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The Next Army Procurement Disaster Pt 1

March 15, 2010
tags: ,

Computer-generated image of the canceled Future Combat Systems (FCS) Mounted Combat System

Here we go again…

You would think of all the services, the US Army would learn the lessons of expecting too much out of a single program, especially after its Future Combat Systems debacle. So much wishful thinking, as revealed by plans for a new 50-70 ton, tracked Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV). Here specifically are what the Army expects this miraculous multipurpose vehicle to perform:

  • Carry an infantry squad
  • Equal or surpass the under-belly protection offered by MRAP.
  • Tracks for off-road mobility
  • Side protection of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle
  • Operational mobility of the Stryker
  • A powerful cannon
  • Active defenses as well as armor

Sigh, they never seem to learn. Andrew Oh-Willeke, the Washington Park Prophet laments Military Procurements One Size Fits All Disease:

The problem with the Ground Combat Vehicle program is that it simply tries to do too much in one vehicle. A vehicle with integrated non-lethal technologies has its place; but not in the same vehicle that is capable of withstanding on onslaught of fire from autocanons, provides 360 degree protection from rocket propelled grenades and has defenses against heavier anti-tank guided missiles and sabot rounds.

The need to have all nine members of an infantry squad in a single vehicle (in addition to three vehicle crew) is not obvious. Speed and the kind of off-road capabilities that you can only get in a tracked vehicle aren’t good companions.

The strong desire for off-road capabilities doesn’t seem to be a good fit with how the Army uses its vehicles in practice. The primary design feature of the Humvee was off-road capability comparable to that of tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles. It delivered, but in practice was almost always driven on road anyway, even in places like Iraq where there are extreme threats of bombs buried in roads.

A focus on a bigger canon doesn’t necessarily make sense against the backdrop of a military environment where the trend has been heavily towards missiles for technological reasons. For example, in the Gulf War, Bradleys which have infantry squad sized anti-tank missiles instead of the heavy tank round of the Abrams tank, proved just about as effective as Abrams tanks which are designed for anti-tank warfare, at destroying Iraqi tanks.

It’s a Sickness!

The bottom line being:

The simple truth is that U.S. military has a hard enough time making single purpose vehicles.

The multimission mantra has infected the military like a disease, giving us very complicated, yet mediocre platforms, at gold-plate prices, which do not work very well. During the world wars, and partly for a while thereafter, weapons were built with a single purpose in mind, like small destroyers for ASW escorts, that also proved excellent for various missions such as radar pickets, anti-aircraft ships, even fast troop transports. There were also attack planes, close support planes, and always handy mine sweepers. The author goes on to detail a record of failure when sensible procurement was rejected for “one size fits all” weapons:

  • The Marine Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle
  • The Navy’s Zumwalt class destroyer
  • The service-wide F-35 Lightning
  • The V-22 Osprey
  • The Littoral Combat Ship

That last was my own addition!

Later-Some Modest Proposals!

26 Comments leave one →
  1. Richard Livingston permalink
    August 26, 2010 12:31 am

    As the son of a Kangaroo driver (WW2, first real deployment of a practical, safe armored personnel carrier) My vote would be along the lines of something like this. Take an existing or recently obsolete heavy tank.
    Lose the turret, gun and all unnecesary items inside and fit a set of electro-hydraulically operated armored doors to cover the former turret hole.
    Plaster the bottom of the hull with explosive/reactive plating.
    slap a gatling gun on top in a little teeny turret with the controls remotely operated from a spot down inside the hull. Wire a camera or two into it with night viz, heat viz etc. One of the passenger troopers will man this gun during transit.
    slap a paired set of .50’s for the co-driver in the bow alongside the drivers position, also remotely operated and equipped with the same sighting package as the top gun.
    Put the seating for the troops to be carried in the cleaned out interior. They can enter/ exit out the top as was done in WW2. It would not be very narrow granted, but it would be fast, low to the ground, well protected, pretty scary for the enemy and pretty much IED proof.
    Oh, and the top doors when open and held slanted (increases the the doors “thickness” via the sloped armor effect) should be good cover for the troops as they exit the vehicle
    Or would this be just too silly?

  2. Mike Burleson permalink*
    May 13, 2010 5:06 am

    Thanks jimbo for the info!

  3. jimbo permalink
    May 12, 2010 6:19 pm

    Separate vehicle chassis (mobility) from crew cabin (survivability) from mission packages (spitting lead or whatever your favorite ammo might be). When IED goes off basically under vehicle or somewhat to side, then let the crew cabin get aggressively pushed up and out by blast wavefront, leaving chassis to soften blow as much as possible. Keep crew buttoned up safe while it’s happening and quick release exits ASAP when it’s over and cab has hit elsewhere)…that vehicle’s gonna be toast anyway, in terms of mobility, even if MRAP in most IEDs, so sacrifice it to save crew in cabin with mission pods (CROWS, whatever). And while you’re going for tracks for mobility, why not get that chassis from the Howe brothers, since they seem to have some pretty solid machines working at Aberdeen for past few years.

    Save the squad. Enable them to rapidly be effective fighting force again ASAP after fast ride to other parts in their cabin, and ready to load up again in another (replacement) vehicle ASAP after they get out and do their infantry thing.

  4. March 20, 2010 5:29 pm

    “Computer-generated image of the canceled Future Combat Systems (FCS) Mounted Combat System”

    It looks rather like the SPH equivalent NLOS-C, not like the MBT-equivalent FCS MCS.
    Look at the muzzle brake…

  5. Mike Burleson permalink*
    March 17, 2010 3:57 pm

    Rickey said”So criticizing the Ground Combat Vehicle effort for over reaching is conceding that we must continue to “shoot behind the duck.”

    Except the army track record here is so predictable, as is the Pentagon procurement process as a whole. They want a weapon with takes the place of a great many types and that is cheap to operate. Note that does not mean cheaper upfront costs, which is how Congress decides the new budget, since it is an annual budget not a decade budget. Then you inevitably get a vehicle meant to do many functions none well, that increases in size, with numerous technical problems.

    In other words, a certain recipe for disaster that the military consistently places themselves in, to the suffering of the troops.

    This is not to say thatsome multimission vehicles are not effective, the Stryker being one, as is the CV90 vehicles mentioned in the 2nd post. All these off the shelf weapons are proven, and since you don’t have to reinvent the wheel for modern land combat against Third World insurgents, then here is your answer.

    Improve the vehicles you have, as you mentioned. It is enough. No bankrupting of the defense budget required.

  6. Rickey permalink
    March 17, 2010 3:16 pm

    My apologies to all for misspelling Stryker.

  7. Rickey permalink
    March 17, 2010 2:55 pm

    Let me start by correcting the uninformed comment about the Stryker name. The Army named Sryker after two Medal of Honor recipients. Heroes deserve better.

    Second, if we build it, they can destroy it given enough time and explosives. No vehicle will ever protect against everything (or very close to every thing). However, we need to account for majority of threats.

    Since the invasion of Afghanistan, every U.S. combat vehicle type has been modified. Some of these adaptations are small improvements, but hard to argue over small improvements when lives are at stake.

    So criticizing the Ground Combat Vehicle effort for over reaching is conceding that we must continue to “shoot behind the duck.” If you review the draft requirements document that is out with industry now, you will find that the technology piece parts exist today, just not on one vehicle. This is an integration challenge worth undertaking.

    Giving a squad multiple vehicles for the mission creates a large command and control problem for the squad leader. Rapid mounted to dismounted back to mounted operations are a hallmark of dealing with irregular tactics in complex terrain. A squad leader’s job is challenging enough without making him continue to lead his squad across mulitple vehciles. Also suspect not all vehicles will always be there when the enemy votes on the situation the squad and platoon must confront.

    The Army will have many types of combat vehicles for years to come. The real question is when does divesting, upgrading, or building new provide the most benefit at costs.

    The Abrams maintains its domination as the premier main battle tank with mobile protected firepower. Its original design included growth potential for improvements in electrical power and some protection additions. The Abrams upgrade efforts will hold the edge for a while to come.

    The Bradley family of vehicles has 3 decades of service and is near the limits of adapting to current threats. There are some interesting alternatives for upgrading the Bradley, but the cost benefit is not yet established. For sure, the Bradley vehicles can replace the M113 family, the weakest of all combat vehicles in terms of protection.

    Strykers have on-road speed and troop carrying capacity needed for some operations. An entire infantry squad can fit is one with all their gear.

    The many types of MRAP have provided protected mobility against IEDs, but these are not fighting vehicles. Slow speed and lack of off-road mobility constraint small units where adding off-road capability would expand the options. Just ask yourselves how many Soldiers have been hit with IEDs 100 feet or more away from a road/hard packed route.

    So why pursue the Ground Combat Vehicle? The complex environment today just gets tougher in the future and we need to better than the 1950, 60, 70s designs we are trying to upgrade on the margins. We need a vehicle that can change based on the threat and operational environment plus add new technologies when they mature.

    Improving protection for Soldiers includes explosive blast protection, and ability to observe 360 degrees from inside the vehicle.

    Full tactical mobility means negotiating confined spaces in urban terrain as well as cross country mobility instead of being restricted to existing road networks.

    Finally, lethality means overmatching like systems. An infantry squad needs to overmatch (range and penetration) an enemy’s infantry squad vehicle.

  8. March 15, 2010 1:34 pm

    The answer to the next generation combat vehicle is already in hand.

    Take the Bradley, remove the turret, put a CROWS system on it and there you have it.

    Upgrade the engine, apply band tracks and its damn near perfect!

  9. west_rhino permalink
    March 15, 2010 1:04 pm

    The navy will never go for it! No flight deck and no room to mount the VLS sytem…

  10. B.Smitty permalink
    March 15, 2010 12:27 pm

    “Supplanting” Bradleys maybe, in some situations. However, Strykers aren’t a direct replacement.

  11. DesScorp permalink
    March 15, 2010 12:19 pm

    Meanwhile, the Abrams gets older every day.

    Look, we’re already buying Strykers (what a silly name… sounds like a heavy metal band or a porn star); they’re essentially replacing Bradleys already. Just build a new tank. And make it a real tank, not a “multi-purpose vehicle”.

  12. B.Smitty permalink
    March 15, 2010 11:55 am

    I have to think all that armor and tracks lies in direct opposition to “Operational mobility of a Stryker”.

  13. Heretic permalink
    March 15, 2010 11:20 am

    I am inevitably reminded of “The Pentagon Wars” HBO movie … particularly the segment with the designer complaining, “There’s no room! The men will have to wear the missiles as hats!” with respect to the contradictory demands of generals for building a troop carrying scout vehicle armed with anti-tank missiles with a silhouette profile that looks exactly like a TANK. The finished Bradley is (of course) “a troop transport that can’t carry troops, a reconnaissance vehicle that’s too conspicuous to do reconnaissance, and a quasi-tank that has less armor than a snowblower, but carries enough ammo to take out half of D.C.”

    Reasonable things to put in the vehicle:
    * Carry an infantry squad
    * Equal or surpass the under-belly protection offered by MRAP.
    * Tracks for off-road mobility
    * Side protection of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle
    * Operational mobility of the Stryker

    UNreasonable things to put in the vehicle:
    * A powerful cannon
    * Active defenses as well as armor

    The simple fact of the matter is that the need to have …
    * A powerful cannon
    * Active defenses as well as armor
    … lies in direct opposition to the requirement for …
    * Carry an infantry squad

    If anything, there ought to be a common chassis that carries EITHER an infantry squad OR a powerful cannon and active defenses BUT NOT BOTH. Do that and you can start shrinking the necessary footprint of the vehicle and allow each variant to be specialized “enough” to do its job well (as opposed to badly, if at all).

  14. March 15, 2010 10:31 am

    I meant to say “haven’t suited the LAV”

  15. March 15, 2010 10:11 am

    “Oh and before you get defensive…remember this. The Australians have been operating LAV-25 spec’ed vehicles in Afghanistan for years—and to good effect.”

    Yes and they are wise enough to know when they need to use another vehicle too. They have been using M113 in various peace keeping op’s in South Eastern Asia when conditions have suited the LAV.

    Different tools for different jobs.

  16. March 15, 2010 9:58 am

    “Tracks are brilliant off-road warriors, except they aren’t too road friendly.”

    Ooh no! Tracks are surprisingly OK on paved roads. What you have to remember is when the balloon goes up the roads won’t be full of commuters or people going to Wal-Mart. On dirt tracks/unpaved roads as found in the Third World without the traffic density they are on parity with wheels. And will cause a lot less damage too. Lastly the world isn’t paved. Even somewhere as densely populated as the UK roads only cover a few percent of the land.

  17. March 15, 2010 9:54 am

    Uh Mike, most vehicles spend time either at ranges (in the woods, desert…where ever the base is located) and not traveling highways…thats a misnomer.

    There is nothing cheap about the Stryker. It has morphed into something that it wasn’t suppose to be. Instead of being light, air transportable and technologically advanced—what we have is heavy, as bad as an MRAP off-road, incorporating tech that is found in Bradley’s and M1A1’s and is incapable of protecting its Soldiers from the latest threats.

    Now I will admit that the original vision was flawed but that doesn’t negate the ‘wrongheadedness’ of the continued purchase of Strykers.

    To rename Mechanized Infantry “Stryker Brigades” is beyond telling! Its marketing…and bad marketing at that.

    Question. If the Stryker is all that many of its supporters claim it to be, then why has the Brigade in Afghanistan been so savaged by roadside bombs? Why is the Army seeking to rush the development of a V-hull and get it into the field?

    Why aren’t they doing the common sense thing by putting that Brigade into M-ATV’s?

    Its because Soldiers are asking questions. Why buy Strykers if they can’t fight or maneuver in Afghanistan?

    Oh and before you get defensive…remember this. The Australians have been operating LAV-25 spec’ed vehicles in Afghanistan for years—and to good effect.

  18. Jed permalink
    March 15, 2010 9:47 am

    Mmmm’ not sure about this Mike: “Since military vehicles spend more time on the highways than off, even in an IED rich environment, I’d spend the most money on where we fight the most.”

    Seeing as Afghanistan has two main arteries that might be described as “highways”, even if this statement was ‘military vehicles spend more of their time on well surfaced, metaled roads’ I would argue about it.

    However, we don’t need to argue about it – right tool for the right job !

    Use your Strykers in Urban setting where there are good roads, and your MRAP’s too (although Wikipedia states over 75% of the worlds bridges can’t carry a Cat II MRAP!).

    Use your tracks where the mobility is required – be they heavily armoured (and armed) AIFV’s like Bradley, Warrior and CV90 (being used in AF by Sweden and Denmark). Or use lighter weight vehicles like M113 or Viking where the tactical situation allows.

    One thing your article and qoutes have quite right – there is no one size fits all solution, unfortunately for the cost conscious you need a spectrum from air-mobile armour (M113) through AIFV (M2/M3 Bradley) to heavy infantry assualt vehicle (MBT based APC like the Israeli Namer:

    Right tool for the right job – there is no one size fits all !

  19. Mike Burleson permalink*
    March 15, 2010 9:14 am

    Here’s what I like about Stryker, among other things:
    It is a great urban warrior and a fair off-road vehicle, at a decent price. Tracks are brilliant off-road warriors, except they aren’t too road friendly.
    Since military vehicles spend more time on the highways than off, even in an IED rich environment, I’d spend the most money on where we fight the most.
    The Military likes to buy the most expensive weapons which are rarely used in the manner they are supposed to (they get by with this by declaring they also deter the Big Wars).
    This is why they are bordering on a hollow force in the midst of plentiful funds.

  20. March 15, 2010 8:43 am

    Solomon mentions “Transportable by air.”

    I think this is sales talk more than practical/tactical need. Lets say you need to a company with vehicles by air you would need 12 C130 or 4 C17s. And what good is a company on its own? And why would you want to move a company that far anyway? How many APC/IFVs does a battalion normally have? I think off the top of my head a UK armoured infantry battalion has 70 or so tracked vehicles . A battalion really by itself isn’t much good either. To move an army needs railways, roads, or ships.

    The weight question is odd in another sense. Lets say scientists were to invent a material as light as aluminium but with the same armour potential as Chobham. To carry a section a vehicle would still have to have the same volume. It would have carry the section, the engine, the fuel, etc. Volume as well as weight is what dictates air portability. A school bus may way less than an APC/IFV but to carry it by air would require a larger aircraft because of volume.

    {Solomon isn’t what you said per se. It was just what you said reminded me of this/ made me think of this.}

  21. March 15, 2010 8:31 am

    Reading various M113 vs Stryker discussions are the ‘net it became apparent that most forgot that the discussion was about these two vehicles; for most it became a discussion about tracks vs wheels. I am fan of both vehicles but I am aware of the limitations of both. You can a long way of offroad with wheels even in a two wheel drive car; yet I have seen Land Rovers on their side in the most innocuous of situations. I think a Stryker can take you anywhere you would want to take a vehicle the size of a large van. (The main downside to Stryker is its weight. USMC LAVs are lighter and retain amphibious capability.) M113s are a product of 1950’s technology so yes the armour will be “thin”. But you can’t argue with their offroad performance. Once you have mastered its controls a tracked vehicle will take you through off road terrain a lot easier than wheels. Again there is only so far you would take a vehicle. But the tracks give you that extra room for manoeuvre. A 1litre one care will carry you just as far as a 2litre car; but the extra performance of the 2litre will mean you will be a lot safer.

    I think many without direct contact with or knowledge of the military become confused about vehicle roles. (That said many in the military do so to!) We saw this in Afghanistan where RM Vikings got labelled death traps. The Viking is a superb vehicle for what is design for, that is high mobility in remote regions on the strategic flanks whilst offering (limited) protection. It most definitely isn’t design for warfare of the sort we are seeing in A-stan. But I don’t think MRAPS are the answer either. Heavier and heavier vehicles restricts mobility resulting in more potential choke points etc. etc. I think the problem needs to be revisited.

    What I would like to see is the adoption of vehicles like the Lazar ( But instead of wheels discrete track units like these ( which are also found on some heavy agriculture vehicles. A vehicle like this would have the hull protection of an MRAP. But it would also have the advantages of low ground pressure and increased off road ability (in the sense I have outlined above) Yet if it were to loose a track unlike a conventional tracked vehicle the vehicle could continue. (A gearbox similar to that found in a BTR might be an advantage to as this would allow the vehicle to rotate on the spot. The proper terms escapes me.) Note the turret and firing points and Windows.

  22. March 15, 2010 8:26 am

    The Stryker is the poster child for ‘sorry procurement’…its latest version is approaching 30 tons, its no longer transportable by air, its been shown to lack mobility in rough terrain, its currently underpowered and yet the Army keeps buying them.

    The Ground Combat Vehicle has one purpose. To avoid a procurement holiday and to make sure that the Army doesn’t experience what happened with the M-60…a generation of vehicles skipped because it was kept in service too long.

  23. Mike Burleson permalink*
    March 15, 2010 6:27 am

    Marcase, maybe they just want something to keep the thinkers at the Pentagon busy for the next decade, at taxpayer’s expense!

  24. Marcase permalink
    March 15, 2010 6:25 am

    “Operational mobility of the Stryker”… Interesting, but what do they mean? Wheels are an advantage in Urban environments, as proven in Iraq, but the Stryker got stuck in the mud when out and about in the ‘Stan.

    The whole MGV requirements smell like a tracked vehicle, and doing ‘the Stryker thing’ with tracks might mean rubber single piece ones, which are quieter than the current metal ones.

    I don’t quite get why the Army wants to reinvent the wheel (…) and why they don’t just take the FCS blueprints and ‘pimp’ it up as they can deep six the original weight constraints – the extra 10-20t available should provide for extra IED protection and room for ERA-tiles and/or TROPHY active armor.


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