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Army Touts Flexible FCS Son

The Army's new combat vehicle: modular design that is readily upgradable and can be reconfigured for different combat modes; survivable on IED strewn battlefields; lethal enough for a high-intensity conventional fight, yet permits soldiers to operate with precision in wars amongst the people; affordable and durable enough to stay in service for decades. That's what the Army told more than 650 industry representatives last week. And the service wants it all quickly, too, said Col. Bryan McVeigh, project manager of the service’s Manned Systems Integration.

Army officials provided an overview of the requirements for its new Ground Combat Vehicle, the follow on to the FCS ground vehicle, to representatives from more than 60 corporations on October 16. Specific technical requirements and classified specifications will be provided on the second industry day, scheduled for November 24-25, McVeigh said. Last week’s industry day was intended to make sure all participants were “on the same base line” as far as what is technologically possible and deliverable within five to seven years.

To get everybody on the same page, Army acquisition officials provided industry previously proprietary information, its “body of knowledge," from the FCS ground vehicle preliminary design review, completed just weeks before the program's cancellation this summer.

The Army wants a “holistic” approach to designing a combat vehicle to meet the exceedingly complex demands of future battlefields, McVeigh said Monday on a conference call with reporters. “It must have an open architecture so we can integrate upgrades to this platform similar to what the Abram [main battle tank] has been able to do throughout its lifecycle.” First fielded in the early 1980s, the Abrams came equipped with a 105mm main gun, even though designers knew they would later outfit it with a larger 120mm cannon. The vehicle’s initial armor package was also designed to be upgradable as new, more advanced composite armors, such as Chobham armor, were developed.

Flexibility and growth potential are new operational requirements in vehicle design, said Rickey Smith, from the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command. Every vehicle the Army has sent to Iraq and Afghanistan has been “field modified,” often multiple times; the Humvee being the prime example of a vehicle that went through multiple iterations as it was adapted to the Iraq battlefield. That process began early in the war as soldiers welded extra steel plates to their vehicles to protect against IEDs. Now, special “urban survivability” kits, custom made for close quarters street fighting, are standard issue for tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles.

“Build towards the future, Smith said, “we should be thinking about a vehicle that can be modified right up front.” The Army is also examining lessons from the rapid fielding of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles, which have a proven blast resistant hull design borrowed from the South African military, and what might be done differently this time around as the service builds, for the “first time,” a vehicle designed from the ground up to be survivable in the “IED environment.”

Smith said the initial document the service provided industry is “very short,” some 25 pages, compared to the FCS requirements. “We’re trying not to over-specify and limit industry.” Lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan will factor mightily into the Army’s specific requirements for the GCV, he said, along with the projected anti-armor threats that might be fielded in the 2017-2025 time frame. Interestingly, one of the key lessons is that soldiers in today’s wars wear much more body armor and other kit than was the case in past decades so crew hatches must be built larger to allow rapid entry and exits.

Smith said the Army intends to brief Congress and Hill staffers on the GCV requirements some time in the next two to three weeks.

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