In the perfect defense acquisition world, requirements would be well-defined and reasonable, RFPs clearly written, program cost and schedule would be sensible and attainable, the necessary technologies would have a high readiness level and the end product would be affordable, effective and sustainable. We all know how often reality matches fantasy. Moreover, in today’s budget constrained environment, even well-managed programs are going to have to justify their existence.
The Army has three major vehicle modernization programs underway which, if fully executed, mean spending around $40 billion to develop and acquire a minimum of 16,000 vehicles over the next several decades. The Army wants to replace several thousand Bradley infantry fighting vehicles with a brand new armored Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV). The Army (and Marine Corps) is looking to supplement its large fleet of Humvee utility vehicles with the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV). The final vehicle in the trilogy is the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV) which will replace the obsolescent M-113 armored personnel carriers. Remember that these programs are in addition to 25,000 MRAPs acquired over the past decade, new and uparmored Humvees and upgrade programs for both the Bradley and M-1 Abrams.
The Army required that the GCV carry a squad of nine men plus two crew, armed with a cannon and, possibly, a missile system, with better protection against IEDs and anti-armor missiles than the Bradley and the space and power generation capability to support a wealth of IT systems. A vehicle sized to hold eleven people with improved IED protection and additional equipment space inevitably ends up being very heavy (at least 65 tons). Size and weight dictate the power plant which, together with advanced electronics gives you an expensive vehicle. The Army asserts the GCV will cost between $9 and $10.5 million while the Pentagon’s Cost and Program Evaluation (CAPE) office believes that a figure of between $16 and $17 million is more likely. Total program costs to develop and acquire approximately 1,900 GCVs would be around $29 billion.
The JLTV’s requirements are for a vehicle with improved survivability, load capacity and power generation compared with the Humvee and at least equal mobility. The current plan is to acquire some 11,000 JLTVs at about $250,000 each for a total of $3 billion, although the total demand could well exceed 50,000.
The simplest of the three programs seems to be the AMPV. The M-113 is essentially an open-topped, tracked, armored truck that provides support functions such as hauling supplies, fire support (with a mortar), command and control and medical evacuation and battlefield care. To buy some 2,600 M-113s with a not-to-exceed platform cost of $1.8 million, the Army expects to pay around $6 billion. Unlike the GCV and JLTV programs, the Army is expected to require that bidders for the AMPV provide mature designs, meaning an existing platform.
Almost from the beginning, the GCV and JLTV programs suffered from significant contracting, management, technical and cost problems. The initial GCV RFP was withdrawn in order to rewrite the requirements. The Army and the CAPE cannot seem to reconcile their widely divergent cost estimates for the GCV. The JLTV program went through a major cost-cutting exercise.
Just today, the Congressional Budget Office released a report that questions the rationale for the GCV. Examining four alternatives to the program of record, they observed that while none of these alternatives matched all the GCV’s performance specifications — particularly the requirement to carry a full infantry squad — several matched or exceeded its mobility and survivability characteristics. More significant for the current budget environment, the alternatives were all substantially cheaper.
This raises the question, is the Army heading for a repeat of the FCS debacle? Now, like then, the Army appears to be in a position of pushing forward with very expensive programs that are difficult to explain and don’t seem to relate to the way the Army thinks it will fight in the future. For example, at the same time the Army is pursuing a 64-ton GCV it is also toying with the idea of acquiring an air-droppable variant of the Stryker to support early arriving forces. The value of the JLTV is predicated on future conflicts being repeats of Iraq and Afghanistan thus necessitating a heavy investment in countermeasures to IEDs. But $250,000 still seems a lot to spend on what is essentially a general utility vehicle.
The Army needs to operate as if it were in survival mode. It should only fund those clean-sheet-of-paper programs that will provide a dramatic, even transformational, boost to the service’s ability to carry out its missions in the future security environment. In all other cases, the Army needs to look at off-the-shelf solutions requiring minimal development to reach the 80 percent answer for 50 percent of the cost.
Find Archived Articles: