The U.S. Army is rapidly losing its competitive advantages in high-end combat. The ability to achieve tactical overmatch, the combination of superior systems, intelligence, combined arms tactics and command and control is under assault from adversaries who have spent decades developing capabilities and techniques specifically designed to counter areas of Army advantage.
Recent conflicts have shown how far Russian conventional forces now exceed the capabilities of the U.S. Army in electronic warfare, long-range fires, tactical air defense and anti-tank systems. Of the 10 major capabilities that define warfighting superiority, by 2030 Russia will have exceeded the Army’s abilities in six, will have parity in three, and the United States will dominate in just one.
The proverbial canary in the coal mine was the condition of the U.S. Army’s Armored Brigade Combat Teams (ABCT). The Army spent nearly two decades trying unsuccessfully to reinvent its armored forces with the Future Combat Systems and Ground Combat Vehicle programs. In the meantime, much of the existing inventory of armored fighting vehicles were aging and falling behind technologically in comparison to this country’s great power rivals.
Deterrence of the Russian conventional threat to NATO must include a strong capability to engage in intensive armored warfare. But the U.S, and its allies allowed their armored forces in Europe to dissipate with all ABCTs having been withdrawn early in the new millennium
Under its current leadership and with the help of Congress, the U.S. Army is on a path to rebuild its capabilities to engage in high-end combat that made it the most feared competitor in the world. U.S. armored units are returning to Europe. The Army is conducting so-called “heel-to-toe” rotations of an ABCT in Central and Eastern Europe. An infantry brigade is being converted into an ABCT. The vehicles and equipment for two ABCTs will be pre-positioned in Europe.
Based on the budget increases in the fiscal year 2018 and 2019 budgets, the Army has ramped up procurement of upgrades for the Abrams tank and Bradley Fighting vehicles to 1.25 ABCT’s worth of each per year. The advanced Abrams tank comes with new sensors, communications systems and improved, more lethal rounds for the 120mm cannon.
In addition, the Army plans to acquire the Trophy Active Protection System for at least four brigades of tanks. The Bradley upgrades are focused on enhancements to the vehicle’s maneuverability, power generation capability and computing power.
Portions of the Stryker fleet have been upgraded several times, most recently with the addition of a double-V hull to all Stryker Brigade Combat Teams (SBCT). In addition, the Army has invested in an up-gunned Stryker Infantry Combat Vehicle, the Dragoon, with a more lethal 30mm cannon.
These Dragoon vehicles will be deployed with the SBCT in Europe. The Army could easily upgrade the remaining SBCTs to the Dragon configuration and even add anti-tank guided missiles to these vehicles. This would be a sensible step in light of the growing threat posed by Russian and Chinese armored fighting vehicles.
Plans have been proposed to accelerate upgrades for the Abrams tank, modernizing the entire force in about five years while reducing the program’s total cost. All the Stryker brigades could receive the lethality upgrade package in a similar period of time.
The Stryker vehicle also will play an important role in the Army’s plans to restore its capabilities in short range air defense. The current plan is to deploy at least four battalions of the Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense (M-SHORAD) Launcher Stryker variant. The new vehicle integrates a Leonardo DRS -built turret on the back deck of a Stryker. This launcher can carry a number of different missiles: standard Hellfire, AIM-9X Sidewinder and Longbow Hellfire.
One of the only modernization programs currently being pursued by the Army – as distinct from upgrades of existing platforms – involves the replacement of the 50-year-old M-113 personnel carriers. The M-113 has a critical place in the ABCT as an armored ambulance, medical treatment vehicle, mortar carrier, command and control vehicle and general purpose platform. The Army has long recognized that the M-113 had become obsolete. It is an open-top vehicle which lacks the minimum level of armor protection for high-end combat. It is underpowered and lacks the ability to accommodate modern electronics.
The M-113’s replacement is the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV). The AMPV is a modified Bradley, with the same basic hull form but lacking the latter’s turret. The AMPV has significantly more internal volume, armor protection, power, maneuverability and networking capability than the M-113. All AMPV variants will have a common drive train, power plant, electronics and underbody protection. The AMPV’s drive train and suspension are the same as both the Bradley’s and those of another near-term upgrade program, the Paladin Integrated Management (PIM) for the M-109 self-propelled howitzer.
The AMPV program is moving along smartly. 29 vehicles have been delivered to the Army for operational testing. Low rate production is anticipated to begin in 2019. The Army planned to procure 2,936 AMPVs to replace M-113s in ABCTs. The Army also hopes to replace 1,922 M-113s at Echelons Above Brigade (EAB).
Finally, the Army plans to replace the Humvee light tactical vehicle in the ABCTs with the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTVs). The JLTV will serve in a number of roles: general purpose transport, utility vehicle and weapons carrier. But modernized Humvees will continue to have a central role as a transport and utility vehicle for deployed units, at EAB and with the Army National Guard.
When these planned upgrades and new procurements are completed, the Army will be able to deploy modern and lethal ABCTs along with their supporting capabilities at higher echelons. As these forces deploy to Europe, deterrence will be enhanced and the risk of war reduced.
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