Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki's vision for a lighter,
more deployable force-needed to fight rapidly developing regional
wars, such as Kosovo-is beginning to assume a recognizable form
on the dusty fields of military bases around the country.
At Fort Lewis, just outside of Tacoma, Wash., two prototypical
units, known as Initial Brigade Combat Teams, or IBCTs, are working
to develop tactics, techniques and procedures for the new force.
Shinseki's plan calls for the new brigades to trade in many of
their 70-ton Abrams tanks for mobile gun systems that weigh perhaps
as little as a third of that and can be loaded on to a C-130 Hercules
air transport. The new brigades are intended to be models for the
entire Army. It will take at least another decade, Shinseki estimates,
to complete the service's transformation into what he calls "the
The Army hasn't decided yet what kind of vehicle it wants to replace
the Abrams over the long run. The Army and the Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are working on a "Future Combat
System," which may be equipped with such technologies as high-energy
lasers and electromagnetic guns. But such a vehicle won't be ready
for at least 12 years, Army officials said. (related story p.33)
The Army, meanwhile, is working on developing lighter brigades
that will help transition between the current Army and the Objective
Force. The first two brigades to begin the transition into lighter,
more mobile units are the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, and
the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, explained Maj. Gen. James
M. Dubik, deputy commanding general for transformation in the Training
and Doctrine Command (TRADOC). Both are part of the Army's I Corps,
which is based at Fort Lewis.
The new units currently are training with 16.5-ton Light Armored
Vehicles, Generation III (LAV IIIs), borrowed from Canada. TRADOC
is in the final stages of selecting what it calls an "interim
armored vehicle (IAV)" for the Army to use during the next
The IAV must be lighter than the tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles
and artillery pieces currently used by the Army, officials said.
It also must be available in a single platform that can be used
for all of the vehicles needed in a brigade, from a command and
control vehicle, to the anti-tank and reconnaissance versions, officials
At the Army's Armor Center, at Fort Knox, Ky., TRADOC earlier this
year evaluated 35 vehicles already in use by friendly armed forces
around the world. Among them were models from the United States
and six other countries-Canada, France, Germany, Singapore, Switzerland
Within Fort Knox's 109,000-square mile reservation, located 30
miles southwest of Louisville, the vehicles tested were required
to demonstrate the ability to:
Army officials are being tight-lipped about how the various vehicles
performed in the Fort Knox tests. However, when the Army decided
to conduct 30 days of additional tests, in June, at Aberdeen Proving
Ground, in Maryland, only four teams of contractors sent vehicles.
The models were:
The vehicle likely to be chosen, in the view of many industry analysts,
is the LAV III, which already is being used to train the new brigades
at Fort Lewis. Also, industry insiders noted, the Marine Corps has
been using a version of the LAV for almost 15 years.
"We'd like to believe that we have the inside track,"
said Jim Flynn, marketing and sales manager for General Motors Defense.
"But it all boils down to performance. We think that we're
The Army is scheduled to choose a platform by the end of this month.
Because the vehicles under consideration are already in production,
the purchase is considered "off-the-shelf," officials
said, and they plan to move quickly. Deployment of the new vehicles
is scheduled to begin by March 31, 2001.
Initially, the Army expects to order more than 1,900 vehicles,
said Eric Emmerton, a TACOM spokesman.
TACOM won't discuss cost in public yet, but an industry source
estimated the price at about $1.5 billion. Furthermore, he noted,
the Army eventually could need an additional 5,000 vehicles, costing
another $4 billion.
"That's where we are, and it's very exciting," Maj. Gen.
B.B. Bell, the Army's chief of armor, told the recent 2000 Armor
Conference at Fort Knox.
A New Configuration
The new brigades "have crossed the line of departure,"
said Dubik. The first two combat teams will feature significantly
different organizations from the Army's current brigade configuration,
he noted. Each will consist primarily of four battalions-three infantry,
one artillery and one reconnaissance.
The reconnaissance battalion will be a significant change, Dubik
said. Known as the RSTA (reconnaissance, surveillance, targeting
and acquisition) squadron, it will give the brigade greatly increased
intelligence-gathering capability, he noted.
Another big shift will take place in the artillery battalion, which
is turning in its Paladin self-propelled 155 mm howitzers, with
a combat-loaded weight of 64,000 pounds, for towed 155 mm howitzers,
weighing 16,000 pounds.
The new brigades also will include their own engineer, military
intelligence and signal companies, Dubik said. Another major change
is the organization of the companies within the infantry battalions,
Traditionally, Army battalions and companies have been organized
as pure units, such as infantry or tanks, with the various elements
mixed as needed for each mission, Dubik noted. In the new brigades,
he said, the companies will be combined arms teams, consisting primarily
of medium-weight armored gun systems, infantry and mortars. This
is a big change, Dubik said.
"You can feel the excitement," he noted. "This is
the leading edge of the Army. But it's also high anxiety. A lot
of people are wondering, 'What's going to happen to my job assignment?'
"We're talking about transforming the entire Army," Dubik
said. "You can't do that without problems. But they're the
kinds of problems we want. Transformation is about creating our
The first unit to switch to the new design-the 3rd Brigade-is scheduled
to be ready for worldwide deployment by December 2001, Dubik told
the conference. The second is to follow a year later.
Shinseki wants to have five of the new brigades by 2003. "One
or two brigades isn't enough," he told the Armor Conference.
"You don't get enough force until you get to five."
Shinseki's oft-stated goal is for the Army to have the ability
to place a combat-capable brigade anywhere in the world, regardless
of ports or airfields, within 96 hours.
Currently, Shinseki told the conferees, "we can put a brigade
into Kuwait within 96 hours. The question is, can we put a second
brigade and a third one and a full division in there with some intensity?
It may not be very surprising to you that we can't."
Right now, Shinseki said, "we have a force that is bifurcated.
We have the best heavy divisions in the world." He added: "But
it's a challenge to get them to where they're needed." The
light divisions are "magnificent," Shinseki said, but
they aren't "prepared to slug it out. They lack staying power."
A Medium-Weight Force
What the Army would like to develop is a medium-weight force and
a combat vehicle to match, said Bell. "If we had a 40-ton tank,
we could run all over the Balkans-or anywhere else in Central Europe,"
During the 1999 war with Yugoslavia, however, the U.S. Army was
equipped with the 70-ton Abrams, Bell noted. "There was a very
real threat that the Army was going to be asked to conduct a ground
war," Bell said. "It would have likely taken four months
just to move the formation to the attack phase."
Leadership wanted to move faster, but "we couldn't deliver,"
Bell said. Meanwhile, "the Serbs deployed, while we watched
from the other side of bridges that we couldn't get across,"
because the Abrams tanks were too big, Bell said.
"We don't want that. It ain't right, and we ought to be able
to do something about it."
Army leaders are counting on the soon-to-be-selected IAVs to resolve
the service's weight problem. But many are concerned that the new
vehicles-while lighter than the Abrams-lack sufficient armor to
survive a battle with heavy tanks. Bell conceded that survivability
is a concern, asking:
"How do you build a light platform that performs like an Abrams?"
On this topic, he said, the Army needs to think like the Air Force.
"The Air Force does not accept being hit." He said. "The
reason is obvious: It's usually quite lethal."
Army tanks, on the other hand, "have always taken the hit
and defeated it with armor," Bell said. With the IAVs, he said,
that strategy has to change.
The Army needs to develop a capability to defeat an adversary's
ability to target its vehicles, Bell said. "Our ability to
do that is minimal, if not zero," he noted.
Also needed, Bell commented, is a way to defeat inbound munitions.
That won't be easy, he said. "You've got one or two seconds,
max, to defeat that munition. That's tough."
Still, Bell is optimistic. "The scientists today are telling
us there are some possibilities out there," he said. "There
is a lot of excitement in the field."
It will be years, however, before any new technology is ready
for use, Shinseki warned. "Between now and 2010, there will
be no change," he said. "What you see is what we'll take
In the meantime, Army leaders said, the IAVs will have to rely
upon existing technology for protection. If necessary, they noted,
IAVs can outrun heavier tanks.
The LAV III, for example, is capable of speeds in excess of 60
mph on paved surfaces, compared to 45 miles per hour for an Abrams.
IAVs also can be equipped with additional armor that can be put
on and taken off, as needed.
It is important, Bell said, to remember that the new brigades "are
not designed to fight armor battles, but to respond quickly to small-scale
contingencies," where the enemy is not likely to have sophisticated
When heavy tanks are needed, Bell said, the Abrams remains available.
In fact, the Army has contracted with General Dynamics to upgrade
more than 1,100 older M1 tanks to the new M1A2 configuration.
The M1A2 program provides a commander's independent thermal viewer,
an improved weapon station, position-navigation equipment and a
distributed data and power architecture, an embedded diagnostic
system and improved fire-control technology. A radio interface unit
allows the rapid transfer of digital situational data and overlays
to compatible systems anywhere on the battlefield.
"This tank has served us well and will continue to do so for
many years to come," Bell said. "This is the tank that's
going to lead us into battle for much of the 21st century."