Why Army needs new combat vehicle

When Defense Secretary Robert Gates moved to cancel the Future Combat Systems manned vehicles, he directed the Army to re-evaluate the requirements, technology and approach, and re-launch the Army’s vehicle modernization program. With the Army’s re-evaluation, some current vehicles gained an extended life. But the Army determined that older vehicles cannot incorporate the advanced technologies needed to prevail on 21st century battlefields, nor optimally protect our soldiers. For this reason, the Army indeed needs a new Ground Combat Vehicle. Four key parameters drive this assessment.

1. Lessons learned. During eight years of war, IEDs have accounted for over 50 percent of U.S. casualties. While new mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles provide significant force protection, this protection from explosive blasts comes with limited off-road mobility. In fact, no vehicle in today’s inventory offers the needed combination of capabilities: an MRAP’s soldier protection from improvised explosive device (IED) blasts, the Bradley’s tactical mobility, and the Stryker’s operational mobility. Hard-won lessons clearly reflect the need for combining protection and mobility to address battle conditions now and in the future. Such lessons drive the demand for a versatile combat vehicle that incorporates all these characteristics.

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2. Growth potential. Current combat vehicles were not designed with the capacity to incorporate available technology and adapt to match potential adversaries. However, every combat vehicle type, including MRAP, has been modified during years of war. Growth potential is really about the pace of change and means that vehicle designs must anticipate upgrades. Combat vehicles founded in 1970s technologies have increasingly less, if any, cost-effective growth and expansion potential. The basic designs limit potential to achieve greater survivability, mobility, fuel efficiency, and soldier capacity. Bottom line: Even with projected improvements, no vehicle will satisfy all of the areas needed in a GCV and short-term improvements will not effectively meet the long-term demands of land warfare.

3. Cost and sustainability. Recurring deployments are wearing out an already aging fleet of combat vehicles. The long-term vehicle cost issue is full lifecycle cost. As vehicles reach their projected 20- to 30-year life span, lifecycle costs rise at an increasing rate and figure as a critical budgetary matter. Prior to operations in Iraq, a Bradley Fighting Vehicle required new tracks once a year; and in 2003, extensive use led to new tracks every 60 days at a cost of $22,576 per vehicle. In fiscal year 2003, tracks for Bradley Fighting Vehicles cost nearly $230 million, or about three times the amount spent prior to the Army’s deployment to Iraq.  Similarly, a 2004 RAND report states that a 14-year-old M1 Abrams tank has twice as many critical failures as a new one while these failures increase at a compound rate of 5 percent per year. In short, lifecycle costs for an aging fleet grow at an increasing rate with age of fleet.

4. Acquisition reform. Bradley, Abrams, and Paladin all took over 10 years to develop. In comparison, MRAP and Stryker leveraged existing or modified off-the-shelf technologies. Even though these off-the-shelf systems made it to the field in less time, they still took a relatively long time to field and arrived with key limitations. As Gen. George Casey has stated, “One of the things that we’re focused on is making the Ground Combat Vehicle a model of acquisition reform.” Viewing the GCV as an opportunity, the Army can and must shift to faster development that includes growth to account for a 75 percent solution, followed by planned adjustments. Operating under conditions of complexity and uncertainty drives the need to implement acquisition reform.

In conclusion, the Army does need a new Ground Combat Vehicle.  Every type of combat vehicle used in today’s fight has undergone modifications, even though original designs did not anticipate such change. The Army can fully get on board with expanding technologies, but only with a new vehicle. When fielded, the GCV becomes the first U.S. combat vehicle designed holistically to address the IED threat, while simultaneously improving tactical mobility and providing real growth potential to deal with other emerging threats, such as the RGK3 and explosively formed penetrators (EFP). Our soldiers need a vehicle that can meet the demands of modern war.

Vane is deputy commanding general,  Futures; and director, Army Capabilities Integration Center of the Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Monroe, Va.