How soldiers are transported to the battlefield is as much a consideration by the military as their on the battlefield. Historically, the soldier used their feet or the water to get to the battlefield. After the industrial revolution, the train allowed for rapid movement of men and supplies. The game changer was the advent of the motorcar and the tank. The marriage of these vehicles created the Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) and the Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFV). These infantry vehicles allow infantry to be mechanized and operate within a tank unit or be protected in intense combat zones. While the APC/IFV was a mainstay of Cold War military tactics, these armoured warhorses have fallen on hard times with the increased of asymmetric warfare, IEDs, and the advent of the MRAP. In this blog article we will examining the APC/IFV. After the comments when this blogpost was originally posted on June 1st, I took it down and rewrote some sections.
The Military Role of the APC and IFV
Difference Between an APC and IFV
The Armoured Personnel Carrier and the Infantry Fighting Vehicle seem to be basically the same type of infantry vehicle and also seem to fulfill the role on the battlefield. But what separates them is two major elements: the ability for the infantry to use their small arms to defend the vehicle and the vehicle itself to use larger weapons to engage targets, either infantry or other armoured vehicles. In APCs, the crew is buttoned down inside and only if the passengers ran on top of the APC, as they did in Vietnam, can they use their assault rifles to defend themselves. The vehicle themselves are normally armed with a machine gun to defend the vehicle. But that is not true of the IFVs.
The History of the APC and IFV
One element that does separate World War II era APCs from the ones today is fully enclosed infantry section. In the post-war era, we finally got the first "real" IFV was the West German Schutzenpanzer Lang HS.30 that had top-hatches allowing the infantry go shooting la fresco. In the Cold War, the Americans and the Soviets designed two of the most iconic infantry vehicles: the M113 and the BMP-1 respectively. The American battle taxi M113 was an armoured turtle armed with an M2 .50 caliber heavy machine gun that was more typical of the APC design, while the Soviet BMP-1 became typical of the IFV design. Both would be exported around the world, and met in battle several times, especially during the 1991 Gulf War. While some military organizations focused on battle taxis with tracks, some European nations and the Soviets also focused on developing wheeled APCs. The Soviets developed the BTR-70 8x8 APC in 1960, Mercedes-Benz built the Fuchs 6x6 APC for the West German military, and the other European companies began building wheeled APCs.
One interesting element that separates different infantry vehicles is whether the troops disembark via hatches or ramps. Oddly, the difference makes a difference. Hatches, like on the Russian BMP, allows the soldiers to have some cover, but the soldiers are not able to exit as quickly as the soldiers who run down ramps. The same is true backwards as well. Ramps allow soldiers to load up faster than the hatches. Most modern APCs and IFVs use ramps, especially American infantry vehicles. During research this subtopic for this blogpost, I learned that the Soviet actually hollowed out the BMP rear troop hatches for fuel tanks. They stored fuel in the doors right next to their soldiers. Wow.
Wheeled vs. Tracked vs. Hover(?!)
Tracked are the more traditional APC locomotion choice, and are more hearty in various on-road and off-road conditions, especially in snow or wet soil conditions. While wheeled APCs can and do tackle various off-road conditions, the wheeled configuration is better for urban and more on-road conditions, where noise is lessened, greater road speed, and greater fuel economy from tracked vehicles. In addition to the on-and-off road performance, the tracked vehicle can have greater weight to armoured protection, and tackle off-road conditions than the wheeled battle taxi with tracked vehicles returning greater turning radius, overcoming gaps and obstacles.
At the moment, there are hovercraft transport vehicles, but they are not anything like what was seen Hammer's Slammers, they are used to simply ferry soldiers, armoured vehicles, and supplies from ship-to-shore. Could the debate about wheeled or tracked be solved by hoverboard or repulsorlift technology? In some sci-fi works, there is no debate, every armoured vehicle is anti-gravity, like Renegade Legion, but in some, like Battletech, the answer is more subjective, and all are seen in the AO.
The Weapons of the APC and IFV
Most APCs are armed with machine guns in 7mm-12mm range to defend the crew and soldiers from hostile infantry and even attack helicopters. For defense purposes, besides the armor, the APC uses smoke launchers. In contrast, IFVs are more heavily armed with auto-cannon in 20mm+ range, and even missile launchers as well, like the US Army M2 Bradley that has TOW anti-tank missiles. As seen in US Army Stryker APC, heavier machine guns can be mounted to a computer control system that allows the crew to stay inside the armoured vehicle while engaging targets. Modern vehicles like the Stryker have been seen armed with .50 caliber machine guns or even 40mm AGLs with M249 7.62mm machine guns.
Unlike a luxury SUV, the interior of any infantry vehicle is hot, cramped, and room for troopers is at a premiere over the armament and other hardware of the vehicle, and the crew of the vehicle. Soldiers often joke that being this close builds morale and comradeship. Yeah, I'll bet, especially if everyone has washed and used deodorant. APCs must have been fun in Iraq. The primary purpose of an infantry vehicle is to transport infantry in protection, but from what I've seen in most modern APC, you wouldn't know it. Infantry are stuffed into their tin can and if there is a fire, the crew and passengers are at high risk. Most soldiers are grateful to exit the vehicle. Of course, APCs and IFVs being "battle taxis" there were never designed for long term occupation, and is more of A-to-B vehicle.
The Curious Case of the M321 FPW
Variants of the Infantry Vehicle
The Armoured Recon/Scout Vehicle
There are some variants of the infantry vehicle that are specifically designed to conduct recon missions, like the M3 variant of the M2 Bradley IFV. While light military utility vehicles are also used, the armoured recon/scout vehicle allows for greater protection for those "just encase" situations. Recon/scouts vehicles use trained scouts and sensors to gather intel on enemy positions and relay that information back to their home armoured units.
The Armoured Medical Evac Track
With the flexibly of the chassis that most APCs/IFVs are built on makes these ideal platforms for other vehicles. One variant of the iconic and legendary M113 APC is the armoured medical evac track that allows the wounded to be treated and transported off of the battlefield in armoured protection. While a great of deal of battlefield casualties are air-evac via helicopters, there are times when ground transportation is the only way, and then the armor could come in handy. The M113 brand-aide track was replaced by one based on the M2 Bradley IFV, and in the near future, the replacement for the M2 Bradley would also have a brand-aide track variant.
The Amphibious Assault Vehicle
Another very specialized variant of the APC is the amphibious assault vehicle. Think of this as the water-going APC just by the Marines. These water-loving craft are designed to transport Marines from the naval assault ships to the beach in armored protection, and can even transport the Marines further in-land than the old landing craft from World War II. While they can be used as landgoing APCs, the AAV is very much slower than modern APCs/IFVs, and were not designed for such operations, but they can be used. Marine Corps AAV units were seen in operations in Iraq.
The Future of the APC and IFV
Tactical Transport vs. Infantry Vehicles
The APC vs. The Light Military Utility Vehicle
|The Jeep Master Chief Limited Edition Wrangler!|
The Flexible Platform of the APC in Off-World Warfare
If we examine the APC from ALIENS and the US Army's Stryker APC, than we see that the APC platform is one with a great deal of tactical flexibility. Consider that the Stryker, like the older M113, can mount various weapon systems that allow the Stryker to serve in various roles, all the way from urban APC to tank-killer. This was also true of the M577 APC in ALIENS, its weapons package allowed it to counter a great deal of threats, protected its Colonial Marine passengers, and served as a C3 center for the on-planet operations. APCs could be a great way to have your cake and eat it, too (when it comes to future armoured vehicles). With starlift capability being normally limited, an APC/IFV like the M577 could be an answer to several tactical issues with on-planet engagements, especially when the tactical transport is designed to work harmoniously with the APC/IFV and the Marines.
The APC in Hostile Off-World Environments
It does not take much imagination to see that these exploration vehicles could be retrofitted for military use in the beginning of military organizations establishing themselves off-world. As with their civilian role, the military retrofitted APC/IFV could allow astro marines to operate in the hostile environmental conditions, serving as not only a marine mover, but also as a mobile shelter for our "astro marines". These vehicles would be the home for extended patrols or recon missions. Naturally, these retrofitted vehicles would not be up to combat operations, but any APC/IFV purposefully designed for that military role would offer the same capabilities of the exploration buggy: being a mobile home and a vehicle designed to tackle the rigors of the local conditions. One of the best examples is the M35 "Mako" from the Mass Effect universe.
Armoured Mecha Carriers?!
The M577 APC was originally designed by noted artist and designer Ron Cobb (The Last Starfighter), and it was to be built from the ground up. Money forced the production to use an existing vehicle to base the futuristic APC on. That vehicle was Hunslet ATT77 designed for service in airports as a towing vehicle. The specific ATT77 used in the film was from Heathrow Airport. Stripping away tons of lead ballast that would have caused the vehicle to fall through the floor of the studio. The interesting design and look of the M577 APC was due to the use of the ATT77 as a foundation, but it wasn't without issue having a hulk-like vehicle. The vehicle nearly ran over some of the crew during the rescue in the Atmosphere Processor. The vehicle was used for promotional purposes during the film's release, but was left outside on the grounds of Pinewood Studios, where it nearly rusted out of existence until it was scrapped. This should have been in a museum somewhere.
Science Fiction and the Infantry Vehicle
"Pearly" AT-APC from Space: Above and Beyond Episode "Pearly"
The Trade Federation MTT from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
The Tau "Devilfish" class APC from WH40K Universe
The Devilfish class APC is the mainstay of the Tau forces, and serves in several roles on the battlefield. It can transport 12 Fire Warriors in armoured protecting, the Devilfish class can also use its armaments of rotary "burst" cannons to provide fire support for the Tau forces along with closer support via gun drones. The base chassis of this alien APC is used for several other Tau armoured skimmer anti-gravity vehicles. The Tau Devilfish class APC is one of the most iconic pieces of Tau military technology and has become a symbol of this race of the WH40K universe. This is also one of the few examples of an alien infantry vehicle.
The M577 APC from the ALIENS Universe
The M577 APC was developed with the UD-4L Cheyenne tactical transport in mind during a major overhaul of Colonial Marine operations, tactics, and vehicles during 2170. With the requirements for the M577 to be transported from ship-to-shore via the Cheyenne, the APC is not has armoured has some of the US Army APCs in service, but this allows the Colonial Marines to hit exo-planet dirt quickly and with a great deal of firepower. While the primary function of the M577 is to be battle taxi for 13 Colonial Marines, it also is close fire support via the main turret along with having a portable TOC and enough supplies for three days of combat.
The Imperial AT-AT Walker APC from the Star Wars Universe
Despite having the toy to this iconic piece of Star Wars machinery, I still have to remind myself that this armoured walker is actually an APC. Seen in The Empire Strikes Back during the Battle of Hoth, the All Terrain Armoured Transport is designed to transport 40 stormtroopers in armoured and armed protect through the most difficult terrain. While slow, the AT-ATs were well armed and armoured, with their mere presence being a psychological fear weapon. These walkers were developed during the Clone Wars and improved upon during the Galactic Civil War, being used in the most key battles of that war. The term "AT-AT" was never used in the films, and was instead used by Kenner for the toy. Another element we never saw on-screen was how the hell the stormtroopers dismounted from these beasts. Many of us from my generation remember fondly the ATARI video game were we defended Echo Base from the march of the Imperial Walkers.
The Systems Alliance M35 "Mako" class IFV from the Mass Effect Universe
The COG "Armadillo" APC from the Gears of War Universe
The Systems Alliance XM44 "Hammerhead" class IFV from the Mass Effect Universe
The Combine Patrol APC from the Half-Life Universe
The Imperial Guard "Chimera" IFV from the WH40K Universe
The Imperium of Man "Rhino" APC from the WH40K Universe
The "Crawler" from Soldier (1998)
In the side sequel to BLADE RUNNER, 1998's Soldier, we see Kurt Russell's Todd super-soldier character being attacked by next-gen super-soldiers using an massive "Crawler" type APC on planet Arcadia 234. The Crawler is actually a Caterpillar 777 series off-highway truck with a number of sci-fi touches to camouflage the original vehicle. this vehicle was center stage during the final battle, with twin heavy machine guns blazing. This is one of the more insane on-screen sci-fi APCs, and it is a pity that it is not in a better film, for Soldier is a hollow production in need of a better writer and director.
The EDF "Astro Commando" class Jet Propelled APC from the Space Cruiser Yamato Universe
Infantry Vehicles in the Battletech Universe
While much of the focus of the planetary battlefields of the Battletech universe are the mecha, there does exist a number of APCs in the games. Battletech shows far-future military organizations that use combined arms tactics with everything from mechs, to attack helicopters to APCs. These battle taxis use tracks, wheels, and hover to transport regular infantry and/or jump-infantry into battle. Most of the APCs in the Battletech universe transport two platoons into battle. There are many locomotion types available and level of armored protections, from light, medium, to heavy. Many inner-sphere military organizations use the base APC hull for a number of other vehicles.
The EDF APC from Red Faction Guerrilla
Infantry Vehicles in the Renegade Legion Universe
Renegade Legion is one of the those forgotten classics of 198's sci-fi wargaming, where anti-grav tanks battle on exo-planets between the rebel Renegade Legion faction and the powerful TOG. Being this was created in the 1980's, the armoured units are fully developed with all manner of armored vehicles, including anti-gravity APCs and IFVs. These APCs and IFVs of the TOG are designed to carry two full platoons (30-60 troopers) into combat while being armed and armoured enough to serve as a medium tank in armoured engagements. The more ragtag Renegade Legion faction has APCs as well, but most are other TOG tech or cobbled together. This double duty seems to be the norm for much of the vehicles in the RL universe. One of these days, FWS will write a full blog-article on this forgotten classic of 198's sci-fi wargaming...ah, the 80's!"
Next Time on FWS...