Maneuver Conference 2015

Posted on: September 29th, 2015 by Will Rodriguez 9 Comments
Front of Maneuver Center Headquarters during Maneuver Conference 2015. Photo by Will Rodriguez

I attended the Maneuver Conference 2015 at Ft. Benning this 14-17 September.  As usual, it was a great event and if you are ever in Columbus Ga when the conference is being held it would be well worth your time to attend.  I always leave informed impressed and foot weary from all there is to see.

Unlike many of the past conferences there weren’t as many new cutting edge developments.  None-the-less, I walked away with several tidbits and insights enough for several future stand-alone articles I’ll need to write to do the subjects justice.  What follows are several especially interesting things I saw at the conference that I wanted to share.

Not necessarily groundbreaking, I chatted with a prominent pistol manufacturer’s representative about the Modular Handgun System program.  The program has been covered pretty well in the press including the very grandiose speculation that the Army will be adopting hollow point since “special munitions” are included in the requirements document.  (Hollow point is not being adopted for general use by the military and has been in use by specific units for decades.  More here.)

Besides the general talk that his company would be in compliance with all requirements what finally penetrated my brain is that this potential new pistol will have “ambidextrous” controls specifically an external safety, slide lock and magazine release.  Ambidextrous in that while the specific potential future pistol will be friendly to left & right handed shooters it may not be able to be so simultaneously.  At a minimum, shooters will be able to easily configure their pistol for left or right handed use.   The Army has come a long way in catering to left handed soldiers.

Precision Guidance Kit (155mm) & Mortar Guidance Kit. Photo by Will Rodriguez

Precision Guidance Kit (155mm) & Mortar Guidance Kit. Photo by Will Rodriguez

The folks at Orbital ATK showed off their Precision Guidance Kit (PGK).  The PGK is a fuze that can be screwed onto conventional “dumb” 155mm artillery projectiles and turn them into GPS precision munitions accurate inside 10 meters!  The importance of this is given an accurate grid to a target one shell can take out a point target where it took a dozen to do so before.  This allows an artillery unit’s basic load to go farther.  This is an important leap.

Some technophiles will forget this development doesn’t really impact certain missions artillery is used for specifically smoke obscuration missions or final protective fires (FPF’s).  FPF’s are the last ditch mission ground units request when they ae on the verge of being overrun and consist of erecting a wall of steel between oneself and an enemy that greatly outnumbers you.   A fuze has also been developed for the 120mm mortar.  The cost of this fuze is a tenth of the $100k missiles with the same capabilities.

Stryker Testbed with Tarian RPG Armor & SAIC Camouflage Kit. Photo by Will Rodriguez

Stryker Testbed with Tarian RPG Armor & SAIC Camouflage Kit. Photo by Will Rodriguez

Tarian RPG Armor

The test bed Stryker from two year’s ago was on display without its 30mm remote weapon station/turret showing off Tarian’s anti—RPG armor and SAIC camouflage.  Tarian’s anti-RPG solution is fascinating.  It consists of a special net that damages or makes an RPG round explode prematurely defeating its HEAT capabilities.  It weighs a fifth of what slat armor weighs (less than 500lbs vs well over a ton) and can be folded back against the vehicle for air transport.  The latter is a huge advantage to deploying Stryker units early.  The downside is the system costs about 30% more than the current system ($60k vs. $40k).  Surprisingly the Army seems more interested in transporting and repairing old and heavy slat systems instead of investing in this solution.

The test bed vehicle was displayed with a dual machine-gun/Javelin missile Remote weapon system.  The dual system is not fielded right now but would allow Strykers to fire the Javelin while soldiers are under armor.  Another tidbit the General Dynamics representative shared was the Army has decided to up gun two Stryker Brigades in Europe in response to the Russian incursion in Crimea/Ukraine.  The Army will field half of the Infantry carrier Strykers in Europe with a 30mm remote weapon system.  While it might not look like the Konigsberg solution I covered last year, in two years’ time two Strykers of the four in each Stryker Infantry platoon in Europe will be fitted with a 30mm cannon.  The gun will have light anti-armor as well as anti-personnel capabilities.  Let’s pray the Russians can wait.

DoD Photo

DoD Photo

The Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) is researching extending the life of the Bradley.  The thought is to eventually equip it with a remote weapon system and increase the four vehicles in a heavy mechanized Infantry platoon from four to six, each vehicle carrying a fire team. The plan also increases the technological sophistication of the vehicle by adding monitors for each soldier to observe what is happening outside the vehicle and a screen that displays the other vehicles positions.  The intent is to facilitate squads linking up after dismounting from the vehicles.

The concept doesn’t address the immediate loss of technology upon leaving the vehicles.  Nor does it address how is technology can overcome potential distances between squads which impact the dismounted squad’s ability to have mutually supporting fire teams.  When I asked the role of the Bradleys were repeatedly put forth as supporting elements of the equation.  That is true but it has more of a cavalry/vehicle centric approach to mechanized infantry than an Infantry centric approach.  I’ll delve into this subject at a later time as it bears a very close resemblance to the Future Combat System (FCS) debate I was part of a little over a decade ago.  I can only think of the saying, “those that forget history…”

The V280 Valor. Bell Image

The V280 Valor. Bell Image

The final high point of the conference was developments with Bell’s V280 Valor tilt rotor concept.  It would replace the Blackhawk and possibly the Apache gunship.  Doing the subject justice requires its own essay (coming) but interesting highlights include increased technological capability for the Infantry squad in flight, interest from the Marine Corps as a replacement to the UH1Y and the actually building of a flying prototype.

Above are just the high points from an equipment/doctrine perspective of the conference.  I met dozens of soldiers that shared their perspectives on a variety of things the Army is doing and whom I will be interviewing in the future to share some of the great things happening in the Army today.  The Conference was as always, an awesome experience that I can’t recommend strongly enough.  I hope you were as fascinated and informed by some of what I saw as I was.

Be Respectful, Candid and Pertinent. No Posers, No Trolls…
  • YankeePapa

    .
    …Glad to have you back from your sabbatical…  Looking forward to the various postings re your observations.
    .
    “…The
    Army has come a long way in catering to left handed soldiers…”
    .
    …Actually, it is nice that the military even understands that some 17.5% are left handed… and that the rest are not.  Marine Corps combat training had line on a trail with one man holding weapon to the left side of his body… next to the right… WTF?  Suddenly going to make half the population left handed?  Of course that nonsense did not cross the pond… but still…
    .
    …Anyway, welcome back…
    .
    -Yankee Papa-

  • Recon6

    YankeePapa  copy that YP, and plz tell me you are Not left handed ha!…6

  • YankeePapa

    Recon6 YankeePapa ,
    .
    … sin·is·terˈsinistər/adjectiveadjective: sinister
     .
    Origin:  late Middle English (in the sense ‘malicious, underhanded, left handed’): from Old French sinistre or Latin sinister ‘left.’
    .
    …It is possible that I am sinister… However, I am right-handed… I can shoot pistols with either hand with great accuracy… Rifles… no good.  Can’t throw a baseball (or grenade) with any range or accuracy with my left arm…

    .
    -YP-

  • Camo_Steve

    Any talk/update on the MPF/Light Tank or LSAT?

    Btw, it’s nice to have you back 🙂

  • Camo_Steve 
    It’s good to be writing.
    In the last month I’ve had the whole inside of the house painted/new floors put in, moved furniture five times so we could get that done.  Did three days of chores in one so I could drive 600 miles w/three dogs and three cats to help a family member with a medical procedure. (It all turned out great.)  Started renovating that home.  Did a turn and burn of 1200 miles and walked ten miles to cover the Maneuver Conference.  Flew to NY for my 30th reunion and drove over 600 miles in three days attending that and walked almost two dozen miles.  (Awesome event.  Much to write about.) Caught up with family in NYC for three days.  Flew back to the family member’s home and set up a place to write.  (I’ve got another piece running on RE Factor Tactical about when and why you don’t go looking for a home invader.  http://www.refactortactical.com/blog/when-and-why-not-to-confront-a-home-break-in/ )

    I also attended about eight hours of advanced firearms training, been shipping some orders for my collectibles business and got some sleep.
    Tomorrow, I’m taking a shower before I go to Comic Con!

  • Camo_Steve 
    Sorry, forgot to answer your question.
    Army is having an incredibly tough time with money as it cuts to keep all the other branches afloat.  When all is said and done the Army will drawdown 30% from the last decade’s high numbers.  There are complaints that units are having a tough time funding training above squad level and only a third of the Army’s combat BDE’s are ready to deploy.
    LSAT: a working model of the concept for an M240 and testing of it is in the works.  No movement/decision on the SAW version.
    The Army is looking at two new firepower platforms.  The light tank for light infantry formations and a light vehicle (lighter than the UCLV) for RSTA BN’s in light infantry units for the scouts to provide better flank security and fight for intel.  They look something like this http://soldiersystems.net/2015/01/27/82nd-trains-on-light-tactical-all-terrain-vehicles/

    Gen McMaster spoke at the Conference of revisiting the way we fight.  In the past we’ve had the luxury of being able to back off and call in the hurt.  May not be the case in the future and so the intent is to equip our formations with weapons that are firefight “enders”.  The XM25 fits the bill as does a light truck mounting a 40mm grenade launcher in a light infantry fight or a 105mm shell provided by a light tank.   He makes a lot of sense but his cavalry background/vehicle centric approach has flaws.  A subject for a later piece I hope.

  • Camo_Steve

    majrodCamo_Steve
    In regards to the XM25, I recall an article awhile back that mention Rangers from the 75th disapproved of the weapon because it was too heavy, bulky, and only solved a niche role. Add that the XM25 in full production, would only drop the price down to 35k per weapon and $55 per round. That to me  sounds kind of expensive and not cost effective, but hey, if the only other solution as you say is  “a light truck” or “light tank” then the XM25 may be the right way to go. However,  I still  have my doubts about the xM25.

  • Michael_mike

    Camo_Steve majrod That will definitely make an interesting article to read. 

    Don’t have much to say except that all of them are a bargain compared to a javelin. IMHO $55/round is cheap for what it is, but if something like a mortar is more useful …

    My only concern is that they got some reserve against an enemy capable to jam GPS signal. They probably won’t say how precise a mass produced inertial guided round can be.

  • Michael_mike Camo_Steve majrod 
    The Rangers are themselves a niche unit.  Weight might be a real issue on raids especially with long insertion routes.
    The
    Rangers also typically have a multitude ofg fire support available
    (everything from AC130’s to Hellfire armed drones).  That support can
    take care of a lot of targets even before the Rangers make contact. 
    Conventional units don’t have that kind of support and never will.
    Keep in mind the Rangers didn’t want armored HMMWV’s or Strykers at one time either.  That changed.
    FTR,
    The XM25 received glowing reviews from the regular units that used it.
    The Army wants the XM25 pretty badly.  The problem is money. 
    An inertial guided round is going to get super expensive.  Keep in mind this is just a fuze.  The round is still a dumb round that can be used with the fuzes we’ve been using for decades at the drop of a hat.  We just lose the precision capability that we didn’t have before this fuze was invented.