Influential retired Army Maj. Gen. Bob Scales has a good piece in the latest Armed Forces Journal detailing what the Army needs in a future Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV), the follow on effort to the cancelled FCS family of vehicles. Scales visited units in both Iraq and Afghanistan to catalog what works and what doesn’t in the Army’s current battle fleet and the lessons that should go into the design of the GCV.
What doesn’t work is the Stryker in Afghanistan, says Scales. The 5th Stryker Brigade, operating in southern Afghanistan’s Kandahar area, has taken heavy casualties, losing some 21 of the eight-wheeled vehicles and two dozen soldiers killed. “The vehicles have proven to be too thinly armored to survive the very large explosive power of Taliban IEDs and too immobile to maneuver off road to avoid them,” Scales writes.
The Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, which worked well on Iraq’s extensive hard top roadways, have also struggled in Afghanistan’s unforgiving terrain. MRAPs are too heavy and cumbersome for off road mobility, and since almost all of Afghanistan is off road, it isn’t very effective; moreover it’s not a true fighting vehicle.
“The lesson of contemporary wars is that IEDs can best be defeated by designing a vehicle capable of avoiding them,” he writes, in other words a vehicle that can go off road across rough terrain so that it isn’t limited to predictable routes. That means the future GCV must be tracked. It must also be quiet enough to be somewhat stealthy, Scales argues, which would imply a rubberized band track.
The GCV must be a “universal carrier,” he says, providing transport, protection, firepower, networking and sensors for a squad sized team of not just soldiers, but Marines and special operations troops as well. A common carrier/fighting vehicle for all ground forces makes a lot of sense. The vehicle should also have a rapid fire auto-cannon to engage dismounted enemy infantry with “overwhelming firepower,” he says. No more pretending a .50 caliber machine gun is enough firepower for an armored vehicle.
Designers must be careful not to try and build a single vehicle for all battlefields, Scales says. He points to low intensity conflicts of the Iraq and Afghanistan variety as the operational “sweet spot” for which the vehicle should be designed; while being flexible enough to be scaled up for use on more lethal, high intensity battlefields. Ultimately, providing troops protection and firepower is more important than trying to build a lightweight, easily transportable vehicle.
The Army team, led by Brig. Gen. H.R. McMaster, that drafted the service’s newly released Capstone Concept document came to a similar conclusion in the section addressing future armored vehicle design:
“Specific attention should be given to the protection of light forces. They have, until now, been viewed as discretionary users of protected mobility vehicles, as it has been assumed that providing them with heavier vehicles might make them unable to conduct the full range of light force tasks. Light forces will need access to protected mobile vehicles and retain mission functionality with a degraded or interrupted network. These vehicles should also have sufficient weapons capability to deliver rapid, accurate, lethal, overwhelming direct fire against enemy infantry under all conditions of battle. Protected mobility vehicles should have capabilities to close with and eliminate the threat by synchronizing tactical reconnaissance (manned and unmanned), maneuver, fires, protection, close combat assault, and sustainment. Although this may constrain their ability to operate with a light footprint, it is likely to be mandated in order to provide sufficient levels of protection for deployed soldiers and civilians. This trend may also enhance the ability of light forces to assume wider roles.”