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Exclusive Army Mod Plan Details

The view from the top of the Army: the new Ground Combat Vehicle must be survivable, nimble and quick in urban areas, and be modular so it can be improved over time.

Survivability is the top requirement, but the urban requirement looms large. "We have never worried about mobility in an urban area before," so Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli told reporters Wednesday afternoon at the annual show of the Association of the US Army.

The Army's focus is on an Infantry Fighting Vehicle -- a term Chiarelli insisted be used in place of troop carrier -- not on a fleet of vehicles, though the service may develop variants based on the IFV.

When I asked Chiarelli about the balance between survivability, mobility and lethality, he said he thinks "what people forget is that survivability is essential to the offensive nature of war."

Overall, Chiarelli said the Army's new modernization plan was an on track and was briefed Wednesday to the Defense Acquisition Board. "We are very comfortable where we are," he said, declining to elaborate later on.

The view from near the top of the Army: the service must field a vehicle ready to connect to a robust network able to feed information to the squad level. And it must get feedback from industry as to what is producible right away so that the service can field vehicles within the five- to seven-year window set by Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey.

That feedback will roll in after the Army holds its industry day on Oct. 16 and then releases draft specifications and basic requirements for the IFV on Nov. 23-25. The final RFP should be issued in the second quarter of fiscal 2010 and the contract award made in the fourth quarter of that year.

The view from what used to be the program office for FCS is they want a modular approach from industry, especially regarding armor. To help give all possible competitors "an idea of the state of the art" the Army will share all non-proprietary data from the MGV program, Col. Bryan McVeigh, project manager of Manned Systems Integration, told me at AUSA.

The Army must meet the "aggressive" schedule of fielding in five to seven years. That means that prime contractors must present the Army with Technical Readiness Levels of "six and above," McVeigh said. "Six is the exception; seven is the rule because we just don't have time." TRL 6 means the technology is just about ready for prime time. TRL 7 means technology has been tested on a prototype in an operational environment and is basically ready to go into production.

Critics repeatedly chastised the FCS program for pushing the technological envelope too far and too fast and the Army clearly knows it must avoid requirements creep and massive technological innovation.

Competitors for the GCV must give the Army an "open architecture" and ensure that the ability to make major improvements is "built into the platform," McVeigh said.

While he would not address the key issues of weight or tracked vs. wheeled, McVeigh said industry should take a "modular approach" in designing their IFVs so that over the years armor can be taken off and replaced, along with other systems that need improvements as the battlefield changes and urgent operational needs come in.

That may well mean a vehicle that has a basic blast resistance level built in and can then be bolstered with armor kits in the field. That would help reduce the weight of the basic vehicle and give the Army a more flexible platform that could be used, for example, by both the National Guard at home and the active force in the field.

The larger Army modernization effort -- above and beyond the GCV platform -- will include capability packages every two years, broken into one year increments, according to Army briefing charts. The first package for fiscal 2011-2012 boasts four "urgent requirements: persistent surveillance; advanced precision mortar initiative, Ground Soldier System (what used to be Land Warrior) and Human Terrain Teams."

One thing that will leap out at the cognoscenti is that these requirements include personnel. Paul Mehney, spokesman for the Army modernization efforts, said that persistent surveillance will include troops performing perimeter surveillance and the like, as well as UAS. The Human Terrain Teams, while still evolving, are essentially personnel used for stability operations and in Advisory and Assistance Brigades.

The briefing charts say that future capability packages will include: "more capable Unmanned Air vehicles (greater range, loiter and payload capability); larger Unmanned Ground Vehicles; Improvements to the network (more information and imagery at lower levels.)

Mehney said those ground vehicles would perform missions including countermine, armed reconnaissance and "maybe" transport.

Loren Thompson, defense analyst at the Lexington Institute and a defense consultant, was wary of the new effort, blaming Defense Secretary Robert Gates for killing a program that should not have been killed.

"We are going to waste a lot of money resetting this vehicle. Maybe a year down the road we will get to the point where we were when Secretary Gates made this decision. I do see this hurting the warfighter over the long run," he said. "This is the kind of outcome you get when you have a handful of people in a room making decisions about things on which they are not experts."

He said the Army "is doing its best to rescue a program it was happy with, while paying attention to the direction they've been given."

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