May 1, 2011  

Fresh start

An all-new Army armored vehicle is achievable and necessary

The Army has indicated its commitment to the development and fielding over the next seven years of the first — in over three decades — completely new infantry fighting vehicle that will be designed to meet the nation’s evolving complex security objectives. While that assertion appears at the outset misleading, it is a fact. During the past 30 years, the Army has continued to insert evolving technology into its battle tanks, fighting vehicles and artillery. While the Stryker was the first wheeled fighting vehicle in generations, its capability leveraged the design and configuration of the legacy Light Armored Vehicle, produced for more than a decade. There is no doubt that it is time for a new start for the combat vehicle.

The goal of the new infantry fighting vehicle is to provide dominant combat power when muddy boots are on contested grounds anywhere against any threat — for the next 30 to 40 years, when technologies not yet imagined will be in the hands of our adversaries. We need commitment, focus and patience to replicate the successes of the Abrams tank and Bradley infantry fighting vehicle programs and put the new Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) in the hands of soldiers by the end of this decade.


The first reason for producing the GCV is that the many-faceted threats in an uncertain world influenced by changing war-fighting doctrine require a new fighting vehicle approach. Over the past 40 years, the doctrine for military operations has undergone transformation in accordance with the nation’s assessment of its perceived threat and the reality of global security.

During the Cold War, air land battle doctrine emphasized the integration of ground and air mobility — with qualitatively superior forces — against quantitatively larger Soviet bloc forces. With the end of the Cold War, the Army began to focus on enhancing the mental agility of its leaders and soldiers, as well as leveraging digital technologies. The result was characterized by more situationally aware fighting organizations networked for battle and capable of a range of military operations. The Army’s new operational concept, underpinned by Field Manual 3.0, “Operations,” also characterizes the need for capabilities that enable soldiers and their leaders to conduct both wide-area security operations and, when required, combined-arms maneuver, across the full range of global operating environments.

Today, the Army must be ready for a spectrum of threats that require fighting vehicles capable of distributed, independent operations. It must possess the ability to conduct nonlethal operations, operate in a 360-degree threat environment, conduct high-intensity actions against formidable mounted forces or urban insurgents, and deploy an entire squad of infantry for dismounted maneuver and assault. The types of threats expected beyond 2020 — such as lasers, high-power microwave and unmanned weapons — demand dispersed, decentralized operations, in which dismounted infantry squads may work independent of other forces supported by fighting vehicle over watch and situational awareness out to five kilometers.

Ultimately, these requirements are about empowering individual soldiers, fire teams and squads of soldiers. Developing and rapidly fielding a GCV that empowers soldiers and enables them to meet tomorrow’s challenges constitutes a tall order, but one that is well within the power of the Army, industry and the Congress. This approach to preparing American soldiers for future combat requires a new set of balanced capabilities driven by mature, properly integrated technologies. The challenges facing the Army today cannot be met by attempting to shoehorn more capability into combat vehicles designed against Cold War requirements with a 30-year old vehicle design.

The second reason is that history tells us that with, 1) a clear focus on the part of the Army’s leadership and stakeholder, 2) conviction that we have the right technologies and 3) industry’s integrating ability, the Army can once again provide soldiers and small units with a combat vehicle that can both excel and grow in a multitude of missions.

Some will remember the paths that both the Abrams and Bradley took during initial development back in the mid- to late 1970s. Consider the Abrams tank. During early development, there were many attempts to scrap the program. Early testing with the turbine engine in the deserts of Fort Bliss, Texas, uncovered severe performance problems, and the “experts” at that time were startled that the Army would even consider an aircraft turbine engine for ground vehicle applications. Additionally, many warned that the infrared thermal sight technology was far too immature, and thermal detector yield rates of less than 5 percent in the late 1970s provided a basis for that argument. Fabricating hulls and turrets out of welded plates rather than cast armor was a contentious design feature. Year after year, the XM1 Main Battle Tank program met opposition on Capitol Hill, in the halls of the Pentagon, and in the publications of those “experts.”

Here we are 31 years after the first Abrams was accepted by the Army, and the Abrams rolls on as one of the most capable tanks in the world. The reason the Abrams persists as one of the world’s most capable combat platforms is that it was wisely engineered — with an eye to the future — for growth and because the Army, industry and Congress persevered in the insertion of new, emerging and relevant technologies. After three major upgrades and attendant capability growth, the Abrams offers dominance on any battlefield.

The Bradley story is not much different. While struggling to find the best solution for an infantry fighting vehicle, the Army went back and forth, from firing ports that soldiers could fight from to vehicle occupancy of half of an infantry squad. The inclusion of an advanced hydro-static transmission also offered design challenges that some asserted could never be overcome. Then, the Bradley almost met its death when live-fire testing discovered its aluminum would burn and testers asserted that the Bradley was not fit for either soldiers or battlefields.

The lesson worth remembering is clear. Where would we be today if we capitulated to the naysayers who prematurely claimed that the Bradley and the Abrams were not fit for employment? Establishing the right requirements with clear priorities, allowing adequate design flexibility and engineering a design configuration that can accommodate growth will provide a road map that can deliver state-of-the-art fighting platforms, capable of serving our nation’s security objectives for decades. The GCV program provides the opportunity to develop that road map.

The third reason is that after the fits and starts of ambitious combat vehicle programs — such as the Common Chassis program of the late 1980s, the Future Scout and Cavalry System Program of the early 2000s and the Manned Ground Vehicle portion of Future Combat Systems program in the late 2000s — it is time to field a new infantry fighting vehicle. If the Army focuses its efforts, ensures required capabilities are mostly right, incentivizes industry partners and secures the unwavering support of the Congress, the Army can develop a vehicle capable of battlefield dominance in the uncertain decades to come.

The notion that we can continue upgrading our current fleet — with the burdens of more weight, added internal vehicle space claims, component heat dissipation, added power consumption and strap-on approaches to integration — is untenable. The result will be a cumbersome fighting vehicle burdened with inefficiencies that demands more during its operation than it provides. It is time to begin again with a new program that can address requirements, leverage mature technologies and properly integrate them with solid systems engineering processes, with plenty of room for future growth. The Army is focused on not only current proven technologies, but also how industry might leverage new technologies to deliver, through continuous growth, enhanced ground combat solutions that leverage next-generation lethality, survivability, sustainability and situational awareness technology. The Abrams and Bradley demonstrated that we can develop, mature and integrate new technologies effectively, and through a deliberate systems engineering process, deliver suitable vehicles capable of dominant combat operations. The complexities and demanding nature of the current and future operating environments require that we do this again.

Finally, modern technologies are mature enough to deliver the full spectrum of war-fighting capabilities necessary to win on tomorrow’s battlefields. As in the past, the deck of capability cards can be shuffled, but there are some enduring and immutable required capabilities of an infantry fighting vehicle:

•Crew and occupant survivability.

•Ability to overmatch enemy infantry threats in various ways and at acceptable distances.

•A level of mobility that will allow freedom of maneuver in complex terrain and ability to dismount and over watch when necessary.

• Acceptable operational costs and fully integrated with logistics doctrine.

• An integrated set of capabilities suitable for crew effectiveness, dismounted infantry support and mission success.

• Adequate design flexibility that will accept technological and capability growth.

First and foremost, through its recent science board review, the Army has validated and re-established the need for squad integrity, and emphasized a concept of operations for a GCV capable of transporting and supporting a nine-man infantry squad in a four-vehicle infantry platoon. The infantry squad’s fire and maneuver integrity is required for both wide-area security and combined-arms offensive maneuvers on a complex battlefield. This provides the basis for distributed combat power and decentralized operations. It signals a departure from concentrated and centralized operations that allowed the Bradley to carry fewer occupants with an infantry squad separated into multiple vehicles. Squad integrity (nine men plus the vehicle crew in each GCV) is critical for successful decentralized operations, and must be considered a key performance parameter. An upgraded Bradley cannot meet this need.

The GCV’s requirement set underscores the enhancement of mounted and dismounted infantry squad capabilities, tailored to the operational environment and threat posture for decentralized operations. While there are specified requirements that must be met during initial development — such as a nine-man squad occupancy, adequate force protection, full-spectrum operations capability, capacity for technological growth and a seven-year delivery schedule — the majority of the GCV requirements are tiered in terms of capability levels and scheduled incorporation. The common sense approach to tiered requirements is not unlike the requirements process followed by the Army for the Abrams and Bradley. In fact, many initial Abrams requirements, such as a required track life of 2,000 miles, were not met until a decade after its fielding. Even though a 120mm main gun was considered necessary against the Russian tank threat, the M1 Abrams was built with a 105mm gun and a turret that could accept a gun upgrade in the future. That upgrade materialized five years later with the advent of the M1A1.

It will be essential for the Army and industry to look beyond the initial configuration and technologies set, and create a flexible architecture necessary for cost-effective capability growth over time. Operational cost mandates of less than $200 per mile argue that emphasis will also need to be placed on ultrareliability, pit stop maintenance, and on-board failure identification and prediction. The ability to produce as needed hundreds of kilowatts for both on-board and exportable uses is highly desirable. All of this will have to be delivered within a specified time (seven years) and at or less than a specified per vehicle cost ($10 million.) These types of mandates are not new to Army procurement.

The linchpin initially will be to focus industry’s efforts on technologies that have a reasonable expectation of being fully integrated with a low risk. Current combat vehicle technologies that are at the technology readiness levels 6 and 7 are sufficiently matured for integration in the GCV initial configuration. With a flexible approach to design, the Army can expect that as newer technologies mature, they will be integrated into the GCV’s follow-on versions.

A review of the Army’s technology maturation accomplishments emanating from its technology base and recent vehicle development attempts shows a portfolio of technologies and resulting capabilities that have meaningful relevance to the GCV:

• Modularity. Modular component integration (from armor protection to sensor suites) enables more comprehensive/effective battle repair, component replacement, reconfiguration, technology insertion, mission variability and training flexibility. Benefit: The GCV can be tailored to fulfill full-spectrum missions well into the future.

• Sustainability. On-board, conditions-based maintenance with real-time off-board data downloads enables components to be replaced before they fail, and permits failure analysis and re-engineering insight and services when required. This leads to optimum operational readiness with greatly reduced sustainment costs. This is key in meeting imposed life-cycle cost constraints. Benefits: The GCV operates at higher levels of readiness and reduced maintenance costs.

• Network connectivity. As part of a mobile network node, soldiers operating the GCV will have access to streaming unmanned aerial vehicle data, Warrior Information Network-Tactical backbones, Joint Tactical Radio System communications and the dismounted Nett Warrior ensemble. This connectivity will provide an unprecedented common operating picture. Benefit: The GCV will be network-enabled immediately upon deployment, fully netted on the move, and can modify its capability over time in accordance with network demands.

• Useful mobility. The GCV can use propulsion technology that provides maneuverability and agility on the battlefield. New automotive solutions enhance maintainability, growth, fuel and energy efficiency and total cost of ownership. A hybrid-electric propulsion approach that meets on-board power demands at acceptable weights and can export large quantities of immediately usable power is not a trivial benefit in this age of a digitally enabled battlefield. Benefit: The Army can leverage maturing advances in commercially available hybrid-electric technology with the attributes that accompany hybrid electric propulsion, such as off-board power availability.

• Situational awareness. A hemispherical 360-degree mounted and dismounted situational awareness capability for the entire rifle squad enables situationally aware decentralized/distributed operations. Benefit: The infantry squad will be informed and dominant from base camp to the objective.

Undoubtedly, the GCV program will encounter bumps along the way, but the Army and defense industry have the intellectual horsepower, commitment and perseverance to be successful. What the GCV program needs — right now — is a firm recognition that is it necessary, commitment to overcome the technical challenges that will present obstacles in program performance, and most of all, unity of purpose among Army leadership, industry and the Congress. AFJ