Tanks. Being tanks.
The M88 has been the primary heavy recovery asset of the US military and beyond for over fifty years. Both the US Army and USMC and many foreign armies from Brazil to Australia along with many continental Europe and Middle Eastern nations operate the M88, proving the vehicle is one of the best ARVs on the market. Obviously the US is the biggest user with nearly 700 A1s and A2s in service. The same amount have been sold all across the globe with the next biggest user been Egypt with nearly 300 m88s in service
The first M88 first rolled of the production line in 1961 and has served many nations with great distinction in battle and peace time. The original M88 served 16 years before replacement in 1977 with the M88A1. The A1 served another 20 years before the next variant appered. A further upgrade was sought in 1991, as it required two M88A1s to tow a single M1 Abrams MBT. The result was the M88A2, which ushered in a standardisation of the older m88 fleet.
Even though the M88’s three iterations are based on the old hulls of the M48 (M88) and M60 (M88A1 and A2), the vehicle has weathered the test of time as a useful asset on the battlefield, a testament to the original designer's and manufacturing company, Bowen Mclaughlin York. Production and support for the fleet was originally handled by BMY until 1994 when United Defence and Anniston Army Depot took over and guided and molded the m88 until 2005. They were bought out by BAE Systems, who subsequently took over the development of the A1 and A2 at a crucial point. On the 20th February 2017, BAE confirmed a $28M USD contract was made to upgrade 11 M88A2s to M88A2 HERCULES (Heavy Equipment Recovery Combat Utility Lifting Excavation System) standards by the end of summer this year at the York plant in Pennsylvania (Edit: Hercules acronym covers all A2s, not just an upgrade portion).
At first, the M88 had a five-man crew but very quickly it was reduced and all versions used a 3-man crew and have been armed with the good old M2 browning 50.cal for close-in defense. Both versions use a Continental twin turbo diesel engine (a version of the AVDS-1790 used by both the M48 and M60). The M88 an M88A1 used the 750hp engine while the heavier A2 uses a modified version that kicks out a mighty 1050hp engine, kicking the vehicles to a respectable 26mph (on the a1) and 30mph (on the A2). Even though the A2 is only 4mph faster, it is nearly 13 tons heavier while still sharing the same 3-speed gearbox and torsion bar suspension.
The M88’s role is the repair of damaged vehicles and the recovery of combat-damaged or bogged-in vehicles, potentially while under fire. A big selling point of the M88A2 is its impressive recovery strength while using a single line: it can, using a single tow line, recover a vehicle up to 70 tons or with both its tow lines can tow 140 tons (Edit: but both winches do not provide 140t of pulling power, the main winch provides 70t and 140t in a 2:1 configuration with snatch block, minus friction of rigging. The aux winch is only for paying out and paying in the main winch cable). Its strong A-frame boom crane can lift a gross weight of 35t Along with its incredible recovery capability, The M88A2’s protection level was massively improved to resist 30mm AP shells across its frontal arc and the same level of protection for the sides of the crew module, plus armored side skirts and full NBC protection. Smoke dischargers were added to produce a protective screen, something the earlier m88s lacked.
In Afghanistan, the crane was also seen as an asset in itself in aiding the installation of defensive walls for both ISAF and Afghan security forces at patrol bases provide essential protection to units setting up or repairing bases as well as its routine recovery tasking. During 2003 M88A1s deployed to Iraq where they were used to great effect removing Iraqi defenses and aided US forces to install their own fortifications. During March that year, an M88 took the screen in a memorable event that was seen to symbolize a new, free Iraq. Local Iraqis flagged down a passing M88 and requested the US soldiers use the crane to rip down a massive statue of Saddam Hussein in front of a massive crowd of jubilant Iraqis.
Having spoken to many A2 operators. a common problem was always spoken about was a high failure rate of the main winch cables. If correct tension on the cables was not kept, the cables had a tendency to twist and bunch up around the other cables, causing ‘bird-nesting’. While this is a common issue in recovery vehicles, untangling this mess on the M88 was a lengthy task.
Being an ex Challenger 2 crewman, I believe it is unbelievably important to have assets like these M88 ARV, CRARRV etc (a British ARV based on the Challenger hull but is very similar to the M88) readily available alongside armored vehicle units. Recovery vehicles provide the ability to get mechanics to a stricken vehicle and either get it rapidly back in the fight or drag it back to a Level 2 maintenance location so it can get the TLC it needs. I have seen these recovery vehicles literally drag IED victim vehicles back to camps without trouble. To a crewman of a vehicle that's as heavy as Chally or Abrams, it is a great feeling in the back of your head that if you got immobilized there is a backup plan to get you out of danger. At 57 years old, however, one wonders how many years the old girl is gonna serve before being retired and an ARV based of the M1 hull comes into service.