A U.S. soldier stands near mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles at Forward Operating Base Farah in Afghanistan. The U.S. Army is analyzing how existing MRAPs fit into its planned postwar inventory. (2nd Lt. Karl Wies / Air Force)
Now that the U.S. Army has spent nearly $50 billion to buy 20,000 heavily armored mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles to meet a critical wartime need, the service is trying to fit the platform into its postwar force structure.
Army leadership is conducting a “fleet mix analysis” to inform “how much we buy and how much we keep” across the range of vehicle platforms, Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo, director of force development for the deputy chief of staff, G-8, told reporters.
Cucolo expressed confidence that “there is a future for MRAPs” in the Army, notably in route clearance and engineering units as well as in echelons above brigade and stored away in prepositioned stocks. But most important, the Army is putting together what the general called “contingency sets” of MRAPs that would be available to deploying units when needed.
In an email follow-up, Col. Mark Barbosa, division chief focused logistics in the G-8 office, elaborated on the MRAP plan. Approximately 11,000 MRAPs will be put into these brigade combat team contingency sets prepositioned around the world, comprising 59 percent of the entire fleet. Another 7,000 MRAPs “will go into [pre-deployment] Army units like transportation companies and echelon above brigade medical,” he wrote. About 2,000 of those 7,000 will be placed in training sets around the world while the last 800 or so “will be used for Army war reserve sustainment stocks and contingency replacement stocks.”
Barbosa added that as MRAPs continue to come back from Afghanistan, “some will be uneconomically repairable and some variants are so small that it doesn’t logistically make sense to incorporate them” in the force structure. These will be offered to the other services and federal agencies.
Still, the plan is to “reset all of them” as they come home, Barbosa wrote. There are about 3,000 refitted MRAPs already in the U.S. that are earmarked for specific units.
But the Army has concerns beyond its MRAP fleet. The full complement of 270,000 tactical wheeled vehicles in its inventory has undergone major changes over the past decade, with tens of thousands of new MRAPs, M-ATVs, Strykers and up-armored Humvees that the Army either needs to position in a revamped force structure or divest.
The plans for one vehicle appear set, however.
“For combat, we know the Humvee is no longer feasible,” Cucolo said. The Army and Marine Corps abandoned plans in the fiscal 2012 budget for a major Humvee upgrade, called the Modernized Expanded Capacity Vehicle, in favor of the developmental Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV).
While Army officials stressed there is still a future for the Humvee in homeland security and logistics operations once the last vehicle leaves Afghanistan, the vehicle, which was never really built for combat, will not see the battlefield again.
On April 24, the Army will host an industry day for another new program: the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV), intended to replace the tracked M113 armored personnel carrier, in service since the early 1960s.
John Lee, the Army’s action officer for combat vehicles, said the Army is conducting an analysis of alternatives that should be complete this summer, with an acquisition plan decision late in fiscal 2012. A request for proposals will be issued early in fiscal 2013.
Industry jockeying has begun for the program, which could replace as many as 3,800 vehicles. General Dynamics is interested in submitting its Stryker while BAE Systems has said that it will submit a modified Bradley. Navistar has confirmed it is interested in partnering with another company to work on the project.
Because the Bradley and Stryker lines go cold in 2013 and 2014, respectively, both companies see the AMPV as a way of shoring up their production lines.
The Army’s Ground Combat Systems chief, Scott Davis, said at the Association of the U.S. Army conference earlier this year that the AMPV will “probably be a system that the Army already owns,” and that the Army is “pressing as hard as possible to get the analysis of alternatives done,” in part due to industrial base concerns.
The second item on the Army’s acquisition to-do list is the Ground Combat Vehicle. The service issued two $450 million technology development contracts to BAE and General Dynamics last August for work on the program while it simultaneously conducts nondevelopmental evaluations at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., on the Bradley A3, a turretless Bradley, a double V-hulled Stryker, the Swedish CV9035 and the Israeli Namer.
Elsewhere, the Army is evaluating other European vehicles, including the German Puma, the Russian BMP and the VBCI infantry fighting vehicle, produced by France’s Nexter.
All of these programs, assessments and plans are taking place within the context of budget cuts, the loss of 90,000 soldiers over the next five years, a brigade structure very much in flux and the ongoing “fleet mix analysis.”
Cucolo said that with so many legacy programs bumping up against new builds, “there is tension, and also a sense of urgency to divest what we no longer need. That’s not just for vehicles, that’s for all property. What quick-reaction capability did we develop in combat over the past eight years that we want to keep as a program of record? That’s also part of this healthy tension as we take a knee and sort ourselves out with new organizations and new strategic focus.”
There is also tension in trying to plan for the future while “understanding the fiscal conditions we’re in right now,” Cucolo added.
When looking at new programs like the GCV, JLTV and AMPV, he said, the Army understands that “if we have something that works or can be modified and if modification is cheaper than a new build — because in some cases it’s not — does that work?”
Guiding the evaluations is the idea articulated by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, among others, that the future of conflict will consist of a complicated mix of irregular and conventional tactics and forces that will take place on a constantly changing battlefield. That calls for armor kits that can be switched out to meet a variety of threats, in a variety of environments at different weights.
“I’d like whatever I own to be able to operate across the range of operations” Cucolo said.
The Army’s long, hard look at its overall vehicle fleet is coming at a critical time, and not only because Afghan combat operations are ending. Over the next several years, at least 37 Army systems will transition from new-build production to long-term sustainment accounts. And with this change will come large, long-term sustainment budgets.