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The_Chieftain #1 Posted Nov 05 2011 - 00:18

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A little while ago, someone higher than me in the Wargaming org structure linked me to this article over on WND and asked if The Chieftain had any particular interest in writing an opinion on the matter.

Well, I often view a ‘question’ from my colonel as usually more along the lines of a subtle way of phrasing ‘do this,’ so I’m taking this the same way, and as it happens, it actually is something I have a bit of an opinion on. Of course, my opinion is just that, but I put this forward as a bit of a conversation starter. So, allow me to receive from supply a Box, Soap, 1 (ea).

Here’s the operative bit of the WND article:

“The U.S. Army is about to undertake a doctrinal change wherein its training for soldiers will shift from counter-insurgency, or COIN, to more conventional tactics over the next five years – even though the Department of Defense itself projects that the nation will befighting counter-insurgency for many years to come, a DoD source told Joseph Farah's G2 Bulletin.

"They're dressing it up as 'troops have entirely forgotten how to fight a conventional force-on-force (tank-on-tank) fight,' and we need to get back into doing that," the source quoted army commanders as saying. “

The last proper maneuver force-on-force, tanks vs tanks at the National Training Center in Ft Irwin, occurred, if I don’t miss my guess, in 2005. Ever since then, it’s been pretty much mission readiness exercises for units going to Iraq or Afghanistan. They’ve been talking about trying to at least do a hybrid exercise (Some tanks, some insurgency, some ‘complex web defence’) for a couple of years now, but they keep seem to be being pushed back.

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I attended the Maneuver Captain’s Career Course way back in 2008. About 65 of us in the auditorium on Day 1, just over half were actually 19-series (Armor) officers. The question by the lead instructor was posed “How many of you have fired a Tank Table VIII?”, this being the basic crew qualification gunnery exercise of the time. (It’s now Table VI). Maybe a third of us, so 2/3 of the tankers raised their hands. Not a good start, as this meant that a full third of the company commanders of the immediate future would be taking a tank unit command without having qualified on the tank. And sales of tanker boots will drop too. Fortunately, (or not, depending on your point of view), there are now substantially more cavalry commands than there are tank commands. So the follow-on question was “How many of you have fired a Bradley Table VIII?” Maybe 1/3 of us raised our hands. “How many have fired both?” One solitary lieutenant raises his hand, and, of course, Branch doesn’t take gunnery qualification in mind when assigning new positions so only that one LT was in a happy position no matter which way he went. (Of course, given all the deployments, most everyone was au-fait with the crew-served qualifications for trucks)

Now, of course, there’s far more to life than gunnery tables. To a very large extent, the only thing a gunnery table will prove you can do is hit pieces of plywood in a controlled environment, but it is an indicator as to just how much time was being spent on steel as of three years ago.

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(Photo credit: Meggitt Target Systems)


The “Holy Grail” of the Captain’s Course was the Combined Arms Breach. Justifiably so, I submit, as it’s one of those high-intensity events which requires the use and co-ordination of pretty much every enabler on the conventional battlefield. The thinking was along the lines as follows: Lieutenants, when they went through the Armor School, were basically taught how to operate a tank and Bradley, but more emphasis was placed on COIN tactics because the reality was that a lot of newly certified 2LTs would find themselves on the ground with a rifle and some HMMWVs in Iraq very shortly after graduating their basic course. Especially with the rotation rate as it was, units would come back from deployment and immediately find themselves after post-deployment leave with a warning order for another deployment on the horizon. It was basically getting to the point that the only units focusing primarily on conventional operations were the ones in Korea. As a result, with the fundamentals of COIN both taught and exercised by the time most officers reached Captain, the thinking went, it was time to focus more on the ‘core competencies’ and give the Captains the education they needed to catch up with the ‘conventional’ thinking that was required.

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One of the better examples of this need was an article maybe a year ago on the... erm… ‘creative’ application of using mine ploughs as counter-IED equipment which was published in Armor Magazine, effectively the professional journal of the armor community. However it got past the editorial staff, at least they rectified it by publishing a letter the following issue from a retired LTC who was quite scathing of the article and its detachment from reality down to the level of “This is what a mine plough is and how it works, for those of you who haven’t ever used one which it seems the author hasn’t.” In fairness, it is quite likely that most tankers of today have never actually mounted a mine plough onto their tank. There’s only so much time in the training calendar. But who’s to say we won’t suddenly find ourselves deploying rapidly to a place where such a skill is required? “Hold the war, guys, we need to break out the dash-tens and figure this out.”

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This also concerns me a little bit when it comes to the education we're emphasising on our junior officers. Until recently enough, there wasn't much of a 'tab club' (or whatever you want to call it) in the armor community. Not having a Ranger Tab is apparently considered somewhat of a hindrance to the career of an Infantry officer. Tankers, we didn't care so much about it. Cool to have, but not considered much of a career requirement. I don't recall Creighton Abrams having a Ranger Tab, for example. Nowadays, however, it's considered to be something of greater importance and Armor lieutenants are often encouraged to attend especially, as the argument goes, as so many of them are conducting dismounted operations. Now, I'm not knocking the course itself, but that's a couple of months that an armor lieutenant in his most important formative years is not learning the tank. For a while, LTs were getting promoted to CPT after 36 months time in service. Two months (plus admin time) of Ranger school may not seem like much out of 36, but don't forget also that you also have five months of Basic Officer's Course in there, and, oh yeah, probably a year's deployment. And any other courses that he may happen to attend, plus dwell time. The amount of time that a Lieutenant is on steel (if he's in a heavy unit) suddenly starts looking pretty slim and call me narrow-minded, but I think the best tank officers are likely those who spent the most time on their tanks, which tends to happen at the LT level.

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One of the instructional events was the little Israeli foray into the Lebanon in 2006. Without going into many details, it is an example of what happens when you let conventional warfighting skills atrophy, and Fort Knox was sure to tap into the Israeli experience. It was nowhere near the disaster that a lot of people make it out to be because the Israeli military eventually started to sort itself out, but there were still some shocking examples of mindset issues. The incident at Wadi Saluki was a case in point: 24 tanks of Brigade 401 were raked by missile fire, eleven were hit. Not a single tank commander thought to pop smoke, which is somewhat astonishing.

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Truth be told, I have no idea how (or if) the other nations which have been involved in low-intensity operations recently such as France, Britain or Canada have been able to sustain their conventional warfighting skills, but they are too professional to not understand the possible negative repercussions as demonstrated by Israel’s experience. If their tankers, engineers, gunners and other such ‘conventional’ troops have the time to keep up to speed is another matter. I’d be curious to see foreign input on this matter on the forum thread (click below!)

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Of course, there’s never enough time or money to do everything that you want to do. We know that the war we’re currently involved in is low-intensity, there is a very definite need to know how to conduct it and it is obvious that you want your guys as well trained as possible when they get off the 'plane. Chances are that next time my unit deploys overseas it will be in a low-intensity role. That said, the Army, in its infinite wisdom, gave me all that heavy armour sitting in the motor pool for a specific purpose: I’ve an Armored Recon Troop, not a Counter-Insurgency Troop. Surely that implies that we should be training for the armoured recon role? Then again, if we ‘pick’ the wrong focus to train on, how easy is it convert on short notice to the other role?

It's one of the elephants in the room. The good thing is that the elephant has been seen: DoD's talking about it, senior leaders in the Army are talking about it, but we have still prioritised the current fight. Still, I can’t help but have that nagging feeling that we’re not quite as good at dealing with tanks, artillery, helicopters etc. as we think we are. (Though granted, the real question is "are we 'good enough to do the job'?") It is reassuring to know that ‘DOD Sources’ and course instructors are cognizant of the threat of skills atrophy, but until I see M1s fighting OSV-Ts with MILES in Ft Irwin, and combined with M2-Es hauling MCLCs I’m not going to be entirely comfortable with our current state of affairs.

So that's me getting off the soapbox. If you're a tanker and have recently done an all-arms exercise to include a breach of a defended obstacle, please let me know and reassure me!

jdtherocker #2 Posted Nov 05 2011 - 01:00

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Question how does the mine plow work, as in does it detonate the mines?
also is that coming out from top of turret or flares?

Thanks,
JD

ToothDecay #3 Posted Nov 05 2011 - 01:08

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It's one of the elephants in the room. The good thing is that the elephant has been seen: DoD's talking about it, senior leaders in the Army are talking about it, but we have still prioritised the current fight. Still, I can’t help but have that nagging feeling that we’re not quite as good at dealing with tanks, artillery, helicopters etc. as we think we are. (Though granted, the real question is "are we 'good enough to do the job'?") It is reassuring to know that ‘DOD Sources’ and course instructors are cognizant of the threat of skills atrophy, but until I see M1s fighting OSV-Ts with MILES in Ft Irwin, and combined with M2-Es hauling MCLCs I’m not going to be entirely comfortable with our current state of affairs.

So that's me getting off the soapbox. If you're a tanker and have recently done an all-arms exercise to include a breach of a defended obstacle, please let me know and reassure me!


  I am amazed and shocked by your post.

  I can understand the need for COIN, but armor is armor.  Skills have to be maintained.

  When I was stationed in West Germany (72-74), we took part in the Reforger exercise, an Annual event that tested a Unit's ability to quickly deploy from Stateside to overseas.  My unit (H Co.2/2 ACR, Bamberg, Ger), along with others, played the OPFOR.  We even had little soviet-looking uniforms.  We routinely KICKED THEIR BUTTS.

  Our Cav unit's mission, when millions of Russians swarmed thru the Fulda Gap, was to stop / delay them.  We were told that OUR life expenctancy would be about 29 minutes.  As Cavalry, from alert to hull down took us 15 minutes.  The 1st Armored across the street hadn't even started their engines by then.

  We went twice a year to field exercises; Winter training at Hohenfels, Summer for more tactics and gunnery at Grafenwohr.  We took it seriously, as our lives were in each others hands

  I am glad they have you, Chief.  Your posts bring reality to a game.  

  Outstanding Job !!!!

The_Chieftain #4 Posted Nov 05 2011 - 01:32

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View Postjdtherocker, on Nov 05 2011 - 01:00, said:

Question how does the mine plow work, as in does it detonate the mines?
also is that coming out from top of turret or flares?

Thanks,
JD

Ideally it doesn't detonate them as it damages the plough. On average it can take about three mine explosions before it's beyond use. What it should do is just scoop them up and push them to one side to be dealt with later. The fun bit, though, is that in case the mines do detonate, you have to swing the gun over the left hand side to protect it from explosions. Which then means that you no longer have heavy armour between you and the nasty enemy. Hence you are reliant on supporting elements for survival, part of the reason that a breach is so complicated.

The thing streaking from the turret is a Mine Clearing Line Charge. (The 'tank' is actually an Assault Breacher Vehicle of the US Marines).

Batosi #5 Posted Nov 05 2011 - 01:33

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This makes me curious about something.

About 6 months ago, the DoD put out a call for gamers.  Last time I remember this happening was in the early 90s and the gamers kicked butt and the results were being studied.  

It was said for this round they wanted to see how gamers would approach and handle todays situations from conventional to insurgency.  To see what could be learned to keep the military sharp and on top of an ever changing world.  For gamers are known for their adaptablity and pushing the limits.

I wonder if that has anything to do with what you are talking about.

Chiyeko #6 Posted Nov 05 2011 - 01:34

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First off I am not a tanker let alone a soldier and seeing we Dutch are ditching our tanks and the only rounds going down range are 35mm bofors grenades (we have tons of those stockpiled hence we asked for a 35mm cannon on our IFV instead of the standard 40) I know about as much about all of this stuff as any wiki reader, documentary watcher and listener to those who have been there done that.  

To me it seems flat out stupid to let the basic skills go to waste that each branch has, armour should be able to deal with armour, navy with ships etc etc you get the idea. Why in gods name would you put some one in a tank if he doesn't know what to do? that is not only a waste of resources but of man power as well as the chances are they be blown to smithereens before it is tea time.

If you ask me I say make sure they are well trained in what they should do and keep them trained for it and once that is set perhaps give them some other training if you need it, if not than well why bother calling them armour better put those tanks in storage less wear and tear, less maintenance less fuel use, god that actually saves a ton of money and you still got those troops for COIN.

If they put me in a tank without training I will flat out refuse to drive the thing, put me in jail if you like, but I wouldn't join the army to be a liability to my comrades in any way, that being said by me and I never been there, but that is the outsiders perspective of me.

Synthetic_ #7 Posted Nov 05 2011 - 01:35

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View Postjdtherocker, on Nov 05 2011 - 01:00, said:

Question how does the mine plow work, as in does it detonate the mines?
also is that coming out from top of turret or flares?

Thanks,
JD


Mine plowes pushes the mines out of the way before they get under the tank.And that other thing is a rocket , a mine clearing rocket as other have stated.

Razven #8 Posted Nov 05 2011 - 01:38

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1) So, what was wrong about the mine plough article? I haven't read the article, so I don't know if it has any obvious flaws the average civilian would notice.

2) What is in the second picture? I'm guessing it's some sort of rocket (mine clearing charge).

Also 3)

Quote

It's one of the elephants in the room. The good thing is that the elephant has been seen: DoD's talking about it, senior leaders in the Army are talking about it, but we have still prioritised the current fight. Still, I can’t help but have that nagging feeling that we’re not quite as good at dealing with tanks, artillery, helicopters etc. as we think we are. (Though granted, the real question is "are we 'good enough to do the job'?") It is reassuring to know that ‘DOD Sources’ and course instructors are cognizant of the threat of skills atrophy, but until I see M1s fighting OSV-Ts with MILES in Ft Irwin, and combined with M2-Es hauling MCLCs I’m not going to be entirely comfortable with our current state of affairs.

Not everyone understands basic military acronyms like OSV-Ts, MILES and MCLCs.(I do, but not everyone might) A little explanation would be appreciated.

Great read, thought provoking.

the_moidart #9 Posted Nov 05 2011 - 01:48

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<- armchair-type person with no personal military experience

Reading books like Band of Brothers and other such things has informed me that constant training is important, even in war time. Troops apparently lose something if they don't frequently train. So what you're saying makes sense.

The Israeli example you bring up is particularly important, since an outsider could regard the Summer War as simply a (large scale, intense) counterinsurgency. The skills the Israeli tankers seemed to be lacking would have been highlighted for them by more conventional war fighting exercises, you seem to be saying.

Interesting article.

The_Chieftain #10 Posted Nov 05 2011 - 01:48

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View PostRazven, on Nov 05 2011 - 01:38, said:

1) So, what was wrong about the mine plough article? I haven't read the article, so I don't know if it has any obvious flaws the average civilian would notice.

I'll try to track it down, but it effectively was a suggestion to use the ploughs as route clearance devices, driving up and down the road with the plough down.

See two or three posts below.

Quote

Not everyone understands basic military acronyms like OSV-Ts, MILES and MCLCs.(I do, but not everyone might) A little explanation would be appreciated.

Point.

Opfor Surrogate Vehicle Tank. (M113 with a turret on it, pretends to be enemy tanks)
MILES: Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System. Effectively laser tag for the Army.
MCLC: Mine Clearing Line Charge. Rocket trailing a linear explosive charge, clears minefield by overpressure effect.

Starzfan #11 Posted Nov 05 2011 - 02:02

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In the world of electronic warfare, radar and lazer guided guns, rockets, bombs, etc.  I see little use in teaching them tooo much tank on tank battle material.  Hell, the M1A1 Abrams can damn near do its fighting allll by itself.  Amazing machine it is.

Nodbugger #12 Posted Nov 05 2011 - 02:02

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I started Armor BOLC about this time last year.

The majority of out STX missions were force on force. With the exception of the COE phase (Which all took place on HMMWVs or Strykers in a MOUT environment) everything was pretty conventional. Our tests and quizzes were right out of 3-20, 3-0, 3-90 and  1-02. Of course there was the occasional scout thing thrown in.


I currently have a light platoon in the National Guard. Most of my soldiers were Infantry, almost none have any pre-GWOT Scout experience.

Most of our training schedule now revolves around our traditional Scout roll. My biggest issue stems mainly from the units previous deployment to Afghanistan. They were given a Special Forces mission. Three trucks, 12 guys, they pretty much drove where ever they wanted when they wanted. and made up their own mission plans. They had no uniform, no major commander sometimes they didn't even have an officer. They had SSGs in charge of teams. They customized their vehicles to whatever they saw fit and they closed with and engaged the enemy. It is very tough when 90% of someones time in the military consists of a deployment like that. It is difficult getting everyone into the Scout mentality.

We had a drill not too long ago where I came to find out, with the exception of some of the NCOs, no one knew hand and arm signals, movement formations, basic stuff you need to know when walking through the woods. That weekend turned out to be a very informative drill for a lot of soldiers.

As for Ranger school, we received 3 slots for my entire BOLC class of 72 students. I haven't been, but I know I wouldn't do well, I'm not big on being restricted that much in my planning process.

Razven #13 Posted Nov 05 2011 - 02:02

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View PostThe_Chieftain, on Nov 05 2011 - 01:48, said:

I'll try to track it down, but it effectively was a suggestion to use the ploughs as route clearance devices, driving up and down the road with the plough down.



Point.

Opfor Surrogate Vehicle Tank. (M113 with a turret on it, pretends to be enemy tanks)
MILES: Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System. Effectively laser tag for the Army.
MCLC: Mine Clearing Line Charge. Rocket trailing a linear explosive charge, clears minefield by overpressure effect.

Missed No. 2) (never mind, found it), Chief. Also, +1 for you for the prompt and informative reply.

Casca_Longinius #14 Posted Nov 05 2011 - 02:02

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well since in Desert Storm all three of the mine plows, 2 M60 and 1 M1 had the plow blown off in the mine field.  This was after clearing it with line charges, we eventually dropped multiple line charges on top of each other and made a nice compression ring.  Did clear the mines though, and our final mine plow double checked before we pushed into Kuwait.  I found out later our mine field was simply laid by competent engineers with modern mines, including the British bar mine.  IF that section of the entrenchments had been better held we would have taken a pounding.  Long story short, as far as I can tell the same doctrine is being used to punch through a mine field, same equipment and nothing is going to change until we get the snot beat out of us while stalled in a mine field.   So train in counter insurgency, because I will bet you a six pack they will just train you in outdated force on force.

Sgt C, USMC 2nd AAVBN.



Starzfan #15 Posted Nov 05 2011 - 02:06

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Saw a thing on the military channel about this thing they cleared mines with,, was awesome. It was like a rocket with a long chain of explosives trailing behind it.. when it reached a certain distance after being fired, all the explosives trailing it went off, the pressure they created set off any land mines along that path. was very very cool.

cz6 #16 Posted Nov 05 2011 - 02:38

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Great post Chief, and I'm not at all surprised by it. "The older I get, the less things change".

Seems now, as before, Pournelle's Iron Law holds true. Which sucks when you're on the two way range trying to get everyone home alive. There are no good answers, other than ya gotta do what ya gotta do, and it's easier to get forgiveness than permission. I'll bet that there are plenty of others out there in various arms that are seeing exactly the same issue, and can't do anything about it. Thanks for your service, and you're a better and more patient man than I am, that's for sure.

FreeFOXMIKE #17 Posted Nov 05 2011 - 02:47

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View PostToothDecay, on Nov 05 2011 - 01:08, said:

  I am amazed and shocked by your post.

  I can understand the need for COIN, but armor is armor.  Skills have to be maintained.

  When I was stationed in West Germany (72-74), we took part in the Reforger exercise, an Annual event that tested a Unit's ability to quickly deploy from Stateside to overseas.  My unit (H Co.2/2 ACR, Bamberg, Ger), along with others, played the OPFOR.  We even had little soviet-looking uniforms.  We routinely KICKED THEIR BUTTS.

  Our Cav unit's mission, when millions of Russians swarmed thru the Fulda Gap, was to stop / delay them.  We were told that OUR life expenctancy would be about 29 minutes.  As Cavalry, from alert to hull down took us 15 minutes.  The 1st Armored across the street hadn't even started their engines by then.

  We went twice a year to field exercises; Winter training at Hohenfels, Summer for more tactics and gunnery at Grafenwohr.  We took it seriously, as our lives were in each others hands

  I am glad they have you, Chief.  Your posts bring reality to a game.  

  Outstanding Job !!!!

1975 101st cleaned ya'lls clocks we had 75% casualties but completed all missions

and during the Golden Lion 88-89  exercise we had to stop the FTX 48 hours so they could reposition forces as they had nothing to stop 3/36    later 5/5 CAV from pushing to Frankfurt and we were part if that D.I.P. mission to (Die In Place)

Jonee #18 Posted Nov 05 2011 - 02:51

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One of the hallmarks of ineffective military planning in the last couple centuries has been the bugbear of 'preparing for the last war'. It's easier to analyze lessons learned than predict what will happen in the future, and the old style of thinking was very wary of going out on a limb with prediction, despite evolutionary advances in equipment from the 1800's to modern day. (I don't know much about fighting further back, so I can't speak to that, but the soldiers in the US Civil War were still marching into the face of grapeshot and long arms fire even when those new technologies made that move suicidal.) I just read (http://www.amazon.co...0456400&sr=8-12) on the recommendation of a coworker and the author has some interesting things to say about Allied and Axis tactics and equipment that run counter to some of the things I'd learned years ago in school and simply accepted at face value. Long story short, German organization, logistics, and command structure adapting to modern warfare were more a key to their successes than superior equipment and revolutionary tactics. The 'OMG unbeatable armor' was largely Allied propaganda to explain away their own tactical failures, and the Germans kind of liked hearing that, so didn't bother to correct them.

All that said, The Chieftain is absolutely correct in that people only have a limited amount of tactics and techniques they can keep in their heads. I have no idea how much COIN you can mix with vanilla tanking and remain effective, I'm a (ex-)sailor, myself, and handled a swab (that's a mop to you landlubbers) far more often than any weapon, so won't even guess what all is involved.

But it will be interesting to see how this plays out. I think it bodes well that our leaders are breaking away from the 'last war' model and trying to keep us as a well-rounded force, but it will be impossible to say whether we've done good or bad until (1) we see that we're still being successful in our current roles, and (2) how successful we are when we face that next threat.

Kona #19 Posted Nov 05 2011 - 04:48

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I know from pictures that the Canadian Army Leopards in Afghanistan have mine plows mounted, I have no idea how they are using them though :-) BUT I am amused by the image generated by the thought of route clearing with mine ploughs

The_Chieftain #20 Posted Nov 05 2011 - 05:15

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I apologise to the author, my recollection of the mine plough article was wrong. The suggestion was to use the mine plough as an 'interrogator' of IEDs. This article appeared in the June/Aug 2010 issue of Armor.

The reply was printed in the Sept/Oct issue, and was written by the guy who actually wrote the requirements and doctrine for the thing. The first paragraph: "In his article, "Evolution of the Plow, Supporting the IED Fight" Major X's understanding of the tank plow is flat wrong and the need for an IED "interrogator" as he describes it is misguided"

The reply is about as long as the original article, and includes a nice succint description of the role of the roller and the plough:

Quote

A brief tutorial, if you please: the track width mine-clearing roller was, and to this day, is still the only effective mounted detector we have for buried mines laid along the tracks’ path. The dog-bone and chain slung between the rollers offered some hope of tripping a tilt-rod mine and perhaps, with greater luck, a magnetic influence mine before passing under the belly.
The track width mine-clearing plow is a breacher. Once you determine (or guess) where the mines are, you plow and hope you don’t quit plowing too soon. The plow’s tines lift the mines from in front of the tracks and the moldboards shove them with the spoil to the side, hopefully without detonating them. The dog-bone and chain between the plows is as effective and limited as that of the rollers, above.





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