Firepower and Protection

I have taken the stance that we essentially need “disposable tech” for effective future wars, and while I stand by that statement I also think that there are some “low cost” upgrades that make essentially cheap vehicles much better performers on the field of battle. After all, nothing is cheaper than something you’ve already paid for so it makes sense to upgrade what we’ve got before tossing everything aside to adopt yet another family of vehicles. Without taking our eyes off of eastern Ukraine, lets look back in time to the 2006 Israeli incursion into Lebanon.

Asking the question, “how many Merkava tanks were destroyed in the 2006 Lebanon war” should be simple, but it isn’t.

Hezbollah destroyed 38 Israeli Merkava main battle tanks and damaged 82. Fifteen  tanks were destroyed by anti-tank mines. Hezbollah caused  an additional 65 casualties using ATGMs to collapse buildings onto Israeli troops sheltering inside. http://www.axisoflogic.com/artman/publish/Article_24264.shtml

Of course in the book “Rolling Thunder: A Century of Tank Warfare” by Philip Kaplan, the number of lost Merkava tanks becomes a paltry five. So whether Kaplan is referring only to the Mark 4 Merkava or all generations used in Lebanon is unclear.

What is clear is that even five Merkava Mark 4s is 30 million dollars worth of war material, and the cost of an RPG-29 tandem charge warhead is less than 1,000 dollars. 1,000 times 1,000 is 1,000,000 or one thirtieth the cost of the five Merkavas lost.

With that little math lesson in mind it became abundantly clear is that modern battle tanks are vulnerable to cheap anti-tank missile systems. The Merkava MkIV is a damn fine tank by any measure. Countermeasures are a now a necessity on the modern battlefield.

The Russians led the way for ground based countermeasures: first gen systems Drozd: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drozd second gen Shtora: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shtora and slightly newer systems such as Arena https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arena_(countermeasure) and

After Lebanon 2006 the Israelis finished up Trophy in a hurry:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trophy_(countermeasure)

And the US contracted Raytheon to develop an active protection system for the now canceled “Future Combat System” http://www.raytheon.com/capabilities/products/aps/

If you were to buy an Arena or Trophy or Quick Kill APS on the international market, they would all come in right around the 300,000 dollar per vehicle mark. When you are talking about a 2 to 5 million dollar fighting vehicle, that seems like reasonably cheap insurance.

The other threat, that Active Protection Systems aren’t meant to nullify, is the “dumb” projectiles like direct cannon fire. This is where Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA) comes in handy. If you look closely at pictures of fighting vehicles in Ukraine, you’ll see ERA in extensive use. It is really the only option to survive a hit.

Without taking our eyes off of Ukraine and the 2006 Lebanon incursion, let us also go back again to the 1973 Arab Israeli war. This was the birth of explosive reactive armor into the Israeli Military. If you follow the Blaser and Super Blaser ERA development, you’ll see that it gets morphed into the ERA add on armor for the Abrams and Bradley Fighting Vehicles.

You’ll also note that the Tank Urban Survivability Kit (TUSK) and Bradley Urban Survivability Kit (BUSK) come complete with ERA add on armor. This is all well and good, but remembering Lebanon in 2006, ERA is not enough on its own any more.

So what should the US Army do in the face of this? Well, continue on with the M1A2 SEP V3 program to get better communications integration into the tank, and install the TUSK on EVERY single tank in the fleet, and contract Raytheon for “Quick Kill” active protection systems for every Abrams, Bradley, and Stryker vehicle in the fleet. Active and National Guard as well. Ukraine has shown that even top of the line stuff can and will be killed, but that upgrading what we have is a better use of taxpayer dollars than buying all new stuff that is untested.

For what it is worth, the ERA kit for a Stryker costs about 300,000 dollars. But the base Stryker vehicle costs over 2 million dollars, so it’s a cheap insurance policy. I’d accept the argument that not every Stryker needs an ERA kit as the Stryker was never designed to do anything but be a better combat taxi than the M113, but at least the new 30mm Stryker variants will need ERA add ons.

Also, upgrade the M1A2s to an L/55 barrel, upgrade the Bradleys to an ATK Super 40 or better yet a 50mm cannon, and have the SecDef reverse his stance on submunitions so that Artillery can really hit hard in the fight. If 600,000 per vehicle seems like a lot, just remember that an ten vehicles becomes 6 million dollars, or still less than the cost of one new Abrams. So keeping the vehicles that go to fight in the fight longer is money well spent.

To put that in perspective, when the cheapest variant of the F-35 costs 125 Million dollars a piece, that is around 416 upgrade kits for the Army of either Quick Kill (needed by all fighting vehicles) or ERA (needed by Strykers), or 208 of both. When you think about the combat power enhancement that brings, it makes sense.

The sad part is that we should have been developing fighting vehicles that were much less complicated, much easier to repair and cannibalize, and armored up almost entirely of add on applique and ERA tiles that we could add on active protection systems to. It makes a perverse amount of sense that the M113 is now truly disposable tech, but base armor that light is just not a good platform to build on. It’s the same reason that the Brits have been selling off the Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance-Tracked (CVR-T), they’ve pushed the performance past the point of diminishing returns. We might be getting close to that with the Stryker family already due to the wheeled limitations, but the Brad and Abrams have more room for growth.

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