Armor: October 27, 2004

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Wheels or Tracks? That is the question. Which should be preferred, or do they both have valid roles?

Lets take a look by comparing the M2 Bradley and LAV-25/Stryker. The M2 is much heavier than the LAV-25 and Stryker. The M2 is slower than the LAV-25 and Stryker (61 kilometers per hour to 100 kilometers per hour a 66% superiority for the wheeled vehicles). That said, the M2 carries a lot more firepower (LAV-25 and Stryker have separate anti-tank versions to fire the TOW, while the Bradleys TOW is integrated), and armor. The Bradley also moves better over off-road terrain (particularly mud and snow) than the LAV-25 and Stryker.

The Stryker, though, has acquitted itself very well against the insurgents in Iraq. The wheeled IFV has proven to be quieter than the Bradley, and that has often allowed its crews to catch insurgents by surprise. The Stryker has proven to be very tough, too. For all the controversy, the Armys wheeled IFV has proven itself in low-to-medium intensity combat.

The vulnerability of the Stryker is somewhat overblown. The 8x8 system is sill capable of operating minus one wheel (at least one photo of a Russian BTR with a wheel blown off ran in the old Combat and Survival book series) and that means it is able to at the very least get home for repairs. Strykers have survived the detonation of powerful roadside bombs in close proximity. As a wheeled vehicle, maintenance is easier. A damaged wheel can be pulled off and replaced.

Ironically, the Russians have chosen a different tack for urban warfare the BMP-4 (also known as the BTR-T), a tracked APC that is very heavily armored and equipped with a BMP-2s turret. The vehicle is too slow for maneuver warfare. Tracked vehicles are immobilized should one track be damaged, at which point, they are useless. 

Replacing tracks has to be done much more often that replacing tires an easy way to change the tracks on a vehicle is to undo the old tracks, and have the vehicle roll onto the new ones. That said, the hard part is to hit the tracks which isnt exactly an easy thing to do in combat. The tracks can also be protected much better than wheels.

So, which should an army choose? A lot depends on what the military needs. For the United States, both tracked and wheeled vehicles will be needed. Heavy armor is useful for when one expects a toe-to-toe slugging match with someone. Wheeled vehicles will be useful for scouting or when a small force needs to cover great distances, and for missions like reconnaissance and counter-insurgency. Harold C. Hutchison (hchutch@ix.netcom.com)


 


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