Reports coming out of the Pentagon indicate that the Office of the Secretary of Defense and specifically the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (AT&L), Dr. Ashton Carter, had a major hand in forcing the Army to withdraw its request for proposals for the new ground combat vehicle (GCV). As the Under Secretary recounted the story, he told Army leaders that the GCV would have only such capabilities as could be deployed in seven years. Carter called the practice of waiting until technology was available and hence delaying a program “sloppy management.”
The problem is that many of these advanced capabilities are probably critical to the effectiveness and survivability of the GCV and its crew over a potential lifetime of 40 years. Current levels of armor protection and underbody shaping are likely to be inadequate to the threats of the future. Even in Afghanistan, the size of improvised explosives is increasing. The Army likes to talk about the network as its big, new modernization program. Well, that network involves lots of different sensors, communications systems, computers and power sources the GCV will need. To defeat evolving land and air threats, the GCV will need a new suite of more capable weapons. Overall, there is a requirement to integrate all the new systems that would be carried by the GCV.
Apparently, the Under Secretary of Defense does not understand what the GCV is supposed to do. It is not an armored taxi or even an infantry assault vehicle. The GCV is intended as a replacement for the venerable Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle. It is supposed to keep up with the fast-moving Abrams M-1 tank, engage in combat with enemy infantry and armor and carry mechanized infantrymen into close proximity with the enemy.
Some readers might wonder why the Army is even bothering to build a new armored fighting vehicle if the problem is lightly-armed insurgents in places like Afghanistan. The answer is that the people who need a new vehicle, the infantry brigades, do not want another big, heavy truck like the MRAP and the people who want something like the GCV, the heavy brigades, don’t have the need. So the GCV has to satisfy both communities. This means it must carry a squad of nine men, because the new theory of tactical combat says that the entire squad must deploy together. Since it is a fighting vehicle, the GCV must also have lots of offensive weapons, sensors and communications systems. Then it needs a level of protection even better than that of the MRAP, because it has to survive not just improvised explosives but advanced anti-armor weapons that could be deployed by more capable foes than the Afghan Taliban. Add to these requirements off-road mobility and relatively high ground speed and you get a big, heavy platform.
The problem is that the GCV has become a manhood issue for both the Army and for the Under Secretary. The former needs a new combat vehicle program both to salvage something from the FCS program and to have something in the way of a new capability for future ground warfare. The GCV needs to be substantially better than the existing Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle, which could be upgraded if the Army wanted to do so. The Under Secretary needs to prove that his idea of managing procurement programs based on cost and schedule instead of performance can work. Unfortunately, these two sets of goals are fundamentally at odds. A GCV that adheres to the seven-year schedule is likely to be nothing more than a big, heavy SUV.
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