Like Shakespeare’s melancholy Dane, the U.S. Army faces a dilemma. Should it forego modernization and recapitalize existing platforms and systems which might not be relevant to future conflicts or abandon billions of dollars’ worth of equipment bought and even upgraded for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and invest in a new generation of capabilities? This is a subject worthy of much thought, even Hamlet-style brooding. Yet, decisions whether to recap or not to recap are being taken now with relatively little public discussion or debate.
Take the example of the MRAPs. The Department of Defense spent around $40 billion acquiring some 25,000 of these armored land vehicles in more than a dozen configurations. Most of them went to the Army and Marine Corps. Now both these services want to ditch most of the inventory, retaining less than half and either making do with uparmored Humvees or replacing the MRAPs with a new platform, the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV). There are arguments for replacing the MRAPs. Many of them are worn and need extensive repair. Retaining a variety of MRAPs will increase maintenance and supply chain costs. A lot of them are very heavy, difficult to drive and not appropriate for some potential theaters. The JLTV is based around a common set of parts and is designed to be as well-protected as the MRAPs but with greater mobility and utility. However, buying JLTVs means spending a lot of money and ignoring the billions spent on the MRAP fleet.
Another example is the Army’s Enhanced Medium Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance System (EMARSS) platform — a manned airborne multi-intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance system. The Army has a fleet of manned tactical ISR platforms some of which it bought over the past decade and some which were transferred to it from the Air Force. The Army wanted to retire most of the existing fleet which it claims are worn out and equipped largely for the last wars and invest instead in 12 EMARSS as a single, common platform with upgraded and reconfigurable mission systems. The counter argument is that the existing platforms can be recapitalized and upgraded and will be good enough, even if they cannot perform as well as EMARSS.
A third example is the Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) which is intended to replace a portion of the existing fleet of Bradley Infantry Fighting vehicles. The GCV will carry more soldiers, have lots of power for modern electronics and be better protected than the Bradleys. However, there is still some room to upgrade the Bradleys for less money than it will cost to buy a new fleet of GCVs.
Each of the services faces a similar problem. If it were possible to predict the future, to know with certainty whether there would be conflicts and with whom, then the choice between options would be relatively easy. Since the Army cannot know with any certainty what wars are in its future, it faces a difficult set of choices.
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