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How the US Army Is Getting Ready for the Unthinkable: War with Russia or China

The Army is developing its weapons, technologies and platforms with a greater emphasis on being ready for great-power, mechanized force-on-force war in order maintain cross-the-board readiness and deter near-peer adversaries from unwanted aggression.

While the service aims to be prepared for any conceivable contingency, to include counterinsurgency, counterterrorism and hybrid-type conflicts, the Army has been shifting its focus from 15-years of counterinsurgency war and pivoting its weapons development toward major-power war.

“We are excellent at counterinsurgency,” Lt. Gen. Michael Williamson, Military Deputy, Assistant Secretary of the Army – Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, told Scout Warrior in an exclusive interview. “We’re developing systems to be prepared for the full range of potential conflict.”

As a high-level leader for the Army’s weapons, vehicle and platform developmental efforts, Williamson explained that some technologies are specifically being engineered with a mind toward positioning the service for the prospect of massive great-power conflict; this would include combat with mechanized forces, armored vehicles, long-range precision weapons, helicopter air support and what’s called a Combined Arms Maneuver approach.

Combined Arms Maneuver tactics use a variety of combat assets, such as artillery, infantry and armored vehicles such as tanks, in a synchronized, integrated fashion to overwhelm, confuse and destroy enemies.

While the Army naturally does not expect or seek a particular conflict with near-peer nations like Russia and China, the service is indeed acutely aware of the rapid pace of their military modernization and aggressive activities. 

(This first appeared in Scout Warrior here.) 

As a result of its experience and skill with counterinsurgency fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army’s training, doctrine and weapons development is sharpening its focus on armored vehicles, long-range precision weapons and networking technologies to connect a force dispersed over a wide area of terrain.

Another key aspect of the Army’s future strategy is called Wide Area Security, an approached grounded in the recognition that large-scale mechanized forces will likely need to operate and maneuver across much wider swaths of terrain as has been the case in recent years. Having a dispersed force, fortified with long range sensors, armor protection, precision weapons and networking technologies, will strengthen the Army’s offensive approach and make its forces a more difficult, less aggregated target for enemies.

New High-Tech Army Platforms – AMPV:

While the Army remains focused on being needed for counterinsurgency possibilities across the globe and hybrid-type wars involving groups of terrorists armed with conventional weapons and precision-guided missiles -- the service is identifying, refining and integrated technologies with a specific mind to attacking enemies and protecting Soldiers in major-power war, Williamson explained.

Major, great-power war would likely present the need for massive air-ground coordination between drones, helicopters and ground vehicles, infantry and armored vehicle maneuver formations and long-range weapons and sensors. The idea is to be ready for enemies equipped with high-end, high-tech weapons such as long-range rocket, missile and air attack capabilities. 

As evidence of this approach, Williamson pointed to some of the attributes of the Army’s new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, or JLTV, and Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle as platforms well-engineered for large-scale mechanized warfare.

The Army is also preparing to take delivery later this year of its new infantry carrier platform called the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle, or AMPV.

Built by BAE Systems, the platform is intended to replace the Vietnam-era M113 infantry carrier; several variants are planned, including a General Purpose Vehicle, Mortar Carrier Vehicle, Mission Command Vehicle, Medical Evacuation Vehicle and Medical Treatment Vehicle.

Overall, the Army plans to build roughly 3,000 AMPVs at a cost of $1 million to $1.7 million each.

The platform is designed to transport troops, evacuate injured Soldiers, escort logistical convoys and maneuver alongside larger vehicle such as Abrams tanks.  The AMPV is designed with the speed to maneuver such that it can increase its chance of avoiding Anti-Tank Guided Missiles. An ATGM is the kind of conventional weapon the Army would be likely to face in a hybrid or great-power engagement. The vehicle is also armored in order to reduce its vulnerability to long-range enemy weapons.

The AMPV is a tracked vehicle built on a Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle chassis; it represents the Army's push to be prepared for the full-range of conflict. For example, the Army is divesting some of its fleet of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, or MRAPs, specifically engineered for an IED or roadside bomb environment. While being ready for that possibility is still important to the Army - and still very much a future possibility -- the service does not need to keep its full inventory and is instead preparing for a wider-range of possible wars. 

The General Purpose AMPV transports two crew members and six passengers. It is armed with a 50-cal crew-served weapon and carry one injured Soldier on a litter.

The Mortar variant uses a crew of two with two Mortar technicians and an ability to fire 120mm rounds; the Medical variant carries a crew of three and six walking passengers.  

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