While Russia’s new T-14 Armata main battle tank is widely seen as an extremely capable armored platform, budgetary restrictions have severely limited Moscow’s ability to purchase them in enough numbers to serve any real strategic purpose. If a conflict were to ignite between Russia and NATO forces in Europe, it would really be columns of the much older T-72B3 tank pushing the Russian advance into Europe, and likely in enough numbers to give NATO defenses a run for their money.
While the United States works on developing new (and old) defensive technologies that could be used to stem the tide of Russian troops and equipment pouring into Europe if such a conflict were ever to erupt, units like the U.S. Army’s 4th “Saber” Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment are training for the day they may be tasked with heading off such an invasion. The 2nd Cavalry is Europe’s only permanent fixture in terms of U.S. military mechanized units, meaning, they would likely be among the first to fight on Europe’s eastern flank.
In order to prepare for that situation, troops in the regiment have taken to playing a bit of dress up with their old, outdated equipment. They’re adorning aging M113 Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) with fiberglass and sheet metal additions to help them approximate the appearance of a similarly dated platform: Russia’s T-72s.
These M113s began their lives as general purpose APCs, first making their way into the field in the 1960s. Eventually, the M2 Bradley replaced the M113s in most operations, though some continued to live on in varying capacities throughout the force. These APCs, in particular, have had visibility modifications, or VISMODs, added to their exteriors to help them better approximate the shape of Russian tanks, complete with fake turrets and their associated shields. That fake turret is functional in a certain respect: using a Hoffman device to recreate the sound and concussion of the main gun firing.
Training against these modified M113s gives U.S. troops tasked with European security a number of advantages over different forms of mock aggressors. Most importantly, the general shape and paint scheme employed by the modified “tanks” will help ensure American troops are familiar with and even comfortable (to whatever extent possible) with hunting for and engaging real Russian platforms if they invade. That un-quantifiable familiarity can go far in eliminating hesitation or nervousness in battlefield troops who have grown accustomed to targeting assets that look like the opponent — which is why the same methodology is used in choosing and painting aggressor aircraft for dog fight training.
It’s also gives American troops a chance to train against an older platform that approximates the terrain capabilities of Russian equipment — helping them to better predict battlefield movements and tactics.