The Army has been pretty tight lipped on the design of its future battle fleet ahead of the release of its omnibus ground combat vehicle modernization plan, expected within the next few days. The service knows its margin for error is pretty small on this one after having spent billions of dollars on the troubled FCS program, only to see it dissected by a legion of critics and then chopped up by OSD.
For the Army’s former acquisition chief, the choices are clear. The critical components that would go inside a future combat vehicle are already at various stages of development thanks to FCS, said retired Army Lt. Gen. Joseph Yakovac, now with the Cohen Group. “Why throw away that money… you have the guts [of the vehicle] already done, you paid for it. Why not leverage it? Then put whatever hull you want on it with whatever level of inherent survivability you need.”
Since affordability is one of the biggest hurdles the Army faces as it tries to modernize its battle fleet, Yakovac recommends sticking with common chassis design for future vehicles. Rolling out separate vehicles, as was done with the Abrams, Bradley and Paladin self propelled howitzer, is a much more costly approach than developing a family of vehicles that share a chassis, power train and other components.
The most costly parts of a fighting vehicle are the internal components - the electronics, computers, software and power-train - not the armored hull, he said. Cost savings would have been achieved through FCS by developing eight common vehicles sharing major component parts and technologies.
It would be a waste of money to re-compete the contracts to develop the “guts” of any future vehicle, Yakovac said, “that was all competitively done… when somebody says lets go back out and recompete everything, well you can, but what’s wrong with the first compete? You already did it.”
He fears that’s exactly what will happen as the Army attempts to develop a new ground combat vehicle (GCV). In the current environment of acquisition reform, the Army may be forced to write up a new program contract and restart at “Milestone A,” which means drawing up entirely new requirements and gaining approval from DOD acquisition authorities to proceed with development. If that turns out to be the case, the Army will not be able to develop a new vehicle within its 5 to 7 year timeframe. “You have some chance if you leverage FCS; you have no chance if you don’t,” Yakovac said, speaking last week at the Center for National Policy in Washington.
The problem with FCS, he said, was that the Army did a poor job of explaining exactly what it wanted to get out of the program. While strategic mobility was always a major design factor, flying fully combat capable FCS vehicles in a C-130 cargo lifter was never part of the requirements. “That was a stretch goal, it was never meant to fly inside a C-130.”
The often stated original 20 ton weight limit for the vehicles was not the “curb weight,” it was the “disassembled weight,” minus the modular armor packages that would be carried aboard other aircraft and added upon landing. The real requirement, Yakovac said, was to be able to assemble a combat ready vehicle within an hour or so after landing.
“We rolled [FCS] out quickly and we didn’t explain it very well,” he said. FCS was intended to provide the Army with a full spectrum fighting capability. Only, when FCS was developed, full spectrum meant something a little different than it does today. Back then, the Army viewed full spectrum battle in sequential terms: the paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne would go in and seize an airfield, and then sequentially heavier forces would be flown in to provide greater punch to deal with the higher end fight. Under that concept, FCS vehicles would be flown in, assembled, and the vehicles would drive off to battle alongside the light infantry, providing needed mobile protected firepower.
Iraq changed the idea of full spectrum, in that light, medium and heavy forces were deployed together in the warzone, simultaneously fighting different missions up and down the conflict scale, Yakovac said. In the face of soaring casualties from IED attacks, survivability rapidly became the key driver in all vehicle design, not strategic mobility.
What does he expect to come out of the Army’s new vehicle plan? Yakovac said he would have to see what the new requirements are. To add an IED blast deflecting V-shaped hull to the vehicles to satisfy FCS critics who say they lack survivability, would mean sacrificing mobility.
Yakovac said future combat vehicles will need increased armor protection to account for the hybrid threat: enemies equipped with advanced anti-armor weapons. That could be achieved by developing modular armor packages that could then be put-on or taken-off the vehicle according to the expected threat.