U.S. Navy SEALs operate Desert Patrol Vehicles while preparing for an upcoming mission. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 1st Class Arlo Abrahamson)
In the 1980s, the U.S. Army needed to be able to rapidly deploy a sizable force to face off against heavy forces. But that requirement created two problems: Most light forces were little more than speed bumps against tanks, and it took a long time to deliver a heavy force – and their supplies – to a likely theater outside of Europe or South Korea. So the Army began to explore ways to create a light force that could hold its own.
Enter the 9th Motorized, a force that proved it's utility in several big exercises during the mid-1980s, most notably in Border Star 85 when the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment lost badly to the 3rd Brigade of the 9th Motorized. The Army's strategy seemed to be playing out in a good way.
But a change at the top of the Army detoured the promise of the 9th. The new Army Chief of Staff favored the light infantry division concept over the motorized division. Ultimately, four active light infantry divisions (the 6th, 7th, 10th Mountain, and 25th) were formed, with one more, the 29th, in the National Guard. Later, the 9th, as well as the 6th and 7th Infantry Divisions, were deactivated after the fall of the Berlin Wall as the budget ax fell.
The 9th Infantry Division first made use of Fast Attack Vehicles; basically, souped-up dune buggies that special operations units had used during Desert Storm. The Army later went with the M1114 High-Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicle, or HMMWV.
The signature tool used in the front-line battalions was the Mk 19 automatic grenade launcher. With a range of almost 2500 yards, the Mk 19 could send one grenade a second onto a target. The grenade blasted lethal fragments 50 feet from the point of impact. The Mk 19 was also able to take out light armored vehicles. While it might not have been enough to take out a BMP or T-72, the Mk 19 could wreak havoc on supply convoys or rear-area headquarters units. Depending on the table of organization and equipment, a front-line battalion with the 9th Motorized could have had almost 100 of these powerful weapons.
The 9th Motorized also made heavy use of the BGM-71 TOW missile to deal with the threat posed by tanks and infantry fighting vehicles. The TOW had a reputation as a reliable tank-killer, with a range of almost two and half miles and a 13-pound warhead. The TOW provided a heavy punch when the Army decided not to use a ground-launched version of the AGM-114 Hellfire. Infantry assigned to the 9th Motorized also made use of the FGM-77 Dragon anti-tank missile. With a range of just under a mile, the Dragon added to the firepower of the division, despite its drawbacks.
Would something like the 9th Motorized Division's organization work today? With the FGM-148 Javelin, and the development of lightweight UAVs, it may be worth bringing back the concept – particularly in the fight against ISIS.