Wheels for the Airborne & Light Infantry?

Posted on: May 17th, 2014 by Will Rodriguez 16 Comments
Flyer Defense/General Dynamics GDOTS Flyer Advanced Light Strike Vehicle (ALSV) a possible ULCV candidate

Next month the Army will be testing potential vehicles at Ft. Bragg to fit the Ultra Light Combat Vehicle (ULCV) concept.  This is an old (and good) idea that is new again.  The concept is for a light vehicle that can be chopped to Airborne and Light Infantry units to enhance their mobility.  After a decade of conflict the Army has come to realize it has lost some of its flexibility and is trying to revive that with new concepts.

“We’ve traded mobility for survivability and we’ve got to get it back in line — I need mobility,” Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno said Jan. 23 during an Association for the United States Army breakfast in Arlington, VA. “I need tactical mobility for the future. How do we sustain survivability while increasing mobility?”

The ULCV sources-sought notice calls for a vehicle that can carry a combat equipped nine man squad (around3200lbs.), be capable of being driven off a CH47 Chinook fully loaded, slung by a UH60 Blackhawk and air dropped by a C130 aircraft.  The vehicle should have a 250-300 mile range on its internal fuel tank.  It’s expected to spend 75% of its time off road, survive a rollover and mount a “medium caliber weapon”.  The vehicle will not be armored.

The UCLV concept is to provide units requiring tactical mobility a quick fix.   LTC Kevin Parker, branch chief of Light Systems in the MCoE’s Mounted Requirements Division said, “We are not motorizing the IBCT.”  This is similar to the Marines approach to vehicles where armored infantry vehicles like the AAVP7 are attached to Infantry units for an operation and then go away.  The advantage is the unit commander is not responsible for the maintenance of the vehicles.  The disadvantage is that the vehicles are not always available for training and the unit may not be as adept at mechanized warfare as it could be.

That’s unlike the Army’s typical approach where Infantry commanders own their vehicles and crews like the Stryker and Bradley and are responsible for not only training dismounted infantrymen but the vehicle crews and melding those two capabilities into a motorized or mechanized unit.   Remember though, the UCLV isn’t supposed to be a fighting vehicle.  They just get the light Infantry to the fight quicker and are attached to a unit as needed and not a permanent part of the unit though that may change if a medium caliber weapon is actually fielded on these vehicles.  The temptation to not “fight” the UCLV may be a temptation too great to bear.

This is a good idea.  If the objective is 50 miles from where paratroopers, or heliborne infantry are inserted you have to walk there.  This often dictates landing or drop zones near objectives which makes it easier for the enemy to defend against.   Sometimes airplanes and helicopters can’t get close to an objective because one SAM could take down an airplane with 300 souls or a helo with 12 – 50. Landing 20 miles away with the ability to get someplace in an hour means the enemy has to defend many more targets with more than one guy and an SA7.

The UCLV could give the light infantry which is limited to the speed it can walk, greater tactical speed as needed.  This allows an airfield seizure and a follow on force that can move to an objective dozens of miles away quickly robbing the enemy of time to prepare a defense.  Giving grunts the ability to move 20-60 or a 100 miles quickly after landing in a country is a HUGE advantage and something the enemy has to be concerned about after an airborne or air assault operation is conducted in their rear.

We have to remember not every war is going to be like Afghanistan or Iraq where IEDs started to significantly appear years after the war started. We still have the MRAPS to deploy if things get bogged down but allowing Infantry battalions to move fast greatly expands the tactical mobility of a forced entry operation by airborne or follow on air assault and light infantry forces.

The UCLV notice states the “ULCV does not currently have an approved requirement.”   As I’ve said before, this concept has been batted about from time to time.  The last incantation was “Air-Mech-Strike: 3-Dimensional Phalanx; Full Spectrum Maneuver Warfare to Dominate the 21st Century” written by General David L. Grange, Huba Wass De Czege and others who proposed the development of a light armored mobility capability for light and heli-borne infantry.  In the aftermath of our slow massing and eventual deployment into Bosnia the concept got a lot of interest in the Army but eventually fell by the wayside as the Stryker was adopted and fielded.

I hope light infantry finally gets a select capability to enhance its greatest disadvantage, the limited speed of the dismounted grunt.

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

    Mobility=survivability, at least to me. So on one hand the concept is right. But on the other hand the Army always has a way to make beasts of burden out of anything.  If they keep it lean and fast it is a go. No need to slow roll, need something to hit it and quit it. If not you get a JV up armored Humvee that still exceeds helo weight/sling limits.

  • ArcticWarrior
    Mobility=Survivability I thought about that concept long and hard for this essay.  
    Agree, the Army tends to make everything heavier over time.  The Bradley was originally 18T I think (it’s 38T today) and look at the HMMWV that actually started to bend axles as more armor was added.

    The requirement to have a medium caliber weapon on this vehicle all but guarantees it’s going to be used in a fight and inevitably casualties will result and some braniac is going to say, “They aren’t armored!” and will paint the military as incompetent/irresponsible while ignorantly forgetting why they were designed light in the first place…

    Instead of explaining the realities of the battlefield Generals will slap armor on these things and so starts the vicious circle.

  • ArcticWarrior

    majrod ArcticWarrior Well rubber on wheel is faster than rubber on heel….. or so the CAV guys would remind us.

    Casualty aversion gets people in trouble….keep it light and fast.

    Imagine the ability to hit an airfield, rally up and speed off to secure bridges, traffic control points and other infrastructure that will be needed by the follow up forces. In concept the vehicle works.

    Of course we could always secure some of those recoiless rifle equipped Vespa’s that @yankeepapa found.

  • YankeePapa

    …In the civilian world, the image of paratroopers filling the sky with chutes is a romantic one.  But once on the ground (hopefully able to quickly assemble in their proper units), paratroopers are a lot like WWI infantry… without the horse drawn wagons accompanying them with additional stocks of ammunition, food, and other supplies.  One silly solution is to load this “light infantry” with one hundred pounds or more of weapons and gear per man. 

    …Air dropping supplies can ease the problem… but this assumes that the aircraft are available… that the weather and terrain make the drops practical and productive… to say nothing about the enemy’s ability to toss random numbers into the equation.  And… the larger the airborne formation… the more the specialized logistical effort required.  
    …Choppers can move men and supplies, but even the U.S. does not have unlimited choppers… If you somehow cram a lot of them into an Airborne division… it becomes an Airmobile division… which defeats the purpose if airborne unit was the most advantageous to use in the first place.  You can fly an airborne unit from point A to point B and commit them to combat most riki tik…  Bringing choppers to a distant area in real numbers requires packing up and transporting them somehow… and they require some kind of basing area within reach of the projected enemy targets… requiring much time and “…telegraphing your punch…”
    …So the answer seems to be, first… only commit airborne forces when they are the only, or at least far and away the best solution.  Second… give them lightweight vehicles that can be easilly air transported… move men and equipment a “fair” distance.  Some light “gun carriers” (as discussed elsewhere by Majrod) good as well.  But at all costs, the tendency to “up gun” the force beyond the absolute requirement must be avoided.  
    …Darby’s Rangers in WWII started off with 60mm mortars.  They then went to 80mm…  They later up gunned from there.  Darby was originally an artillery officer and whether his up gunning was a result of his background… or in response to higher authority misusing the Rangers is open to debate.  But a “light” unit can not be both all powerful… and still retain its original virtue…  No matter how up gunned that Rangers were… they were no match for the Herman Goering Panzer division at Anzio…  

  • Sh4d3

    I see this concept applied in Italian Armed Force and SF we have the so called “Lince” (translated “Lynx”) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iveco_LMV that gives our troop mobility and can be loaded on Chinook.


    You know I can’t help but wonder about how the doctrine people will screw this up.  As soon as you put infantry in vehicles they become ‘mechanized’ infantry and tend to stay near the vehicle(with the machine guns).  You might get one kind of mobility at the expense of another kind.

  • YankeePapa  
    Don’t forget someone has to PHYSICALLY go out to the drop zone, recover the supplies, inventory it and then transport it to the paratrooper who needs it.

    FWIW, it takes almost as many airplane sorties to deploy a heliborne division as it does a motorized or heavy unit…

  • Sh4d3  
    Very true.  Thanks for sharing that.

    Actually we’ve (the Army) has done this before with Stryker units and the 9th ID hi tech division in the late 80’s with not to much trouble.  
    Where they are most likely to screw things up is saddle light infantry units with the responsibility of caring, maintaining, manning these trucks.  Then they stop being a light infantry unit.  Ifthey keep this in a transportation company that gets chopped to a grunt unit for a mission (like the Marines do) it’ll work fine.
    This works for light infantry but it doesn’t work for mechanized infantry as the AARs show when the Marines were fighting in Fallujah in comparison to the Army mechanized units.   http://www.cgsc.edu/carl/download/csipubs/matthews_fajr.pdf  Mechanized units need to own their assets so they develop habitual relationships and understand each others strengths and weaknesses.

  • YankeePapa

    majrod YankeePapa,
    “…Amateurs study tactics, armchair generals study strategy, but professionals study logistics…”

  • Michael_mike

    I imagine a vehicle with a modular approach, being equipped frorm .50cal to 25mm with FLIR as a main weapon, preferably using smart munition for added flexibility; I am thinking more of a guiding system relying on mechanics for robustness at the expense of being able to fire in movement since it’s going to be mass produced.

    But with my limited knowledge when it comes to strategy I would be lucky to think at something really useful. Any book or website to suggest for learning the fundamental of strategy (the beginning)?

  • Michael_mike I did suggest a book.  The embedded link is above for “Air-Mech-Strike:
    3-Dimensional Phalanx; Full Spectrum Maneuver Warfare to Dominate the
    21st Century” –
    The heavier this thing gets the less it will be able to execute the mission it was designed for.

  • Michael_mike

    majrod Michael_mike  Thank you for your reply majrod. While I had no problem reading the excerpt I think I would better appreciate this book with a more fundamental understanding of basics infantryman strategies to be more precise.

    >The heavier this thing gets the less it will be able to execute the mission it was designed for.

    That’s why I was thinking at something like a M242 or less, but only for a few of them. According to ATK a m242 weight 262.5lbs -excluding any structural rework that may or may not be required + ammo -merely the weight of a men + equipment. I don’t know how tight is the weight restriction to be airlifted by a Chinook but since it would be modular it could be designed in a way that a 4 men team can assemble it on the ground in 5 or 10 minutes. Or just decide to use something else for that mission but keep it for larger deployment.

    With an effective range of 9,800 ft. I think it could be handy when you have to take down enemy defensive position or during an extraction by providing a precise and powerful hit and let the volume to someone else. Carrying less 25mm ammo than .50cal or a 7.62 gatling gun will offset for the extra weight a bit. 

    Not the kind of firepower that you want on every vehicle but wouldn’t  it be handy?

  • Camo_Steve

    YankeePapa majrod That’s a great quote you dug up!

  • Riceball

    I see on potential problem with this idea, at least this vehicle, if it’s only a 4 seater then it’s going to take an awful lot of them to move a meaningful number of troops to capture or secure an objective. If you only want to move a squad then it’s not too bad but when you move up from there you start to get a small convoy of vehicles and we all know how fast those move. Of course the problem with making it larger to hold more people means that it also gets heavier and slower therefore defeating the purpose of having these vehicles. I think that it needs to be at least a 6 seater but no larger than an 8 seater, still a lot of vehicles to move even a platoon but it’s 3 to 5 fewer vehicles based on a platoon size of 40.

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