Pretty soon the Army’s only hope of salvaging anything from its ill-fated Future Combat System (FCS) program will rest with the new Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV). Just last week the Army announced its decision not to equip its combat brigades with the Network Integration Kits which had been intended as a spin-off from the FCS. This decision comes on top of the Army’s earlier cancellation of efforts to deploy the Class I Unmanned Aerial Vehicle and the Tactical and Urban Unattended Ground Sensors. All three of these capabilities had performed rather poorly in operational testing last year. As a result, all the Army will have to show for its decade-long, multibillion dollar investment program in FCS will be — maybe — the GCV.
Even this, the Army’s last hope, may be in danger. Congress has put a hold on spending for the GCV until it receives a report detailing the analysis of alternatives to a new armored combat vehicle. It appears that Congress is concerned about the vehicle’s reported price tag, between $9 and $10 million a copy or twice that of an upgraded M-1 Abrams tank and five times that of a Stryker wheeled combat vehicle. Some members of Congress may rightly be worried in the aftermath of the debacle that was the FCS program whether anything useful can emerge from its ashes. All reports indicate that the three teams bidding on the GCV program will be forced by the tight timelines associated with the first phase effort (24 months to deliver a prototype vehicle) to go with existing technology. This means, in essence, using what was developed under FCS.
The Army has insisted that relaxing its requirements and shortening the time frame for delivery of a prototype GCV will rein in the tendency of major programs to push the technological envelope, creating enormous program risk and the likelihood that the cost of development increases astronomically. Of course, if this is the case then why would a vehicle based on proven technologies — one of the teams is reported to be pushing a slightly enhanced version of a 20 year-old European armored vehicle — cost so much?
All the Army’s hopes, fears, experiences in two wars and wounds sustained in a host of recent unsuccessful ACAT I programs are now invested in the GCV. That is one reason why the vehicle has to be capable of full spectrum operations. It should be noted that none of the other services has a major weapons platform that is designed to address equally all points along the spectrum conflict. The Navy is building the Littoral Combat Ship precisely because its existing fleet of destroyers and cruisers is not well suited to operations in that portion of the aqua sphere. The Air Force has its high and lower end fighters, the F-22 and F-35, and is deploying a limited number of light attack aircraft for counterinsurgency operations.
In view of the fact that the Army and Marine Corps have successfully employed a vast fleet of purpose-built armored vehicles to fight the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, including M-1 tanks, Bradleys, MRAPS, M-ATVs, Stryker, uparmored Humvees and even trucks, what is the real value of a single vehicle that spans this entire spectrum of vehicles? And is that additional increment of utility really worth the price tag?
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