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Building an Anti-Tank Section from Scratch without a Playbook

Building an Anti-Tank Section from Scratch without a Playbook

Another article by: Tom Rozman

The U.S. Army was introducing its first generation wire guided heavy anti-tank missile system as part of its major post Viet Nam modernization.  The new weapons system, the M220 TOW (Tube-launched, Optically tracked, Wire-guided) missile would be introduced initially to the armored force in an interim configuration.  The M220 missile launcher would be mounted in an M113A1 armored personnel carrier that had been adapted with an M233 adaptor kit to accommodate the missile and its launcher.   The adapted vehicle was referred to as the M220 TOW vehicle or TOW CAP.  The adapted M113A1 in the initial version TOW CAP looked like a track with a truck tarp rigged over its rear half—the tarp being the  ballistic shield that gave some protection to the launcher crew.

The priority for fielding the system would be to forward deployed units in Germany and units in CONUS (Continental U.S.) slated for immediate deployment to possible contingencies where armored forces would be encountered.  The first armored units to receive the system in CONUS would be a separate infantry brigade that had been reconfiguring as a separate mechanized infantry brigade that would have a maneuver force of an armored cavalry troop, an armored battalion and two mechanized infantry battalions.  The brigade’s contingency mission was to serve as the interim armored force capability of the XVIIIth Airborne Corps until a Mechanized Infantry Division could be formed at Ft. Stewart, Georgia—ultimately the brigade was to become one of that division’s three brigades.

Company A of one of the infantry battalions had been receiving information about the new anti-tank missile system it would be provided but as yet had not received a comprehensive briefing or fielding plan.  Soldiers were arriving as replacements in the company who had been trained on the new system and information had been received about organization and when the two M220 Tow CAPs would be issued to the company.  But no detailed information had appeared concerning any systematic program to organize a new anti-tank section of two squads that would combine with the three 81mm mortar squads of the mortar platoon into a new  “weapons platoon” or take the anti-tank crews through a gunnery tables program to qualify them.  Weapons qualification would likely be a readiness issue soon after the systems arrived.

The company commander had been closely monitoring this development around a swirl of other significant activity—deployment to McGregor Range in New Mexico, test operations for the MICV (the Mechanized Infantry Combat Vehicle—later Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle), support of a sister National Guard mechanized company’s summer active training, transition training for over 20 mid and senior NCOs in over strength specialties to the infantry specialty, an annual inspector general evaluation of the company, brigade platoon competition and several field validation exercises.  His assessment indicated that to date no known program was emerging to form the new anti-tank sections and the commander did not want two new systems showing up and sitting idle until a program formed.  He wanted to move as quickly as possible on receipt of the systems to mission ready status.

The commander convened a planning meeting to explore the situation.  The meeting included the company executive officer (XO), the mortar platoon leader, the company first sergeant, the mortar platoon sergeant and the company supply and motor sergeants.   All had been given warning of the meeting and targeted items to research and be able to discuss.  The mortar platoon leader was tasked to research all available information regarding the new section to be formed.  This would include all available training support systems immediately accessible in the training support system to underpin independent company tactical and gunnery training preparatory to receiving issue of the M220 TOW CAP systems.

The planning group was formed into a project team.  Its discussions and several following meetings determined on a company plan to accept and integrate the new weapons system into the company.  The plan included the following.

  • The Mortar platoon would be provisionally reorganized into a weapons platoon with an anti-tank section of two squads.
  • The company first sergeant and the orderly room staff would identify all recently assigned soldiers having the new specialty for employing the new system assigning them to the mortar platoon.
  • The mortar platoon leader assisted by the company supply sergeant would take all action to hand-receipt all available training systems from post training support.
  • The Supply sergeant and his arms room staff would initiate and follow through on all necessary planning and in cooperation with the mortar platoon leader, action necessary to be prepared to accept the new systems and their associated accessory equipment to include maintenance of the M220 systems. (The post the unit was garrisoned on had all the training systems available in quantity as it was one of the primary advanced individual training centers training new soldiers and NCOs on the M220 system.)
  • The Motor sergeant would research and initiate all action associated with the maintenance and parts stock levels associated with the M220 TOW Cap vehicle systems.
  • The Mortar platoon leader would plan and conduct a gunnery program for each squad and the combined section using the simulation devices that had been developed for the purpose—the objective being to have the two squads gunnery certified before receipt of their M220s.
  • The company XO would oversea all of the new sections necessary support systems provided by the company which would include supporting the mortar platoon for the gunnery exercise with, in addition to its organic ¼ ton vehicle, one of the company’s other ¼ tons.

All of these elements were integrated into a company plan to build and form the new section.  The overall plan had a timeline to completion date that coincided with the issuing date of the new equipment.  Each sub-element of the plan had separate earlier timeline due dates.  The company commander ordered the plan to proceed shortly after the first planning meeting.

The plan proceeded in good form and timely fashion.  This progress was supported by the lack of competition for access to the training systems at the installations training support facility.  They remained completely available.  As well, excellent facilities adaptable to the gunnery tables were at hand at the brigade’s airfield.

On arrival of the M220 Tow CAPs, the company’s anti-tank section and its two squads and headquarters had been formed to full strength, completed the gunnery tables to certification and exercised the section tactically using jeep mounted M220s on loan to work tactical problems.  The unit accepted its new M220 TOW CAPS as a trained and ready unit.  The company’s Anti-Tank Section Organization Team had done its work and done it well.

The company on receipt of the M220s could report to battalion that its anti-tank section was at level one for readiness.  This result was a direct function of receiving information of an impending action, analyzing that information, taking prompt early measures to evaluate what needed to be done, forming an action team to do the necessary work, employing the team to develop an action plan and  then moving the team forward to execute the plan.

Success was a direct product of all leaders at every level being involved almost as soon as there was knowledge of the requirement and interacting positively as members of a project team.  Though leadership was involved throughout, that leadership amplified their effectiveness by engaging all soldiers involved in the task and allowing them a full hand in being part of the team and having input.