Armor: August 30, 2001


The U.S. Army's current program to build medium brigades (using wheeled armored vehicles) for peacekeeping and rapid intervention has run into some unpleasant realities. First, the air force is not eager to provide sufficient transport aircraft to get the medium brigades to a hot spot in a hurry. Second, even if the air force did want to move medium brigades as quickly as possible, there aren't enough transports to do it. Third, faster sea transports make it easier to move the army's heavier armored units overseas quickly. And finally, there is the political calculation that any approach that minimizes casualties is preferable. This is where the last two years experience in Chechnya becomes a factor. About half the Russian forces in Chechnya are paramilitary police using LAVs. These guys are taking an awful beating in those lightly armored LAVs. High road speed doesn't help them much. LAVs are very vulnerable to the plentiful RPGs (Russian anti-tank rocket launcher) and mines. Better trained troops would spend more time outside their LAVs, and this would lower the casualties. But looking at the Chechnya experience, it becomes quickly obvious that M-1 tanks (largely invulnerable to RPGs and able to take a mine explosion without losing the crew) and tracked personnel carriers (like the M-2, which can scoot cross country and avoid a lot of the mines and RPGs) are more likely to keep friendly casualties low. But in the end it may become obvious that this whole rapid intervention mania is much ado about not much. There aren't many situations (vital American interests at stake) where medium brigades can be sent where American politicians think they can be safely (low risk of American casualties) sent. It looks like the heavy metal crowd may indeed have the last laugh.


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