May 2018

Firepower for the Light Armored Reconnaissance Mission

Volume 102, Issue 5
An upgrade to the 25mm cannon will be required to overmatch current armored vehicles.
Photos provided by the author

The light armored reconnaissance community is wrestling with fundamental issues stemming from the recent development process of the armored reconnaissance vehicle (ARV), which has already looked at integrating a number of advanced technologies. While there are many arguments for and against certain aspects of the ARV, this article is going to focus on only one aspect: firepower.

It is critical to get the right weapons on the ARV, as those weapons in the hands of the vehicle operator will determine how successful they can be. This includes how hard the operators will need to fight in order to achieve mission success.

Looking at the example of the Italian campaign during World War II, the M4 Sherman deployed with 75mm guns. The tank destroyers that were available at the time were not the same ones that were available after the Normandy invasion. During the Italian campaign, units experienced constant frustrations in asking for more effective firepower. Despite all the requests and the frustration by vehicle crews, there was no push to get a better weapon to the frontline units. One might question this and wonder why those at the headquarters were not pushing to get the 76mm cannon for the M4 to the forward operating forces. The reason for this lack of action was that the frustrated crews were successful with what they had. As far as the higher headquarters were concerned, the armies were able to accomplish the mission. The information in the reports only contained the necessary information, for example, of “engaged enemy at location X, killed Y number enemy, lost Z casualties, took objective, and so the mission was complete.” That is all the commanders in Washington, DC, and London read in their daily reports. The report may have had more impact if it had read, “Engaged heavily armored German tanks at X location, had to resort to bouncing shells of the ground into to lower hull to destroy some and resorted to artillery and airpower to destroy the last.” The level of difficulty in using a weapon does not translate well through reports. What translates instead is the level of success or mission accomplishment.1

As one can see, the men fighting will do whatever it takes to accomplish the mission, and it is the duty of their commanders to give them the best equipment available to accomplish that mission. Right now, the Marine Corps has an opportunity to equip a new vehicle built from the ground up with the right weapon for the job it will be expected to accomplish. The only question now is: What should that weapon be?

Mission of the ARV

Since its inception in 1983, the light armored vehicle (LAV) family of vehicles has performed a reconnaissance and security role in the Marine Corps. Over time, as the threat environment changed, the Marine Corps upgraded the LAV in an attempt to address one shortfall after another. The LAV that we have today, while more capable in some areas than when it was first received, has never received an upgrade to firepower. The 25mm is very effective against troops and technical vehicles and moderately good against similar vehicles such as a BRDM-2 or BMP-1. Any other modern light armored vehicles will be able to withstand the firepower that the LAV carries.

Today, the amount of upgrades needed to bring the LAV into the next generation of warfare requires that the current hull design be scrapped and a completely new vehicle created from the ground up. The ARV will address this issue.

The ARV will be taking over the mission set of the venerable LAV family. Primarily, the focus will be taking the role of the LAV-25, which is currently used to shape the battlespace with reconnaissance and security operations that facilitate the supported commander’s ability to maneuver his forces, concentrate superior combat power, and apply that combat power against the enemy at the decisive point. Think of the ARV as light cavalry, capable of finding the enemy and harassing and preventing its reconnaissance assets from observing friendly forces by destroying it but not capable of winning the big fight all by itself.

Recommended Marine Corps Position

The ARV needs to be able to affect the type of enemy that it is most likely going to encounter, and it should not be forced into mission sets that go against the training the ARV crews are capable of completing.

This is why I recommend that the ARV have a 35mm cannon as its primary weapons system with no other armor-defeating weapons associated with it. A 30mm will put the Marine Corps ARV crews in the position that the soldiers fighting in Italy were in during World War II. The mission will still be accomplished, but the means necessary for completing the mission will be a source of constant frustration, and more Marines could be lost unnecessarily.

Having the 35mm provides armor-defeating capabilities that will overmatch current models of modern armored vehicles that fill the reconnaissance and security role. In addition, the 35mm can be fitted with variable timed-fused munitions that will increase lethality against infantry targets and potentially drones or other light aircraft.

The 35mm ensures longevity of the vehicle system and reduces the need to upgrade the weapons system during the life of the vehicle. Without a significant improvement in the reduction of armor weight, the 35mm will be effective until the ARV is retired.

Not adding a missile system prevents the mission creep that would be associated with it. The ARV is not an infantry fighting vehicle. The addition of a missile would potentially see it used in a manner that removes it from the vehicle’s primary focus of reconnaissance/counter-reconnaissance and instead see the ARV put on the front lines of the battlefield as a tank-killing asset. Using a reconnaissance vehicle in an armor-defeating role prevents the supported commander from having a reconnaissance asset gathering information on the enemy, thus preventing enemy reconnaissance elements from gathering information on friendly forces. If the ARV is required to kill the odd tank that might appear, there are other assets that can be used to effectively eliminate the tank threat.

The Marine Corps does not need a vehicle that is okay today and obsolete in a few years; but they do need a vehicle that is good today and good in the future. Once the ARV is in the Marine Corps inventory, the ability to upgrade it will be very limited and potentially placed in lower priorities. Let us take care of the warfighter and provide him with a vehicle that can be successful on any battlefield. The ARV with the 35mm will do that.

Note

1. N. Moran, World of Tanks News, available online at https://worldoftanks.com.

GySgt Peterson is assigned to School of Infantry–West, Light Armored Reconnaissance Training Company