10 May 2006

The New Light Tank With Wheels (MGS)

Army equipment can be divided into three categories. One is the existing and long standing equipment. A second is its "interim" equipment, most notably the C-130 portable 19 ton Stryker, the most common version of which is basically a lightly armored wheeled armored personnel carrier with a high rate of fire grenade launcher on it. The third is the pie in the sky, fuzzy dream that will happen someday, maybe, called the Future Combat System.

The interim class of vehicle includes the Stryker (LAV III class of vehicles) and a C-130 transportable 5 ton truck based multiple rocket launcher system. These were invented to respond to the lack of mobility in heavier existing systems like the M1 Abrams 70 ton tank, the 25 ton M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle, a more heavily armored and armed implementation of the same basic concept as the Stryker, the Army's 26 ton primary Multiple Rocket Launcher system (the M270), which is based on the Bradley, and the 32 ton Paladin self-propelled howitzer. But, they are called interim to convince political forces that they were O.K. to purchase even though their dream equipment had not yet been invented. None of these can be transported by a C-130 cargo plane which can't carry vehicles over 20 tons.

The interim force has a new addition called the Stryker Mobile Gun System (MGS). This is basically a lightly armored tank with wheels and a medium sized direct fire main gun barrel (the M1 has a 120mm barrel, the Stryker MGS has a 105mm barrel), which uses the Stryker armored personnel carrier as a starting point. It is the heaviest direct fire weapon in the U.S. military which is capable of being transported on a C-130, the military's ubiquitous short range transport plane. Unlike existing U.S. tanks, which were are designed primarily to destroy other tanks, the MGS is intended primarily to provide heavier weapon support to infantry, particularly in places like urban environments.

The M551 Sheridan light tank was previously used for this role (with considerable dissatisfiaction) in Vietnam, and a successor to it was to be the Buford Armored Gun System which entered development in 1983. The Buford, like the MGS, had a 105mm main gun, .50 caliber machine gun and 7.62mm machine gun, light armor, a three man crew, was not designed for anti-tank warfare, and was C-130 transportable. But, unlike the Buford, which had tracks, the MGS has wheels, a feature that have been a net benefit for the Stryker in Iraq, allowing it to move more quietly and quickly using less fuel than tracked vehicles in a combat environment (the Stryker has a fuel efficiency of about 6 mpg) that has roads. The Buford was cancelled in the late 1990s. Since then, the main heavy weapon for troops deployed by air has been anti-tank missiles carried by Humvees.

Also, as a footnote, I call both the Buford and Stryker MGS light tanks. But, military pendants insist that "The AGS is not a tank -- it may look like a tank, but it's not a tank. It's a thin-skinned vehicle with a gun on it." and would take an even more dim view of my characterization of the Stryker MGS as a tank. But, in my view, as a civilian with a primarily lay audience, a vehicle with a big direct fire weapon on it and any amount of armor protection is a tank, even if it is lightly armored and not intended to destroy enemy tanks and even if it has wheels.

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