Future Scout Vehicle: a Desert Storm Endorsement

Acronyms in this article

Republished from ARMOR, March-April 1993 edition

Having introduced three scout vehicles since the 1970s, the Armor Center has outlined characteristics of the next scout vehicle designed to take U.S. Army reconnaissance into the next century.

In its white paper, “Armor 2000 – A Balanced Force for the Army of the Future,” the Armor Center said this vehicle – the Future Scout Vehicle – should have the following characteristics:

  • Self-defense weapon;
  • High mobility;
  • Lightweight body design;
  • Area-surveillance tools;
  • Long-range communication assets; and
  • Nuclear-biological-chemical countermeasures.1

Based on my Operation Desert Storm experiences as an armor task force scout-platoon leader, I endorse these six characteristics of the FSV, as well as advocate adding three more features to the vehicle’s design:

  • A maintenance design that enables the operator to fix forward without direct support assistance;
  • Enough space on board for combat-support and command-and-control assets; and
  • A built-in Identification of Friendly Forces system to avoid fratricide incidents.

Since the Armor Center published the paper July 10, 1990, one month before the onset of Operation Desert Shield, I believe I can now offer an updated and Desert Storm-influenced endorsement of the Armor Center’s concept of the FSV.

Self-defense weapon

The first Armor Center characteristic I endorse is the scout vehicle’s self-defense weapon. My scout platoon consisted of three M113A2 Armored Personnel Carriers and three M901A1 Improved TOW Vehicles. I had the M2 caliber .50 machinegun, the Dragon system and AT-4s in our store of quick-reaction weapons. In the high-speed mobile warfare of Desert Storm, the M1901A1 TOW launchers were ineffective; we could not shoot them on the move, nor could we afford the stationary engagement time. Thus we could not have quickly destroyed even an enemy armored personnel carrier. However, that was not our mission. In keeping with current doctrine, my Desert Storm mission was to engage the enemy with visual reconnaissance and leave direct fire to other segments of the unit.

Therefore, although my platoon was limited in its direct-fire destruction capacity, my battalion commander ensured that we were part of an advance guard that could provide quick-reaction tank support. Likewise, when we were screening the flank, the flank tank company provided us with similar support. When the enemy engaged us on the screen line, it was either by tanks that were to the direct front at ranges greater than 3,000 meters or by indirect fire.

High mobility

Clearly, given the proper support, I needed only self-defense weapons to accomplish my forward and flank-screen missions. The Armor Center cannot, however, make the characteristic of a self-defense weapon a stand-alone one. If the Armor Center wants the FSV to go deep and stay deep, it must couple its self-defense weapon with the ability to escape enemy detection or, if need be, evade enemy direct fire. The Armor Center must ensure that the vehicle possesses high mobility. This characteristic greatly contributed to my survivability on the Desert Storm battlefield.

When our brigade fought on Medinah Ridge Feb. 26, 1991, our task force received enemy artillery across our flank. This artillery bracketed my scout screen line. The initial bursts hit 25 meters to both sides of three of my vehicles. Due to the high mobility of the M113-series vehicle, we were able to quickly push the screen line forward and then toward the main body to evade the enemy artillery. These evasion drills worked to keep the artillery from impacting too close to our thin-skinned vehicles and gave our direct-support artillery enough time to use counter-fire to neutralize the enemy artillery.

The M113’s high mobility also came into play during a simple vehicle-recovery mission during the ceasefire. My battalion commander tasked me to take a section of two Bradley Fighting Vehicles and one M113A2 75 miles north toward Basrah, Iraq, to recover a lost vehicle. The Bradley led until it hit an unexploded bomblet. The driver in the Bradley was too recessed from the front of his vehicle and could not see to maneuver around the ordnance-littered battlefield. On the other hand, my M113A2 driver, who sat six inches from the vehicle’s front, was easily able to bypass the danger areas. Consequently, I put my “protection-Bradleys” behind me and led the rest of the mission, having the Bradleys follow in my M113 tracks. High mobility, therefore, was crucial to my vehicles’ surviving on the Desert Storm battlefields.

Lightweight design

A feature often linked with high mobility is a lightweight design. Such a design was key to the M113 scout-series vehicle’s success in my task force for two reasons. First, twice as M113s could go on the Saudi Arabian heavy-equipment trucks as could M1A1 combat tanks. Consequently, upon my task force’s arrival in Saudi Arabia, the task-force commander chose my platoon to be the first combat force to leave Al Damman port for Tactical Assembly Area Thompson in the desert.

Second, the 13-ton M113 has a three mile-per-gallon fuel efficiency compared to the Bradley’s .7 mile/gallon efficiency and M1A1 tank’s .3 mile/gallon efficiency. As a result, my platoon refueled only once every 24 hours, whereas the Bradleys needed to refuel every 12 hours and the tanks every six hours.

In summation, my scout platoon could have made the 300-kilometer VII Corps envelopment sweep without ever refueling. Thus the M113’s lightweight design gave it an advantage over the task force’s larger combat vehicles in terms of transport and fuel efficiency.

Area-surveillance tools

What the Bradley lacks in weight and mobility relative to the M113, it compensates in terms of night vision as an area-surveillance tool. The answer to the Bradley’s night sight on the M113 or humvee is the PVS-7. This is not a satisfactory answer. The FSV must have a thermal night sight. The thermal sight would enable the scouts to perform during limited visibility times, which is when reconnaissance is most effective.

The fog, rain and sand during Desert Storm all degraded the PVS-7’s capacity. The first night of the ground war, I was lead element for the task force’s move to its first assault position just south of the town of al-Busayah. There was a driving rainstorm throughout the night, which was accentuated by fog during the early morning. The brigade commander changed brigade formations from brigade box to brigade diamond. I had to flex left of the task force trains to our front and find the left-flank combat unit of that same task force. The rain washed out my PVS-7s, requiring me to send the lead scout vehicle to move within 50 meters off the front task force’s left flank to correctly identify when we had reached it.

While we made it to the left flank and ultimately the assault position, we had discovered that our area-surveillance capabilities were almost nonexistent during a heavy desert downpour at night. If the old scout adage of being the “eyes and ears” of the battalion is to hold true, the FSV must have both excellent day and night surveillance capabilities.

Long-range communication assets

Linked in with being the battalion’s “eyes and ears,” the scout platoon must be able to communicate what it sees and hears over extended distances to the battalion commander. Field Manual 17-98 states that “because of the extended frontages and distances over which the scout platoon operates, it must rely heavily on effective communication techniques.”2 While I cannot offer any technological solutions to the problem of long-range communications, I can endorse the need for such a capability based on my Desert Storm experiences.

Due to the importance of staying under brigade C2, my platoon’s primary mission as we crossed the Iraq border was to screen forward and keep our task force linked with the brigade formation. On Feb. 23, 1991, as 1st Armored Division left Forward Assembly Area Garcia north of Tapline Road and south of the Iraq-Saudi Arabia border, a dust storm reduced our day-vision capability to less than 50 meters. Within an hour, the lead tank company following my platoon had lost contact with my trail vehicle. For an hour, I vectored the lead company commander to my position on the brigade’s left flank with longitude and latitude readings.

The radio was also key at critical graphic-control-measure sites throughout the battalion’s move. I was able to relay every phase line during the battle to the battalion commander, enabling him to relay our unit’s forward-line-of-own troops to the brigade commander. I was able to pass on key passage of lines and natural obstacle information during the battalion’s movement across the Wadi Al Balin, Tapline Road and the Iraq-Saudi Arabia border. Our radio capabilities, however, were never challenged by any Iraqi electronic warfare; had the Iraqis jammed us, we would have been impotent in many of our missions. In short, without effective long-range communication assets, we would have failed most of our Desert Storm missions.

NBC countermeasures

Neither did the Iraqis challenge our NBC countermeasures during the ground battle. Similar to electronic warfare, NBC warfare would have rendered my M113-series scout platoon nonfunctional. While we could have survived a short-term Mission-Oriented Protective Posture 4 environment, the M113 is not equipped to fight in an NBC environment, as is the M1A1 tank. Our answer to the M1A1’s overpressure system was simply to go to MOPP4 as the NBC trigger signals hit (e.g., yellow airbursts) and begin the standard M256 kit drills.

Fortunately, Saddam Hussein chose not to employ such weapons, and we had to go to MOPP4 only twice during the ground war. Nevertheless, if the FSV is to go deep and stay deep on a future battlefield in which the laws of land warfare are ignored, the FSV must have effective NBC countermeasures on-board.

Ability to fix forward

In addition to the NBC countermeasures and other features the Armor Center lists in its white paper, as I mentioned, I would advocate adding three more features to the vehicle: the ability to fix forward; more load-plan space; and a built-in IFF capacity. Under current doctrine, the scout platoon will go four to six kilometers forward of other friendly assets – and even further if employed as part of a divisional-cavalry or regimental-cavalry troop organization. Given such a separation from its parent unit, the crew must often fend for itself in terms of maintenance support.

During Desert Storm, my platoon had no attached maintenance assets, and in general, this was a satisfactory arrangement in terms of how we were employed within the formation. One of my vehicles, however, became separated from the task force when its engine malfunctioned, and the M113 could not continue forward. After checking on the crew’s condition and life-support systems, I told them that follow-on maintenance support would recover them within 48 hours.

During the next 24 hours, the sergeant track commander bypassed the electrical fault and used green duct tape (100 mile-an-hour tape) to repair the worn fan belt in the engine. Consequently, he put his vehicle back into operation, albeit a reduced form of operation, and moved eastward until he linked up with another friendly unit for the rest of the war. I do not offer this example as operator-level maintenance doctrine, but rather more as a supporting argument to ensure the FSV’s mechanical system is not so overly complex that the crew is stranded if just one electrical connection or computer-board diode fails.

More space

The FSV’s design should also allow the task-force commander to task-organize the scouts with more CS personnel and C2 assets without adding more vehicles to the platoon. FM 71-2 states that the battalion commander will often task-organize an engineer noncommissioned officer with the scouts to assist in obstacle identification and pre-breach operations.3 FM 71-2 also states that a single forward observer can go forward with the scouts to assist in target identification and call for fires.4 My battalion commander task-organized my scout platoon in accordance with both these concepts during Desert Storm.

Consequently, I had to make room for two more men, their personal gear and their equipment. In the engineer’s case, I had each vehicle carrying half a footlocker of C-4, TNT and detonation cord. The FO brought three GVS-5s and two radios. While I was certainly pleased to have these CS assets, I was already at full strength in terms of personnel. Moreover, I was at maximum space capacity with my own scout platoon’s combat-load plan, which included Dragons, AT-4s and extra Class I, III and V. In terms of C2 assets, four of my vehicles had the long-range navigational positioning system mounted, and I tasked all six of my track commanders with tracking the battalion’s movement on their 1:250,000 map, which at 4x3 feet covered the M113’s left wall. Given the scout platoon’s mission to act as the forward-security force for the task force, as well as provide accurate navigational intelligence, FSV’s designers will need to attend to the space capacity and ergodynamics of having more than what the modified table of organization and equipment calls for in a scout platoon in terms of men and equipment.


The M113’s resemblance to other vehicles the enemy used in the Gulf War made fratricide a disturbingly real possibility in the heat of rapid operations. An effective IFF system should be a must on any FSV. FSV designers must also deal with the biggest dilemma of the war: fratricide. Of all friendly vehicles in our task force, my scout platoon most closely resembled the enemy because of two reasons: (1) my platoon was positioned forward and on the task force’s flanks, and (2) the enemy had M113-like vehicles.

Our unit attempted several solutions to the fratricide problem. We tried using the aircraft panel markers for day recognition and thermalized No. 10 coffee cans on our antennas for night recognition. Both were only mildly effective because of the general field conditions.

Their ineffectiveness was particularly evident during one “fog of war” incident that occurred Feb. 27, 1991. Up until this day, my platoon had been the only force on the brigade’s left and northern flank since the start of the ground war. On Feb. 27, however, the brigade commander moved the mechanized-infantry task force to the left flank for more security. He swung them around in a wide arc (at about 45 degrees, a distance of 3,000 meters) to ensure the infantry task force did not become entangled with my task force.

As the mechanized-infantry task force’s right-flank tank company/team oriented toward our M1A1 FLOT, one of the tank gunners identified and lased to a column of enemy vehicles moving in from the northeast toward my task force’s M1A1 FLOT. The tank commander, who was also the platoon leader, looked through his gunner's primary sight extension and identified the vehicles as definitely moving toward the friendly FLOT but could not confirm them as friendly or enemy. After calling the spot report in and closing in to a distance of 1,000 meters toward our M1A1 FLOT, the platoon leader was able to identify the vehicles as friendly. What both he and his gunner had seen was my scout platoon in an echelon left, moving off the left flank of our M1A1 FLOT. This was not apparent to either Soldier because of our movement formation, our undistinguishable vehicle form and our lack of any easily identifiable friendly identification.

Other studies have proven that Desert Storm made fratricide more probable because of our lack of good IFF markings and the distances at which we were engaging perceived enemy vehicles. Undoubtedly, the FSV must go forward with some system of IFF marking.

The Army wants a “ground scout vehicle that can penetrate undetected into areas under enemy control” during both “forward-deployed and contingency area operations.”5 To do so, the Army needs to make that vehicle light, mobile and survivable. Survivability will depend on its ability to sustain operations independent of immediate task-force support, escape enemy detection and distinguish itself from enemy vehicles in the form of an IFF system. Based on my Desert Storm experiences, I endorse, with some additions, the Army’s current direction it is heading with the FSV.


1 “Armor 2000 – A Balanced Force for the Army of the Future,” U.S. Army Armor Center, Fort Knox, KY, July 10, 1990.

2 FM 17-98, Scout Platoon, Headquarters Department of the Army, Washington, DC, October 1987.

3 FM 71-2, The Tank and Mechanized Infantry Battalion Task Force, Headquarters Department of the Army, Washington, DC, September 1988.

4 Ibid.

5 “Armor 2000.”

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