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Army Debates GCV Weight, Protection

For somebody who has spent the past few years covering Army acquisition, it’s been interesting to watch the service’s position change on what it wants for a future battle fleet, from the turn-of-the-century desire for lightweight, rapidly deployable vehicles, to now, after eight years at war, a clear desire for heavier, more survivable vehicles. The change is being driven by the populating of top Army ranks, including on the acquisition side, with officers fresh from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.

You can read it in comments by Army officers here on the Future Combat Systems (FCS) program and Army modernization. As the operational Army moves into the ranks of the Title 10 Army, bringing lessons from the current wars with them, the service’s future shape will be forever altered as organization and weapons systems are rethought, the most immediate one being of course FCS.

Former Army chief Gen. Eric Shinseki’s vision was to build a largely air-deployable Army that could be sped to distant battlefields. That vision was driven by the failed effort to rapidly deploy a brigade sized task force to the Balkans, and the resulting fear among top Army leaders that it had limited post-Cold War utility. Little did the Army know it was about to become the lead service in two protracted land wars, abruptly putting an end to its existential crisis. The service’s expeditionary push began to lose steam as IEDs battered the Army’s fleet in Iraq and now Afghanistan, and staying power and protection moved up in priority.

Colin Clark wrote up some comments from last week’s roundtable discussion with Maj. Gen. James Terry, fresh from TRADOC and on his way to take command of 10th Mountain. I asked Terry what he would like to see in the Army’s new Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV). He said the internal Army debate going on right now is over the right balance between protection and deployability. The battlefield lessons he has learned has tipped him over to the greater protection side of that debate. “We’ve got to find the right design in that protection, then we have to look at mobility and lethality.”

Terry’s comments echoed those of Vice Chief Gen. Peter Chiarelli to the Senate Armed Services Committee AirLand Subcommittee last month about GCV requirements: “One lesson learned I have from this entire experience of two years in Iraq. The deployability and ease of deployability, the expeditionary capability, is always more attractive on this side of the next war. But once you get into the next war and on the other side of that war, survivability and crew protection are key and critical elements.”

FCS designers said vehicle survivability depended on the network. That concept doesn’t work so well if a “non-emitting” irregular enemy doesn’t show up on the network. The need for a more heavily armored future combat vehicle has been a recurring theme in some of the comment threads on DoD Buzz dealing with the follow-on to FCS such as here.

Terry said the GCV must be designed to accommodate future add-on armor packages as new technologies improve protection. “If [the GCV] comes in at a certain weight with current armor solutions in five years, then how can I remove that armor at the ten year mark and put something perhaps stronger and lighter on it.” He also said all the radios, networking gear and sensors being stuffed into current vehicles is seriously taxing available power.

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