08 October 2009

Military Related News Briefs

* The British Navy is basing some Apache AH-64 attack helicopters on its small aircraft carriers (21,000 ton v. 100,000 ton for a U.S. carrier). It is a concept that I've previously suggested for the U.S. Navy in connection with the Littoral Combat Ship for missions like anti-piracy, shipping control, and support of ground troops. Most naval helicopters are lightly armed and designed primary for carrying cargo and passengers. None are gunships to the same extent as the Apache.

While helicopters are slower than most fixed wing military aircraft, they are faster than any ground based vehicle, and an order of magnitude faster than tracked tanks, ships and boats.

* Israel is now using armed, unmanned boats (USVs) for coastal patrol duties. The U.S. model discussed before was first used in the real world in 2003 in the Persian Gulf to patrol shipping, and the Israeli model used by Singapore and in the Persian Gulf has been used at least since 2004.

The Protector USV is basically a four ton, 30 foot long (9 meter) speedboat (up to 72 kilometers an hour) equipped with radar, GPS and vidcams, and armed with a remote control 12.7mm machine-gun (using night vision and a laser rangefinder). There is also a public address system, to give orders to boats that should not be there. . . . Protector can be controlled from an operator ashore, or in a nearby ship, usually out to the horizon or at least 10-20 kilometers distant. Protector can stay out eight hours at a time. The one big shortcoming is that Protector is built for speed, not rough seas. . . .

The U.S. Navy had earlier developed the lighter Spartan Scout USV. The Spartan Scout is a two ton, 22 foot long, radio controlled boat. It is armed with a .50 caliber machine-gun and a number of sensors (mainly day and night vidcams.) Spartan Scout is more suitable for patrolling port areas and inland waterways.

Both USVs can operate without an operator (by using GPS to move between specified locations.) Spartan Scout can stay out for up to 48 hours, depending on how much high speed (it can hit up to 80 kilometers an hour) running is done. It also has a loudspeaker and microphones, so that the operator, who is usually so far away that he can't see the USV) can converse with crewmen on small ships. . . . While Spartan Scout was developed primarily to work with the new LCS (Littoral Combat Ship), every ship now wants one or more of them, just for port security.

Spartan Scout is also designed to use different sets of equipment for different missions (detecting mines, Intelligence-Surveillance-Reconnaissance, Anti-Terrorism/Force Protection, destroying threats with the machine-gun, and Antisubmarine Warfare.)

Seeing the need for a larger USV, the U.S. Navy has developed a new USV (unmanned surface vessel) to be used by its LCS (Littoral Combat Ships) for anti-submarine warfare. Officially called the 11-meter Fleet class Anti-Submarine Warfare Unmanned Surface Vehicle (ASWUSV), the 39 foot long boats weigh 8.5 tons and can carry 2.5 tons of sensors and other equipment. The USV can move up to 63 kilometers an hour and stay at sea for up to 24 hours. Most of the time it would be moving slowly, using its sonar to search for subs. The ASWUSV is equipped with GPS and a computerized navigation system that allows it to automatically run search patterns. Thus the sailors controlling the boat remotely, can move it to an area that helicopter or aircraft dropped sonobuoys have picked up a contact, and pursue it more intensively with the more powerful sensors it has on board. . . . While two of these ASWUSVs can be carried by LCS ships, the boats can also be used from shore stations. Apparently the first ones to see service will be sent to the Persian Gulf in the next three years, to help keep the Straits of Hormuz free of Iranian submarines. The ASWUSV also carries vidcams and radar, to assist in avoiding collisions with other ships, and to keep Iranian gunboats from capturing or damaging one. The ASWUSV was developed based on experience with the Spartan Scout.

While unmanned land vehicles, planes, boats and submarines are new, this is a technology that is ready for prime time and will have a sweeping impact on the future of warfare. Almost all are primarily remote controlled, with truly automated operations that aren't much more sophisticated than a cruise control on automobile or an autopilot on a commercial airplane.

The big benefits are an ability to stay on station for long periods of time, small size relative to capabilities made possible by not having to have accommodations for crew, and the ability to attack while the operators are out of range of those being attacked.

* The U.S. Army is converting two heavy brigades (units with about 3,900 soldiers) into medium weight Stryker brigades (with a similar number of soldiers), one will transition in 2011, the other in 2012.

Each Heavy Brigade (HBCT for Heavy Brigade Combat Team) contains:

[T]wo battalions of 28 M1 Abrams tanks each (14 per company) along with two infantry companies of 14 Bradley’s each. There is also an armed reconnaissance squadron of 30 [M2] Bradley’s. An artillery battalion has 16 M-109 155mm self-propelled howitzers along with a support battalion and brigade special troops battalion consisting of headquarters, signal, intelligence, security and engineer companies round.

Both the Abrams tank and the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle (which is half-missile tank and half-armored personnel carrier) are too heavy to carry on the Air Force's most common short range cargo plane, the C-130, or on any helicopter. A C-17 transport plane can carry one M1 Abrams tank (about 70 tons) or two M2 Bradley infrantry fighting vehicles (about 35 tons each). Thus, it takes 57 C-17 trips to tkae the heavy Abrams tanks and Bradleys in a HBCT, and more trips to take the rest of the unit's gear and personnel, which is difficult, because C-17s are a scarce resource as the only largest long range transport in U.S. service that doesn't require a commercial grade airport. (The C-5 is a larger long range transport but requires a commercial grade airport.)

In practice, heavy units usually have their gear delivered by a combination of train, sea lift and ground convoy, which can take weeks, and their vehicles can destroy local roads and bridges not designed to carry shut heavy loads. Even in Europe, many road and rail bridges would collapse under the weight of an M1 tank.

Each Stryker Brigade (SBCT for Stryker Brigade Combat Team) contains:

3 Stryker infantry battalions, each having 36 Stryker vehicles distributed among 3 companies (12 each). Nine Stryker Mobile Gun vehicles, mounting 105 mm guns are there for anti-tank and infantry support roles. Nine Strykers, equipped with guided anti-tank missiles, form an anti-tank company. There’s also an artillery battalion with 18 towed 155mm Howitzers, a support units (usually company size) for Medical, Maintenance and Distribution, Headquarters, Signal, and Engineers. There is a Reconnaissance squadron comprised of 42 vehicles.

Everything in a Stryker brigade should be capable of being delivered by a C-130 transport plane. These can land on short field airstrips and are much more numerous than larger C-5 and C-17 long range transports. These medium weight units aren't as well defended against heavy weapons used by enemy forces as the heavy units. But, the vehicles do have sufficient armor to protect the occupants from typical infantry small arms, and have the ability to take on small numbers of more potent opponents. Thus, these units have far more capabilities than paratroopers do, and can be deployed anywhere that an small field airstrip can be prepared.

This is a move in the right direction. The Reagan defense buildup during the Cold War built a force that was overweighted towards heavy, anti-Soviet tank oriented units, and there were almost no medium weight forces in the Army. This change leaves the U.S. military with more of a mix of light, medium weight and heavy forces.

* China is dramatically reducing the size of its military and moving away from a heavily conscription oriented model. It plans to reduce its active duty force by 700,000 soldiers over three years to a total size of 1.6 million troops, which is similar to that of the United States (with 1.4 million), reduce conscription (which it could do almost entirely with that large a reduction), and devote more military resources to procurement of ships and planes. It is also planning to reduce the number of officers in its force, while developing more career non-commissioned officers.

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