Jewish World Review March 15, 2002 / 2 Nisan, 5762

Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly
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Khaki Throat | Khaki Throat was pumping iron in the POAC (Pentagon Officers' Athletic Club) when he met a sergeant in the Military Police who had been involved in field testing of the LAV (light armored vehicle) III, the Army's preference for an Interim Armored Vehicle, at Fort Knox in Kentucky.

There was a glitch.

The Canadian-built LAV III is an eight-wheeled armored car that would be used chiefly to transport troops. Its principal armament would either be a 12.7 mm (.50 caliber) heavy machinegun, or a Mark 19 40 mm grenade launcher. The problem, the MP sergeant said, was that once the Mark 19's 48-round magazine had been emptied, the whole weapon had to be taken off the LAV in order to reload it.

The thought of having to expose himself to hostile fire in order to attach and detach the 72.5 lb Mark 19 in the middle of a battle did not thrill him or other evaluators from the division MP company, the MP sergeant told Khaki Throat, so they gave the LAV III indifferent marks.

Rather than accept a less than a glowing evaluation, the Army brass "quarantined" the data from the platform tests.

Reports like this are why many soldiers were discouraged to read in the March 3 issue of Defense News that "the U.S. Army is trying to sidestep a congressionally mandated side-by-side test between its new Interim Armored Vehicles (IAV) and existing M113 armored personnel carriers."

Col. David Ogg, program manager for the IAV for the Army's Tank Automotive and Armaments Command, told Defense News a side by side test would provide little or no new information.

An analyst for a think tank funded chiefly by defense industries agreed.

"The Army conducted a broad set of tests on options for the interim force between March and November of 2000," said Dan Goure of the Lexington Institute. "To do it again would be a waste of time, money and effort." But some of the soldiers who took part in those tests say they were "dumbed down" to make deficiencies of wheeled vehicles less apparent.

Since the beginning of mechanized warfare, engineers have recognized that tracked vehicles have advantages over wheeled vehicles of comparable weight, especially in cross-country mobility. This is why almost every tank in every army since the tank made its appearance in World War I has been on tracks, not wheels.

The importance of this was reiterated last year in peacekeeping missions in East Timor. Australia has both M113A1 armored personnel carriers and LAV IIs. It sent both to East Timor. The M113 did fine. But the LAV IIs had to be sent home, because they kept getting stuck.

The United States has some 17,000 M113A3s on hand. For very little money, they could be upgraded to fulfill the IAV role. The LAV III will cost more than $2 million each.

The huge additional expense could be justified if we were buying increased capability. But - on paper at least - it's the M113 that seems superior in most categories.

I've addressed tactical mobility. Now consider strategic mobility. The chief reason for having light armored vehicles is to be able to move them rapidly to the theater of war. This means we have to be able to lift them on our tactical airlifters, the C-17 (of which the Air Force has 64) and the C-130 (of which the Air Force has 510).

The M113 weighs a little less than 24,000 lbs. empty. The LAV III will weigh 38,000 lbs in its lightest variant. We know the M113 can be carried on a C-130, air-dropped from a C-130, and lifted by a Chinook, because this has been done a bunch of times.

A spokeswoman for the Canadian Forces said an LAV III can be squeezed onto a C-130 if you let the air out of the tires. But the LAV III is at the extreme weight limit for a C-130, so under certain weather conditions, it couldn't take off with one aboard. Airdrop is out of the question, as is helicopter lift.

It would cost no more to conduct a fair test of the M113A3 vs. the LAV III than the Army chief of staff, General Eric Shinseki, spent to provide black berets for all his soldiers. But it could be money better spent.

Comment on JWR contributor Jack Kelly's column by clicking here.

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© 2002, Jack Kelly