The Case for the Scimitar

The light infantry need tanks. In the coming Waypoint 2028 Divisional structures, every division will have at least a battalion of tanks. The Waypoint 2028 Divisions were published at the end of 2021, and the Ukrainian-Russo War kicked off a few months later, causing a lot of people to question the value of tanks. Some are arguing for only robotic tanks. Truth be told, a lot of wrong lessons are coming from that war, but the value of the tank is still priceless to the infantryman.

Courtesy the US Army

While the Pentagon and the Defense Industry will likely hem and haw for years or decades to find a good fit for the light infantry tank battalion, a suitable weapon system is already available and combat proven. The Scimitar.

Now that you have spilled your coffee in your lap, let’s examine why the Scimitar works for the role of supporting the light infantry.

The infantry possess a first class tank and armored vehicle killing weapon system. The Javelin is capable of destroying the tanks of the world. The infantry are in less need of a tank killing tank than before, though we frequently find need for an armored vehicle to tear into an enemy strong point that soldiers cannot overcome the firepower from. This role has proven itself time and again.

In World War Two, we landed tanks on the vast majority of amphibious lands in the pacific. Cape Glouchester is a great case study in just how valuable to the foot soldier the armored fire support is. In Europe, against the vaunted Germany armor, Sherman tanks still fired significantly more high explosive rounds than armor piercing ones.

Korea, Vietnam, even Panama, saw the need for armored fire support. The destruction of bunkers and enemy strong points by armored vehicles saved lives. Vietnam also saw the employment of tanks in support of the defense.

During the Battle of Sadr City in 2008, the 25mm auto cannon of the M2A3 Bradley attached to each of my tank sections proved to be very valuable in destroying enemy forces in the dense urban terrain. One advantage of the 25mm versus the 120mm cannon on the M1A2 Abrams was the lack of collateral damage it caused. This is a two-fold advantage. Rubble is easier to defend than standing buildings because there are way more hiding spots with opening to engage from cover. Given time to prepare defenses, infantry can make better use of rubble. Read any account from World War Two that fought in both relatively unscathed towns and then in heavily damaged ones, and they will all remark on the difficulty of seizing a damaged one. The other factor of the advantage is a moral one that needs no explaining.

Afghanistan was no different in the need for armor. NATO deployed tanks and they were used to great effect. Ukraine also is using their tanks to good effect in the current war.

One of the challenges we have repeatedly found, and I have experienced first hand, is large tanks sometimes are too big to fit. The infantryman is at home in restricted terrain, often going places the tank has a hard time getting to. The M1A2 is a behemoth, weighing 70 plus tons. More importantly, the vehicle width is 12 feet and the height over 8 feet. With the turret traversed to either side, the space required triples. Because of these dimensions, an Abrams is unlikely to get to the fight in the forest or traverse the narrow trails of the world. The M2A3 Bradley is just as big, though the turret doesn’t need backside clearance.

Light infantry need an armored vehicle that is smaller and can follow them through most forests and narrow lanes and trails. Something about half the size or smaller would be better than an Abrams.

A sobering consideration is the armor of the vehicle. Realistically, it is vital for all to understand that every armored vehicle can be destroyed and the crews wounded or killed. The rate of Purple Hearts in the tank platoons of Team Steel (C/1-68AR) during the Sadr City fight attests to that. Adding more and more armor is not the answer to modern weapons. Tactics and better use of cover and concealment is. To this end, a smaller vehicle will be more likely to fit into cover and concealment. A tank supporting light infantry will be part of a combined arms team that shall employ solid tactics to improve the effectiveness and survivability of all members. Once you come to terms that no tank is invulnerable, your options increase dramatically.

British Army Scimitar demonstrating going down narrow lanes where a larger tank would likely trim the shrubbery, photo courtesy of the British Army

An armored vehicle that fits the infantry support role is already in existence, the Scimitar. The Scimitar, built by BAE, has been in service around the world for decades. It and its brother Scorpion, were the only armored vehicles to see combat in the Falkland Islands. Supporting the light British Infantry was successful. The Scimitar also saw combat in Iraq (both times) and Afghanistan. The British use the Scimitar as a reconnaissance platform, but it has proven itself in the fire support role also. While the Brits are planning to phase the Scimitar out of service soon, the vehicle is perfect for the role of supporting light infantry.

The Scimitar is small, one of the smallest armored vehicles in service, just barely taller than a soldier and just seven feet wide. The vehicle is about the same size as a small pickup truck and weighs under 10 tons. The vehicle is light enough it has been slung under CH-47 Chinook helicopters in combat. This capability vastly increases the utility to the 101st Airborne (Air Assault) Division, as well as the 82nd and 11th Airborne Divisions. The Scimitar will also fit into a C-130 and likely could be dropped by parachute if necessary. (It is also worth noting the C-130 and Ch-47 Chinook are both even older than the Scimitar.) The nimble size of the Scimitar allows it to go places most tanks can’t.

Armed with a 30mm Rarden L21 auto cannon, the Scimitar is quite lethal to enemy infantry and light armor or field fortifications. A basic load of 165 rounds is enough for a stiff fight, though if I were the commander, I would plan on burning through a unit of fire every day in combat or more. A coaxial mounted 7.62mm M240 (FN MAG) with 2000 rounds of ammo would actually be used more in support of the infantry.

The logistical requirement of the Scimitar is much more manageable than that of the Abrams or Bradley. This allows the logistical tail of the light divisions to remain relatively small.

Modernized by BAE, the current version of the Scimitar is optimized for the modern battlefield communications and optics. Additional updates to the survivability and mobility of the vehicle were part of the modernization package. Today’s Scimitar is leaps and bounds ahead of the 1969 debut version.

A few tweaks would improve the Scimitar for service in the US Army. I would like to see the Javelin added to the turret. The addition does not need over-thinking or over–engineering. An external mounting on either side of the turret would allow the Scimitar to kill any enemy tank that wandered into its path. The concept and technology already exists. The addition of a field phone box on the back of the vehicle, just like the Abrams would give the crew the ability to coordinate with the squad along side.

Scimitar in profile shows the compact dimensions. Photo courtesy of the British Army.

The best part of the Scimitar, is its combat proven record. The vehicle has already finished its teething period decades ago, and the Brits have updated and upgraded it as combat tests it. In contrast, efforts to develop a tank for the US Army have been slightly worse than a debacle for the last three decades. The development and then cancelation of attempt after attempt indicates it would be unreasonable to expect a good candidate development in time for the rollout of the Waypoint 2028 light, air assault, and airborne divisions.

Now is the time to look to combat proven vehicles instead of wasting decades and millions in pursuit of the perfect vehicle – eventually realizing nothing is perfect. Let’s invest in the Scimitar to fill the tank battalions in the Waypoint 2028 light, air assault, and airborne division.

May you keep your track tension and boresight. – Galen

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