Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. How NOT to make America Strong Again

 

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d1/M901_TOW_missile_vehicle_(1985).JPEGI found this two page document in my old military career files. I believe it was circulated to every U.S. military unit in West Germany. Note the lack of official office header. Note our battalion commander’s short-hand direction, in the upper left corner, to ensure every officer read it. I have typed, in red, the words that are too faint to read on this old photocopy. After the document, I have a tale to tell.

What on earth caused the chain of command to be so concerned about a news article or so? In short, the new social dynamic of the All Volunteer Force. These stories, instead of being managed as part of the political game, were causing pain to those politicians, generals, and industry leaders who had hoped to benefit from the stories with new spending.

The All Volunteer Force was born out of the Vietnam War. The AVF birthday is the end of the military draft, 1 July 1973. Without coercion to fill the ranks, we must sustain enough confidence in the safety and efficacy of service to attract and retain quality personnel. By 1987, we had turned the corner on rebuilding both the leadership infrastructure and the equipment sets needed to have a fighting chance against the Soviet army. Yet, the M-1A1 and the Bradley were still being fielded, hence the references to M-60 tanks. How we were so vulnerable at the height of the Cold War is a story for another day.

Into this situation erupted a story of conventional arms crisis. Our anti-tank missiles were supposedly rendered useless by the Soviets leapfrogging our technology with reactive armor applied to T-72 main battle tanks. Read the memo again to get what reactive armor is and how it defeats a simple anti-tank warhead. Understand that the rest of the memo is stating plain truths that every officer and NCO knew.

https://i2.wp.com/tanknutdave.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/%D0%A2-72B.jpg

The problem was that our Army in Europe was now a married force, with spouses, parents and in-laws. These people had skin in the game and were howling at Congress and the Pentagon. Unlike the old draft Army, where the small professional corps of officers had wives who were expected to toe the command line, a new breed of officer and spouse was filling the AVF. That is why every officer was expected to read these talking points. The unspoken message was “calm down the troops and families.”

It was about seven years later that I learned the rest of the story, the origin of the panic. I was browsing through a university library, researching military sociology and organizational theory. Suddenly, I was reading about the day the fuse was lit.

It all started in a routine congressional hearing. An Army general was testifying about equipment modernization and rival Soviet capabilities. These hearings are effectively scripted, with extensive preparatory briefings. No one in the know was going to be surprised by questions or answers. So, a member of Congress asked the general a question to the effect of “so, General, is it your testimony that our TOW missiles are useless against the Soviets’ new reactive armored tanks?”

The general, knowing the game answered “Yes.” That was the end of the hearing. The camera lights went off, and reporters had their quote. The committee and the Army intended the story to serve its usual purpose, justifying funding the next defense contract. Now was no time to cut back on the Reagan defense build-up!

Both the general and every member of the relevant congressional committee knew all the rest of the truth laid out in the two pages you see here. But telling the whole truth would generate too much ambiguity for Congress, and supposedly would go over the heads of the American public. Urgency would be lost, and with lost urgency, there would be less chance of full funding of new equipment. So, the Army and the Congress conducted a bit of public theater, only to be surprised by the reaction of an audience they had not expected.

Over 30 years later, with media saturation and messaging at the speed of “like” and “repost,” this glimpse behind the curtain of history should serve as a cautionary tale. Just because a trusted person seems to be saying something doesn’t mean it is entirely so. To quote Renaldus Magnus, “trust but verify.” When you hear dire tales—or fantastic performance claims—about military equipment, the soundtrack in your mind should be:

 

There are 19 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Steve C. Member

    Interesting bit of history.

    We were never very concerned about reactive armor. It sounds somewhat silly now, but our greatest concern was having enough main gun ammo to service all the targets we expected to see coming through the Fulda Gap. That, and living long enough to fire off at least one basic load.

    Our greatest fear was the Soviets would plaster our local dispersal areas and GDP positions with persistent chemical weapons. 

    • #1
    • December 19, 2018, at 6:51 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  2. JimGoneWild Coolidge

    Steve C. (View Comment):

    Interesting bit of history.

    We were never very concerned about reactive armor. It sounds somewhat silly now, but our greatest concern was having enough main gun ammo to service all the targets we expected to see coming through the Fulda Gap. That, and living long enough to fire off at least one basic load.

    Our greatest fear was the Soviets would plaster our local dispersal areas and GDP positions with persistent chemical weapons.

    Ditto at my unit, 1/36 Inf, 3rd AD.

    • #2
    • December 19, 2018, at 7:34 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  3. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown

    JimGoneWild (View Comment):

    Steve C. (View Comment):

    Interesting bit of history.

    We were never very concerned about reactive armor. It sounds somewhat silly now, but our greatest concern was having enough main gun ammo to service all the targets we expected to see coming through the Fulda Gap. That, and living long enough to fire off at least one basic load.

    Our greatest fear was the Soviets would plaster our local dispersal areas and GDP positions with persistent chemical weapons.

    Ditto at my unit, 1/36 Inf, 3rd AD.

    Given that, isn’t it interesting that we were rolling around in so many vehicles without overpressure and integrated NBC air scrubbers?

    • #3
    • December 19, 2018, at 9:47 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  4. JosePluma Thatcher

    From what I understand about reactive armor, it has a devastating effect on lightly-armored vehicles and unmounted troops near the AFV carrying it.

    • #4
    • December 19, 2018, at 10:55 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  5. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown

    JosePluma (View Comment):

    From what I understand about reactive armor, it has a devastating effect on lightly-armored vehicles and unmounted troops near the AFV carrying it.

    I can imagine the combination of AT warhead blast, partially redirected, plus reactive armor brick blast, would not be healthy to those within the combined blast fan. But, I invite anyone with actual knowledge on this to comment.

    • #5
    • December 19, 2018, at 11:06 PM PST
    • 1 like
  6. Steve C. Member

    JimGoneWild (View Comment):

    Steve C. (View Comment):

    Interesting bit of history.

    We were never very concerned about reactive armor. It sounds somewhat silly now, but our greatest concern was having enough main gun ammo to service all the targets we expected to see coming through the Fulda Gap. That, and living long enough to fire off at least one basic load.

    Our greatest fear was the Soviets would plaster our local dispersal areas and GDP positions with persistent chemical weapons.

    Ditto at my unit, 1/36 Inf, 3rd AD.

    1-33 AR here. Spearhead!

     

    • #6
    • December 20, 2018, at 3:29 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  7. danok1 Member

    I just love the line “…we offer the attacker a variety of ways to be destroyed.”

    • #7
    • December 20, 2018, at 5:32 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  8. Hank Rhody, Badgeless Bandito Contributor

    danok1 (View Comment):

    I just love the line “…we offer the attacker a variety of ways to be destroyed.”

    It is an excellent line. Give your enemy enough opportunities to fail such that you can’t help but roll him up.

    • #8
    • December 20, 2018, at 12:15 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  9. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown

    Hank Rhody, Red Hunter (View Comment):

    danok1 (View Comment):

    I just love the line “…we offer the attacker a variety of ways to be destroyed.”

    It is an excellent line. Give your enemy enough opportunities to fail such that you can’t help but roll him up.

    Yes, I very much enjoyed the phrasing.

    • #9
    • December 20, 2018, at 1:06 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  10. Boss Mongo Member

    Air-Land Battle doctrine. I loved it so.

    When we went to Desert Shield, I was a 2LT anti-tank PL (3-15 IN (Can Do!), 24th ID. There were rumors that the Iraqis were retro-fitting reactive armor onto their T-72s. Can’t remember the specifics, but after reading the spec sheet I remember doubting that any damn Rooskie armor was going to negate the effects of that big, beautiful 6.7 pound shaped-charge warhead on the TOW.

    Never saw any reactive armor. I did see the TOW send the turrets of T-72s flipping 20-30 meters in the air. A thing of beauty. The TOW made a mighty fine bunker buster, too.

    The US media did its part to lower faith and confidence in the new weapons introduced in the Reagan build-up.

    The M1 Tank:

    -US media: Too heavy and unwieldy. Needs too much maintenance.

    -Truth: It is/was the most badass tank ever deployed; truly the King of the Killing Zone.

    The M2 Bradley:

    US media: The silhouette is too high for a light armored vehicle; it’ll get ate up by the Soviets because of that.

    -Truth: The high silhouette of the Brad was due to its electronically stabilized firing platform. Basically, the Brad can do about 40 mph over rough terrain and the gunner will still lambast everything he aims at.

    Goobers.

    • #10
    • December 20, 2018, at 6:32 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  11. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    The M1 Tank:

    -US media: Too heavy and unwieldy. Needs too much maintenance.

    -Truth: It is/was the most badass tank ever deployed; truly the King of the Killing Zone.

    Except that at the outset, when the need was greatest, when it was being fielded to stop the Soviet tank armies, it wasn’t. There were significant teething problems, inherent in the poor way we, as a nation, design and field new military equipment.

    The electronic systems, taken all together, reached the level of complexity, in the formal sense of the word.* Not good from a reliability/ troubleshooting perspective. This manifested in one of the first annual NATO tank gunnery competitions in which the M1A1 was entered. Each army sends their absolute best. There is no way the American platoon shows up with less than the absolute best maintenance. And yet they did not even place second. Why? Because of catastrophic system failures, forcing them back to manual aiming. [I’ll see if I can find the Stars and Stripes or divisional newsletter clipping.]

    As I recall, a Dutch platoon won with M-60 equivalent Leopard 1s (designed by the Germans, who had already fielded the Leopard 2—whose gun we eventually licensed after shoehorning the M1 into production with the old 105 mm rifled gun as a “cost savings.” Of course, we had already incorporated composite armor, based on a British design, that made M1s tough enough to stop Soviet HEAT rounds.

    And the turbine power pack? In the big 2AD annual exercise, the very winter that Desert Storm went down, I drove by a line of at least 4 M1s (with the 105 mm gun) at a maintenance collection point in the field. Their rear decks were open with engines out, in the middle of the exercise. This was at the very moment when the original Kim was looking at his last best chance to come south, with the ground firm enough for armored warfare and the U.S. military focused on the Middle East. [I was too busy commanding a battery of old SP Vulcans, with our own maintenance issues, to stop and get the photo. I was probably also thinking that wasn’t the photo you want the local civilians developing from your film roll.]

    We built the M1 with zero institutional knowledge of tank design and manufacturing. The Germans, by contrast, had senior engineers who knew exactly what problems they had encountered in the Leopard 1, and did not let the same mistakes happen with the Leopard 2.*

    *I got these insights from a professor, a U.S. Army Reserve MI officer, who did her doctoral dissertation on the fielding of 3rd generation MBTs (Abrams, Challenger 2, Leopard 2, Leclerc, Merkava).

    • #11
    • December 20, 2018, at 11:46 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  12. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    Air-Land Battle doctrine. I loved it so.

    When we went to Desert Shield, I was a 2LT anti-tank PL (3-15 IN (Can Do!), 24th ID. There were rumors that the Iraqis were retro-fitting reactive armor onto their T-72s. Can’t remember the specifics, but after reading the spec sheet I remember doubting that any damn Rooskie armor was going to negate the effects of that big, beautiful 6.7 pound shaped-charge warhead on the TOW.

    Never saw any reactive armor. I did see the TOW send the turrets of T-72s flipping 20-30 meters in the air. A thing of beauty. The TOW made a mighty fine bunker buster, too.

    The US media did its part to lower faith and confidence in the new weapons introduced in the Reagan build-up.

    The M1 Tank:

    -US media: Too heavy and unwieldy. Needs too much maintenance.

    -Truth: It is/was the most badass tank ever deployed; truly the King of the Killing Zone.

    The M2 Bradley:

    US media: The silhouette is too high for a light armored vehicle; it’ll get ate up by the Soviets because of that.

    -Truth: The high silhouette of the Brad was due to its electronically stabilized firing platform. Basically, the Brad can do about 40 mph over rough terrain and the gunner will still lambast everything he aims at.

    Goobers.

    Air-Land Battle Doctrine AND the AAR process rigorously applied to training conducted under the training doctrine laid down in FM 25-100. Having the mandate and permission to train to failure and then train until success is a rare thing in the world.

    • #12
    • December 21, 2018, at 12:42 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  13. JosePluma Thatcher

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):
    I was too busy commanding a battery of old SP Vulcans, with our own maintenance issues

    And don’t forget the Chaparral. Man we had some wonderful equipment back then. Of course, the Sgt. York came along and solved all those problems.

    • #13
    • December 21, 2018, at 2:33 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  14. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown

    JosePluma (View Comment):

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):
    I was too busy commanding a battery of old SP Vulcans, with our own maintenance issues

    And don’t forget the Chaparral. Man we had some wonderful equipment back then. Of course, the Sgt. York came along and solved all those problems.

    Suuure it did! I think I kind of wrote on that, if not, it’s a tale for another day, illustrated by the following models, assembled and painted by my fellow battery commander the next base over in Korea. One model was of a real, fully fielded system. The other was of a system that died a protracted death in development. 

    I thought well of the Chaparral, but thought the move to Pedestal Mounted Stinger was an example of good development and fielding.

    • #14
    • December 21, 2018, at 3:03 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  15. JosePluma Thatcher

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    JosePluma (View Comment):

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):
    I was too busy commanding a battery of old SP Vulcans, with our own maintenance issues

    And don’t forget the Chaparral. Man we had some wonderful equipment back then. Of course, the Sgt. York came along and solved all those problems.

    Suuure it did! I think I kind of wrote on that, if not, it’s a tale for another day, illustrated by the following models, assembled and painted by my fellow battery commander the next base over in Korea. One model was of a real, fully fielded system. The other was of a system that died a protracted death in development.

    I thought well of the Chaparral, but thought the move to Pedestal Mounted Stinger was an example of good development and fielding.

    For being a Frankenstein monster conglomeration of parts from the Army, Navy, and Air Force, Chaparral actually turned out pretty well. I guess. Was it ever tested in combat? I never got to operate it, when I got out of the National Guard, we were still using the glorious Duster.

    • #15
    • December 22, 2018, at 12:35 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  16. Steve C. Member

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):
    We built the M1 with zero institutional knowledge of tank design and manufacturing.

    Between 1945 and 1965 the US built and fielded thousands of main battle tanks. The Germans, zero.

    • #16
    • December 22, 2018, at 3:28 AM PST
    • 1 like
  17. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown

    Steve C. (View Comment):

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):
    We built the M1 with zero institutional knowledge of tank design and manufacturing.

    Between 1945 and 1965 the US built and fielded thousands of main battle tanks. The Germans, zero.

    Which meant nothing, come the 1970s.

    • #17
    • December 23, 2018, at 1:34 AM PST
    • Like
  18. Steve C. Member

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    Steve C. (View Comment):

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):
    We built the M1 with zero institutional knowledge of tank design and manufacturing.

    Between 1945 and 1965 the US built and fielded thousands of main battle tanks. The Germans, zero.

    Which meant nothing, come the 1970s.

    Yet we both arrived at the same place.

    The Leo 1 (1965), the US M60 (1960) with the same gun, the same optics and the same type of motor. The key difference was armor protection. The more agile Leo had less armor than the M60.

    Comes the revolution….

    The Leo 2 and the M1 are first cousins. The differences in the early versions reflect choices and constraints inherent in the doctrine and capabilities of the end user. The major difference is the engine. The British and the Germans believe turbine engine fuel consumption is a severe logistical constraint. The Americans, accepted the trade off for greater agility, speed and the capacity for greater armor protection.

    I’ll leave a discussion of the 120mm gun for another time. Suffice it to say by 1980, when the M1 was still in final development, up gunning was already part of the plan. The Ordnance Corps had yet to recommend between the Rheinmettal 120 and a US developed 120.

    • #18
    • December 23, 2018, at 6:29 AM PST
    • Like
  19. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown

    Steve C. (View Comment):

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    Steve C. (View Comment):

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):
    We built the M1 with zero institutional knowledge of tank design and manufacturing.

    Between 1945 and 1965 the US built and fielded thousands of main battle tanks. The Germans, zero.

    Which meant nothing, come the 1970s.

    Yet we both arrived at the same place.

    The Leo 1 (1965), the US M60 (1960) with the same gun, the same optics and the same type of motor. The key difference was armor protection. The more agile Leo had less armor than the M60.

    Comes the revolution….

    The Leo 2 and the M1 are first cousins. The differences in the early versions reflect choices and constraints inherent in the doctrine and capabilities of the end user. The major difference is the engine. The British and the Germans believe turbine engine fuel consumption is a severe logistical constraint. The Americans, accepted the trade off for greater agility, speed and the capacity for greater armor protection.

    I’ll leave a discussion of the 120mm gun for another time. Suffice it to say by 1980, when the M1 was still in final development, up gunning was already part of the plan. The Ordnance Corps had yet to recommend between the Rheinmettal 120 and a US developed 120.

    Yes AND the 120 mm gun was left out of the initial contract in order to slide the M1 through Congress with an acceptable price tag, even as the 105 gun was not up to the task the new MBT was supposed to accomplish. And the engine had significant teething problems, as I wrote, and it was never going to be used as advertised in the theater for which it was designed against the foe it was intended to defeat.

    This was because of geopolitical reality. We would either spend every drop of American blood defending every inch of German soil forward, or suddenly find ourselves retreating to avoid envelopment, as the Germans surrendered rather than have their cities destroyed. As soon as our war gaming had the Warsaw Pact advancing about 20 km, our good friends the Bundeswehr would say “sorry, we cannot play further, those plans are NOFORN.” Contrary to Clancy’s sparkle talk novel, Ralph Peters nailed it with Red Army.

    • #19
    • December 24, 2018, at 2:35 AM PST
    • 1 like

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.