Old habits die hard. My perspective is the ground-pounder's. I look at it this way- one can gas a house, and you still see roaches running about. One can burn the house, and you still see roaches running about. One can nuke the house, and you still see roaches running about. But all it takes is one boot..... In isolation, no specialty is invincible. But combined, one's armed forces can be nearly so. Patton did wonders with Armor, yet they were as useful as large rocks in Vietnam. Air power is wonderful, but Milosevic, and Hussein, by the way, still have forces today. Ships, with awesome naval gunfire, could do little more than let the Japanese know the Marines were on the way, yet against other ships, we were simply inspiring. 

Now, it comes down to this: all of the tanks, planes, ships, and artillery were designed with one thing in mind- support of the infantry. One piece without the other is weakened, often fatally so. On a related note, accuracy is important in the infantry, at least within the USMC. Rifle qualifications, yearly, are mandatory. In the Army, qualifications are held on a "combat course", but "volume of fire" is still stressed. It is my humble opinion that each infantryman should spend time on the Known Distance Range learning his (or hers, lets not get bent out of shape) rifle, and then fire on combat courses, learning fire and maneuver. And every non infantryman should do the same, because what do you have without your tank, or plane, or ship? The USMC has this in mind, too. However, our current military political doctrine seems to be: expend multi-billions of dollars worth of bombs until we LOOK like we are solving a problem, then go on the campaign trail.

George Laiacona III <george@eisainc.com> Thump...Clatter...Thud. "Next!" -Gregor negotiating with the orc envoy "Well, you can just die then." -Excerpt, King's Men Diplomacy Manual

Ted Fehrenbach once said that you can fly over the land, you can bomb the land, you can poison the land, you can nuke it, but you don't own it until you can stand a 17 year old kid with a rifle on it.

The US is headed for Empire but we do not have an Imperial grand strategy, yet. Probably we will opt for high tech weapons no one else can afford then hire client kingdoms and mercenaries to do our fighting for us.

The last Roman Emperor was the son of Aurelius. After that the "Roman" Empire was ruled by foreigners...


From: Stephen M. St. Onge saintonge@hotmail.com

subject: Armor heresies

Dear Dr. Pournelle:

Trent Telenko is of course correct that there's no reason to restrict LOSAT to a Hummer, and Frank Luxem equally correct that "Shortstop" can blow up proximity fuses at a distance. THEN WHAT?

When the crunch comes, the U.S. Army might be restricted attacking the LOSAT carriers with today's artillery, but that will be a failure of will and forethought. If the Armor branch is interested in staying alive, it will be working on jamming aerosol's and smokes to mess up the laser guidance. An of course new weapons to take out the defiladed medium tanks from above (something that John Antal asserts is already available in one form).

Shortstop? A tremendous nuisance. Instead of one VT round, you may need three, with the fuses set to different standoff distances. We may even, Heaven forfend, have to work out new time and impact fuses.

As I said in my first letter, war is dialectical. Nothing fails like success, and weapons must constantly evolve, a point made in _The Strategy of Technology_ by Steffan Possony and some other guy :-).

Just to make sure I'm not misunderstood, I want to say that I think medium armor, LOSAT, and Shortstop are great ideas that should be adopted. I'll go further and suggest something obscene: an Abrams chassis with _removable_ armor, and a two or three small engines instead of one big one. You could configure it for whatever threat you expected at the time, and reconfigure when your intelligence turned out to be wrong. Get better mileage too.

But there ain't no magic weapons or final answers. Flexibility, combined arms, imagination, and the will to stay ahead of the enemy bring victory. Will the U.S. Armed Forces have these?

"Reply hazy, try again later."

Best, St. Onge

The reign of a decisive weapon can be long or short. Heavy cavalry dominated for a very long time in Europe, until the rediscovery of discipline by the Swiss followed shortly by gunpowder and the harquebus; either event, pike or shot, would have been enough to finish off the armored man at arms as decisive. The arm of decision can last a long time or not long at all. The infantry rifleman was decisive from about the American Civil War until the development of the machine gun; not long in fact although it took WW I to make the generals understand that neither infantry nor dragoons were decisive against modern powers. 

How long the main battle tank will last as the arm of decision is interesting. 

You might even argue that the really decisive weapon of WW II late stages was the P-47: train busting and battlefield interdiction made a huge difference, but of course without armored divisions to exploit the isolation and interdiction it would have taken a lot longer to show any effect.

The lesson of history is that a commander who truly understands the combined arms concept and has good troops in all the relevant arms will win: and this has been true from Alexander the Great to Napoleon and into modern times...

Dear Jerry (and friends):

Shortstop sounds neat...for the other side. Against most of the world, which doesn't much use VT / Prox fusing, it would seem to be a lightweight dead weight. Moreover, I wonder if modern timekeeping technology might not make the very expensive VT / Prox fuse obsolete anyway. ICM has already in part made VT obsolete, especially the older ICM (not dual purpose) where the bomblets bounced up then detonated. Still, until that day, the Chinese may find Shortstop to be a Godsend under some circumstances. Then again, we still have ICM and HE Quick so maybe not.

As for LOSAT. Did you read those ammunition portage figures? 8 rounds? 16 rounds? 20 Rounds? Utterly inadequate. And how long does it take to reload the 20 missles the stretched Bradley would have carried? What carries them to the Bradley? WHere are the reserve stockpiles of missiles stored? "Adjust fire, over."

And it isn't that LOSAT is no threat because artillery kills Hummers. Artillery also sometimes kills tanks and anything else on the battlefield. Even where it doesn't kill, however, artillery will usually rattle the people it strikes near. Is LOSAT independant of a human being. I haven't heard or read that it is a self directing robotic system. When someone like the Russians lines up 160 to 240 guns per KM of front and blasts away for three or four hours how effective will that LOSAT crew be?

LOSAT then becomes a threat with which one can deal...much like any other. In this particular case, however, LOSAT would appear to be a very expensive (hence rare) threat, relatively easy and cheap to deal with. I remain unimpressed. I see no reason to be terribly impressed by a light tank or Bradley mounted LOSAT. It will do nothing in practice that the latest TOW won't...although it will do it more expensively. And four to one exchange rates? Based on what? One recalls German predictions, using advanced mathematical models, that the 88 mm FLAK would average 50 rounds per aircraft hit. I think the actual figure was on the order of 10,000 per hit.

A four to one exchange rate! Were LOSAT really that good tanks would avoid them like the plague, going for solid strikes followed by exploitation anyplace the LOSAT was NOT and leaving it to other arms to fix and destroy LOSAT. Either that, or much effort would be devoted to an anti LOSAT defense or weapon that would preserve the decisive abilities of the tank. Probably both.

And the tank will still need heavy armor to deal with cheaper and more common threats.

I was always opposed to the Bosnian intervention, but if it killed LOSAT I admit to having been short sighted. Now FOG-M, on the other hand, had real, if not decisive, potential.

As for the need for invulnerable armor? Against the Third World? I can't quite see why. Frankly, with few and rare exceptions, the Third World is militarily beneath contempt. Even the Germans against the Russians in the early days of Barbarossa did not see as great a disparity in sheer military talent as exists between the west and (most of) the Third World. Give them LOSATs and they will remain well armed rabble. They may be and often are nice people. They are for the most part wretched soldiers - "amoral familists", or occassionaly good soldiers lost amidst armies of unreliable rabble. This would appear to be so deep seated a cultural flaw that it is unlikely to change much or soon.

Of course this presupposes that WE do not degenerate. This is an open question. See "stress cards", for example. See our penchant for overreliance on gee-whiz technology, for example.


Tom Kratman

Dr Pournelle,

I have been following the discussion on heavy armor vs LOSAT on your website with a great deal of interest, and I would like to add a few thoughts of my own. My brother and I are both Infantry (he was Airborne, I was Bradley), and have been discussing the issue. He made what I thought was a very insightful comment: "Until LOSAT is small enough and light enough for a Light grunt to carry along with the rest of his gear, Armor is not dead." If the LOSAT isn't the functional equivalent of the LAW or the RPG-7, it's useless to the light infantry, and becomes nothing more than a super TOW missile. Putting LOSAT on a HMMWV chasis, or a Bradley chasis for that matter, is a replay of the World War II Tank Destroyer philosophy. Useful in defensive operations, but much less so in offensive operations.

George Grosskopf EDS Global Applications Framework Mail Stop 801-07E 716-427-1094 (8-227-1094) mailto:George.Grosskopf@usa.xerox.com <mailto:George.Grosskopf@usa.xerox.com>

I do note that Rommel was able to use 88's in the attack, towing them forward so they could engage, but that was Afrika where the ranges were long and the long flat trajectory had a chance. 

Lost in some of this is the light infantry anti-air weapon, which may be even more important than the anti-armor weapon.

Subject: The Great Military Debate of December

I find all the fussing about LOSAT odd, considering that there are lower cost systems available now that have similar anti-armor potential. Javelin is, albeit slowly, replacing the Dragon as the Army's medium antitank missile. It has a 2000 meter range, top attack, and fire and forget capability. There are several 120mm mortar rounds available from, for example, the Swedes, that are self guiding top attack, and are quite capable of killing any tank in service. However, Javelin is a conventional antitank missile and is susceptible to the usual countermeasures: artillery preparation, other infantry and so on. The mortars have to run through the familiar targeting procedures, and are still vulnerable to counterbattery fires which, with the advent of Firefinder type radars, are more effective. Some of the claims made on LOSAT's behalf seem wild at best. If the round is flying so fast, where is the time or propellant for course changes to come from? If it is supposed be an unguided direct fire weapon, as round speed would suggest, why all the bells and whistles? Other objections should be visible on examination. LOSAT will also be subject to countermeasures. Pre-attack reconnaissance and proper targeting of prep fires will kill and suppress vehicles and crews. Proper coordination of armor and infantry will reduce the effectiveness of this weapon just as they did the Sagger. And, of course, this thing may be great for anti-armor defense if concentrated. Of course, that just makes a juicier target. Others have pointed out the offensive shortcomings, so I will rest my case. I think we must look elsewhere for our revolutionary weapon. Candidates that spring readily to mind are the AirBorne Laser and COIL air defense lasers which, far from blinding pilots, are intended to kill aircraft and missiles.

What effect might these technologies have on military aviation?

Aaron Mays SP4, CO A 1/133D IN IARNG IRONMAN

In the Military Debates, various people have said opposite things about battleships-that they were excessively vulnerable and that properly designed battleships were almost invulnerable. 

There is some truth to both sides. In some conditions (caught in port by a well planned air strike) they were quite vulnerable, but the Bismarck at sea was as close to invulnerable as any military system ever gets; it apparently took 11 torpedo hits, 300 14 to 16 inch shells, and some very good luck to stop it. But it did finally sink, the even larger Japanese battleships were pounded apart by hundreds of air strikes, and then in 1945 it became clear that one nuke could cancel out any possible armor protection. 

This wasn't the main reason for dropping most battleships from the fleet, though. In 1945, policy makers could look back at 40 years of spending a large portion of the naval budget on battleships, **which did nothing.** They were so expensive and so much a symbol of national power, that except for a few very desperate situations no admiral would risk losing one. Unless they were certain of victory, they kept the battleships in port. (Sometimes this was a very bad idea, but they didn't lose them in battle.) 

I have an uneasy feeling that most of our military is now in a similar position to battleships: Losses are so politically unacceptable that it can only be used when combat is safer (for our side) than driving in rush hour traffic. (Or when some president who avoided combat service fails to comprehend the dangers.) So, in Kosovo we used bombers, which were mostly safe from enemy action but could not do the job, instead of light infantry, which would have suffered significant casualties as it did the job. (As for why we got involved at all when we were not willing to take the necessary losses, see my previous statement about presidents.) We "won" only because Milosevich realized that Clinton had put ourselves in a corner where he eventually would have to send in the infantry-and then we could and would have hauled Milosevich off to face trial for war crimes.


I beg to differ with Kratman's assessment of 3rd World militaries.

Ralph Peters (LTC, Ret. AUS) makes clear in his book, "Fighting for the Future: Will America Triumph?" that the mass of 3rd World "armed mobs" hold kernels of real military competence. Some examples from current and past headlines include Chechnya and Somalia. The latest news from Chechnya showed "militarily beneath contempt" 3rd World Chechin warriors just wiped out the advanced guard of a Russian Motor Rifle Regiment in the suburbs of Grozny in an RPG fire sack. (I wonder what the Tank vs. RPG exchange ratio was there?)

The US Military is not immune to defeats by such "contemptible" militaries. The book "Black Hawk Down" tells the story of Somalia gunmen trapping and killing members of our Delta Force and our Rangers, despite everything the 160th SOAR could do to get them out.

What I found interesting was how the then Army Chief of staff related to "The Day of the Rangers."

In the interview for the AUSA's ARMY magazine, he had on his desk a wooden Somalia cowbell, a microchip, and a model of the 25mm depleted uranium APFSDS that Bradley combat vehicles used to kill T-55s. He said something to the effect that a Third World opponent that used wooden cowbells to communicate, was able to buy and use the weapons (RPGs, again) needed to defeat an opponent that used microchips to communicate and developed the killing power that the 25mm penetrator represented.

That story was a profound lesson in Humility.

Point in fact, we were damned lucky not to have our heads handed to use earlier in Somalia. Early in the intervention there, the USMC's logistics were so screwed up that its Abrams lacked main gun rounds and were engaging Somalia M47 tanks with machine gun fire because it was the only ammunition they had (See the book CAMP COLT TO DESERT STORM). It was only our Desert Storm reputation that won that firefight for us. The Somalis "knew" how deadly our tanks were from Desert Storm and abandoned their M47s in panic.

The problems we had in Somalia, Jerry, were not with the stars. They were with ourselves.

If the USMC was not in the position to provide Abram main gun rounds immediately after Desert Storm, just how on God's Green Earth will we be able too deliver enough artillery ammunition too stop LOSAT in a future intervention? Not to mention the M109A6 Paladin and Crusader SP guns to fire them and the fuel to run them?

Somalia shows that even the most chaotic Third World militaries can field coherent platoon to company level units in their "armies" and battalion sized units in their regime/warlord protective forces.

States like Iraq, Serbia and North Korea can field coherent brigade sized units that can function despite everything our air power can throw at them. We know this because Iraq did it with the Republican Guard, during "The Great Bug Out," in the closing hours of Desert Storm.

The Israelis found Syrian commando battalions, elite regime protective force light infantry with RPGs and Sagger missiles, all they could handle in the Bekka Mountains in 1982.

So what happens when these coherent 3rd World units get a weapon like LOSAT that can really hurt our Abrams wholesale?

Please consider for a moment that the US Army/USMC Javelin anti-tank missile runs to $100,000 a piece. According to the latest press accounts, they are all 100% useless. This is due to a faulty warhead fuse that has stopped production of the missile and rendered fielded missiles into expensive spitballs.

A LOSAT will cost a third that much, in full production, because it lacks an expensive HEAT warhead and, being laser command guided, it does not throw away a fire and forget seeker every time one is used.

During the Cold War our Strategy drove our Operational Art, which drove our tactics, which drove weapons design and then technology that created them.

Today's lower budgets mean available technology is driving all available weapons designs (only some of which we can afford), which influences our tactics, which influences our Operational Art and Strategy.

The Abrams is strategically and operationally obsolete today because it cannot get to the fight and cannot be supported once there. Soon it will be tactically and technologically obsolete because of missiles in the LOSAT's class will be available to our likely opponents.

Trent Telenko


There were two major failures in Somalia. The first was being there at all: we were forced into it by TV, and the desire to help. Bush understood that there was little we could do. Go in, distribute some rations, get the TV camera off those starving people -- and perhaps we could restore order. If so, General Aidid who overthrew the previous tyrants would probably have to do that. It would be possible if difficult. Then Bush was out of office._

The greatest failure in Somalia was faulty intelligence. It is reflected to this day in some of our assessments. How can a mere "warlord" manage to have troops willing to die for him? But Aidid did; as anyone who looked at the situation would have known. He had every reason to believe the United States thought well of him, and it must have come as a considerable shock when he discovered that Clinton thought of him as just another warlord.

Clinton, meanwhile, was not willing to send in the equipment needed to do the job he began. The lesson of Black Hawk Down is hardly new, and not different from that of Desert One: if you think you can do the job with a platoon, send at least a regiment. There is no such thing as "economy of forces" for a single operation. There is no merit in "sending just enough to do the job."

In war everything is very simple but the simplest things are very difficult. We seem to need to relearn that lesson every few years. We are learning it again.

By coincidence I got the following as I was writing this:


709,000 regular (active duty) service personnel

293,000 reserve troops;

Eight standing Army divisions;

20 Air Force and Navy air wings with 2,000 combat aircraft;

232 strategic bombers;

13 strategic ballistic missile submarines with 3,114 nuclear warheads on 232 missiles; 500 ICBMs with 1,950 warheads;

Four aircraft carriers, and 121 surface combat ships and submarines, plus all the support bases, shipyards and logistical assets needed to sustain such a naval force.

Is this country Russia? . . . No

Red China ? . . . No

Great Britain ? . . . Wrong Again

USA? . . . Hardly

Give Up?

Well, don't feel too bad if you are unable to identify this global superpower because this country no longer exists.

It has vanished.

These are the American military forces that have disappeared since the1992 elections.

Sleep well, America.

One must adjust ones national ambitions according to ones military abilities. History has shown that again and again.  An Empire cannot disarm. Ever. A rebpulc could do without all those forces. An Empire cannot. If we are going to impose a New World Order on the World, make no mistake, it will not be cheap. Empire never is.


A number folks up-thread doubt the qualitative difference between LOSAT and existing AT-Missiles. I'll try and clear it up. The differences between LOSAT and, say, a top attack version of the TOW missile is several fold.

The first one is obvious. LOSAT is faster. It moves as fast as APFSDS shells out to extended battle ranges (2.5km-4.5km). This limits the time for maneuver, electronic or tactical countermeasures, and active defenses have to react. It also allows the use of tank-like "keyhole" positions that launchers slower missiles like TOW, HOT or Sagger can't take advantage of.

Second is its lethality. No amount of passive protection can stop LOSAT. A clean hit is a kill, period. And probably a catastrophic kill at that.

Third is the rate of engagement. An Abrams tank with a well-trained crew can fire eight rounds a minute at up to eight targets. TOW class missile will fire 1-2 two rounds a minute.

Realistically, in a defensive engagement scenario, this means that the Abrams will conduct a 15-20 second engagement; destroying 2-3 enemy tanks, and relocate to a new position. A TOW missile launcher will fire one missile and relocate; getting a killing hit half the time.

The LOSAT launcher third generation thermal sight can track several targets simultaneously and time-share its laser guidance beam among several missiles in flight, each attacking a different target. This means it can empty all four missiles on the launcher at four different targets in less than an a 15-20 seconds. This is a better than MBT rate of engagement, at greater than MBT ranges, with greater lethality. A platoon of LOSAT launchers can kill an MBT company in a single volley at ranges that the MBT cannot reply.

There is a shock effect here that cannot be underestimated.

The only real drawback to the LOSAT is that it leaves a long "please shoot me" smoke trail when it is fired. So whether it fires a single missile or four, it will have to relocate >FAST<. This is also the primary reason that I rate the Hummer-LOSAT as having a much lower exchange ratio than a LAV-LOSAT. It is too vulnerable too area effect high explosive fragmentation such a smoke trail will attract.


Dear Jerry (and friends):

I have no idea where Trent Telenko got the idea that a heat warhead is expensive. I recall quite clearly that the unit cost difference between a TOW missile with a HEAT warhead and a TOW missile with an inert warhead was exactly 100 dollars in 1988 (the last time I ran an LFX that used TOWs). This represents, perhaps, 3 % of the cost of the missile.

Javelin may well be a poor idea, crappily executed. To expect this new missile (LOSAT) to be any better seems wishful thinking at its worst. NO new weapon system has been fielded lately without awesome teething troubles.

But going back to the Third World's armies, a few wretched exceptions (which exceptions I readily concede, and conceded, exist) does not change the overall picture. Take a few companies of good Third World troops, give them "phasers" for all the difference it will make, and they will still be in a matrix of military wretchedness - their unreliable flanks crushed, isolated, alone...meat on the table.

As for Israeli experience with Syrian commandos? Eh. The sole useful lesson from the Gulf War (yes, I was there with 5th SFGA and the Kuwaitis in the east) was the worthlessness of most of the opposition faced by Israel these last five decades. One begs leave to doubt that the Israeli Obermensch are really all that good considering the opposition.

Those coherent Iraqi Brigades Mr. Telenko mentioned? Shot to pieces by companies and battalions of ours. Yes, they were willing, some of them. But, no, they were not at all good.

The Serbs and North Koreans are plain exceptions to this. But they can bleed us white without LOSAT...so why should they bother? Especially given that they inhabit very nearly the worst tank terrain in the world.

The Chechnyans? I believe I already mentioned that the introduction of the Infantry Fighting Vehicle, Bradley, BMP, Marder, what have you, has destroyed the Mechanized infantry of every country that has adopted them. Of course the Chechnyans beat the Russians bloody. The Russians have no more REAL mechanized infantry than we do.

Can't support the M-1? I'm straining to remember the last time I saw an M-1 actually run out of gas overseas on deployment. Hmmm. Oh, yes...I remember. It has not yet happened. Give us our due. At a horrific price in human talent and labor, to be sure, we can move supplies...anywhere...anytime...in sufficient quantity.

Merry Christmas to all,

LTC Tom Kratman

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

I dropped out of the military debates for a while due to holiday preparations and the fact that the discussion seemed to bog down into arguments over which piece of hardware was good or bad. Fun, but it obscures the more important questions of when, if, and where US forces should be employed and how those forces should be organized for the future.

I would like, however, to comment on your remark that we need a true light anti-aircraft weapon. I whole- heartedly agree. The STINGER, though quite effective, is not exactly "light" at 35+ pounds. Carrying one on your shoulder for any length of time is quite literally a pain in the neck... and shoulder and back. But a true LAAW capable of being used by anyone with minimal training is a non starter in the US for a couple of reasons.

1) The Air Force won't allow it. They promise us instant air superiority in all conflicts, and are loudly against letting the Army shoot at anything in the air. Their Airspace Control Orders (ACOs) severely restrict Army AD systems from firing on anything but incoming missles. They will even deny the Army permission to fire in order to give an AF fighter the chance for a "kill" (this accusation was a Gulf War anecdote from my best friend, a former HAWK missle radar-operator). The USAF will never allow thousands of "dumb-assed grunts" to run around loose with weapons capable of bringing down one of their aircraft. I suspect that Navy aviators and even Army chopper pilots wouldn't be too wild about the prospect, either.

2) The ADA establishment wouldn't allow it even if the Air Force would. ADA is the smallest, newest and most self-concious of the "combat" branches of the Army. Our senior officers periodically have to fight off takeover and abolition attempts by the Air Force. If everyone could pick up and effectively use a LAAW, how could they justify STINGER, AVENGER, BRADLEY/STINGER and the rest of the systems, let alone their jobs? We would all have to go into the Infantry, or something.

The idea is a great one, but don't expect to see a PVT Wiszorik pull a LAAW out of his rucksack with a "Made in USA" label on it. Of course, that won't stop someone else from developing one. Then, sadly, the USAF will have a whole new problem to whine about.

Happy New Year to you and yours!

Respectfully Yours, Frank Luxem (FrankLuxem@att.worldnet.net)

PS: Any sarcasm and lack of respect directed towards the "wingnuts" of the USAF by the writer is purely intentional.

I have long suspected that the future of air power in ground support is limited, and that includes helicopters; in theory at least it's just too easy to pack airplane killers at infantry levels. Of course the USAF doesn't want the mission, and won't even pretend to fulfill it, but won't give it up either, so testing the use of fixed wing systems designed for actual close support is problematical.

Whether or not it's made in USA airplane killers will proliferate, making for an entirely different war...