Support: Armored Reality Check


January 29, 2021: American armored forces finally, after half a century, have a new AVLB (Armored Vehicle Launched Bridge). The new JABS (Joint Assault Bridge System) has been in development and testing since 2012. JABS uses a more effective scissor-bridge tech developed by the Israelis. Prototypes were tested and refined from 2014 to 2016, and then 51 production models were built for additional testing by troops. In 2020 mass production began to provide the remainder of the 197 JABS order, with 29 going to the marines and the rest to the army. JABS is a 62-ton version of the M1 tank, with the turret removed and replaced with an 11.7 meter (37 foot) scissor-bridge that can be deployed in three minutes so that armored vehicles, including the latest version of the M1, can cross an obstacle.

The AVLB has been around for over a century with the first versions developed by the British after they invented and used tanks for the first time in 1915. The AVLB can put a short bridge across a gully or stream and allow vehicles, especially tanks, to cross. The modern AVLB took form during World War II. Every nation that manufactured tanks came up with their own designs by 1945, sometimes just to accommodate heavier and heavier tanks. At the start of World War II in 1939 few tanks weighed more than 20 tons. By 1945 most tanks weighed over 30 tons and there were a lot of “heavies” weighing 40-50 tons.

After World War II new tank designs kept getting heavier. By 1952 the United States was using the first of 12,000 45-ton M48 tanks. The U.S. stopped using this model in the 1980s but other nations still use some. In 1959 the first of 15,000 50-ton M60 tanks appeared. The U.S. stopped using this model in the 1990s but other nations upgraded many and kept them in service. The first of over 10,000 66-ton M1 tanks entered service in the early 1980s and continues to be the main American tank.

As tanks got heavier new AVLBs were needed. By the end of the Cold War the U.S. had over 400 AVLBs in service. The 57-ton M48 Razorback AVLB was adequate for the M48 and M60 although later models of Razorback used an M60 chassis instead of an M48 one. In the late 1990s the U.S. introduced the Wolverine, an M1 based AVLB. While the original plan was to buy over 400, only 44 were built because tank forces were being reduced enormously after the Cold War ended in 1991. It was believed that tanks were no longer as important. The 2003 war in Iraq proved otherwise but not a lot of M1s were used in that conflict and plans to design and build a better M1 class AVLB were delayed for a decade. Finally, with the M60 based AVLBs wearing out, it was time for a new AVLB and that’s where JABS came in. The resurgence of Russian aggression and the modernization of the Chinese Army and aggressive territorial claims by China means American tanks might have to operate in areas where there is a lot more need for an AVLB than the dry open Middle Eastern territory. Europe, Iran and East Asia provide more opportunities to use an AVLB, if you have them.

Constantly changing priorities on building a new AVLB resulted in two new AVLBs in service; the Wolverine and the Razorback. That would not be a big deal, except the two of them used incompatible bridging equipment and the Razorback was wearing out. This is a typical situation for the combat engineers, who do all the dirty work when it comes to destroying enemy fortifications, clearing mines and supplying bridges in a hurry, often under fire with an AVLB. Combat engineers often get the short end of the stick when it comes to new equipment. This has something to do with the (false) concept that the engineers are "support" troops, even though they sometimes provide this "support" alongside or in front of friendly troops and have to operate under fire. One type of heavy equipment the engineers need for this are special engineer vehicles. The two most common types are AVLBs and combat bulldozers (AVLBs with a bulldozer blade and other special gear replacing the scissor-bridge). These two are considered combat as well as support vehicles but that often gets overlooked in peacetime. When the shooting starts you need these armored engineering vehicles if you want to move.




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