I was on a reporter’s conference call yesterday with Army Maj. Gen. Keith Walker, the service’s Future Force Integration Directorate Commander, who discussed Army modernization post FCS. I asked him about new Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) Infantry Fighting Vehicle and how he sees it fitting into the future force. The GCV is intended to replace the Bradley, he said, and will also be used as a battlefield medical vehicle.
The number one priority of the GCV, according to what’s written in the initial capabilities document and the capability development document, he said, is to provide armored protection to the soldier, particularly against IEDs. Close behind it is mobility. “The MRAP is not mobile off the roads… protect the individual soldier, having a mobile off-road capability and having it networked… are the three [priorities] that come to mind.”
I asked him about GCV strategic mobility, which back in the day was the main goal of the FCS manned ground vehicles (seen above in an artists rendering), to be light enough to fly full brigades to distant battlefields. To be useful in a place like Afghanistan the GCV would have to be lighter than the 30 ton Bradley which is too heavy to fly there in any real numbers.
“We would hope that it would be lighter [than a Bradley], but there are some mathematics here. To survive an IED you’ve got to heavy up,” Walker said. The Army’s goal is to build an off-road mobile, heavily armored infantry fighting vehicle, but build it in such a way that it can be made lighter over time. Hence, the modularity concept that figures so prominently in GCV design.
“It’s written in the requirements that as technology changes and allows the vehicle to lighten up, that we can do that. The exact opposite of what we’ve done the last eight years where we’ve taken a Humvee and slapped appliqué armor on them and they’ve gotten heavier and heavier… to be able to take advantage of technology to make it lighter over time.”
“I suspect it would be heavier than a Bradley to start with and the idea is that we would be able to lighten up over time as technology enables us to,” Walker said.
With the Army talking about replacing the Bradley fleet, I can understand, as one industry source told me, why Bradley builder BAE Systems is right nervous. They stand to miss out on serious recapitalization money if the decades old Bradley fleet is retired. Although, some think GCV will face long development delays if for no other reason than the country’s rather dire fiscal situation will put a crimp on major new weapons programs. Best case scenario for BAE is GCV gets delayed and Bradley fleet is recapitalized over the next decade, and they wrap up the GCV contract if that program ever gets going.
When I spoke to BAE executives last fall, they sounded pretty confident they would win GCV because, as they said, they’re the premier infantry fighting vehicle builder. To boost their chances, BAE announced this week that they’ve teamed with Northrop Grumman to leverage the latter’s networking and sensor expertise.