Marines Under Armor: An Interview with Kenneth Estes

Tank and AFV News recently had the opportunity to pose a series of questions to retired Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel and professor of history Kenneth Estes.  Mr. Estes is the author of several books on tanks and armored warfare, most notably his history of the development and role of AFVs in the USMC, Marines Under Armor.  His other works include (but not limited to) Tanks on the Beaches: A Marine Tanker in the Pacific War (Texas A&M University Military History Series, 85.), A European Anabasis: Western European Volunteers in the German Army and SS, 1940-45, Into the Breach at Pusan: The 1st Provisional Marine Brigade in the Korean War (Campaigns and Commanders Series), Marine Officer’s Guide, 7th Edition and also several Osprey New Vanguard series titles.  Mr. Estes is a Seattle native and holds a doctorate in Modern European History from the University of Maryland.

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You had a long and successful career with the USMC, having held positions such as Company commander, instructor, historian and writer before retiring at the grade of Lieutenant Colonel (full career synopsis available at end of interview).  Describe the beginning of your USMC career.

CPend DelMar Apr70I graduated from the Naval Academy in 1969, took the basic USMC officer course [The Basic School] Aug69-Jan70, attended USMC Tracked Vehicle School, Tank Officer Course Feb-Apr70.  At the USMC Tank Officer Course, Camp Pendleton (1970), I trained on the M48A3, M67A2 and M103A2 tanks.  This included firing the machine guns, 90mm and 120mm tank cannon and the flame projector of the M67A2. Normally each of us in that course would have preferred assignment to the U.S. Army course at Ft Knox, but only one officer per Basic School class was so detailed. However, the truth of the matter was that the USMC course was fully ‘hands on’ and personal training for just 10 tank officer trainees and therefore much more suitable, and I found out months later that lieutenants attending the Armor Officer Basic Course at Ft Knox in those years did not drive the vehicles and several missed gunnery because of range weather conditions. Moreover, the USMC Tracked Vehicle School was located at gorgeous Del Mar Basin on the coast near Oceanside CA, so one could enjoy all the merits of Californication.

You either served or trained on the M48, M60 and M103 US tanks.  What were your impressions of these vehicles?

Well, by the time I came to serve in them, these were vehicles introduced into service in 1955-58, modernized in 1963-64 with most applicable M60 upgrades and once again rebuilt during the Vietnam War. So, they were very familiar to all hands and spares were available in the system. The principal difficulty was that the USMC supply system did not function very well in delivering spare parts to the units and particularly did not draw items well from the item manager [US Army]. Army provisioning of parts was much richer for units and we envied this.

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Marine Corps Modernizing Tank Commander’s Weapon Sation

DVIDS has posted a press release about the US Marine Corps AIDATS system (Abrams integrated display and targeting System.)  We have posted half of the article below.  To read the full article, click here.

1000w_q95Marine Corps Systems Command is modernizing the tank commander’s weapon station on the M1A1 tank by developing a suite of systems that give tank commanders and their gunners a hunter-killer edge over their enemies.

The new Abrams Integrated Display and Targeting System, Tank Commander Single Handle and slew-to-cue capability make up the modernized trifecta that cuts time to enemy engagement by half while increasing accuracy, range and lethality on the battlefield.

ABRAMS INTEGRATED DISPLAY AND TARGETING SYSTEM

Responding to feedback from Marines, the Abrams Integrated Display and Targeting System, or AIDATS, upgrades the thermal and day sights on the stabilized commander’s weapon station through a state-of-the-art, high-definition camera and permanently mounted color display.

“The most significant benefit—the main reason why AIDATS was started—is the color display,” said Michael Kreiner, AIDATS project officer in MCSC’s Armor and Fire Support Systems. “Users didn’t like the black and white camera that was in the tank before, because they have a hard time distinguishing between different color trucks.”

In battle, situational awareness is key for tank commanders. Kreiner and his team are leveraging technology currently available in the marketplace to provide a thermal sight that can be used around the clock and provide a color day camera with a color display.

“The thermal sight can be used for 24 hours,” said James Shaffer, systems engineer in AFSS. “It has low light capabilities, can see through obscurants, and works in the diverse environments under adverse weather conditions.”

The display for both upgraded thermal and day sights will be hard mounted in front of the tank commander, allowing him to minimize extra movement and focus on the action. Better optics enable commanders to increase identification and detection range while in the tank, which will improve situational awareness.

With AIDATS, tank commanders will have double the identification range with thermal sight and triple the identification range for the day sight, said Gunnery Sgt. Dennis Downes, M1A1 project officer in AFSS.

“AIDATS also has an azimuth indicator that will allow the tank commander to identify where his weapon is in relation to the vehicle at that moment,” said Downes. “On the legacy system, the tank commander had no situational awareness of where the weapon system is in relationship to the turret.”

More here.

US Marine Corps selects final two competitors for ACV program

baes_178500Multiple news outlets are reporting that the USMC has selected BAE Systems and SAIC as the two finalists for the engineering and manufacturing development phase of the Amphibious Combat Vehicle Phase 1 Increment 1 (ACV 1.1) program.

The two companies were selected from five competitors, and each was awarded a contract to build 13 vehicles now, with an option to build three additional vehicles each at a later date. BAE Systems’ contract is for $103.8 million, while SAIC’s is for $121.5 million.

Vehicle delivery is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2016, with testing starting around January 2017 and lasting about a year.

For further information, please check out these articles:

USNI News   Defense News   Washington Post   www.Marines.mil

 

USMC set to pick two bidders from field of five ACV options

iveco_superav1Jane’s is reporting that the USMC will soon select two designs from the current field of five options for the AVC (Amphibious Combat Vehicle) program.  According to the article, the five proposed designs for ACV have come from Advanced Defense Vehicle Systems (ADVS), a relatively small company from Michigan; BAE Systems and Iveco with a version of the Superav; General Dynamics with a variant of its Piranha; Lockheed Martin offering a yet-unknown bid (it originally teamed with Patria Land Systems to offer a variant of the AMV called Havoc but separated earlier this year); and STK and SAIC with a version of the Terrex.  All of these options are 8×8 wheeled vehicles, as opposed to the tracked Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle which was cancelled in 2011.  These wheeled options also feature slower in water speeds than the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.  According to the Jane’s article, the qualifications for the ACV as far as water speed are “the capacity to achieve water mobility performance on par with or greater than the existing assault amphibian (the AAV7A1 Assault Amphibious Vehicle.)”

Full article here.