In 2009, when then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates cancelled the Future Combat System (FCS), he left the Army without its signature program and lacking a doctrinal “North Star” to guide organizational and programmatic developments. Gates also terminated the Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) intended to convey Marines rapidly from ships into combat ashore. Notwithstanding the fact that at the time it was fighting two wars, the Army began to focus on the question of what to acquire instead of the FCS? The answer, at least in part, was two-fold: the Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) and the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV). The former would replace part of the Army’s fleet of Bradley infantry fighting vehicles and the latter would substitute for Humvees in the Army and Marine Corps. Both platforms reflected the lessons learned from a decade of ground conflict as well as an appreciation of the opportunities provided by rapid advances in technology. Both would provide passengers with a high level of protection, improved mobility in complex terrain, lots of additional electric power, more space for advanced sensors and communications systems and greater payload or passenger capacity.
The GCV and JLTV programs had their teething pains. In fact, the Army withdrew the original GCV request for proposals and issued a new, simpler one with fewer requirements and, consequently, a lower cost target. The JLTV program also had to fight to meet its cost ceiling. Both programs appear to have largely surmounted their technical and cost issues.
The larger challenge for the Army – and the Marine Corps in the case of the JLTV – has been to close the deal with the Congress and the American people on the need for either program, particularly at this point in time. Critics of the GCV have questioned the need for a new infantry fighting vehicle when the likelihood of high-end conventional conflict appears on the wane. Similarly, if the new Defense Strategy states that the military is not going to conduct large scale protracted stability operations in the future, what is the driving need for the JLTV?
I should point out that the GCV and JLTV are not the only ground vehicle programs on the Pentagon’s books. The Army is also planning to buy the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV) to replace its obsolescent M-113s and the Marine Corps very much wants the Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV) as a substitute for the ill-fated EFV. The Corps also has the idea of acquiring a Marine Personnel Carrier but that seems sheer fantasy under the circumstances.
Recently, the Army Chief of Staff, General Odierno, warned that the GCV might have to be delayed. The Marine Corps Commandant, General Amos, has let it be known that his service might withdraw from the JLTV program in order to save scarce procurement dollars. If sequestration is not halted, both services are facing the prospect of significant force structure reductions – the Army to as low as 380,000 and the Marine Corps to 150,000.
Ironically, the case for both the GCV and JLTV may be stronger if the Army and Marine Corps are required to downsize. The remaining force structure in both services must be more capable on a unit and platform basis if they are to deter conflict and be able to fight and win this nation’s wars. Hence, for example, the ability of a single GCV to carry an entire nine-man infantry squad into battle is more important as the number of infantry squads declines. Similarly, the greater maneuverability and survivability offered by the GCV and the JLTV will mean more to a smaller Army and Marine Corps. Both services will have to rely to a greater extent than at present on enablers – sensors and communications systems – to enhance the combat effectiveness of units from the squad all the way through battalion and brigade combat teams. This means a demand for more power and that, in turn, favors the GCV and JLTV. A similar case could be made for the AMPV and ACV based on their improved survivability and greater functionality.
Now the Army and Marine Corps’ only problem is to come up with the money.
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