A guest post from Jed.
The term “medium armour’ is banded around in connection with the SDSR post 2020 force structure, but what exactly does that term mean in this context ?
The Army has been ‘experimenting’ with medium armoured formations on paper, and in exercises at BATUS in Canada for some years, in the form of mixed formations of Challenger 2 and Scimitar recce vehicles – I seem to remember a good article in Combat & Survival (last year ?) but I must have recycled it as I cant find it now……
I suppose in any such exercise the Scimitar CVR(T) variant was being a surrogate for the still non-existent FRES (SV). With its slightly larger caliber main gun (40mm CTA) the idea seems to have been to use FRES(SV) in direct support of infantry, as well as in its traditional ‘Formation Recce Regiment” roles.
Before we progress any further lets just take a quick look at the old armoured formations setup. We had the ‘heavy armour’ in the shape of the Challenger 2 Main Battle Tank (MBT) regiments, numbers of which have been constantly dwindling for some years now. Then we had the 5 Formation Recce Regiments based on CVR(T) family of vehicles – more light than medium armour. Finally we have the TA Yeomanry regiments, although I am not sure that these have really been ‘armoured’ since they lost their Fox scout cars after the wall came down.
So when we talk about medium armour in the context of the 2020 force structure, do we mean a ‘medium’ weight vehicle, in the shape and form of the FRES Scout Vehicle, or do we mean some sort of new hybrid formation ? Well it could mean both.
Personally I think it means the 5 Formation Recce regiments will become 5 multi-role ‘medium’ armoured regiments, based on FRES(SV) and related family of vehicles. With a 40mm gun that offers a good punch in its APFSDS round, good enough to destroy most if not all modern IFV’s, a general purpose HE round for use against soft skin vehicles and bunkers, buildings etc, and an air bursting HE round that can be used against enemy troops in defilade, that does not sound too bad – or does it ?
Personally I think there is a an awful lot missing from the concept, so accepting that this is probably what we are going to get, I would like to widen the discussion to the more generic aspects of “medium armour”:
Why go medium ?
Well it depends on your concept of operations, but it could be because medium weight class vehicles are cheaper to procure and maintain than MBT’s, or perhaps because you have a focus on expeditionary operations and its easier to move a medium weight vehicle long distances by either sea or air. It could be because to be survivable at all on the modern asymmetric, IED and RPG filled battlefield requires a level of protection that means ‘light’ armour is a thing of the past; except in some very special circumstances. Maybe it’s a budget driven fudge, rather than a doctrinal thing…… but I digress.
Although recent advances in blast protection, active armour and even ‘old fashioned’ technology like the “anti-RPG cage’ mean that medium armoured vehicles, whether wheeled or tracked, have much better survivability, perhaps the game changer in this respect is active protection systems. The pioneering Israeli products such as the Trophy system (recently tested in combat as well as passing US Army evaluation), have been joined by many products from many manufacturers. Generally speaking these system employ sensors to warn of incoming projectiles and munitions which are launched to disrupt or destroy the incoming. The offer an additional layer of protection, which when added to modern composite and re-active armour, and good mobility mean that a medium armoured vehicle is much better protected against infantry anti-tank missiles and rockets. Some of these active defence systems are even supposed to have an ability against tank gun rounds !
So we have an added dimension to the rules of: “don’t be seen, if your seen don’t be hit” – we can get into the “if your hit, keep moving” etc later.
By the way, one argument I am not going to rekindle is wheels versus tracks, there are plenty of vehicles in both categories that come fall in the “medium weight” category, and I have no intention of going into benefits of one form of locomotion over the over, it’s a moot point for the purposes of this article.
So protection has improved to the point that, while a medium weight vehicles is no Chally 2, Leo 2 or Merkava 4 able to waddle through hell, new technology means its probably good enough for most jobs the vehicle is required to do.
Weapons (“we need more guns….” Neo, The Matrix).
So the other side of the iron triangle that we need to consider is weaponry. Of course here we have many, many options and again it’s a bit dependent on what exactly you want your medium armour capability to achieve.
25mm to 35mm auto-cannon are popular. There are few users of the big 40mm Bofors and we have our new 40mm CTA, which has already been described above. Whatever the specifics we can see the utility of such weapons against other armoured vehicles, soft skinned vehicles, infantry in the open or concealed, even against helicopters etc. The thing is, when we are trying to decided what constitutes ‘medium armour’ in less generic terms, in other words what separates’ it from Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFV) is the auto cannon the differentiator ?
Is it the weapon of choice for the IFV and armoured recce vehicle, and does our generic ‘medium armour’ monica suggest something else ?
We are lucky to have as a frequent commentor on this site Mr Tony Williams, an eminent weaponry expert, who has an excellent website with a page on Light AFV Guns, so click on that link and go have a read.
OK, I know, lots of countries mount anti-tank guided missiles on their IFV’s too. We have always been behind the curve on this one, but at least at one time we had the Striker variant of the CVR(T) family, and we had Spartan APC’s fitted with twin Milan launchers too. What we never did, and still don’t do is endow our IFV’s (Warrior) with the ability to take on heavy armour while on the move. In other words a Warrior has to stop for a Javelin team to debus and take cover, or at least shoot from the rear hatch, but I am not sure how practical that is !
Of course for us, this another budgetary thing, the U.S. has always had TOW on its M2 Bradley, and at the other end of the spectrum the new German Panther has two Euro-Spike Consortium Spike missiles on its unmanned turret:
As an aside, there are plenty of turrets with Spike integrated, but I have never seen a Javelin integration ?
A guided ATGW would allow our medium armoured capability to take on enemy MBT’s, for which it might be cost effective, but in the infantry support role, the ATGW might be a bit expensive for frequent use against buildings or as a bunker buster, so that moves us onto – big guns !
How big is big then ?
There are a number of ‘big guns’ available for a medium armoured vehicle, so again it comes down to what you want to do with the vehicle. At the really big end there are 120mm cannon, the RUAG 120mm gun is used on both the new Polish Anders and the CV90-120T vehicles:
Note the different approached, unmanned versus manned turret. Still, as someone commented on a different thread, front engine, rear troop compartment and rear door = Mini-Merkeva !
There has been discussion on the pages of this forum before suggesting that the RUAG 120mm gun would not be able to throw the NATO standard APFSDS round ‘hard’ enough to penetrate modern threat tanks. Even if that’s true, it might still be cost effective for lots of other target sets.
However if we don’t need or want to take on the bad guys MBT’s, then perhaps we could drop down to the good’ol NATO standard 105mm ?
The General Dynamics ASCOD family (the basis for FRES(SV)) has a 105mm variant, and the French AMX10RC and the newer Vextra are good examples of a wheeled vehicle with such a large gun:
However if 120mm is not going to take out an enemy MBT, then 105mm seems a bit pointless too (except in our case it’s already integrated with the ASCOD chassis ?).
Just to confirm, we are not getting into tank on tank slugging matches with our medium armoured regiments, so perhaps the Cockerill 90mm is going to be big enough for the infantry support role.
With plenty of ammo types, including HEAT, HESH and even anti-personnel canister, it would seem to have most of the bases covered in the infantry support role.
However stepping away from general purpose infantry support, and going back to anti-tank for a moment, even if the 105 or light weight 120 can’t produce the kinetic energy required for an MBT kill, they may still have an anti-tank ace in their pack, in the shape and form of IAI’s LAHAT gun launched ATGW. Designed originally to be fired from the Merkeva MK1 105mm gun, this laser guided tandem HEAT warhead missile can be fired from any 105mm or 120mm gun. Interestingly if you follow the link above you will see a photo of a quad pack for attack helo’s – well it looks to me that you could easily put 2 LAHAT in a turret mounted armoured pod like those designed for Spike, but more on that later.
The Most Versatile solution ?
OK those you who have read my stuff on this blog before will know what is coming next: A turret mounted 120mm smooth bore breach loading mortar ! These guns are the modern descendents of the French Thomson Brandt 81mm Gun-mortars that were used in many types of French armoured car. Capable of direct fire to approx 1.5km as well as the more usual indirect fire role, and as just another ‘tube’ for launching the LAHAT even capable direct fire in the anti-armour role (as an adjunct, Thomson Brandt had a ‘high velocity’ HEAT round which embedded the mortar bombs fins and propulsion charges in a combustible ‘shell casing’). In the indirect fire role the versatility is almost endless with laser guided, GPS guided, IR anti-tank, sub-munition cargo rounds and extended range rounds all in development or production. I am not talking about an AMOS or a NEMO here, but a turret mounted solution, so that you can still have crew heads out for situational awareness and a co-axial MG etc and example being BAe’s Advanced Mortar System Mk II.
Mock up (?) of a 120mm mortar turret on a Warrior. [ed, think this was called Project Thor]
No discussion of strategy or doctrine.
That might come later when we get into the post “SDSR Army” series of articles TD is planning. Instead I return to my original question – what is a “medium armour capability” ?
The after looking at all the above, the answer really remains “what do you want it to be?”. It can be wheeled or tracked, 30 to 40 tonnes, armed with an auto-cannon (and ATGW !) , a version of the ‘big tank gun’ (120mm high velocity smooth bore) or what might have been considered previously as a short ranged artillery piece (120mm mortar). Modern automotive technology should endow it with good tactical mobility, and even more wizzy modern technology gives it a chance of surviving against fair size blast bombs (IED) as well as ATGW and RPG type rockets (and bullets and shrapnel of course).
What do I think a medium armour capability will look like in the British Armies post 2020 force structure ? Unfortunately I think it will look like a reduced buy of FRES (SV) being used in an infantry support role.
What would I like it to be ? Personally I would like it to be the short wheel based CV90 FRES (SV) with its turret mounted CTA 40mm gun supplemented by two LAHAT in an armoured box launcher AND a 120mm mortar turret on the same or the full size CV90 chassis. Each regiment have two Sabre Squadrons of each.
However we all know that is not going to happen.
Over to the comments – what do you think reality will look like ?
And what would you rather see instead ?