If you were a betting person, what chances would you give the Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) program of actually producing a new system? The GCV is the Army’s attempt to salvage something from the debacle of the Future Combat System program which was sought to create a futuristic system-of-systems involving upwards of eighteen manned and unmanned, ground and air vehicles. When Secretary of Defense Robert Gates cancelled the FCS program back in 2009 he tossed the Army a bone by protecting the money for a new manned armored combat vehicle if it could be fielded within five to seven years. The Army responded with a request for proposals (RFP) for the GCV which it said would be a replacement for the venerable Bradley Fighting Vehicle. Then, last August, the RFP was withdrawn when an internal review strongly suggested that the Army’s requirements for its new vehicle could not be attained within the desired time frame or at reasonable cost. The Army has promised to publish a new RFP sometime this month.
In making your bet would it help to know that over the past thirty years the Army has started and cancelled no fewer than eight major armored combat vehicle modernization programs? Count them: the Armored Family of Vehicles, Line-of-Sight Anti-Tank with its kinetic energy missile, Armored Gun System, Armored System Modernization, Future Scout Vehicle, Crusader, Future Combat System and Non-Line-of-Sight System-Cannon. The MRAP and M-ATV programs do not count because they are not combat vehicles. The Army’s record when it comes to armored vehicle programs is one almost unblemished by success.
The Army’s sole successful armored vehicle program for the past thirty years is the Stryker. This is ironic since Stryker was supposed to be a limited production, interim program on the way to the Future Combat System. The Stryker comes in a number of variants only some of which arguably constitute fighting vehicles. The Stryker platform is based on an earlier armored vehicle design, although the current Stryker has been substantially enhanced, including with new survivability upgrades. Stryker brigade combat teams have proven their worth over and over again in Iraq and now Afghanistan due both to the unique character of the vehicles and also to the brigades’ unusual organization.
The Army’s current fleet of armored combat systems consists largely of vehicles designed in the 1960s and 1970s. These include the M-1 Abrams, the Bradley Fighting Vehicles, the Paladin self-propelled artillery system and the venerable (some would say obsolete) M-113s. The Abrams and Bradleys have gone through several extensive upgrade programs including current survivability enhancements to defeat current threats. Both remain the world’s premier armored fighting vehicles.
A one-for-nine score in modernization programs does not bode well for the GCV. Nor does the fact that the Army is trying to design a vehicle to cover the range of potential future contingencies it may confront from protracted stability and counterinsurgency operations all the way to intensive combined arms combat against a peer competitor. The Abrams, Bradley, Paladin and even Stryker were all designed for conflicts that never happened. Yet, they have all proven their effectiveness in the wars that the Army has been fighting.
There is a good news story behind the Army’s abysmal track record on armored vehicle modernization. This is the fact that time and time again industry has responded successfully to the Army’s changing conception of its future vehicle requirements. In some cases a number of vehicles were actually produced. Even on GCV, the three industry teams are reported to have responded to the requirements set out in the RFP and produced credible designs, including one by BAE Systems that has an innovative hybrid electric drive system. The problem has not been with industry but with its customer, the Army.
Find Archived Articles: