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GCV May Decide Fate of Army Tracked Vehicles
This article first appeared in Defense Technology International.
By putting its $40-billion ground combat vehicle (GCV) procurement plan on hold, the U.S. Army is giving itself a breather to come up with a new strategy for its ground vehicle force.
The Army canceled the GCV request for proposal (RFP) this summer and froze funding and development for all major ground-vehicle programs -- even Block 2 work on the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, which the GCV is supposed to replace.
Army ground programs -- particularly the GCV -- are victims of the Pentagon's obsession with reviewing and revamping the Defense Department procurement mindset for big-dollar programs. The Army and Pentagon also want to put the brakes on the service's ground-vehicle programs to ensure it buys the right equipment for the mission. The Army and Defense Department are analyzing whether they are buying -- even developing -- the right vehicle for the job. Indeed, the military could move away from tracked vehicles, except for specific missions.
"Tracked vehicles are not necessarily the best option for what we plan to be doing," says John Gresham, a defense analyst and author of books on military equipment and operations. That would be a point of departure for the Army, whose doctrine and checkbook has heavily favored tracked vehicles.
The Pentagon reported about $13.7 billion in transactions for those vehicles in 2008, a 57% increase from 2007, according to an analysis of data provided by the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting. Procurement of those vehicles ranked 10th in Pentagon expenses in 2009 and second in 2008, racking up $16.8 billion in contracts and modifications, the analysis shows.
Two trends, though, have Army and Pentagon strategists rethinking their reliance on tracked vehicles -- the failure of the vehicles to survive improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and the success of wheeled Strykers in different combat situations.
The Army beefed up Bradleys and other tracked vehicles to withstand IED blasts, changes that took away some speed and mobility. With development of the GCV, the Army hoped to regain some of the lost traits for its main tracked troop carrier.
BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman were proposing a hybrid-electric-drive model. Teams led by General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin and SAIC/Boeing offered more traditional designs. But the Army and Pentagon believe the GCV offerings were still risky, wishing instead "to rely on mature technologies to reduce significant developmental risk over a seven-year schedule following the initial contract award," the service said.
The cancellation came after a review conducted by the Army and the Defense under secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, as part of a continuing effort to ensure that Army acquisitions effectively and affordably meet the needs of soldiers, the Army said. The review included an "examination of vehicle capabilities, operational needs, acquisition strategy, program schedule and technology readiness."
The contract cancellation was made at the earliest stage of the acquisition process, the Army said, and the resulting delay "will best ensure the long-term success of the GCV program by better aligning vehicle capabilities with the anticipated needs of future combat operations."
One source says the reason the service pulled back its RFP was because it feared contractors had been asked to include too many features, which could delay fielding while raising costs.
The Army stands to recover some of the Bradley's performance with the BAE Block 2 plans. While those are on hold pending the review of the GCV and other ground systems, most agree the Army will move ahead with Bradley enhancements.
BAE is looking to ramp up power in the vehicle for its electronic systems, give it more ground clearance and regain some speed, says Roy Perkins, company director of U.S. Combat Systems Business Development for the heavy brigade combat team.
The Army has been willing to invest in Bradley work, spending or obligating itself for more than $1 billion in contracts and contract modifications for vehicle programs in 2008 and 2009. The Army reportedly needs to keep its existing vehicles up to date as a hedge against problems in fielding better equipment.
With an advanced Bradley in the works to tackle the necessary tracked vehicle missions, the Army is free to better assess whether it needs to spend $40 billion for a next-generation tracked combat troop carrier, or whether that mission can be answered through a modified Stryker. "Except for extreme terrain," Gresham says, "the Stryker can handle the work."