Armor: Life-Saving Light Armor in Ukraine


July 19, 2023: Both NATO and Russia have been sending to Ukraine all the armored vehicles they have access to. This includes retired vehicles kept in storage, like the Russian T-55s and T-62s. NATO countries a wide assortment of more recent armored vehicles, including some in development or newly developed vehicles designed to use in Ukraine. Despite NATO misgivings about the Ukrainian ability to master and quickly put these vehicles into action, the Ukrainians were able to do it. Wartime pressure solved that problem and the Ukrainians knew that better than their NATO supporters.

In early 2022, months after Russia invaded, Ukraine asked for light armored vehicles to carry and protect personnel or equipment. The United States promptly sent 200 M113s, including the M113A3 version which is the standard for most of the 10,000 M113s still used by the U.S. Army and reserve forces. The U.S. sent hundreds more after Ukraine found the initial shipment suitable. About 30,000 M113s are still used by several dozen nations. Most M113s still operational are used for support roles although Israel still uses them in combat.

The M113 is a boxy armored vehicle that entered service in 1961 with American army armored units and from 1963 on saw combat in Vietnam. It served effectively during the Vietnam War and was the main American APC throughout most of the Cold War. About 80,000 M113s were manufactured between 1960 and 2007. At 13 tons, although often closer to 15 tons with added armor and other accessories, the M113 is lighter than the M2 IFV (Infantry Fighting Vehicles) and wheeled Stryker that replaced it in the combat role after the 1980s.

The major shortcoming of the M113 is the time and expense of keeping them running compared to wheeled armored vehicles. That’s because the M113 runs on tracks, like a bulldozer. That means it has a max speed of only 65 kilometers an hour compared to at least 100 for wheeled armored vehicles. Those tracks wear out quickly and have to be replaced at great expense (over $10,000 a set) every 6,000 kilometers or less. Traveling on roads wears out the tracks faster. The tracks also limit how much weight you can add. All American M113s have gone through the RISE (reliability improvements for selected equipment) upgrade that included a new, more powerful engine, several other improved mechanical components as well as new electronics. RISE began in the late 1980s when the U.S. Army had 20,000 of them. Export customers carried out similar upgrades or had the Americans do it.

The M113 is still in use because it proved to be a very flexible and reliable platform, lending itself to modifications by many of the dozens of armed forces that still use it or once did. Some countries have added turrets, mounting 25mm cannon. By the 1990s an updated M-113 cost less than $2 million each. This late model M-113 had much better armor protection and reliability but was still inferior to the M-2 that replaced it as an infantry combat vehicle.

In the 1980s the M113 was joined, but not replaced by nearly 5,000 25-ton M2 Bradley IFVs (Infantry Fighting Vehicle). This was a tracked armored vehicle with a turret armed with a 25mm autocannon and two TOW ATGMs (Anti-Tank Guided Missile) launchers as well as a coaxial (with the autocannon) 7.62mm machine-gun. M2 required a three-man crew (driver, gunner and commander) and could carry six infantrymen.

The M2 required more maintenance to keep it operational and, like the M113 required regular track replacement. Tracks wear out quickly and have to be replaced at great expense (over $10,000 a set) every 6,000 kilometers (or less, as traveling on roads wears out the tracks faster). The tracks also limit how much weight you can add.

Tracked vehicles had their limitations, including cost. The M2 cost $3 million each, compared to $200,000 for a late model M113. The U.S. Army wanted something that ran on wheels but was more combat capable. This resulted in the 8x8 Stryker, which arrived in 2002. Nearly 5,000 were produced so far at a cost of about $5 million each. The basic Stryker does not have a turret and has been equipped with a variety of weapons, most operated via a RWS (remote weapons station) used by someone inside. These weapons include 7.62mmm and 12.7mm machine-guns, 40mm automatic grenade launcher or a 30mm autocannon. There is a two-man crew and up to nine passengers (usually infantry).

Strykers cost up to five million dollars each depending on accessories installed. The basic Stryker was a 17-ton vehicle that could carry eleven people (including the crew of two) or just the crew and over a ton of supplies. Stryker was also useful as a battlefield ambulance, carrying walking wounded or more serious casualties on stretchers, accompanied by some medical personnel. There was a temptation to load Strykers with accessories worth millions. and less than a Stryker

This led to the use of more MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected), which cost about five times more than military or commercial trucks but less than a Stryker. The MRAPs are more expensive to operate, and less flexible, than the HMMWV (hummer). MRAPs use a capsule design to protect the passengers and key vehicle components from mines and roadside bombs. The bulletproof MRAPs are built using construction techniques pioneered by South African firms, and have been a great success. The South African technology was imported into the U.S. in 1998, and has already been used in the design of vehicles used by peacekeepers in the Balkans.

One of the first new MRAPs were the Cougars. Basically, Cougar was a 12-ton truck that is hardened to survive bombs and mines, and comes in two basic versions. The four-wheel one can carry ten passengers and the six-wheel version can carry 16. The trucks cost about $730,000 each, fully equipped. MRAPs are also being supplied by other manufacturers, but their designs are very similar to the Cougar. MRAPs are more expensive to maintain and operate than the hummer, but their much lower casualty rate makes them very worthwhile. A later, more effective MRAP design was the RG-33, which came in 4x4 and 6x6 models. All have a V-shaped hull bottom and various modifications to protect passengers. MG-33s cost about $600,000 each and are still in wide use. That’s because the U.S. bought some 20,000 MRAP vehicles. Once American troops were out of Iraq many of these vehicles were found unsuitable for Afghanistan, where there are fewer roads and a special MRAP design was found more suitable. Eventually, most of these armored trucks were out of work. While some are still in storage, many were sold at a large discount or donated as foreign aid or to air organizations.

Security is often a problem in disaster areas and MRAPs were found popular with many NGOs and nations that have problems with security. The only downside is that MRAPs are expensive to operate. The U.S. has given or sold MRAPs to allies who participate in peacekeeping operations, and MRAPs are ideal for areas where bandits or terrorists are a threat (via mines and roadside bombs). The Ukrainians will take all the MRAPs they can get and put them to good use.




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