Armor: February 3, 2000

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Warfare Lite: The US Army has been looking at the US Marine's experience with armored cars to provide some guidance about where, and how, the army should proceed in this area. Times have changed, armored cars are now called light armored vehicles, or LAVs for short. The army is in the midst of an ambitious series of reforms, the main ones having to do with getting rid of many of its heavy armored vehicles and replacing them with lighter, wheeled ones. LAVs. Although the army used armored cars in World War II for scouting units, they found that the troops preferred the faster and more agile jeep. Other nations had the same experience, and wheeled armored vehicles were much less common after the 1940s. Where LAVs did remain popular was in police type operations, and more agile LAVs were developed for scouting as well. In fact, today's LAV is a lot more able than it's World War II ancestors. Few generals really noticed this increased ability in LAVs. Among those who did were the U.S. Marine Corps. Unlike the army and all their tanks, the marines were more of an infantry force. The marines had less money to play with and a wider array of potential missions.

The Marines have several decades of experience with LAVs. The Marines have, as is their custom, always been imaginative in coming up with new ways to use their LAV forces. The increased demand for peacekeeping forces led the marines to run an exercise in 1997 that took advantage of the LAVs strategic mobility (fast movement on roads, 50 percent faster than tanks), longer tactical range (burns less fuel than tanks) and smaller resupply demands (needs less fuel and fewer spare parts) to show how much more flexible an LAV force can be compared to a conventional armor force of tanks and APCs. 

In 1997 the Marines ran an exercise they described thusly; "The Scenario called for TF (Task Force) Lima, a regimental-sized LAR (light armor) force, to be introduced into the poor sub-Saharan African nation of Kusmahdi (represented by southern California). International relief centers in this country were being threatened by forces from a neighboring country (Tsanu). TF Lima would secure those relief centers, drive the aggressors from the country, and then establish an Exclusion Zone at the border (the Colorado River) until being withdrawn by higher authority. TF Lima was introduced into theater independently by several means: 4th Battalion and the TF Headquarters by amphibious landing at Camp Pendleton; 1st Battalion (-) (i.e., D Company) by strategic airlift (simulated) into El Centro, CA; and 3d Battalion overland from a neighboring friendly country. (In reality, one company from 4th LAR road-marched from its home base in Utah to Barstow, CA, where it linked up with the 3rd LAR, to which it was attached.) Once in-theater, the battalions moved to safe havens prior to launching asynchronous attacks to secure [the] relief centers at China Lake, Twentyone Palms, and Yuma."

This was the sort of thing you could not do with army tanks (weighting nearly 60 tons each) and infantry vehicles (over twenty tons each). The air force doesn't have enough transports to move that many vehicles all at once, and it takes a lot more trucks to carry fuel compared to what the LAV battalions need. In fact, the marines were able to resupply and refuel the LAV units using aircraft and helicopters, as well as taking out wounded troops.

The marine exercise had the various LAV columns moving from 70 to 170 miles, and doing it across a frontage of 250 miles.. Additional firepower was delivered by fighters and bombers. This was needed when an "enemy mechanized column" (with some tanks) was introduced into the exercise. Two of the LAV battalions combined to defeat this threat with mortars and anti-tank missiles.
It was exercises like this that persuaded the army to get into the LAV business. All the wars after 1991 have been "LAV Wars" and despite large tank forces in North Korea, Iraq, Iran and China, the army was more afraid of being caught short by the marines than by hostile tank battalions. And they have reason to be. Public opinion is more likely to allow more peacekeeping than getting involved in wars requiring lots of tanks. Of course, a tank war can be forced on America, but the generals see it more likely that we will be involved in warfare lite. So warfare lite it is. Whatever the consequences.

 


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