Army Cancellation of GCV Competition Highlights Service’s Confusion

The Army has decided to cancel its request for proposals (RFP) for a new armored combat system, the ground combat vehicle (GCV). This is a stunning development given that GCV is the Army’s sole new major vehicle program and that awards for the first round of contracts was anticipated within weeks. Although no reasons have yet been given for the decision to cancel the procurement, observers are concerned that the decision reflects the implosion of the Army’s vision of its future.

The GCV is intended to exploit technologies developed for the FCS program and lessons learned in responding to threats experienced in Iraq and Afghanistan. Because it is not starting from scratch, the GCV is supposed to be ready for prime time in five to seven years. While the official GCV specifications were not made public, Army sources identified a general set of characteristics. Key among them are a high degree of survivability, the ability to operate in complex environments (particularly in an urban setting), space for a squad of 9 soldiers and two to three crewmen, one or more cannons for direct fires and a capability to generate internal power sufficient to support an enhanced computing/communications network and a host of advanced sensors.

The GCV would have been in addition to an Army vehicle park that already consists of tens of thousands of new, armored or more survivable Bradleys, M-1 Abrams, MRAPS, M-ATVs, Humvees, trucks and Stryker wheeled combat vehicles. There is virtually no vehicle in the Army’s inventory that has not gone through one or more major upgrades or survivability enhancement program. It is difficult to understand what the GCV would bring to the game that was really new or better. The Army is under pressure to find ways of inserting the MRAPs into its Table of Organization and Equipment so that the billions spent on those vehicles will not turn out to have been a waste. If the Army cannot even make use of all the vehicles it currently owns, the argument goes, why invest in still another system?

One contributor to the decision to cancel the procurement could be the vehicle’s weight. Reports were leaking out of the GCV program that all the proposals submitted envisioned a vehicle weighing over 70 tons. The original FCS concept envisioned a manned ground vehicle weighing no more than 18 tons, probably wheeled and able to be transported in a C-130. The GCV was supposed to weigh around 40 tons. But when you want better than MRAP protection in a vehicle carrying lots of people, guns, ammunition, computers and power generators, guess what: it gets big and heavy. In some quarters, this sounded less like an armored personnel carrier and more like a land battleship or the Death Star on tracks.

Another potential source of problems is doctrinal in nature. The GCV is intended to replace aging vehicles in the Heavy Brigade Combat Teams (HBCTs). The primary role of the HBCT is to conduct combined arms maneuver particularly against adversaries with well-equipped, relatively large ground forces. Think the march to Baghdad and the rout of the Iraqi Republican Guard in 2003. But the Army has had problems sufficiently defining the future requirement for high intensity combined arms maneuver so as to justify the need for a new heavy combat vehicle. Reading the Army’s new Capstone Concept and Operational Concept the future character of combined arms maneuver warfare remain very unclear. The examples provided – the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict in 2006 and the U.S.-Iraq operation in Sadr city in 2008 – relate more to irregular warfare under very restricted conditions and, hence, seem to confuse more than illuminate. Does engaging in irregular warfare (the Army’s documents have relabeled this wide area security) really require the Army to invent yet another armored vehicle?

Apparently, the Red Team brought in to review the GCV program plan found that what the Army had created was a Christmas tree on tracks. It has something for everyone. The Red Team reportedly told the Army to prioritize its requirements or risk losing the whole program. Reports coming out of the Red Team review say that the army leadership cannot agree on the priority set of requirements for the GCV. This suggests that the Army has failed to make the intellectual case for its future force even to itself.

Some sources indicate that GCV is not totally dead and that the Army will restart the competition. This would be good since several proposals included important new technologies. For example, the BAE Systems team proposed a hybrid electric drive, the first one even for a major armored combat vehicle. But if the Army cannot be clear on what problem it is trying to solve and what contribution a GCV can make to the solution, the next RFP could go the way of the one that has just failed. Asking the companies to start over, write new proposals and keep design teams together for up to an additional year before they even know if they have won an award is extremely costly and very unfair.