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Raising the deflector shields

Last week's dust-up regarding the armoring of Humvees got me to thinking. I've always been a bit of a military/military hardware buff, and the issue of armor has been around for hundreds of years.

(This is another long one -- continued at great length in the extended section)

Back in the Middle Ages, armor was the deciding element in warfare. Crossbows and longbows put a dent in the invincibility of armor (so to speak), but it was gunpowder that finally finished it off.

But I'm more familiar with naval warfare. For the first half or so of the 20th century, the argument of armor vs. speed was key. England's First Sea Lord, Sir Jackie Fisher, put forth the idea that "speed was armor" and pushed the concept of "battlecruisers" forward. These were big ships armed with battleship-caliber guns, but lightly armored and a lot faster. Fisher described their mission as to "outfight what they can't outrun, and outrun what they can't outfight." Critics called them "eggshells armed with sledgehammers," and were proven right at the Battle of Jutland. There three British battlecruisers were blown up with nearly complete loss of life, and the shift moved back towards armor.

In World War II, armor reached it's peak. Battleships had up to 16" of steel protecting them, but navies soon found armor against naval guns didn't do much good against bombs. Decks simply couldn't be armored enough to protect ships, and the move away from armor began. Today, no United States active warship carries any but the lightest of armor. (With the possible exception of the Nimitz-class aircraft carriers. I've read rumors that they have armor around their vitals, but it's classified to the "I could tell you, but I'd have to kill you" level.)

A brief (promise!) aside. The bomb that nearly sunk the U.S.S. Cole several years ago did so much damage precisely because she doesn't have armor. I went digging through my reference books, and found a comparable World War II-vintage ship, the light anti-aircraft cruiser U.S.S. Juneau. (The Juneau was 40 feet longer, but the Cole is about 2,300 tons heavier, so I called it a wash.) The Juneau wad an armored belt 3" thick. I'm no expert, but I strongly suspect that that plating would've helped reduce the damage from the bomb.

That brings me back to my main point -- the armoring of Humvees. Simply slapping on armor isn't a magic cure-all.

First, armor adds weight. I realize that may seem blindingly obvious, but it has many more consequences than most people realize.
1) Added weight adds stress to the vehicle. Parts wear out faster and break down more often. When the vehicle becomes more unreliable, troops tend to rely on it less.
2) Added weight cuts the vehicle's mileage. This isn't strictly a matter of costing more at the gas pump; this directly affects the vehicle's useful range. Longer trips require more frequent refueling, and that's more time sitting still to be attacked.
3) Added weight cuts down on performance. When troops find themselves in a bad spot, they can't get out of it as fast any more. Also, they can't maneuver as well -- the weight of the armor cuts down on quick turns and, in some cases, might even widen the vehicle.
4) Added weight lowers the vehicle. The Humvee had great ground clearance, letting them run over rough terrain. With the extra armor, they run a greater chance of getting "hung up" on obstacles and reduced to sitting targets.

Another thing armor does is reduce visibility. Passengers can't see out as well, meaning they can't prepare as well for attacks that they can't see coming. They also can't fight back unless they have a way to stick their weapons out.

The Humvee was never intended to be an armored transport -- that's what Bradleys and APCs are for. The Humvee replaced the Jeep, which had a windshield that folded down and often didn't have doors or a roof.

Again, I'm no expert on these matters. But I do know that the balance between armor and performance is a fine one, and simply slapping hunks of metal on the vehicles isn't necessarily the best solution. But it definitely is something that needs to be addressed.


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Comments (10)

During the first Gulf war m... (Below threshold)

During the first Gulf war my uncle was in the 3/73/82nd Airborne. It was an "armor" unit. They used the army's M551 Sheridan. It's the only tank (it's no longer considered a tank) that was capable of being delivered via air drop.

Its armor is 4 inches of aluminum and 2 foot of styrofoam. It also floats! A heavy machine gun could pierce its skin. They scrambled to slap extra armor on those.

Another consideration, especially in a desert enviroment, is over heating from lugging the extra weight. My guess is the army up-armors humvees with a lightweight composite material where as the soldiers tend to slap whatever they can find on them.

Judging from the video I've seen no amount of armor on a humvee is going to protect our soldiers from IEDs and mines. They tend to use a devastating amount of explosives in the IEDs and a mine designed to knock out a tank will toss a humvee aside like an ant.

Still, I think the extra effort armor and money are worth it if it saves one American soldier. It'll certainly help protect them from small arms fire.

I think the next big leap in protecting soldiers will be in robotics. Send in the terminators first. The survivors will gladly surrender.

Nice thread.It is ... (Below threshold)

Nice thread.

It is vital that we keep in mind that the HMMWVs are doing exactly what they were designed do to , which is to provide mobility.

Instead of uparmoring these (for reasons you already mentioned in the original post), I think we need to think about employing more mission-specific IED-resistant vehicles, such as the RG-31 deployed with elements of the 82nd AB, the Israeli RAM 2000. or the HMMWV-based Eagle from Mowag.

Not everyone would need them, but they would be useful as convoy escort and patrol vehicles.

Imagine if cats could drive... (Below threshold)

Imagine if cats could drive. You'd be all like 'Dude, there's a cat driving that Jeep', and I'd be all like, 'Sweet'.

P.S. My teeth hurt.

Um.First, the nava... (Below threshold)


First, the naval stuff. The British BCs were lost not because they were poorly armored, but because of a flaw that went undetected from an earlier encounter with the German Navy. In 1915 at Dogger Bank, the German BC Seydlitz had been hit by a British 13.5 inch shell in the turret, and flash from that hit sent into the magazine, killing everyone in the aft two turrets. Had it not been for the quick thinking of an officer who died at his post who flooded the magazine, the German ship would have exploded just like the British ships were to do a year later. After the battle, extra protection was added to all German ships. No such protection was added to Royal Navy ships.

Moreover, and what was worse, the cordite propellant used by the British was both unstable at high temperatures and stored in bags, rather than metallic cases; also, basic safety precautions were ignored in favor of a high rate of fire. When turret hits were scored on the htree British BCs, flash traveled down the trunks of the turrets, reached the loose, unstable cordite, and...

However, the armor scheme of the BCs themselves was not to blame. Other ships of identical classes took much punishment at Jutland without exploding like fireworks. On HMS Lion, for example, the Q, or middle turret, was hit, but because the Royal Marine officer in command insisted on safety precautions (and flooded the magazine as he died as a precaution), the ship did not explode.

One problem with the idea of "speed is armor" also is that HMS Hood, which was designed post-Jutland, blew up in an eerily similar fashion, despite the lessons of that battle being incorporated in her design, including thicker armor. The armoring of ships to resist aerial as well as gunnery attack, especially in the USN, was a thoughtful process; I recommend Norman Friedman's Design Studies on the subject for the USN. I think you'll find that a great deal more thought went into the process than is popularly believed, and the fact that no USN battleship was lost on the high seas to aerial attack, and only one anchored in port, is a testament to the efforts of American design efforts.

Finally (I promise :]), the issue of the up-armored Humvees. No, up-armoring isn't a "magic cure-all", but it's a darn sight better than what they have now. At least in their minds. And that's what counts. To look again at history, when the Sherman tank was designed, it was pretty darned good, and it served in N. Africa pretty darned well, and we thought we had a world-beater, tank-for-tank, and we did.

In 1942.

There's a reason a lot of the film we see on the History Channel show Shermans with sandbags and treadlinks on their hulls. Not to knock a good, solid design like the Sherman/Humvee, but when you come up against something it's not designed to deal with, like an upgunned German tank, or German infantry with Panzerfausts, or IEDs by the roadside with remote detonators in the Iraq desert, sometimes you have to resort to unforeseen solutions. Sometimes you have to up-gun your Shermans, or armor your Humvees, if for no other reason that the crews think that they'll survive when they encounter those situations.

Ideal? Nope. But who ever said war was ideal?

Just the ramblings of a military historian. Keep up the good work!

Mahan,Actually the... (Below threshold)


Actually the Shermans were a terrible tank that was obviously obsolete in early 1943. The failure of the US Army flag officers to recognize that and change production to the Pershing is one of the greatest US mistakes of WWII. More people died from design failures of the Sherman than in the entire War on Terror to date...by an order of magnitude. (Briefly the Shermans had thin armor, volitile fuel, excessive height, insufficient gun, and thin treads.)

As for the up-armoring of HMMWV's, it is a quick fix and will cost a lot to clean up later, but it is allowing our soldiers to survive accomplishing the mission. As much as I hate the Stryker IAV design for it's manifest failures, it is doing a very good job on the ground in Iraq. Once again, the Stryker is deeply flawed, but it is doing a very good job of providing protection for the the troops in Iraq. I do not think it could do the job as a stand-alone solution, which it is supposed to be able to, but with nearby support from M-1 Abrams and M2 Bradley's, it is very good in the urban environment.

One of the key reasons the Stryker IAV works is that enough money has been spent on making the first deployment of the weapon system a success. I am very uncomfortable about the outcome of future Stryker brigade deployments that do not have as much support.

My grandfather was a crewme... (Below threshold)

My grandfather was a crewmember in a M4 Sherman in WWII. He said ithe only advantage to being in the Sherman was they didn't have to dig a foxhole. Besides that and the fact that they could ride instead of walk they were tracked coffins. It was the endless number of Shermans and close up air support that allowed us to beat the superior German armor.

And the Germans ran out of gas.

My father worked on the des... (Below threshold)

My father worked on the designs of every U S destroyer class (save one) from the 1930s into the 1970s, as well as the anti-aircraft light cruisers you used as a comparison. I could go on & on but here are a few representative thoughts.

Design Phase Considerations based on experience with other classes
1) [From Fletcher-Class Destroyers by Alan Raven] "... destroyers would therefore have to have a margin of speed over these ships (the fast carriers - ed.) of at least 5 knots..."
2) "... the actions at Coral Sea and Midway had demonstrated firsthand the desparate need for a greatly enhanced AA capability..."

What was done
3) Increased AA & other continuous improvements were made, though topside weight considerations made this chancy in awful weather (e.g. the Halsey Typhoon).
4) the hull design included STS steel

What the Fletchers did
5) Too much to be enumerated but..
5A) They provided the radar pickets at Okinawa, the greatest naval battle in history, where they absorbed several Kamikaze hits (that wasn't in the design spec!) without sinking.
5B) They, other "little boys" and the jeep carriers fought off the largest gunned battleship in history, the Yamato, at the Battle off Samar.

Conclusion - Rummy was right, you fight with what you've got & pray the designers are working their asses off to help continuously upgrade your equipment.

BTW - If you've got an interest in Naval history, check out my post on "Armorers to the U S Navy" on my site. http://machiasprivateer.blogspot.com/2004/11/armorers-to-u-s-navy.html

Patrick: Re-read what I sa... (Below threshold)

Patrick: Re-read what I said, sir.

"To look again at history, when the Sherman tank was designed, it was pretty darned good, and it served in N. Africa pretty darned well, and we thought we had a world-beater, tank-for-tank, and we did.

In 1942." (note this phrase)

Nowhere do I suggest that the Sherman was an adequate tank in 1944, nor do I want to. American armor doctrine in WWII was, in fact, criminal folly. However, when the Sherman was designed, it was a well-designed tank, able to take on the German tanks then in service, as service in North Africa showed. The problem was, when the Army deployed to Europe in force, the German tanks had progressed beyond the Sherman technologically, and American tanks were not designed to fight tanks in any event, which was the great flaw in American armor doctrine.

Mahan,I think we a... (Below threshold)


I think we agree with each other substantially and this is mostly a matter of splitting hairs between enthusiasts. However, since you are an enthusiast and well informed, it's a lot more fun to split hairs with you. I respect you and your basic point...but...fun's fun!

The T-34 was operational in 1941, which makes the Sherman utterly obsolete when it was designed.

"The T-34 was a technologically innovative design which addressed the short-comings of the earlier BT series of wheel/track tank. The T-34 was developed during the 1936-37 period, the prototype was completed in early 1939, and in September 1940 T-34 was put into series production mounting a 76mm gun. The Model 1940, the first T-34 production variant, t was armed with the L-11 76.2 mm gun, which was considerably shorter than the subsequent F-34 76.2 mm main gun of the 1941 and later models. "

The Sherman represents the triumph of optomism over logic. It is one of the greatest failures of US military procurement, and to date nothing systemic has been done to avoid repetitions like the Stryker.

That's why they now have St... (Below threshold)

That's why they now have Strykers, which is perfect for Iraq. Going over an IED they don't even feel it inside and keep reading that's how smooth the ride is. The only thing that can happen to a Stryker is their tires can go on fire but they can still move. What we need is more Strykers over there and any soldier in a stryker will tell you what I just said.







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