The U.S. Army is beginning a major modernization program of its vehicle fleets. The new programs come on top of tens of billions of dollars spent over the past decade on MRAPs, uparmored Humvees, improved medium and heavy trucks and improvements to the Abrams tank and Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle. Current plans include a new infantry fighting vehicle, the Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV), an armored replacement for the venerable M-113, a new support vehicle, the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) and an upgrade to the aging Paladin self-propelled artillery system. These programs reflect the critical lessons learned from a decade of conflict as well as an assessment of future threats. There is a broad strategy behind this modernization effort: enhance vehicle performance while improving survivability. This is why the key performance parameters for both the GCV and JLTV include a higher level of protection against future anti-armor threats as well as greater power generation capacity to support the growing array of electronic systems deployed on virtually all vehicles. Assuming the necessary resources are available, the Army of the future will have an extremely capable array of vehicles.
The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan also resulted in a revolution in how our soldiers (and Marines, of course) are outfitted for combat. The list of advances is quite long and varied ranging from new cold weather clothing sets, fire resistant ensembles for vehicle and helicopter crews, improved body armor and lighter helmets to improved night vision devices, lightweight communications devices, portable IED jammers and individual weapons. Just having the right cold weather gear or night vision goggles can prove decisive in a tactical engagement by allowing soldiers to continue to operate under conditions in which an opponent cannot. Special procurement entities such as the Rapid Equipping Force and Rapid Fielding Initiative, military laboratories and private industry joined hands to provide the men and women in the field with hundreds of thousands of pieces of new and improved clothing and equipment.
Unfortunately, it is by no means certain that the Army plans to devote the same attention or resources as it has focused on vehicles to the continuing modernization of the clothing, protective gear and personal equipment of its individual soldiers. This is strange, since the Army and the other services say that their one absolutely essential resource and military advantage over any enemy is their people. Moreover, the Army is spending a lot of money and effort to provide enhanced survivability against future threats for soldiers in vehicles. You would think that since the Army is going to pay upwards of $10 million a copy for a GCV designed to carry an infantry squad safely into close contact with the enemy, that it would devote as much attention to that unit’s survivability once it dismounts.
The problem is that soldier clothing and individual equipment programs just are not as “sexy” as those involving new platforms. Virtually all the advances in clothing and individual equipment have been funded out of the OCO accounts, the extra money provided for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite the demonstrated value of investments in the stuff the soldiers wear and use, there are no line items in the Army’s budget for clothing or individual equipment. So as the wars wind down, the resources both to equip soldiers with the current stuff as well as to do research and development into next generation capabilities is likely to wither away.
If the Army truly was committed to the well-being and effective performance of its soldiers, the service would put its resources, both human capital and dollars on the table. It needs to support R&D for the next generation of clothing and equipment as well as ensure that the supply chains for such items remain viable.
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