Tactical and Technical

The Anti-Armour Capability Gap

By Justin Petersen April 2, 2019


According to the 2017 Concept for Employment of Army’s Combat Brigade,

“Army must possess a force able to deploy rapidly to austere areas whereupon they are capable of immediately commencing decisive land combat operations….Army’s ability to effectively operate in an urban, littoral and highly-lethal land environment is an absolute imperative for successful close combat. Army must be adequately protected, armed and mobile to function against these threats.”

I would like to highlight the “armed” and “mobile” components of this quote.  We have certainly sought to protect our Army through the acquisition of heavier, more cumbersome vehicles.  Yet I would submit that we have done, and continue to do, little to increase the lethal effectiveness of our increasingly mobile force, particularly against armoured threats in the littoral environment. 

In the following paper, I aim to provide a history of the anti-armour weapon, information on our current and projected force structure, and a proposed revision to introduce a more versatile anti-armour capability.  I’ll note that I have not dived thoroughly into the tactical application of my proposed organisational revision, but I am hoping to at least generate discussion on our aversion to mounting anti-armour weapon systems to our more versatile platforms such as the Hawkei.

Click here to access Justin’s full paper.


Portrait

Biography

Justin Petersen

Justin Petersen is an Infantry Officer with ten years of experience in the US and Australian Armies.  He has served in the 82nd Airborne Division, the 101st Air Assault Division, 3RAR, and the Combat Training Centre.  He enjoys reading various fiction and non-fiction, travelling with his family, and hunting (before he abandoned his many firearms in the US).

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.



Comments

This is an excellent case of confusing RTS for war-fighting structure and overly kit-focused assessment. It also highlights a misunderstanding of combined arms and focuses on "what used to work" as opposed to "what do we need in the future"

For starters, the focus of this article is giving the Inf Bn a anti-armoured capability. A Bn doesn't need this, just like it doesn't need artillery or pioneers. When a Bn deploys into a BG, it takes Abrams and Tigers (or replacement) - both of which are better and more flexible tank killers than a recoiless rifle. When L400-3 roles out it'll also take a damn impressive cannon and ATGM. Plus what Boxers bring as well. So with A Boxer/IFV/M1 BG with Tiger support - what is an infantry anti-armour capability going to add? The dismounted fight? Again, Tigers and tanks. Just because it's a PMV-based BG doesn't mean that there won't be other capabilities - especially if armour is in the threat force. Here is a better question - why is there even an anti-armoured Pl in an IFV Bn that will have an ATGM across all its IFVs and CRVs as well as tank and Tiger in support?

It is hear that the kit focus rears its head. It sounds like a great article for arguing for a recoiless rifle. But why was it removed in the first place? Because the BGM-71 was better. So why go backwards? The author even highlights that modern armour is designed to defeat HEAT! And a recoiless rifle is unlikely to generate the velocity for anything but a HEAT warhead. So is it a variety of warheads? What does it grant over 155 mm + 70 mm + 120 mm + 30 mm + 81 mm + Spike + 84 mm? Easier to supply? You just added another ammunition line and increased logistic and training complexity. Spike on Hawkei might be an idea as it could help reinforce ACRs and offer a smaller platform for reconnaissance than the Boxer - but again, it should be an in-service missile with more than just a Bn in mind.

On top of that, there is all the funding needed to buy this kit and train on it. Why waste that money (already tight) on an outdated, bespoke, Bn-focused (as opposed to Army-focused) "capability"?

Finally, in returning to the 1950s, the author is proposing we ignore armour advancements and not consider the future. Why not look at a directed energy weapon for 2030-onwards? That would bring something new to the mix of calibres already. And a better use of (tight) funding. If, for some reason, the threat we face in the future cannot be defeated by our combined arms approach - a handful of 105 mm recoiless rifles aren't going to do squat.

Overall, this article misses a number of fundemental basics that undermines it propositions. For a future army, a 1940s - 1950s weapon is not the answer. Instead, a better understanding of how we fight (vs Plan KEOUGH), of combined arms and the fact that in a small Army a Bn cannot have everything would be a better start. Inserting another, obeslete and outdated, fleet is not an increase in our lethality - it'd be a decrease, twice over.

Lindsay, thank you for your candid response. I'll do my best to address your points by each paragraph. I'll keep my comments in bold for purposes of delineation.

This is an excellent case of confusing RTS for war-fighting structure and overly kit-focused assessment. It also highlights a misunderstanding of combined arms and focuses on "what used to work" as opposed to "what do we need in the future"

In an article that highlights our inability to rapidly transport lethal anti-armour assets into the littoral zone utilising our current and projected Navy and aviation lift assets, I don't believe I've demonstrated a misunderstanding in the concept of combined/joint arms. In my experience, Combined Arms is more than forming a BG with some tanks, APCs and sporadic ARH and CAS support. If anything, the more assets you can realistically push to the lowest level, the more flexible your BGs become, and the more capable your higher HQ becomes in focusing on the operational and strategic fight. Air assets are not always available and as I highlighted, there aren't many tanks to go around. Additionally, I identified the utility of having a lighter mobility platform armed with ATGM. We may not always be in a situation where we can employ tanks (or even boxers), due to diversion of resources, restrictive terrain, lack of logistical capability, etc. That is why I focused on a more niche gap like introducing an ATGM to the hawkei. I'd like to think that focusing on employment of combat power in the littoral zone also demonstrates an understanding of what capabilities we need within our regional influence, as this is likely the only future scenario in which we would have to unilaterally employ our force. Battles are won by the superior employment of superior kit (otherwise known as weapons, vehicles, planes, helos, UAVs, etc) against an adversary, so I don't see the issue of focusing on this.

For starters, the focus of this article is giving the Inf Bn a anti-armoured capability. A Bn doesn't need this, just like it doesn't need artillery or pioneers. When a Bn deploys into a BG, it takes Abrams and Tigers (or replacement) - both of which are better and more flexible tank killers than a recoiless rifle. When L400-3 roles out it'll also take a damn impressive cannon and ATGM. Plus what Boxers bring as well. So with A Boxer/IFV/M1 BG with Tiger support - what is an infantry anti-armour capability going to add? The dismounted fight? Again, Tigers and tanks. Just because it's a PMV-based BG doesn't mean that there won't be other capabilities - especially if armour is in the threat force. Here is a better question - why is there even an anti-armoured Pl in an IFV Bn that will have an ATGM across all its IFVs and CRVs as well as tank and Tiger in support?

As for what an infantry AA capability provides, it provides an AA capability to your ground-taking force (INF) where there are no tanks, IFVs or air support available. Imagine a situation in which resources are spread thin for any myriad of reasons. Even in a formed BG identified as the main effort, AA capability is going to get parceled out pretty quickly. You'll focus your MBTs and IFVs in areas you assess as likely avenues of enemy MBTs or other HVTs. As mentioned in the article, you can utilise the hawkei as a screening/recon force or utilise as a local AA support to dismounted pers while MBTs and IFVs are being used for tasks against heavily armoured vehicles. When I was in Iraq, I had more Apache coverage than a PLT Commander could ever wish for, but that didn't mean we just left our AT4s in the armory. I'd also like to highlight the superior mobility of the hawkei from the LHD to the beach, as mentioned in the article, compared to the M1A1 and Boxer. This is probably where the greatest contribution of an ATGM mounted hawkei lies.

It is hear that the kit focus rears its head. It sounds like a great article for arguing for a recoiless rifle. But why was it removed in the first place? Because the BGM-71 was better. So why go backwards? The author even highlights that modern armour is designed to defeat HEAT! And a recoiless rifle is unlikely to generate the velocity for anything but a HEAT warhead. So is it a variety of warheads? What does it grant over 155 mm + 70 mm + 120 mm + 30 mm + 81 mm + Spike + 84 mm? Easier to supply? You just added another ammunition line and increased logistic and training complexity. Spike on Hawkei might be an idea as it could help reinforce ACRs and offer a smaller platform for reconnaissance than the Boxer - but again, it should be an in-service missile with more than just a Bn in mind.

If you’ll recall from the article, I proposed mounting SPIKE-LR and ER, which have already won the contract with Defence, on the hawkei. So no, there would not be an additional ammunition acquisition burden. There would still be continuity with in-service munitions across the force. 70mm, 81mm, and 105mm are aerial or indirect weapon systems so that point is invalid. I’ll be facetious for a moment and say by that line of reasoning, you might as well acquire a nuclear bomb and forget the rest of the arsenal. The 84mm Gustav is a great weapon for dismounts but lacks the optics and range of the SPIKE-LR and ER, as well as the added protection of the hawkei. HEAT can be defeated by the most cutting edge modern armour, but a SPIKE mounted hawkei would be employed against medium armour to no-armour vehicles in situations where air support, tanks and boxers are not available.

On top of that, there is all the funding needed to buy this kit and train on it. Why waste that money (already tight) on an outdated, bespoke, Bn-focused (as opposed to Army-focused) "capability"?

Finally, in returning to the 1950s, the author is proposing we ignore armour advancements and not consider the future. Why not look at a directed energy weapon for 2030-onwards? That would bring something new to the mix of calibres already. And a better use of (tight) funding. If, for some reason, the threat we face in the future cannot be defeated by our combined arms approach - a handful of 105 mm recoiless rifles aren't going to do squat.

I agree with your point regarding the 105mm and the more I think about it, the more I agree this is an untenable and fruitless idea. A directed energy weapon mounted on any or all vehicle platform types is a good idea, however, I’m unaware of any equipment that is beyond the experimental phase. And even these weapons have their own countermeasures against them. I think we’re still in the realm of Star Wars here, although understandably, we are getting closer to that reality. Either way, this is the kind of conversation I'd like to focus on.

Overall, this article misses a number of fundemental basics that undermines it propositions. For a future army, a 1940s - 1950s weapon is not the answer. Instead, a better understanding of how we fight (vs Plan KEOUGH), of combined arms and the fact that in a small Army a Bn cannot have everything would be a better start. Inserting another, obeslete and outdated, fleet is not an increase in our lethality - it'd be a decrease, twice over.

In closing, I haven’t seen a convincing argument against a proposal for equipping hawkeis with ATGM and bringing an AA capability to the PMV Bn. I agree with your comments on the 105mm and would scrap that idea. Plan Keogh outlines our future force structure which will ultimately influence how we fight. And simply forming BGs and CTs and throwing out words like “manoeuvre warfare” will not offer any comfort to that Digger on the flanks, stuck in a hawkei with nothing but a mounted MAG58, watching an enemy vehicle roll by from 3km away that he would have easily been able to engage with a SPIKE.

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