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CSBA: These trends should inform ground vehicle buys

The Army and Marine Corps must figure out what kind of environments they will be fighting in over the next three decades or so and purchase ground vehicles that are best suited for that task, says a DC-based think-tank.

Yup, as the two ground services move to buy new fleets of armored personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles, apmhibioust assault vehicles and replace their humvees during a time of limited funding, they must first figure out how they will use these shiny new toys before they commit to buying any one design, said Andrew Krepinevich, president of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments during a press conference this morning.

"We're in a particularly dynamic environment right now, when you by vehicles, as we've seen, they tend to last ten, twenty, thirty years," said Krepinevich."So you have to think about the kinds of environments they'd be operating in over that timespan, not an easy thing to do. With an eye toward that, we've tried to identify some trends, and we came up with seven that ought to help inform thinking about what to buy, what not to buy,where to invest and so on."

He went on to warn that the "conflict evnironment" these trends present is going to "become a lot more challenging than it ha been even in recent years."  Despite this, the services must look to buy adaptable vehicles that can be easily modified and upgraded as technology advances rather than seeking to buy brand new, game-changing systems (think FCS.), said Krepinevich.

So, what are these Seven Deadly Trends that CSBA says will shape ground warfare?

  1.  The evolution of the armor versus anti-armor technology war. Think new tanks and armor tech and the antitank weapons that are quickly developed to defeat them leading to new developments in armor tech. It's a never ending cycle and its probably going to get more intense now that anti-armor weapons are getting cheaper and easier to field than ever. (Check out Defense Tech later today for more on this and the other trends)
  2. The proliferation of precision guided weapons. For the last 20 years, the U.S. and NATO have enjoyed a near-monopoly on PG tech. Well, other nations like China (and Iran to some extent) are catching up quickly. HEck, even non-state actors like Hezbollah are acquiring prescision weaponry, something that will completely change their ability to go up against big time militaries like ours, according to Krepinevich.
  3. The "prevalence of the non-linear battlefield: basically, there are no more front lines or rear areas where support troops and supplies are safe. Think Iraq, Afghanistan or even Vietnam. The whole country is a war zone. This means even supply vehicles and maintenance areas are targets -- something that jacks up the price of fuel and maintenance. Therefore, in addition to advanced armor, weapons and networks, new combat vehicles should be designed with fuel efficiency and reliability in mind.
  4. The urbanization of warfare. The world's population is rapidly moving to the cities. Cities are  tough for big, open manuver-warfare-focused forces to fight in. Think Fallujah, Ramadi, Sadr City, Grozny, Hue. No fun. Fighting in cities can reduce American ground forces advantages in stand off weapons, mobility, precision weapons, communications and ISR gear, according to CSBA. Furthermore, "urban eviction and control operations typically require use of sizeable ground forces and involve protracted fights incurring heavy casualties," to quote a slide Krepinevich showed this morning.
  5. The proliferation of nuclear weapons. Asia and the Middle East is in or on the brink of a nuclear arms race and there's no guarantee every nuclear-armed nation will view their nukes as weapons of last resort. This means that American ground vehicles should be designed to detect radiation and protect occupants against it.
  6. The U.S.' "prioritization of force protection." We like our armored vehicles to prevent casualties. This is going to get increasingly expensive as a result of the first trend on this list. The bad guys and potential bad guys are constantly finding new ways to defeat even the best armor.
  7. Finally, the growing reliance on partners. As the U.S. shrinks the size of its military yet faces a world full of security challenges it is increasingly building up the capabilities of allied militaries to act as partners and sometimes as proxies. (Think of how we want our big-time allies like the UK and Australia to fly the same fighter jets as we do so that we can almost act as one giant military during high-end fights. On the other end of the spectrum, look at how we train African nations in counterinsurgency operations so that they can hunt terrorist groups.) This means that we may have to field some vehicles that can be easily operated and maintained by our partners.
The Army and Marines can't buy any one set of vehicles that can perform flawlessly in light of all these trends, so the services should look at buying upgraded versions of vehicles that exist today while leaving room for them to be modified to meet the challenges posed by these trends and pouring the money saved into research and development of new technologies that can be brought online in the coming decades, said Krepinevich:
Our bottom line here is, what's the operational concept . . . how are we gonna operate in this kind of environment, how are we gonna enter a theater when it's contested, how are we gonna conduct operations against either regular forces or irregular forces in a non-linear environment where they have this kind of equipment, if it's a heavily urbanized environment are we going to be prepared to seize urban terrain or is our doctrine going to say we're going to isolate it and basically reduce it; conduct a siege if you will. That has significant  implications for the kind of equipment and the mix of equipment that you buy.

In the absence of a major breakthrough in vehicle defense technologies, spending large sums on new systems at this point seems ill-advised...Absent some major technological advance that really helps you to be dramatically more effective -- and not just the promise, like we had with FCS and EFV and some of the other systems in the other services but a high confidence -- it seems to me that you're better off not pouring a lot of money into development to get a marginally better product, a marginally more effective system. Better to invest in recapitalizing what you have to the extent that you can and also investing in [science and technology] to help you solve some of the challenges that you're going to confront in this emerging land warfare environment.

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