Tag Archives: Fort Irwin

Paging Robert German, Mr. German…

The National Training Center at Fort Irwin, in conjunction with the National Museum of Military Vehicles in Dubois, Wyoming, is trying to make contact with a former track crewman, for historical purposes:

Mr. Robert German, the National Museum of Military Vehicles found your Dog Tags in the M551 Sheridan you drove at the National Training Center. It looks as if you may have been on the Dragon Team, Operations Group, National Training Center The museum curator would like to speak with you and reunite you with your items. Please contact us!

The Sheridan, as we have discussed in previous posts, the much-maligned but very niche M551 Sheridan light tank err, “Airborne Assault Vehicle” entered service in 1967. The 15-ton tracked vehicle could be penetrated by 12.7mm (.50 cal) gunfire, but in theory, could zap an enemy T-34/55 with its innovative M81E1 Rifled 152 mm Gun/ Shillelagh missile launcher. It provided a lot more punch than a jeep with a recoilless rifle, in other words. 

XM551 Sheridan prototype, October 1963 (Rock Island Arsenal Museum) 

Sheridan being LAPES’d out of the back of a C-130

The 82nd Airborne’s 3rd Battalion, 73rd Armor could air-deliver 50~ Sheridans anywhere in the world in 24 hours(ish)– provided they had enough lead time!– and did so in Panama in 1989 and Desert Storm in 1990.

Meant to be replaced in airborne service with the XM8 Buford Armored Gun System, which never got off the ground (see what I did there?) the 82nd retired their aging Sheridans in 1997 but the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment at the NTC kept a few around for use as viz-modded OPFOR vehicles until 2004.

“M551 Sheridan light tanks cross the desert during an Opposing Forces exercise at the National Training Center. The tanks have visual modifications designed to make it resemble Soviet armor.” (NARA 170912-A-VT981-0001)

The Army’s Blackhorse ‘Russian’ brigade: Vehicles of the OPFOR

The 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment based at Fort Irwin’s National Training Center has a lot of vehicles that look more Moscow than Motown.

Since 1994, the 11th ACR’s task at the NTC is to serve as the armored opposing force, the home team at the sprawling 996 sq. mile Mojave Desert base where they regularly engage active and reserve mechanized and armor units in war games. In a tradition going back to the 1980s, the OPFOR uses a series of what are termed “surrogate vehicles,” visually modified Humvees, M113 armored personnel carriers, and others, which provide a different silhouette, closer to former Warsaw Pact BMP-1 vehicles and T-72 tanks, for visiting units to look for and fight against.

Deep down inside, there is a Humvee under there. (Photos: Sgt. David Edge and Pfc. Austin Anyzeski/U.S. Army)

Oddball would fit right in. “Well, yeah, man, you see, like, all the tanks we come up against are bigger and better than ours, so all we can hope to do is, like, scare ’em away, y’know. This gun is an ordinary 76mm but we add this piece of pipe onto it, and the Krauts think, like, maybe it’s a 90mm. We got our own ammunition, it’s filled with paint. When we fire it, it makes… pretty pictures. Scares the hell outta people!”

These started life as M113s. In the 1980s, the NTC OPFOR used M551 Sheridans, but they were replaced by 2004 with the cheaper and more prolific M113.

More in my column at Guns.com