Tracked and Wheeled Vehicles
Above the level of the personal and crew-served weapons, weapons become weapons systems. Of high technical sophistication, these weapons systems are likely to be mobile -either self-propelled or towed. Tanks are large, tracked weapons systems that carry a large cannon, normally 90 to 120 mm in diameter. Tank units maneuver on their own, and tanks are designed to fight other tanks and exploit weaknesses in enemy fortifications or defenses. The most common tank in the U.S. military is the M1A2 Abrams, which is widely considered to be the most effective system of its kind in the world. The Abrams is equipped with extremely sophisticated systems, allowing the crew of four to acquire and consistently hit targets at extreme range in bad weather, at night, or on the move. The tank has a turbine engine that allows it to maneuver at high speeds (up to 35-40 mph while cruising, and up to 60 mph for short periods) and a stabilization system that allows accurate firing while moving over rough terrain. The Abrams carries radios and can enable crews to see through dark, rain, dust, and fog to some extent.
Self-propelled artillery pieces are somewhat similar in design to tanks-and often are mistaken for tanks-but have a very different purpose. Artillery is designed not to conduct direct attacks but to support attacks by infantry and armor (tanks) with indirect fire. Another tracked weapons system of the artillery family is the multiple launch rocket system (MLRS). These rocket launchers have a very distinctive design that features a multiple-tube pod containing twelve rockets that can be launched separately or, more often, in groups. Towed artillery pieces are generally moved around the area of operations by trucks.
Other tracked vehicles found in U.S. units that participate in peace and relief operations are the M2 and M3 Bradley fighting vehicles; the M113 armored personnel carrier (APC), which has a number of variants that serve diverse functions; and the M88A2 tracked recovery vehicle.
The Bradley serves two purposes: the M2 version carries infantrymen into combat, provides considerable fire support, and has an antitank capability; the M3 model is used by scouts and by armored cavalry operating ahead of larger or armored formations. The difference between the two versions is nearly imperceptible to the untrained eye. Like the self-propelled artillery pieces, the Bradley resembles a tank in that it is armored, is tracked, and has a turret, but it has a small 25 mm main gun. It also has a small pod that serves as a launcher for antitank missiles.
The M113 APC and its variants are the most commonly employed tracked vehicles in stability operations throughout the world. The M113 has been exported by the U.S. military to many friendly armies, and the United Nations has also used the M113. Small and boxlike, the M113 APC can carry up to eleven fully armed combat soldiers. It has a mount for a .50 caliber machine gun (approximately 12.7 mm), but unlike the Bradley, it has no turret. Variants of the M113 APC include one that has antitank missile pods; one with an open deck to accommodate an 81 mm or 120 mm heavy mortar; and a command-and-control version—designated M577—with enhanced communications capability as well as a higher upper deck to accommodate map boards and associated command and control features. Members of the M113 family of vehicles also serve as armored ambulances, reconnaissance vehicles, and transport vehicles in combat situations as well as in stability operations.
The M88A2 is a large and mechanically powerful tracked vehicle designed to recover and tow immobile tanks, Bradleys, or APCs. The M88A2 is somewhat larger than a tank but has no turret or obvious armament other than a mount for a .50 caliber machine gun.
The amphibious assault vehicle (AAV) is the current amphibious troop transport of the Marine Corps. The AAV is a fully tracked armored assault amphibious landing vehicle. The vehicle carries troops in water operations from ship to shore. It also carries troops to inland objectives after ashore. It can carry twenty-one troops and is armed with .50 caliber machine gun and a 40 mm automatic grenade launcher. It is boxlike in appearance and has a small turret.
In addition to these tracked vehicles, the military employs a wide variety of wheeled vehicles, ranging from light utility vehicles to large equipment transporters and combat vehicles.
The Stryker is the newest combat vehicle in the U.S. Army. It is an eight-wheel-drive vehicle, transportable in a C-17, C-5, or C-130 aircraft. The Stryker can maneuver in close and urban terrain, provide protection in open terrain, and transport infantry quickly to battlefield positions. Stryker variants include the infantry carrier and the mobile gun system. The basic infantry carrier provides armored protection for the crew of two and a nine-man infantry squad. It mounts either a .50 caliber machine gun, a 40 mm automatic grenade launcher, or a 7.62 mm machine gun. The Stryker mobile gun system consists of the basic vehicle with a turret armed with a 105 mm cannon and a .50 caliber machine gun. Initial production of the mobile gun system began in 2005.
The light armored vehicle-25 (LAV-25) is used by the Marine Corps. It is also an eight-wheeled vehicle with several variants. The LAV-25 has a crew of three, and the carrier version can hold six troops. This version is armed with a 25 mm automatic cannon and a 7.62 mm machine gun. Other variants include an antitank version with an antitank guided missile system and a mortar carrier. The LAV-25 is smaller but similar in appearance to a Stryker, and it first came into use by the Marines in the mid-1980s.
The most-used vehicle in the U.S. military is the high-mobility, multipurpose wheeled vehicle (HMMWV). The Humvee, or Hummer, as it is commercially known, is probably the vehicle seen most often in stability operations. It is truly a multipurpose vehicle, serving as a transport, a tactical fighting or weapons platform, and an ambulance—and can operate in any type of weather on any type of terrain. It has several configurations and the capability to handle complicated communications arrays. The vehicle can mount several types of machine guns and antitank missile launchers. Versions used in Afghanistan and Iraq have armored protection and are referred to as up-armored Humvees.
Heavier vehicles include the 2 1/2-ton and 5-ton utility trucks, which serve as troop transports and as medium-to-heavy lift platforms for transporting food, packaged fuel, and other humanitarian relief items. The trucks can tow artillery and several kinds of logistical support trailers (such as the 400-gallon water trailer). Heavy equipment transporters (HETs), using lowboy trailers, are employed primarily to transport tanks over improved roads to save wear and tear on the tanks' tracks while protecting the road surface. HETs can also be used to haul supplies or other heavy equipment, such as bulldozers. Heavy expanded mobility tactical trucks (HEMTTs) are found in almost all U.S. ground units, especially in mechanized formations. Able to be configured in a number of ways, they serve a variety of functions: as wreckers for heavy-wheeled vehicles, as fuel transporters, and as medium-lift vehicles.
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