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AMERICA’S HEAVY METAL

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TANKS, IFVS, AND APCS
While many people talk about the need for an infantryman with a rifle, the fact remains that an infantryman brings very little relative firepower to the table. On the ground, much of the firepower on the front lines comes from tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and armored personnel carriers.

One cannot really fight a war without these, especially on the ground. These vehicles can often provide protection, transportation, and fire support. The tanks, APCs, and IFVs in service today are proven veterans.

In some cases, these vehicles, though, drew criticism when they were first fielded. Yet, while some are still among the best in the world, others are showing the signs of age – and need to be replaced.

MEET THE ARMY’S TROOP MOVERS
The United States Army is the primary user of APC and IFVs, and uses two in very large numbers: the M113 Armored Personnel Carrier, and the M2/M3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle. In fact, these vehicles were arguably not intended to serve side-by-side. The M113 entered service in 1960, and was intended to deliver a squad of troops to the front line. Its main weapon is a M2 heavy machine gun. It was in an M113 using an M2 heavy machine gun where Sgt. First Class Paul Ray Smith earned the Medal of Honor early on in Operation Iraqi Freedom, holding off an attack by many of Saddam Hussein’s thugs.

The M113 also saw extensive service in the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm. It also was widely exported, and became the basis for infantry fighting vehicles built by NATO allies like Turkey. However, it was seen as being outclassed by the Soviet BMP infantry fighting vehicles. And so, after the abortive XM723, the M2 and M3 Bradley were designed and built.

The M2 and M3 are equipped with the M242 25mm chain gun and the BGM-71 Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided anti-tank missile. The Bradley was criticized when it first came out, but in Operation Desert Storm, they proved more than equal to the task. It also saw service in Operation Iraqi Freedom, but hasn’t been used in Afghanistan. The Bradley remains on the front line, receiving upgrades.

THE MARINES HAVE THEM, TOO
The Marine Corps has also had people movers. Perhaps the most unique for them is the Amphibious Assault Vehicle, or AAV-7. First fielded in 1972, the AAV-7 is not your ordinary APC, although it has served in that role during Operations Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom, and Enduring Freedom. It is designed to swim to shore from an amphibious ship, delivering 25 combat-ready Marines, and with a primary armament of a single M2 machine gun and a Mk 19 automatic grenade launcher.

The AAV-7 was slated to be replaced by the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, which had a primary armament of one Mk44 30mm Bushmaster II chain gun, which gives it twice the firepower of a vehicle equipped with a M242. The EFV, though, was cancelled in 2011.

The Marines have a second vehicle in service, the LAV-25. Unlike the AAV-7, it is a wheeled vehicle, and carries a M242 Bushmaster. Like the AAV-7, the LAV-25 has seen service in Desert Storm, and in Iraq and Afghanistan. The LAV-25 doesn’t have the ability to swim, but it still carries six Marines. A development of the LAV-25 became the basis for the Stryker family of combat vehicles now in service with the Army.

DON’T FORGET THE TANK
The M1 Abrams tank has been the back bone of American heavy armor since the 1980s. This tank was built to be tough, fast, and carry plenty of firepower. The original M1 had a 105mm gun and carried 55 rounds. The M1A1, replaced the 105mm with a 120mm gun, dropping the capacity to 40 rounds.

The Abrams has seen service in Desert Storm, Afghanistan, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. The tank’s service in Afghanistan is particularly notable, as the general impression of that war has not included them. But Marine Corps Abrams tanks have been taking the fight to the Taliban and other insurgents – often enabling Marines to decisively win engagements.

Yet the Abrams, and to a lesser extent, the Bradley, are going to have to cover potential crises with a lot fewer vehicles. A number of heavy units are being turned into Stryker units, and while the Stryker has done well in counter-insurgency, it is an open question as to how well it will handle full-on combat operations. Over 3,000 Abrams tanks are awaiting refurbishment, but the Obama Administration wants to defer it – and will the tanks and vehicles the troops need come as the specter of sequestration looms?

Article by Harold Hutchison