Very shortly, the Army will announce the winners of initial contracts to build its new Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV). The GCV program was the Secretary of Defense’s consolation prize to the Army when he cancelled the manned ground vehicle portion of its Future Combat System (FCS) program. Gone are the days when the Army was supposed to be light and easily deployable; from Humvees and MRAPS to the GCV the Army mantra now is all the weight necessary to protect the passengers and crew. Based on the lessons learned from nine years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the GCV is intended, first and foremost, to be a highly survivable, maneuverable troop carrier that can also fight. The requirements laid down by the Army for the initial design of the vehicle include better protection than the vaunted MRAP, capability to carry a squad of 12 plus crew, a lot of power generation capability and heavy armament. With all these requirements the GCV is almost certainly going to be big and heavy.
Depending on who you talk to in the Army, the GCV is either just the next step in an evolutionary process for armored vehicles or a revolutionary leap forward based on taking in all the lessons of the recent past. The Army’s current plan is to replace the existing Bradley Fighting Vehicles in its Heavy Brigade Combat Teams (HBCTs) with the GCV. This is fine as far as it goes. But there are a lot of other armored vehicles in the Army’s inventory. For example, there are also over 5,000 M-113 armored personnel carriers in the HBCTs and at higher echelons. Then there are the Stryker wheeled combat vehicles in the uniquely designed Stryker Brigade Combat teams, the M-1 Abrams tank and, of course, around 20,000 MRAPs and M-ATVs.
The Army has made some efforts to enhance its other armored vehicles even as it planned for the introduction of new vehicles. There have been survivability upgrades to the Bradleys and the M-1s that made them the best protected vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan, better than the MRAPs. There is a program for the relatively new Strykers to, among other things, modify them with a v-shaped plate on their underside to defeat IEDs.
Unfortunately, the Army seems to be so fixated on the GCV program that it has had a “brain freeze” with regard to creating an overall plan for the future of its armored vehicle fleets. Additional planned upgrades for both the Bradley and the M-1 have been put on hold. More important, the Army has not made a decision regarding replacing the obsolete M-113s. Will it be Bradleys, Strykers, MRAPs or, more likely, some combination? What about the thousands of Bradleys that will remain in the inventory for decades while the GCV is slowly introduced? Should the Army create additional Stryker brigades? Oh yes, will there be any effort to finally replace — or at least significantly upgrade — the Paladin self-propelled howitzer now that the Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon has been cancelled?
The Army appears to be repeating a mistake it made with the FCS program, specifically acting like this is the only program or system it has. The Army needs to figure out for itself what it wants to do with its armored vehicle fleets and then let the rest of us in on the secret.
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