Achieving Dominant Maneuver

The Case For Developing And Fielding A Capability To Execute

Vertical Envelopments With Armored Forces





Lieutenant Colonel William C. Schneck

Virginia Army National Guard






Topic approved by

Donald Boose







The views expressed in this academic research paper are those of the

author and do not necessarily reflect official policy or position of the

U.S. Government, the Department of Defense, or any of its agencies









U.S. Army War College






AUTHOR: William C. Schneck

TITLE: Achieving Dominant Maneuver, The Case For Developing And Fielding A Capability To Execute Vertical Envelopments With Armored Forces

FORMAT: DDE Research Paper

DATE: 2 May 2003



U.S. land forces require the capability to conduct airmobile operations with mounted units to achieve strategic dominance. The Objective Force, currently in development, forms the basis for the U.S. Army’s attempt to dominate the future battlespace. The U.S. Army plans to accomplish this by exploiting the "Military Technical Revolution" through the creation of highly mobile forces capable of "Dominant Maneuver" in "Full-Dimensional Operations" across the width and depth of the battlespace. One way to make this concept a reality is through the development and fielding of a fleet of Heavy Lift Vertical Take Off and Landing (HLVTOL) aircraft. This HLVTOL fleet should be capable of transporting the Objective Force and other units over a 100-mile radius. This would provide a significant, probably decisive, operational advantage over potential adversaries in the lethal modern battlespace. Such an aircraft is within the near-term state-of-the-art for today's aerospace industry.

This proposal examines some of the key technical, operational, and strategic issues associated with this proposed capability. The technical assessment includes a review of the state-of-the-art for the HLVTOL as well as size and cost estimates. The operational assessment includes an overview of the emerging battlespace and a cost effectiveness analysis. The strategic assessment investigates the national resources required to develop and field this capability.

In conclusion, the capability to conduct airmobile operations with mounted units provides a key element in the quest of U.S. land forces to achieve strategic dominance. The ability to conduct deep vertical envelopments with the Objective Force appears to constitute one of the "leap ahead technologies" sought by the Department of Defense. Such capabilities would insure the ability of the U.S. to achieve strategic dominance and battlespace supremacy well into the twenty-first century.



ABSTRACT…………………………………………………………………………………….. ii

LIST OF TABLES ……………………………………………………………………………… v

ACHIEVING DOMINANT MANEUVER, THE CASE FOR DEVELOPING AND FIELDING A CAPABILITY TO EXECUTE VERTICAL ENVELOPMENTS WITH ARMORED FORCES …………………....................................................................................................................……. 1


LIMITATIONS OF AIR POWER ………………………………………………............……….. 2


ADVANTAGES OF ROBUST COMBINED ARMS GROUND FORCES FIGHTING JOINTLY WITH AIR POWER ……………………..............................................…………………………………….. 4


POST WORLD WAR II DEVELOPMENT TRENDS …........………………………………. 11

PARACHUTE OPERATIONS …………………………………..............…………………….. 11

HELIBORNE OPERATIONS …………………………………………….............…………… 11





HLVTOL DEVELOPMENT OPTIONS ……………………………………………….. 19



CONCLUSION ………………………………………………………………….................… 23

ENDNOTES ………………………………………………………………………………… 24

BIBLIOGRAPHY ………………………………………………………………………….... 30




TABLE 2. THREAT TANK INVENTORIES …………………………………………… 18






"Strike the enemy at a time or place or in a manner

for which he is unprepared."

Ύ FM 3-0, Operations, June 2001



In July 1996, after AAN (Army After Next) project initiation and reading "On the Need and Feasibility of a Very Heavy Lift Helicopter (VHLH) in Support of the Army’s Force XXI Operations Concept," General Robert Scales (then TRADOC Deputy Chief of Staff for Doctrine) wrote:

"We can conceive of a Future Combat Vehicle (FCV) of about 30-40 tons, even more lethal and mobile as the M-1, but with much greater fuel efficiency. So conjure me up an aerial lift vehicle that can transport such a load:

-tactically, over 200-300 miles

-a great speed – 150-250 mph

-with stealth

-capable of flying at a very low level, maybe even a "terrain effects vehicle"

-with some survivability built in.

Such a machine is the essential ingredient to our Army After Next Operational concept."

By 2002, AAN had evolved into the Objective Force Task Force. It formally recognized the importance of Army Transformation producing a force that could conduct vertical envelopments, noting "Objective Force systems support dominant maneuver – horizontal and vertical, day and night – in all weather and terrain as dismounted or mounted combined arms teams with unyielding unit integrity." And execution "of this paradigm shift across a distributed battle space relies on new vertical and horizontal… capabilities (i.e. HLVTOL [Heavy Lift Vertical Take Off and Landing]…)." Given the emphasis on long-range precision strikes and situational awareness, the key issues that will determine the capabilities (and hence weight) of the FCS (Future Combat System) necessary to ensure combat success include the survivability and lethality required to dominate residual threats. The combat weight of the FCS will then drive the HLVTOL design.


The concept for the Objective Force calls for U.S. ground forces capable of striking throughout the battlespace. This deep battle doctrine seeks to limit the freedom of action of the opposing commander and to disrupt his operational coherence and tempo. This should allow America to seize/retain the theater-strategic initiative by "operating inside the enemy’s decision making cycle." Presently, America strikes deep strategic targets primarily with long-range artillery, missiles, attack helicopters, and fixed-wing aircraft. Despite their significant range, accuracy, and lethality, often these systems only disrupt rather than destroy their targets. Traditional countermeasures such as camouflage and decoys, combined with intelligent use of restrictive terrain like cities and jungles, have degraded sensor performance.

During Operation Desert Storm (ODS), Coalition aircraft had to mount repeated attacks against many strategic targets because of their inability to destroy them or hostile damage repair capabilities. A post-conflict survey of Iraqi tanks remaining in Kuwait indicated that fixed-wing aircraft destroyed only 10%-20% of them during the six-week air campaign. However, U.S. armored/mechanized forces completely destroyed many Iraqi units in a few hours during the ground campaign.

During the 78-days of Operation Allied Force in Kosovo in 1999, 10,484 strike sorties produced similar controversial results. One initial Air Force estimate presented to the public "claimed that the operation had destroyed 450 enemy artillery pieces [32% of 1,400], 220 armored personnel carriers, 120 tanks [9% of 1,270]". A post-conflict assessment by the Munitions Effectiveness Assessment Team found that air strikes hit 974 mobile targets (destroying 26 tank-like vehicles (14 tanks and 12 self-propelled artillery pieces), 17 armored personnel carriers, and 20 artillery pieces), rather than the 1,955 reported. The final NATO assessment claimed successful strikes against 93 tanks, 153 armored personnel carriers, and 389 artillery pieces. Presumably, the Serbs recovered or salvaged the difference. Plainly, sensors must improve before air strikes can independently achieve the rapid decisive results imagined by some advocates.


The performance expected of near-term sensors will limit American situational awareness. To succeed, the FCS must possess inherent survivability that counters those threats likely to remain undetected. Engineers for the Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate (NVESD) indicate that they expected to provide the capability to detect/image most obscured vehicle-sized objects (whether through overhead vegetation or camouflage). However, discriminating vehicles from three-dimensional decoys would remain an issue. Even if prospective opponents cannot effectively counter U.S. sensors, they will employ deception to mislead the U.S., particularly if America does not carefully analyze the large quantity of information generated before distributing it. Furthermore, NVESD does not expect that emerging sensor systems will discriminate between dismounted threats and civilians, especially when opponents dresses like civilians or operate in restricted terrain (as happened in Korea, Vietnam, Somalia, and Iraq).

Although NVESD expects to resolve issues involving bandwidth and airspace management, the Army must balance their sensor capabilities (how much, how often, and how detailed) against deployability. NVESD expects support units to remain vulnerable as they will lack the level of situational awareness of combat forces. Additionally, ROEs (Rules of Engagement) that prevent Objective Force units from engaging until an enemy displays hostile intent would degrade any advantages America possesses in situational awareness by permitting him the first shot.

Based on these limitations, the following technologies may help to counter likely residual threats (those which survive American standoff fires):


The ability to exploit immediately precision air strikes with armored/mechanized units inserted by HLVTOL will force future conventional opponents to establish a defense in great depth to protect vulnerable rear areas. The "virtual presence" of such a capability should force opponents to reallocate significant combat resources away from the MBA (Main Battle Area). The resulting reduction in resources available in the enemy’s MBA should also create exploitable weaknesses. A similar effect appeared during ODS when the Iraqi Army deployed along the Kuwaiti coast to counter the threat posed by a marine amphibious assault that never came.

This capability will also have significant deterrent effects by placing potential opponents in the impossible strategic position of having more dispersed assets to defend than they have forces. If he concentrates to counter a ground attack, this will result in more lucrative high-payoff targets for air strikes.

Additionally, in nonlinear asymmetric Military Operations Other Than War, HLVTOLs would reduce the need for vulnerable ground lines of communication. As shown in Vietnam, Somalia, and recently in Iraq, these constitute a critical vulnerability for the U.S..



In the 20th century, militaries used four major technologies to conduct vertical envelopments: parachute drops from fixed-wing aircraft, gliders, and helicopters. These seemingly modern developments have a long history. The ancient Chinese performed practical investigations into flight technologies that would make vertical envelopment possible, developing manned-gliders, miniature hot-air balloons and rotating-wing toys. Da Vinci performed some of the earliest work in this area in Europe around 1500, exploring the concepts of fixed-wing flying machines, parachutes and helicopters (a "helical airscrew").

The first practical work began some three centuries later. In 1783, Benjamin Franklin observed an ascent by men in a balloon similar to that of the Montgolfier brothers. After which he wrote:

"Five thousand balloons, capable of raising two men each, could not cost more than have ships of the line; and where is the prince who can afford so to cover his country with troops for its defence, as that ten thoU.S.and men descending from the clouds might not in many places do an infinite deal of mischief, before a force could be brought together to repel them?"

In fact, Napoleon and Lazare Carnot considered but rejected using 100 balloons in 1804 to carry an invasion force across the channel against England. Nevertheless, tethered observation balloons saw service with many western countries during the 19th century. Having observed them during the American Civil War, Graf von Zeppelin developed the first of his powered airships. In the 1890s, Otto Lilienthal significantly advanced glider technology, performing over 2,000 flights. His published works had a critical influence upon the Wright Brothers, with Wilbur stating that Lilienthal had "made the greatest contribution to the solution of the flying problem." The Wrights made their first successful powered flight in 1903. In 1907, Louis and Jacques Breget first flew their helicopter.

WWI saw a number of aviation advances. Billy Mitchell studied the novel employment of parachutes by German pilots. In October 1918, he proposed a division-size airborne operation. With Pershing’s approval, Mitchell planned to drop 12,000 men from the 1st Infantry Division with 2,400 machine guns from 1,200 bombers behind German lines near Metz in the Spring of 1919. The armistice of 11 November 1918 prevented the execution of this plan. Nevertheless, in 1923 Mitchell demonstrated his airborne concept at Kelly Field. The U.S. ignored this innovation until World War II.

This war also witnessed the first example of significant military interest in a rotary-wing project. Beginning in 1916 three Austrians, including Theodore von Karman (the famous aerodynamicist who later worked for NASA), proposed replacing AU.S.tria’s dangerous hydrogen-filled observation balloons with tethered helicopters. Their final prototype, the PKZ-2, used three rotary engines powering two 19-foot diameter wooden counter-rotating rotors, with passengers riding inside a basket above the rotors. In April 1918, it flew to a height of over 150 feet, carrying two men and enough fuel for 30-minutes. While making about 36 flights, it experienced some instability. During a June demonstration before high-ranking military personnel, engine failure caused a crash with slight damage. Consequently, the military cancelled it.

During the blitzkrieg of 1939-1941, Germany frequently employed parachute and glider-borne forces for vertical envelopment, including the operation against the Belgians at Eben Emael in which about 80 glider-borne combat engineers effectively neutralized the 700-man fortress within 30 minutes of landing and opened the way for the panzer divisions into Belgium and the Netherlands. However, the limitations on using dismounted forces for vertical envelopment soon became apparent, with airborne forces trying various ideas to compensate. During the 1941 seizure of Crete, Germany executed the first heavy-drop of equipment into combat, parachuting in light artillery. The Russians, Germans, British and Americans all employed or experimented with small numbers of light combat vehicles suitable for delivery by glider. However, these vehicles could not match opposing frontline tanks.

These vulnerabilities placed significant limitations on the types of missions that such units could successfully execute. For example, the vulnerability of airborne infantry after a vertical envelopment contributed to mission failures for the British airborne at Arnhem and the Russian Dnieper River jump of September 1943. Even successful vertical envelopments had limited effectiveness or resulted in unnecessary casualties, as occurred to the Germans on Crete and the Americans during operations Husky and Overlord.

By 1945, the emergence of the cargo helicopter offered another potential alternative. During the inter-war period, Juan de la Cierva had developed a moderately successful autogyro (the Soviets did employ some Kamov A-7 autogyros near Smolensk in 1941). A Cierva autogyro served as the inspiration for Heinrich Focke’s design of the first successful helicopter, the Fw-61. From it, Focke designed the Fa-223 as the first cargo helicopter, first flown in March 1940. This remarkable helicopter had a 4,000-pound payload. It exhibited its carrying ability by sling-loading such items as staff cars, anti-tank guns, and howitzers, as well as transporting 12 men. Although Germany ordered the Fa-223 into production, due to low-priority and Anglo-American bombing, only limited numbers became operational by 1945. Nevertheless, in preparation for his September 1943 mountaintop rescue of Mussolini, Otto Skorzeny planned to conduct the world’s first heliborne assault with a Fa-223, noting, "Helicopters seemed the best solution." However, last-minute maintenance problems forced him to use other means (gliders/light aircraft). Later, the Luftwaffe assigned three Fa-223s to its new helicopter squadron (Transportstaffel 40). This organization operated in southern Germany and Austria beginning in early 1945, performing artillery observation, liaison, and transport tasks in support of a hastily improvised Luftwaffe division, North Alp.

Attempting to capitalize on the success of the Fa-223, Focke proposed to develop the Fa-284 (a flying crane with an 8-ton payload). Focke anticipated using it to transport armored vehicles, artillery, and prefabricated bridges in behind enemy lines. This project ended when Allied bombers destroyed the factory developing it. Other related WWII German technical development programs included: tilt-wing/tilt-rotor (Weserflug P.1003/1 and Fa-269 however the Haynes "Heliplane" proposal appeared in Britain in 1937), compound (Fl-185), and tip-jet (WNF-342) technologies. Post-war America, Britain, France, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union evaluated and exploited captured German technology (Table 1).







Fa-223, Germany, 1945

1.7 tons or 12 men for 272 miles, twin rotor, 54 begun

Fa-284, Germany, 1945

4.3 tons for 248 miles, twin rotor, 1 mock-up only

XH-17, U.S.A, 1952

5 tons for 30 miles, tip-jet, 1 prototype only

Mi-10, Russia, 1960

15 tons or 28 men for 155 miles, about 55 built

XC-142, U.S.A, 1964

4 tons or 32 men for 670 miles, tilt-wing, 5 prototypes only

CH-54, U.S.A, 1966

12 tons or 67 men for 230 miles, 97 built for U.S. Army

Mi-12, Russia, 1968

39 tons or 120 men for 305 miles, 2 prototypes only

XCH-62, U.S.A, 1974

22.5 tons for 20 miles, tandem rotor, prototype unfinished

CH-47D, U.S.A, 1979

13 tons or 33 men for 260 miles, tandem rotor, 480 in U.S. service

CH-53E, U.S.A, 1981

16 tons or 55 men for 55 miles, 160 in U.S. service

Mi-26, Russia, 1983

22 tons or 80+ men for 500 miles, about 540 built

V-22, U.S.A, 1989

5 tons or 24 men for 55 miles, tilt-rotor, 410 projected




Although America conducted conventional airborne operations in Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, and Iraq, the only time they heavy-dropped armor into combat occurred during Operation Just Cause in 1989, with their deployment of ten M551 Sheridans. Indeed, if America lacks access to adequate airfields, then current U.S. airborne forces may have to seize an existing C-5/C-17 capable airfield before building-up heavier forces for follow-on operations. Present in limited numbers and typically well-dispersed, prospective opponents understand that large airfields constitute high-value targets. Consequently, America must expect that future opponents to defend them vigorously or employ of "anti-access" strategies. Furthermore, it takes considerable time to build-up armored combat power in this fashion. Additionally, airborne operations require significant lead-time to allow for planning and therefore lack the tactical flexibility of heliborne operations for exploiting fleeting opportunities.


America continued to develop helicopters after WWII. In October 1951, the 161st marine helicopter squadron conducted one of the first major U.S. airmobile operation in combat, lifting 958 troops with fifteen H-19 helicopters. After Korea, the Army explored the airmobile concept using light infantry through the Howze Board, which eventually resulted in the 1st Cavalry Division and U.S. helicopter-based operations in Vietnam.

Nevertheless, significant risks and limitations in the employment of light infantry in vertical envelopments remained, for example the French disaster at Dien Bien Phu began as a vertical envelopment, while the lack of air-transportable armor restricted the missions of the 101st Airborne Division during ODS. Indeed, deteriorating weather conditions may severely restrict air support as happened to the 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division after deploying more than 160 miles to the Euphrates River.

The emergence of the HLH (Heavy Lift Helicopter) as a significant tactical element during the Cold War offered another possible solution to the problem of executing successful vertical envelopments. The Soviets developed combined-arms units based on mechanized airborne/air assault forces equipped with armored assault guns (ASU-85), infantry fighting vehicles (BMD), and self-propelled artillery (2S9 and BM-21). Mi-26 helicopters could transport these over 310 miles. In the first heliborne combat operation conducted with armored forces, the Soviets inserted 6,000 men, 200 BMDs, and 70 ASU-57s using 30 Mi-8s and 10 Mi-6s. They conducted this operation in support of an Ethiopian attack against Somali infantry in prepared positions during the Ogaden War in 1978. This operation knocked Somalia out of the war.

Other examples of strategic vertical envelopments with light armor include the Soviet seizures of Prague (1968) and Kabul (1979). During the seizure of Kabul, the 105th Guards Airborne Division (reinforced) air-landed two battalions of light 8-ton BMDs and one battalion of ASU-85s. Indeed, the Russians have explored developing even larger aircraft, with their Central Aerohydrodynamics Institute (TsAGI) proposing a very large flying crane (with tip-jet propulsion and a 250-ton payload) in 1993 and Antonov prototyping the AN-225 (capable of transporting 275 tons over 2,700 miles). Following a similar trend, Germany has fielded and employed their Wiesel 3-ton light armored fighting vehicle for deployment by CH-47 or CH-53 and Britain has fielded and employed their Scorpion family of 8-ton light armored vehicles for deployment by CH-47.

America has limited its efforts in this area to small-scale administrative moves of 11-ton M113 light AFVs by CH-47s or CH-54s in Vietnam. At present, the heaviest lift helicopters available to U.S. ground forces are the CH-47D and CH-53E. In the 1970s, Boeing Vertol initiated the development of the XCH-62 HLH to carry 22.5 tons for 20 miles. Boeing never completed the prototype due to budget and technical problems. During most of the Cold War, the U.S. Army had based its doctrine on attrition warfare, culminating in its "Active Defense Doctrine." Under this doctrine, they viewed the XCH-62 strictly as a "flying truck" for use only over friendly territory. Although Airland Battle doctrine emerged in 1983, the Americans did not reconsider the possibilities presented by an HLH in such operations.


As its primary mission, this proposed HLVTOL provides a JFC (Joint Force Commander) with the capability to deploy, re-deploy and recover Objective Forces at least 100 miles from the point of embarkation and logistically support them. As a secondary mission, the JFC could use HLVTOLs to deploy reserves to counterattack hostile penetrations or reinforce/exploit an American breakthrough. He could also use them to provide rapid logistic support to forward-deployed units, particularly those executing a pursuit. For example, consider the impact of the inability of the Allies to support logistically their pursuing forces across France in 1944, which lead to battles of attrition around Aachen, the Hürtgen Forest, and in Lorraine.

To survive in combat HLVTOLs must function as part of a joint team. Successful vertical envelopments will often require close escort by attack helicopters and support from U.S. Air Force air defense) suppression assets and air-supremacy fighters to establish local air-superiority.

Objective Force units inserted by air would normally operate in coordination with conventional ground forces. The ability of a JFC using HLVTOL-deployed forces to strike his opponent in an unexpected manner and from an unexpected direction will greatly enhance the probability of achieving surprise, thus hastening strategic mission accomplishment and minimizing friendly casualties.

To sustain an M1 heavy tank-based battalion task force requires approximately 41,720 gallons (146 tons) of diesel fuel, 55 tons of ammunition, plus lesser quantities of other supplies (such as food and water) per day. For example, four HLH sorties per day, each with a 65-ton payload, could carry this amount of logistics, plus evacuate any equipment requiring high level maintenance from the field.

After the completion of its mission, the JFC could extract the force from enemy territory by several methods. These include linking-up with a conventional U.S. ground unit, seizing a piece of key terrain (and holding until relieved), or extraction by air.


The Army has explored the concept of deploying the FCS by means of an HLVTOL in a series of war games. The 1997 AAN war games indicated that improvements in detection and precision fire technologies would significantly increase the difficulties of mounting offensive operations unless the speed of maneuver significantly increased. During the 1997 war game at Fort Leavenworth, friendly forces employed HLVTOLs with speeds of over 120 mph (miles per hour) over distances of 900 miles to deploy the FCS. The opposing force commander quickly discovered that he could not counter this by fighting conventionally and withdrew into complex terrain. The subsequent AAN 1997 Winter War Game indicated that the "employment of more maneuverable air mechanized battle forces in advance of potent Army XXI forces would create the capacity for 21st Century strategic blitzkrieg." Indeed, one observer of this AAN war game noted, "the value of 'air-mechanized' forces was readily apparent. The dramatically short and decisive AAN campaigns would have become longer, less decisive, and linear without such capabilities."

In the 1998 Spring War Game, the Army employed three "battle forces" equipped with 15-ton FCSs and compatible tilt-rotor aircraft with a range of 2,300 miles. This time, the opposing force declined open combat and withdrew into the cities. The subsequent battle indicated the unsuitability of these AAN Battle Forces for urban operations. Its tilt-rotors and light armored vehicles proved very vulnerable to hostile fire coming from concealed locations. Finally, in the 1999 AAN War Games and the 2000 Army Transformation War Game, the U.S. simulated a force with three different types of airmobile "Battle Forces." These had 2.5- or 8-ton combat vehicles, supported by hundreds of advanced rotorcraft called the FTR (Future Transport Rotorcraft) or JTR (Joint Transport Rotorcraft). Two other heavier types of "Battle Forces" employed 26-ton combat vehicles. However, observers noted that given "the likely cost of the FTR, production rates would probably be in the range of 20 to 40 aircraft per year. Based on past experience, fielding a large fleet of FTRs would be a very difficult task."


A Russian-type air defense system represents a reasonable "worst case" scenario. Given sufficient time, the U.S. has demonstrated the ability to suppress HIMAAD (High- and Medium-Altitude Air Defense) systems since they rely upon active emitters. However, operations near landing zones and in situations requiring rapid action, HLVTOLs would have to operate close to the ground. In these cases, the primary threat would come from man-portable antiaircraft missiles, antiaircraft artillery, and small-arms fire. America may have difficulties detecting/suppressing these low-altitude threats, since most of these do not emit and have minimal signatures. Consequently, they usually survive an extended air campaign. Strict ROEs may also constrain air defense suppression options, as occurred during Operation Allied Force. Another study found some that combination of technologies and tactics would significantly increase the probability of success of a vertical envelopment in such situations. This study recommended that stealth and active protection systems receive consideration as countermeasures to both optically guided missiles and antiaircraft guns.

Additionally, a Russian-style air defense normally orients on providing a point defense against attacks on its first echelon motorized rifle regiments. It also receives incidental HIMAAD coverage from army and front assets (which have a minimum engagement altitude of 280 foot). It lacks the weapons system performance and force structure to attempt to prevent the penetration of Russian airspace, instead, providing protection to critical assets. Consequently, airborne and air assault operations behind enemy lines have remained viable options to U.S. commanders. In fact, trends toward increased dispersion for conventional combat units, the "empty battlefield" phenomenon, will make such operations easier to conduct even against improving air defense technology, particularly at night. As an example of this trend toward the "empty battlefield," the density of Soviet rifle divisions in the defense has declined from about 6,000 men per km2 during WWII to 65 men per km2 in the modern MRD. HLVTOLs can exploit the characteristics of this air defense system just as well as current U.S. airborne and air assault units did against the advanced Iraqi air defense system during Operation Iraqi Freedom.


Since WWII, dismounted opponents in places like Korea, Vietnam, and Somalia have presented America with its most difficult challenges. The Army’s subject matter experts in sensors do not support the prevalent belief that emerging sensor technology will solve America’s historical problems of fighting guerillas. Indeed, questions remain on how many tanks will survive to fight against the Objective Force.

The vast majority of current tanks can fire highly lethal APDS (Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot) and HEAT (High Explosive Anti Tank) munitions (Table 2). In preparation for World War III in central Europe, the U.S. found it necessary to develop and field the heavy M1 main battle tank and the medium M2/3 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle to survive this type threat. Although most of the potentially hostile tanks in inventory today cannot withstand an M1 and M2/3 equipped force, such weapons can destroy the FCS. Historically, superior frontline tanks constitute one of the greatest threats to relatively light armor, as happened to the U.S. in Europe in 1944-45 where the Allies typically needed five medium Shermans to successfully fight one heavy Tiger. The ability to dominate a force equipped with common Soviet block tanks, intelligently employed, remains well beyond the capability of current 20-ton class armored vehicles.





Eastern Europe

T-80, T-72, T-64, T-62, T-55


Middle East

T-72, T-62, T-55, OL-40, M60, Chieftain



T-72, T-62, T-55, M60



T-72, T-62, T-55


Central and South America

T-62, T-55, AMX-30, TAMS


*Does not include reliable allies such as Canada, Western Europe, Israel, AU.S.tralia, and Japan

The Objective Force must counter threat tanks employing APDS and HEAT munitions in order to succeed in many situations. While America has developed technologies to defeat HEAT rounds (with relatively heavy Explosive Reactive Armor or active defense systems against anti-tank rockets and missiles), the defeat of common APDS penetrators requires much heavier composite armors. The ability of the FCS to succeed in the modern battlespace, not just get there quickly, constitutes the key challenge to the Objective Force. However, the research and development community indicates that they do not expect to develop a 20-ton vehicle equal to the 70-ton M1A2 in tactical mobility, lethality and survivability by 2015. No one has achieved any revolutionary breakthroughs in ballistics or armor material technologies that would make such a leap forward possible, nor does one appear likely.

Observers commented on limitations that may result from fielding an FCS with limited survivability during an AAN war game, noting that an "air mechanized Battle Force could operate successfully in urban terrain if its vehicles offered sufficient protection and could transport sufficient infantry, but these features appear unobtainable within a conceptual 15-ton weight limit." In addition, "Combat vehicles weighing 20-30 tons might have enough protection to accept close engagement in constrictive terrain. Combat vehicles weighing 30-40 tons (roughly half the current weight) might have enough protection to assure successful engagement in constrictive terrain and also dismount significantly greater numbers of infantry."


Three possible approaches exist that offer a means to more fully develop the ability of the U.S. to execute decisive vertical envelopments, with the HLH constituting the simplest technological approach for developing an HLVTOL capability.

First, America could design/field an HLH-65 (an HLH with a 65-ton payload capacity) and the ability to move the heavy M1A1 main battle tank 100 miles without refueling. This would enable the Army to deploy most of the equipment found in a standard armored/mechanized task force. The U.S. could build an up-scaled XCH-62A using a tandem rotor configuration, based on four Ukrainian ZMBK D-136 engines (11,400 horsepower) or D-127 engines (14,000 horsepower), a transmission rated to 24,000 horsepower, and a fuselage design similar to that of the C-17. Such a helicopter would weigh approximately 104,000 pounds empty and require a rotor diameter of 120 foot, only 14 percent larger than that of the Russian Mi-26.

Second, America could design/field an HLH-32 (an HLH with a 32-ton payload capacity) and the ability to move the M109A6 Paladin howitzer. Such an aircraft would weigh about 51,000 pounds empty and require 24,250 horsepower and would enable the Army to deploy a lightly armored airmobile force built around the medium M2/3 Bradley, and the M109A6 howitzer. Regrettably, the Army terminated the M8 Buford Armored 105mm-120mm Gun System light tank, weighing up to 25 tons and scheduled for fielding to the Airborne/Air Assault/Light Divisions, due to budget constraints. With the demise of the M8 light tank, this force may lack adequate anti-armor firepower and would fight at a severe disadvantage against a conventional opponent if brought into a pitched battle full of meeting engagements requiring point/shoot, fire-on-the-move tank killing firepower. The lack of heavy armor would also restrict its utility in the reinforcing and counterattack rolls. Logistic support operations would require approximately double the number of sorties in comparison to an HLH-65.

Third, America could design/field an HLVTOL able to transport a 20-ton FCS. However in the Fall of 2001, the Army announced the abandonment of the FTR due to funding constraints and restructured it to create the Air Maneuver Transport program, for developing an HLVTOL capable of transporting 20 tons over 300 miles. Nevertheless, the Army had not released any formal requirements documents as of October 2002, nor had the government allocated money in the 2004-2009 POM (Program Objective Memorandum). Nevertheless, Bell Aircraft has proposed a Quad Tilt-Rotor able to lift 90 personnel or one 12.5-ton vehicle to an un-refueled range of 610 miles at 320 mph. While Carter Aviation Technologies has proposed a compound helicopter called the "CarterCopter Heliplane-Transport" to carry 22.5 tons 1500 miles at 450 mph.


One simulation showed that an 2D-only attack without HLVTOLs resulted in a corps taking over 8,200 casualties and losing about two-thirds of its armored vehicles, rendering it incapable of continuing its offensive. Consequently, it must conduct a passage of lines, allowing follow-on forces to conduct an exploitation of their breach of the enemy’s MBA. Using standard planning norms, such attacks normally take about four days to breakthrough an MRD. However, in similar circumstances an attack employing HLVTOLs reduced corps casualties by about half. Most importantly, it should have sufficient power remaining to continue the attack, after breaking through in about one and a half days. A cost comparison of equipment and personnel losses indicates that the attack supported by the HLVTOL costs 60% less than a standard attack.

The HLH-65 has an estimated unit cost of about $100 million. As points of comparison, C-17s cost about twice as much per airframe and must land on predictable, prepared runways, while America expects to spend $46 billion to procure 410 V-22s at about $112 million per aircraft.


AAN war game observer Brigadier General Huba de Czege noted:

"An important design criterion for future air-mechanized forces will be their ability to deploy rapidly across strategic distances. In fact, an important goal should be to make them capable of operational maneuver from strategic distances. In other words, these formations should be able to launch from outside the theater of operations and land in the vicinity of their operational objectives ready to fight… The minimum range required for tactical aircraft to self deploy is thought to be about 2100 nautical miles. This allows them to 'island hop' or makes air refueling practical."

Nevertheless, America faces several strategic choices involving the utility of rapidly deploying a vulnerable, lightly armored force or taking additional time to deploy more heavily-armored, dominant land forces. American strategic leaders should rigorously and vigorously consider threats likely to face these forces, the nature of risks involved with deploying lightly-armored forces, consequences of failure, and national resources required to create/sustain the desired forces. While it appears technically feasible to develop/field HLVTOLs capable of air-transporting vehicles weighing 30- to 70-tons over strategic distances directly into combat, this would involve significant, probably unaffordable, costs ("means"). Another "way" would build sufficient strategic air- and sealift combined with shorter-ranged intra-theater HLVTOLs to operate with heavy-, medium- or light-armored forces. This approach has the drawback of requiring relatively-secure intermediate staging bases for the marshalling and subsequent operational deployment of forces. Finally, America could accept the risks involved in reliance upon light-armored forces deployed directly into combat over strategic distances by JTRs. Indeed, one group of RAND analysts that observed the 1998 AAN Spring War Game recommended that America develop a spectrum of concepts for coping with various. threats and anticipated situations. While militarily sound, such an approach would require significant resources and time to create.


For a national defense strategy to be realistic, a nation’s armed forces must have the ability to execute it operationally and tactically. America, with an Army of only ten active-duty divisions and extremely limited stocks of advanced munitions, weapon systems and highly trained personnel, must win quickly. Additionally, America cannot replenish these quickly due to insufficient production facilities, strategic sea- and airlift, and readily available, highly-trained replacements.

The ability of Joint Force Commanders to execute vertical envelopments with armored/mechanized forces deep into the enemy’s rear and sustain them would represent a critical (possibly decisive) military advantage. Such capabilities would allow Joint Force Commanders to bypass hostile forces, launch attacks directly upon strategic points, and defeat opponents by disrupting their plans.





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