Fears raised over Army vehicle cost

House defense authorizers are warning the Army that its ambitious plans for a new ground combat vehicle could lead to skyrocketing costs and delays. 

As the House Armed Services Committee begins considering the 2011 defense authorization bill, the Subcommittee on Air and Land Forces is expected on Thursday to recommend that the Army take an incremental approach to the ground combat vehicle (GCV) program. 

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The panel wants the Army to focus first on the most critical technology, such as vehicle and crew survivability, in its initial GCV model — rather than trying to include multiple technologies at once, such as non-lethal weapons and the ability to defeat heavily armored vehicles at long ranges. 

Requiring too many technologies at once could complicate the vehicle’s design and prove too costly, the defense authorizers warn. 

The new ground combat vehicle is crucial for the Army after Defense Secretary Robert Gates last year scrapped the Army’s plans for combat vehicles under the defunct $160 billion Future Combat Systems (FCS) program — its flagship modernization effort. 

Gates scrapped the manned ground vehicle portion of FCS because the vehicles, as designed, would not have adequately protected soldiers from roadside bombs. The Defense secretary supports the Army’s new effort, but is pressing the Army to get the vehicle ready for combat sooner than is currently planned. The Army anticipates it would take seven years to see the first vehicles come off the production line. 

The Air and Land Forces subcommittee is expected to authorize the Army’s full request for $934 million to research and develop the new ground combat vehicle. 

But the panel is not expected to fully back the remaining technologies developed under FCS, which the Army is fielding as part of the so-called early infantry brigade combat team (EIBCT). 

The panel is expected to recommend cutting the entire procurement portion of the EIBCT — $682 million — as well as $208 million in research and development funds. The Army requested a total of $1.6 billion for the research and development of EIBCT equipment. 

The panel is slashing the procurement funds for the brigade in part because the Army canceled the Non-Line of Sight Launch System in April, meaning that the $350 million in procurement and the $81.2 million in development funds the Army requested in February would no longer be necessary. NLOS-LS was the single most expensive part of the early brigade. 

But the panel wants $85 million to be transferred into Navy accounts so that the service can complete the NLOS-LS development for its new Littoral Combat Ship. 

The panel also is recommending the cuts to the procurement accounts for the early brigade because it has found that all of the technologies—unmanned aerial vehicles, network integration kits, small unmanned ground vehicles and unattended ground sensors — have significant performance shortfalls. 

Meanwhile, the House Armed Services Strategic Forces subcommittee on Wednesday recommended increases in funds for missile defenses, including more money for the Aegis and Theater High Altitude Area Defense systems and supported restoration of funds for the ground-based midcourse defense program.