Air-droppable big guns

Rebirth of the Armored Gun System

Phil Carter has an excellent post about a request by the 82nd Airborne Division’s request for heavy firepower that can parachute in with the troops. A possibility would be the XM8 Armored Gun System.

The requirement for an air-droppable platform has existed at least since the late 1990s, when the division disbanded one of its battalions — the 3rd Battalion of the 73rd Armored Regiment, which was equipped with an aging armored reconnaissance vehicle called the Sheridan. At the time, service officials thought other capabilities would become available to the paratroopers once the M551 Sheridan retired.

When the division deactivated the armored battalion in 1997, however, Army officials had already terminated AGS, which had been regarded as the Sheridan’s replacement. Proposed in the 1980s as a lightweight combat vehicle that could fit aboard a C-130, AGS featured a 105 mm cannon, an ammunition autoloader and options for armor protection. United Defense LP had produced a handful of prototypes of the vehicle in 1996, when then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Dennis Reimer terminated the program. Eliminating AGS freed more than $1 billion over the service’s outyear funding plan — money that was badly needed for other cash-strapped programs, officials said at the time.

What was not eliminated was the need to equip light forces with an air-droppable platform that had enough firepower to hold off opposing forces until heavier forces arrived, sources said.

Carter writes

Ironically, the Army is building a new variant of the Stryker light armored vehicle that has a 105mm cannon and could serve as the 82nd Airborne’s direct-fire weapon of choice. I’m not sure if it’s air-droppable or not, but it is C-130 capable, so presumably it could be brought in quickly once paratroopers secure an initial airhead. The first M1128 Strykers with 105mm cannon are slated to roll off the line in April 2005. Presumably, this program could be enlarged to accomodate an additional purchase for the armor needs of the 82nd Airborne and the rest of XVIII Airborne Corps.

The problem with the Stryker solution is that not only is the Stryker not air-droppable, the 105mm-armed variant isn’t even C-130 deployable at this time. Not only isn’t it suitable for the 82nd Airborne’s needs, it isn’t even suitable for the Stryker Brigade’s needs. The Stryker Brigade currently deployed in Iraq went without its heavy firepower.

I’ve mentioned before the many problems with the 105mm-armed Strykers, which are called the Mobile Gun System (MGS). It seems that the primary problems are (in no particular order): 1) the recoil of the M68A1 105mm gun damages the turret mounts, 2) The gun suffers from severe autoloader problems, 3) it is grossly overweight, 4) the muzzle blast damages the hull of the vehicle and could kill the crew if hatches aren’t sealed properly, and 5) the vehicle tends to flip over if the gun is trained off to one side or another.

I imagine that the autoloader problems can be solved, and perhaps the weight issue can be addressed. The rest of the problems, however, stem from the plan to use left-over guns from the original M1 tanks. That will save a few bucks, of course, but they were designed to be fired from low, squat, heavy tracked tanks, not tall, narrow, light, wheeled troop carriers. They just plain don’t fit the profile.

The XM8 Buford AGS, on the other hand, sports a 105mm gun designed for a lighter vehicle. It’s the XM35, a low-recoil weapon. The XM8, in it’s base armor configuration, weighs about as much as a standard Stryker. Like the Stryker, additional protective measures can be added.

Either the Army should find a way to use the XM35 gun on the Stryker MGS, or it should adopt the XM8 instead. If the latter, there wouldn’t be the commonality with the rest of the Strykers that is a benefit of a standard platform. However, the 82nd Airborne would be able to get what it wants.

This reminds me of the earlier request for air-droppable self-propelled 155mm howitzers. It seems to me that the French company Giat demonstrated the Ceasar 6×6 truck-based artillery system for the US Army last year. The country of origin obviously is a problem, but maybe something can be worked out.

Carter also discusses armored Humvees, something that I think there will be a lot of call for over the next decade. In fact, the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment currently consists of armored Humvee units, though they are scheduled to convert to the Stryker in the near future. I think that they should stick with the Humvees. There are going to be times and places that we will want the even-lighter Humvee forces, such as supply line security or interventions in places like Liberia or Cuba.