Integrating Armored Warfare and What That Could Mean for the Infantry Brigade Combat Team


Figure 1. U.S. Army 2LT Russel Finegan, a fire-support officer assigned to Charlie Troop, 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, looks through a Lightweight Laser Designator Rangefinder system at Fort Hood, TX, Feb. 25, 2013. A strong COLT capability provides a BCT commander a highly mobile/more lethal long-range ground-reconnaissance force capable of answering priority intelligence requirements while delivering more effective fires and providing timely battle-damage assessments for the deep fight. (U.S. Army photo by SGT John Couffer)

The Army’s current lack of an effective armored-warfare platform has created a capability gap within specific infantry brigade combat teams (IBCTs). MG John Nicholson (former commander, 82nd Airborne Division) noted as much when he said, “The idea of having mobile pro¬tected firepower that can be delivered by air – either air-drop or air-land – and get into the fight immediately enables us to retain the initiative we gain by jumping in. But if all we’re doing is jumping in and then moving at the speed of a World War II paratrooper, we’re going to rapidly lose the initiative we gained by conducting a strategic or operational joint forcible entry.”1

MG Nicholson has framed the problem well for 82nd Airborne Division in terms of how the Army reintegrates an air-mobile, light- to medium-armor armored-warfare system into IBCTs that require that capability to retain/exploit initiative after forcible-entry operations. The current situation highlights the same capability gap the M551 Sheridan came to fill for light forces in the Vietnam Conflict and even saw use via air-drop and air-land for 82nd Airborne Division during Operation Just Cause.2 The Sheridan was decommissioned and out of service by the mid-1990s. The Armored Gun System (AGS) program in the early ‘90s, which led to development of the M8 AGS prototype, would have been capable of filling the void left by the Sheridan; however, the AGS program was cancelled before entering service to the Army, creating a capability gap for some forces that has persisted for more than 20 years.

The Army remains committed to pursuing an armored multi-purpose vehicle to replace the M113 Armored Personnel Carrier; supplementing our wheeled fleet with the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle; and continuing to fund more double-V-hull Strykers; however, development has ceased on the new Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV).3 Suffice it to say that current fiscal conditions obviously affect the immediacy with which any future armored-warfare concept could be developed and integrated into the force. However, as the Army looks to refine “concepts, requirements and key technologies in support of a future IFV modernization program,”4 discussions such as this that highlight the requirements for an armored-warfare platform for certain IBCTs should draw more attention and discussion among military professionals. According to a National Defense report, within the next 24 months, the Army has plans to field the XVIII Airborne Corps with a small group of repurposed light armored vehicles to fit their immediate need and use for testing.5

As one of the small but growing population of mid-career armor officers having only served within light and airborne IBCTs, this topic has increased significance to me as we discuss the potential for a way forward with armored-warfare integration within IBCTs. Armor Branch clearly has a unique opportunity to benefit from any such program as its mounted maneuver and reconnaissance specialists would be prime candidates to field and operate the equipment. That said, the central themes of the discussion should revolve around requirements (in terms of capabilities and platforms) and force integration.

Requirements: capabilities and platforms

In addition to being air-drop/air-land capable and providing an adequate level of protection against small-arms and machinegun fire, the armored-warfare platform must effectively traverse rugged terrain, provide close-protected fires for infantry and/or deliver long-range precision fires to assist the supported unit with both seizing and maintaining the initiative. Those are the base requirements. So, when looking to develop the platform, wheeled vs. tracked is of little importance, as arguments could be made for each based on mission and capability; however, it is critical to adequately balance levels of protection vs. desired performance.

Some risk has to be assumed in levels of protection to effectively meet the air-mobile capability gap and, perhaps more importantly, not produce a platform that will overburden a light/airborne infantry task force with a heavy logistical tail. An armored-warfare platform that is productive for initial entry but reduces the light IBCT’s capability to rapidly expand and/or exploit success due to logistical/mobility constraints of the armored-warfare platform degrades the “light” capability for which the organization was designed.

With the desired capabilities in mind, where do we proceed in terms of platforms?

As discussed, the current fiscal environment has little appetite for costly research and development to acquire a light-armor solution for the IBCT. So, a low-cost to no-cost commercial-off-the-shelf solution automatically becomes preferred.

That said, the aforementioned M8 (AGS) has a strong argument to re-enter consideration given the scalable levels of armor protection originally designed to vary its use from light (“air-droppable”) to medium (air-land capable) to the heaviest anti-tank (AT) resistant package. Moreover, after its program discontinuation, United Defense (now BAE Systems) continued to develop the platform. In 2003, United Defense successfully upgraded the 105mm main gun with a 120mm main gun, and the M8 AGS evolved into the “Thunderbolt 120mm.”6 Assuming the entirety of the light tank, C-130 Hercules-capable qualities remained from the original M8 105mm AGS design; this concept is intriguing for its cost savings, lethality and availability within the limits of a constrained timeline. Also, it serves as a legitimate advancement from an existing capability already provided to the force by the 105mm Mobile Gun System (MGS) Stryker in terms of armament, protection and off-road capability.

(Editor’s note: The AGS is completely out of production, so a commercial-off-the-shelf type of acquisition is not possible.)

There are likely a number of other existing technologies that could be re-purposed to meet the gap, but I would caution against framing the solution thought process in such a way that the Army seeks a single design to meet a variety of needs in another “Pentagon Wars-esque” Bradley production. For example, to meet the aforementioned capability gap that MG Nicholson highlights for airborne-infantry units, a valid argument could be made that the required capability gap is best filled with multiple platforms. A light version with minimal armor but heavy firepower, with greater survivability for air-drops, could be used to provide immediate boosts to the initial direct-firepower needs of forcible-entry operations (similar to the German “Wiesel”) before the tactical situation permits air-lands.

Meanwhile, the force could be equipped with a second heavier, better-protected armored-warfare platform designed to follow on after the air-head is secured. The second platform would provide longer-range AT capabilities, improved protection and the capacity to best enable the IBCT to secure the air-head and build combat power while ensuring maximum firepower forward to help retain the initiative. This would provide multiple tools for a variety of packages vs. trying to develop a one-size-fits-all solution for the identified capability gap. Given the current availability of existing platforms to repurpose, this approach may affect greater cost savings to outfit the requesting units with the desired capability.

In any case, the end product(s) must effectively integrate Armor and infantry ground forces in close combat within varied terrain, which forces the design team to consider: 1) talkboxes for dismounts to communicate with crew; 2) a commander’s cupola and driver’s view that provide maximum situational awareness of dismounted Infantry; 3) amphibious operations-capabilities if fording sites/bridging assets are limited; 4) limited self-recovery capabilities to reduce the need for more heavy assets sent forward to recover vehicles; 5) varied weapons platforms (protected machinegun and main gun) and 6) varied munitions (sabot, high-explosive, heat, etc.)

Force integration

Primarily, fielding should be looked at in terms of need, regional alignment and existing/potential future facilities based on each IBCT and its mission set. This means that fielding would have to avoid the tendency to want to make all units the same. For example, MG Nicholson has identified a need that 82nd Airborne Division requires to most effectively meet its global-response force/joint forced-entry mission sets. However, 25th Infantry Division has a Pacific-focused area of operations with a light, expeditionary mindset that may not necessarily share the same requirement. Also, Schofield Barracks, HI, would certainly face greater facility challenges than Fort Bragg, NC, to adequately stable, maintain and provide adequate maneuver space for training an armored-warfare fleet.

Once it is decided who will be fielded armored-warfare platforms, the Department of the Army would have to decide if it is better to grow organizations or transform existing structures. Existing paradigms should be challenged to find the best force-integration solution, but inherent branch parochialism will likely hinder that to some degree.

There are intrinsic pros and cons with any force-integration solution; however, I think the danger of worsening a separate existing capability gap in brigade-division reconnaissance could occur if we solely target existing organizations (likely defaulting to the cavalry squadrons of IBCTs) with leading the change and fielding the new capability when/if it comes available.

This discussion parallels the need to look at redesigning the cavalry squadrons as a whole within light IBCTs. As it stands, the cavalry squadron in a light IBCT is poorly equipped to effectively perform as the principal reconnaissance effort for the BCT. In my opinion, two primary courses of action (CoAs) exist that would enable the incorporation of the armored-warfare platform and better provide a more useful solution for cavalry-squadron restructuring:

  • CoA 1: Placing the armored-warfare platform within the cavalry squadron should be done in a manner that does not further degrade the reconnaissance capability the cavalry squadron provides to a light IBCT. To achieve this, the cavalry squadron could retain the dismounted troop and bolster it with a Combat Observation and Lasing Team (COLT) capability (recommended for CoA 2 as well), which provides the BCT commander a highly mobile/more lethal long-range ground-reconnaissance force capable of answering priority intelligence requirements while delivering more effective fires and providing timely battle-damage assessments for the deep fight. Next, the mounted elements of the cavalry squadron would then absorb the heavier armored-warfare package; however, I recommend against eliminating the light-wheeled troops entirely. Instead, look to re-establish the new cavalry squadron with light-wheeled (reconnaissance, guntruck-centric) capabilities and the light- to medium-armored capability by either maintaining a 2x mounted troop model (1x light wheeled; 1x armor) or growing it to a 3x model (1x light; 2x armor). This configuration provides greater options and lethality that enable the cavalry squadron the ability to fight for information if/when required or serve as an effective protection or finishing force in offensive operations alongside the infantry in the close fight. Finally, moving the military-intelligence company (MICO) under the cavalry squadron (also recommended for CoA 2) would create a self-contained unit capable of truly performing all facets of the cavalry squadron in full service as the brigade’s primary reconnaissance asset. The varied platforms and capabilities in this construct would provide the BCT commander with a variety of options for task organization and employment for offensive operations when cavalry squadron assets are not dedicated to a brigade reconnaissance mission.
  • CoA 2: This CoA recommends creating relationships with infantry and armored-warfare crews at the lowest level (battalion). For example, I think it is reasonable to consider replacing guntrucks, in whole or in part, within the infantry battalion’s heavy-weapons companies with an armored-warfare platform. This CoA offers habitual armored-infantry integration, better protection and greater firepower to the light-infantry battalion that has an existing armored-warfare capability gap. This lower-level integration of light infantry and mounted/heavy forces has proven effective in the company team concept as well as in other organizations that use it with permanence. For example, albeit in an opposing-force mission role, 1st Battalion, 509th Airborne Infantry Regiment’s integration of light-heavy forces at the battalion level was (is) largely successful due to the trust and relationships of operating and training under the same battalion colors. Also, this CoA creates the potential for two to three more command opportunities within the IBCT for Armor officers who would be a natural fit to command a weapons company with an armored-warfare platform. Like CoA 1, this CoA recommends the incorporation of the COLT and the MICO into the cavalry squadron but otherwise leaves the cavalry squadron intact to perform its reconnaissance mission (wheeled and dismounted).

In conclusion, a clear need exists for the integration of armored warfare into the force structure of certain IBCTs. However, continued professional discussion and analysis needs to occur to best define the requirements, which will determine the appropriate capabilities, platform and force integration/restructuring model to apply. As noted, any future changes pertaining to capabilities and platforms for the mounted forces within the IBCT should progress with caution to not lose focus of the “light” aspect of the light IBCT while ensuring that changes do not unintentionally worsen the current capability gap the cavalry squadron faces in achieving its intended purpose. This discussion is relevant across the operations field as it presents exciting opportunities for both infantrymen and Armor officers alike to better integrate our skillsets and capabilities to produce a more lethal and effective IBCT.


1Quintas, Lee BG, “From the Chief of Armor’s Turret,” Thunderbolt Blast, December 2013-January 2014 edition, Vol. 2, Issue 9.

2“M551 Sheridan,” retrieved March 1, 2014, from Military Today,, no date.

3McHugh, John M., and Odierno, Raymond T. GEN, Army Posture Statement, Washington, DC: Committee on Armed Services, March 2014.


5Erwin, S.I., “U.S. Army in the Market for ‘Light’ Tanks,” National Defense magazine, Oct. 7, 2013; retrieved March 13, 2014,

6Coffey, Doug, “United Defense Unveils Thunderbolt 120mm Demonstrator; Thunderbolt Illustrates Rapid Integration of Devastating Firepower and Transformational Technologies into Existing Platforms,” Business Wire, Oct. 6, 2003; retrieved March 2014,