August 27, 2003

Maneuverability versus Firepower, a reader responds

Already getting a lot of feedback on previous posts. Like I said, I'll try and add a feature that lets you contribute feedback directly under the post. But for now, I'll post the interesting stuff here. By the way, I'm not AGAINST the Stryker program, nor am I really FOR it. I'm interested in it, and force transformation in the Army, as a geopolitical phenomenon that, I believe will make limited wars like Panama a lot more likely. We have an Administration that views the world in black and white, and is convinced of the need to fight terrorism wherever it finds it. Look at this quote from yesterday: "No nation can be neutral in the struggle between civilization and chaos. Every nation that stands on the side of freedom and the value of human life must condemn terrorism and act against the few who would destroy the hopes of the many." This was Bush yesterday at the American Legion. So far, the chaos that is France has escaped retaliation. But in all seriousness, as investors, its important to realize that Bush Administration is willing to use the military to fight this war. For the military to fight it and win it, it has to get more mobile without trading mobility for firepower. Or trading the security of armor for mobility. We'll see soon enough how well it does. And over time, we'll see how the rapidly deployable, highly lethal Stryker Brigades affect the stability of investment markets. If Bush is right and it really is us against them and we can go find them faster wherever they are and kill them, then the Stryker Brigades will be the midwives of the post-radical Islam world. If he's wrong...we'll see. Meanwhile, this interesting post from a reader: "There are plenty of observers touching on the ongoing debate over the survivability, lethality, and mobility of the new wheeled vehicles. Of course, it will be less survivable, but it will likely produce greater overall lethality through better maneuverability. If this sounds counterintuitive, you should see the opposition forces at NTC and CMTC, using mostly old but quick M113As, running circles around and handily defeating squadrons of M1As and Bradleys. Most Cav troopers don't like the changes, but they will get used to it, and the Army has been rewriting the doctrine for the last 4-5 years in order to adapt. And they'll fix the C130 deployability issue , that's not a real obstacle. But you're missing the deeper issue. And it's ironic, because the real reasons for the changes are economic: 1) Common platform. The real benefit of the Stryker Brigade is that all vehicle systems will (finally) be based on the same chassis. Consider a traditional Cav squadron with all kinds of different systems to deal with: M1A1, M3, M88, M113, M577, HMMWV, HEMMT --- all those vehicle systems require different parts to fix them, and none of them are interchangeable. Do you realize how many parts a maintenance team has to hump around the battlefield to fix all that stuff? And it's expensive, too. Budgets for repair parts constitute the highest annual costs for mechanized divisions (more than ammo, in fact, they usually run out of money for training ammo b/c they spend so much on repair parts); a lot of that cost comes from having to purchase so many different parts for different vehicle platforms. 2) We spend too much on turbine engines. An M1A1 power pack costs about $130,000 a pop. If you have to put it together first, it takes about 8 hours to install, and if you get just a little bit of dirt inside it, it blows out when you start the engine. Then it has to be taken out and rebuilt in a contained, dust free environment. Battlefields are dirty. You cannot fix an M1 forward with a whole lot of reliability. Units burn through a heck of a lot of $130K engines, probably a few a day for a battalion. Conversely, a blood and guts diesel engine is a lot easier to fix in any environment, with greater reliability and significantly less cost. 3) Training mechanics. The Army spends a lot of money training a lot of different types of mechanics. It takes 2 different types of mechanics per armored vehicle (hull and turret). Unfortunately, that 63E only knows about the M1A1 engine, he can't even replace a starter in a HMMWV. If there are no M1As to fix (which is rare), he sits idle. And this is the same across the vehicles systems. Except for 63B wheeled vehicle mechanics. They can fix HMMWV’s, HEMMTs, 5-tons, any wheeled vehicle. And the Stryker brigade mechanic will be even more flexible. He'll be able to fix any vehicle in the fleet. Sure, there will still be some specializations for missile systems, etc, but for the most part the Army will save big money on training and maintaining the ranks of mechanics. 4) Can't train with tracks. The biggest problem with heavy tracked vehicles is back home ... you can't get them out of the motor pool. The Army can't just drive its tracked vehicles down the road to the training area. A 65-ton M1A1 rips up the concrete beneath it and destroys roads. That means if you want to go train (a unit's lifeblood and sole purpose in life), you have to load up all your vehicles on a train, there and back. That's what they do in Germany, where the Deutsche Bahn literally and freely dictates its own price, rules, and availability to the U.S. Army, even when they are deploying. In the U.S. we got sick of railing everything out to NTC, so we bought a whole fleet of vehicles for units to train on out there. That means a unit rarely gets to train (other than gunnery) on its own vehicles. That also means less training opportunities because everybody's competing for the same static training area. But the Stryker brigades will just roll out the back gate (or down the autobahn) to train at will in local training areas. That means more training at lower levels, for a lot less money. In the end, an economically lighter and more efficient force will translate into an even better trained and capable force. Readiness will increase significantly, as well as the ability to deploy and fight rapidly. This evolution is great for our Army (and outstanding for our tax dollars). Regards, (I've withheld the name) P.S. There's a lot more to that Chechnya armored column example, widely studied in our US Army professional development seminars, particularly by CAV and Armor officers. If you knew the whole story (the way they got suckered into parking a column in an urban area in the first place), you'd realize their gruesome defeat had very little to do with how thick there armor was. DENNING COMMENT: IF OUR FORCE IS BETTER TRAINED, MORE CAPABLE, AND CAN DEPLOY AND FIGHT MORE RAPIDLY IT'S OBVIOUSLY GOOD FOR THE ARMY. BUT IT ALSO MAKES IT MORE LIKELY THAT WHOVER IS COMMANDING THAT ARMY (BUSH OR HOWARD DEAN) IS GOING TO USE IT MORE OFTEN. AND THAT BRINGS US ONE STEP CLOSER TO BEING THE WARFARE STATE I'M WORRIED ABOUT.


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