Armor: December 27, 1999


FIRST LOOK AT THE NEW MEDIUM BRIGADES: The US Army has unveiled its first draft of the new Medium Brigades proposed by Chief of Staff Shinseki. Each will have three infantry battalions (780 men, three rifle companies) carried in wheeled armored personnel carriers. The entire brigade will have 3,500 troops with 400 of the new medium armored vehicles. There will be companies of engineers, anti-tank weapons, high-tech recon systems, and artillery (wheel-mounted multiple rockets). The Army says it wants a new organization that can deploy more quickly with existing air transports, one that will be ready to fight when it unloads without taking weeks to get ready to fight. A key requirement is that every piece of equipment must fit into a C-130 air transport, which rules out the existing M1 tank and M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle. The Army wants to put six of the new wheeled armored vehicles into a C-17 strategic transport which can only carry one M1 tank. The lighter vehicles would take less fuel and maintenance, lowering the demand on the supply network. Shinseki wants to deploy a brigade in 96 hours, a division in 120 hours, and five divisions in 30 days. That cannot be done with the current tank-heavy units and air transport fleet. The Army is already working to convert two brigades (one mechanized and one light infantry) at Fort Lewis into the new Medium Brigades. Three other brigades will be converted later. Whether the Army moves on to convert more (or all) of its units remains to be seen. The Medium Brigade concept is controversial. The Army is quite happy with its M1A2 tank as an "overmatch platform" that can withstand any enemy attack and destroy any enemy target. But the M1 is heavy, hard to bring to the war, and requires other expensive and heavy systems such as portable bridges. Shinseki wants to solve the problem by bringing a lighter force and expecting it to survive by avoiding direct contact with the enemy (through superior reconnaissance) while destroying him (through longer-ranged weapons). The Army's "tank Mafia" decries the concept as illogical, noting that the world is awash in ex-Soviet T-72s, and that the Army must expect to bring real tanks to the war if it does not want a debacle. They propose building new ships and planes (or new kinds of planes, such as hybrid airplane/dirigible craft that could carry a dozen M1s at 100mph). The tank proponents warn that converting tank brigades into medium brigades would convince North Korea, Iran, and Iraq that the US is no longer serious about "real war" but is instead only interested in peacekeeping. The armor branch is quite happy with the idea of converting the dozen light infantry brigades into light armored infantry, as (to their mind) such units could take over the peacekeeping mission and might actually be useful in an armored slugfest. --Stephen V Cole




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