Slimmer Brigade Still Is Not Trim Enough
Against the hoopla surrounding the selection of a new armored vehicle for the Army’s so-called “interim brigade combat teams,” service officials are grappling with the reality that, no matter what vehicle is chosen, the brigade still is too heavy to deploy in 96 hours.
The four-day benchmark was mandated by the chief of staff of the Army, and is intended to make these brigade-size units “quick-reaction” forces that the United States could dispatch to hot spots around the world.
The interim brigade combat teams, or IBCTs, will be self-sufficient units the Army plans to field late next year. Self-sufficiency means they will not require major overseas airports and seaports to receive troops and equipment.
Two IBCTs are training at Fort Lewis, Wash. They expect to receive new interim combat vehicles by March 2001. A contractor for the nearly $7 billion program was to be chosen last month.
These new vehicles will not be tanks, obviously. The tanks are the reason the Army has been dubbed “too slow” and “too large” to be effective in urban conflicts, for example. The new vehicles will be expected to go to places where tanks can’t go.
Currently, however, “with the amount of troops we have in this [IBCT] outfit, we can’t get there in 96 hours,” said Ty Cobb, acting chief of the advanced systems concepts office at the Army’s Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM). These time estimates, he explained, were based on how many airfields would be needed to deliver troops and equipment.
TACOM estimated that an IBCT, with about 4,000 troops, must weigh no more than 7,800 short tons to meet the 96-hour goal.
Each IBCT has three infantry battalions. It will have 18 155 mm towed howitzers, 340 armored vehicles and 543 tactical wheeled vehicles. Every platoon has Javelin anti-tank weapons. Configured as such, this IBCT weighs nearly 12,000 short tons, and would need between 7.5 and 10.9 days to deploy, said Cobb, during a recent TACOM-sponsored conference in Dearborn, Mich.
If the howitzers were substituted by wheeled high-mobility artillery rocket systems, called the HIMARS, the weight would drop by nearly 1,000 short tons, and the deployment time would be shortened to between six and nine days. But, “as it stands today, we cannot get there in 96 hours,” Cobb said. To reach the weight of 7,800 short tons, the brigade only would be able to bring two infantry battalions, and no howitzers.
Paul Chiodo, acting associate technical director of TACOM’s Armaments Research, Development and Engineering Center, said some weight reductions are expected in the future, with the introduction of a new 155 mm howitzer, a joint Marine-Army system that is scheduled to begin production in 2002 or 2003. That howitzer weighs 17,000 pounds, and should drop to 9,000 pounds, said Chiodo.
One way the Army believes it can cut down the weight of the brigade in the near future, Cobb asserted, is by slashing the amount of supplies brought to the battle.
Most of that “logistics support” weight is in the form of fuel and water.
TACOM currently is studying the use of advanced fuels and lubricants as a potential assist in lightening the logistics load.
Gilbert Piesczak, team leader of advanced vehicle technologies at TACOM, said his office is looking at fuel additives, synthetic lubricants and new refinery processes. The goals, he said, are to increase fuel economy, lower maintenance workload and enhance fuel energy. But this program probably will not affect the IBCT in the near term. Piesczak said these technologies should be ready by 2004.
There are efforts under way to try to reduce the demand for water, he said. That means technologies that can produce fresh water in the field. A soldier needs seven to eight gallons of water a day. For a brigade, that averages to 106 short tons a day, which amounts to 40 percent of the brigade tonnage of 265 short tons, Piesczak explained.
One technique would be to reclaim water from exhaust fuel, which could result in 3/4 gallon of water for each gallon of fuel. This project should be complete by 2004. Another technology is called meso-distillation, which produces two gallons of water per hour from various sources of heat in a vehicle.
There are no immediate solutions to lowering the logistics-related weight, said Cobb. But there are proposals being studied by the Army on how the IBCT could reach its ideal 7,800 short ton-weight. Among the suggestions, said Cobb, are to “pre-position equipment” in remote locations around the world, and to increase the reliance on private-sector contractors for logistics support.
Planning for IBCT
Planning for the IBCT has prompted other types of research, commented Cobb. “We gathered our project managers from our laboratories to decide on what technologies we can contribute to IBCT,” he said. A list of 27 weapon systems was submitted to West Point. TACOM officials briefed 10 officers and senior non-commissioned officers—all from war fighting branches—and asked them to choose which, out of the 27 systems, they would find most useful if they were IBCT commanders.
Cobb stressed that this group of officers was too small a sample to be considered a scientific survey, but “it’s sort of an indicator what they are thinking about.”
Interestingly, said Cobb, the highest-rated weapon was one that the Army won’t have until 2008: a sophisticated two-man portable machine gun called the “objective crew-served weapon.”
The OCSW will replace current medium and heavy machine guns, said Vern Shisler, who works on the program at the Picatinny Arsenal. It will be 100 pounds lighter than the current heavy machine gun, he said in an interview. It will fire air-burst high-explosive 25 mm rounds.
The message from this “non-scientific” survey, noted Cobb, is that a key priority for the IBCT is to be “lethal.”
There have been concerns, for example, within the Army’s artillery community, that the IBCTs will not have organic self-propelled howitzers.
Nevertheless, the artillery school at Fort Sill, Okla., is preparing a “requirements study” that will look at whether the IBCT needs both towed and self-propelled howitzers, said Allan Resnick, assistant deputy chief of staff for combat developments at the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command. “They will come back in about a year and give us that statement,” he told the TACOM conference. On the matter of indirect fire for the IBCT, he said, “the jury is very much out.”