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Panetta spares Army modernization priorities

The Army took it on the chin in the latest defense budget losing 80,000 soldiers from the service's end strength. However, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta spared the Army's top modernization priorities.

Defense analysts might point to the cancellation of the Humvee Recapitalization program as a major blow to the Army's tactical wheeled vehicle modernization strategy. Army officials had remained lukewarm to the idea of continuing to invest in a vehicle not designed to carry the electronic network or heavy armor Army leaders want.

The Humvee Recapitalization program was always the backup plan. Building the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle remained the priority to replace the Humvee.

Once the Army and Marine Corps came to an agreement to reduce the weight requirements and lower the JLTV's per vehicle cost, the cost for the JLTV drifted too close to the Humvee recap. Spending slightly less to update an old vehicle no longer made sense to Army officials who wanted to buy new JLTVs.

Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno said the cancellation shows a renewed commitment to the JLTV.

"We must modernize our wheeled vehicle fleet and cannot just continue to keep adding on to the humvee. Based on combat lessons learned, this JLTV must provide protection, while allowing more maneuverability for soldiers to get where they need on the battlefield," Odierno said Jan. 25.

The JLTV will be the first tactical vehicle built with the Army's Network in mind. Odierno has kept the update of the electronic network of Army communication systems as the service's top priority.

Army leaders didn't find the Joint Tactical Radio System -- a key part of the Army Network -- on the list of cuts released by Panetta. JTRS has experienced its own set of problems. The Army recently killed the JTRS Ground Mobile Radio after it performed poorly in the service's Network Integration Evaluation held at Fort Bliss, Texas, and White Sands Missile Range, N.M.

Program managers for the Ground Combat Vehicle -- the Army's second modernization priority -- did find the GCV on the list of delayed programs. Odierno said the delay and transfer of $1.7 billion out of the GCV program occurred because of the protest filed by SAIC that was denied by the Government Accountability Office Dec. 5.

The Army's plan to replace the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle with the GCV remains on track, he said.

"We're comfortable with the program," Odierno said.

Panetta also pushed back the Army's helicopter modernization program. However, Army aviation leaders don't expect to field a Joint Multi-Role Aircraft that will revolutionize the helicopter fleet until 2030.

Odierno said he was comfortable delaying helicopter modernization because his service is in the midst of resetting a strained helicopter fleet pushed to its limits in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We have all the modernization in the program that we need. We slowed it down a bit but we are very comfortable with that because of the reset that we're doing with all our aviation assets that are coming out of the warzone," he said.

 

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