Scouts out!!!! Six decades of studying the wrong problem

Scouts out!!!! Six decades of studying the wrong problem

Abraham J. Edelheit


I would like to thank you for printing LTC Chester A. Kojro’s astute letter (May-June 2007) relating to scout doctrine in the present force. However, I would like to point out that LTC Kojro neither traced this problem back far enough in the past nor projected it far enough into the present (and, presumably, future). In reality, the Army has been asking the wrong questions and offering the wrong answers to these questions for the better part of the mechanized era.

Thus, it is important to recall that in the 1920s and 1930s, the cavalry was not permitted to have “tanks,” since they were considered an infantry support weapon. This led to creating the “combat car,” a vehicle that was, except for its name, a tank; however, it also implied the mounting of lighter armament to obtain stealth and speed. This absurdity ended with the beginning of World War II and the deployment of a mixed bag of vehicles for the mechanized cavalry, a force that was supposed to serve in the traditional cavalry role (scouting, flank protection, economy-of-force missions, and rearguard operations). Unfortunately, the vehicles–a combination of unarmored Jeeps, M3A1 scout cars, M8 armored cars, M3/M5 light tanks, and M8 assault guns–did not mesh well as their capabilities were widely divergent. American success in reconnaissance during operations against the Germans owes at least as much to the bravery of the cavalry troopers as to the adequacy of doctrine and equipment.

This problem continued to plague the Army during the early and middle period of the Cold War. Reverting to prewar concepts, the Army developed a series of underarmed, underpowered, and underprotected command and reconnaissance carriers such as the M114. All of these vehicles shared the commonality of using a single heavy machine gun as armament, even though it was a step backward from the trend in 1944-1945! To be sure, tests were made to provide adequate armament–to allow recon by fire with a decent chance of survival–but none was ever mounted. As a result, the Army retired the vehicles after only brief use (and no combat use that I am aware of), issuing M113s to cavalry units that actually were engaged in combat operations such as in Vietnam.

Simultaneously, the Army was unable to field a proper light tank, being forced to rely on the M41 for way too long. This was, of course, not for want of trying. A number of potentially useful light tanks were designed, only to be rejected on various grounds. The apex of this light tank crisis came in 1962 when the Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM) cancelled the T92 project because it was not amphibious! I have dealt with the T92 extensively in a previous article (published in AFV News, volume 42, #1, pp. 10-13), and will only summarize. The T92 was a small, light, highly mobile gun platform designed around the recon-by-fire mission. The crew of four sat together at the vehicle’s rear, with the engine mounted in the front (as on the Israeli Merkava), and the armament mounted externally in a cleft turret. This resulted in a vehicle that was only 80 inches tall overall and weighed 18.6 tons. Mobility was in the range of 35 miles per hour, but could easily have been improved by mounting a slightly more powerful engine. Likewise, armament was a potential problem, as the T92 mounted the same 76mm gun as the M41. It should be noted, however, that a number of 90mm low-velocity weapons were being tested at the same time as the T92 and the design included sufficient room for the increased size of such a weapon. After cancellation, the Army replaced the T92 with the M551, a vehicle plagued with many problems–mainly due to the untested nature of the technology mounted in the vehicle.

Still, advocates continued to call on the Army to field a vehicle that would support the cavalry’s need. This ended in the late 1960s and early 1970s with tests of the tracked and wheeled scouts (XM-801). Both vehicles mounted a 20-mm gun, which was considered adequate for the role of recon by fire. After much debate, TACOM selected the tracked XM-801 scout, only to have Department of Defense pull the rug out from under the project entirely when the scout was folded into the XM-723 mechanized infantry combat vehicle (MICV) project, which finally emerged in the 1980s as the M2/M3 Bradley infantry/cavalry fighting vehicle.

This brief review showcases two important points: that the wrong questions have been asked about cavalry needs for six decades (at least), not four; and it is clear–and this is LTC Kojro’s implicit point–the main reason the Army keeps asking and answering the wrong questions is because it seeks to fit doctrine to available technology instead of tailoring available technologies to doctrinal needs.

As a professional military historian, it pains me to see that this still appears to be the case as we transform from the current force (mounted in HMMWVs and Bradleys), through the interim force (HMMWVs and Strykers), and ultimately to the future force (Future Combat System).

COPYRIGHT 2007 U.S. Army Armor Center

COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale Group