Armored Reconnaissance Airborne Assault Vehicle
The M551 Sheridan tank was designed in the early 1960's, as a need arose for U.S. forces needing a light tank. Constructed of aluminum armor, it is extremely fast, using a 300 hp Detroit Diesel engine and cross drive transmission. It mounts a steel turret and an aluminum hull. It was air transportable and fully amphibious with the screen around the sides raised. The main gun fired a 152mm standard projectile or a missile. It packed a lot of punch for a small tank. A similar gun was also used on the M728 Combat Engineer Vehicle. It is equipped with nuclear, biological, and chemical protection for the crew of four men. This enables it to fight in almost any climate or situation. The vehicle has seen combat use in Vietnam, Panama and Desert Storm, and it is used today for training in the California desert by the Armored Force Opposing Forces training center. Weight is 34,900 lbs. Top speed is 43 mph. It was built by the Allison Division of General Motors.
The M551 Sheridan was developed to provide the US Army with a light armored reconnaissance vehicle with heavy firepower. The main armament consists of an 152mm M81 gun/missile launcher capable of firing conventional ammunition and the MGM-51 Shillelagh antitank missile (20 conventional rounds and 8 missiles). Due to problems with the gun-tube-launched antitank missile, the Sheridan was not fielded widely throughout the Army. The gun would foul with caseless ammuniton, gun firing would interfere with missle electronics, and the entire vehicle recoiled with unusual vigor when the gun was fired, since the 152mm gun was too big for the light-weight chassis. The Shillelagh missles were evidently never used in anger. In addition to the main gun/missile launcher, the M551 is armed with a 7.62mm M240 machine gun and a 12.7mm M2 HB antiaircraft machine gun. A Detroit Diesel 6V-53T 300hp turbo-charged V-6 diesel engine and an Allison TG-250-2A poweshift transmission provide the Sheridan's power. Protection for the four-man crew is provided by an aluminum hull and steel turret. Although light enough to be airdrop-capable, the alumninum armour was thin enough to be pierced by heavy machine-gun rounds, and the vehicle was particularly vulnerable to mines.
Initially produced in 1966, the M551 was fielded in 1968. 1,562 M551s were built between 1966 and 1970. The Sheridan saw limited action in Vietnam, where many deficiencies were revealed. The missle system was useless against an enemy that employed tanks, though the Sheridan saw a lot of use towards the end of the war because of its mobility. The M551 "General Sheridan" armored reconnaissance airborne assault vehicle had been under development as "a lightweight armored vehicle to support ground reconnaissance." In mid-1969 it began to replace some of the tanks in the armored cavalry squadrons. The relatively large 152-mm. gun and launcher fired combustible-case conventional ammunition. It could also fire the Shillelagh missile but was not used for this purpose in Vietnam. The gun was superior to the 90-mm. tank gun against both bunkers and personnel, and its canister round was excellent to open up bamboo thickets. A disadvantage of the M551 was its limited ability to "bust" through dense jungle. The main battle tank was greatly superior in this respect.
Sheridan-equiped units participated in Operation Just Cause in Panama (1989), and was deployed to Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Shield. As projectile technology advanced, the Sheridan's potential declined and it was phased out of the US inventory beginning in 1978. The M551 was last used by the 82nd Airborne Division. Some 330 "visually-modified" Sheridans represent threat tanks and armored vehicles at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California.
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