The U.S. Army is debating what to do with its mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, such as this Husky, after the war. (U.S. Army)
As the fiscal year 2013 defense budget continues to be hashed out on Capitol Hill, the U.S. Army finds itself in a curious position. While the service is putting a positive spin on the fact that it is losing about 80,000 soldiers over the next several years, leadership is pushing away more funding for tanks and heavy armor that the service says it neither wants nor needs.
Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington on May 30, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter took a shot across the bow of the House Armed Services Committee, which is leading the fight to add hundreds of millions of dollars worth of tanks and heavily armored vehicles to the Pentagon’s request.
“When something is added to our budget that is not needed, we are forced to take out something that matters,” he said.
Carter added that when the Pentagon is forced to hold on to older systems, it cannot buy new systems with new capabilities, and in terms of vehicle modernization, the past 10 years of rapid acquisition divorced from an overall strategy has been “a lost decade for the Army.”
Regardless of whether that is true, the Army faces significant challenges in sizing and repairing its fleet, while working to bring new systems on line within the next several years.
As Congress and the Army continue to battle over wants vs. needs, many of the Army’s largest vehicle programs have uncertain futures, while others have a clear path ahead.
The Pentagon’s Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected (MRAP) Joint Program Office has procured more than 27,000 MRAPs (from several suppliers in several variants), for about $50 billion since 2007 for the Army and Marine Corps, giving the services a mixed fleet. Included in this count is the MRAP’s smaller cousin, the MRAP-All Terrain Vehicle (M-ATV), about 8,000 of which have been purchased from Oshkosh.
The Army and Marine Corps are still debating what to do with the hulking vehicles once the last units pull out of Afghanistan, with the services saying they envision an enduring requirement for the vehicle. The Army has about 21,000 MRAPs, and Army Col. Mark Barbosa, division chief of focused logistics in the G-8 office, recently offered some clarity as to the vehicle’s future. About 11,000 MRAPs will be prepositioned around the world, while another 7,000 MRAPs “will go into [pre-deployment] Army units like transportation companies and echelon-above brigade medical,” he wrote in an email to Defense News. About 2,000 of those 7,000 will be placed in training sets around the world. These plans are still being developed, and the Army most recently said it wants to keep 18,259 MRAPs.
The Marine Corps has estimated that it could cost anywhere from $124 million to $162 million to sustain up to 2,652 MRAPs from 2014 to 2018, according to a May Government Accountability Office report. The Corps has already included $144.4 million for MRAPs between 2014 and 2018 in its budget plans.
The iconic AM General-made vehicle has been ferrying troops since the mid-1980s, but the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have pushed the vehicle to its breaking point. The Army has pointedly said there is no place for Humvees on future battlefields, but it seems the service is unsure of what to do with the 60,000 up-armored variants in its inventory.
In its fiscal 2013 budget, the service scrapped its Medium Expanded Capacity Vehicle (MECV) program — envisioned as a way to up-armor and modernize the Humvee — which had already spurred companies like AM General, Oshkosh Defense, Navistar Defense, BAE Systems, and Textron and Granite Tactical Vehicles to develop designs. Instead of modernizing the Humvee, the Army wants to go all in on its Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV).
But the Army is still trying to decide what to do with $20 million in its fiscal 2012 budget that was slated for the MECV competition. The money may be used for running a survivability competition among possible suitors, however that might make JLTV advocates nervous. One competitor said that while he doesn’t see the testing as a risk to the JLTV, it represents “an opportunity for the Army to take a look at survivability improvements that can be added to [Humvee] reset already underway without real increase in cost. Current reset does not address survivability. Question is why reset when you can ‘recap’ for the same price?”
The Army has asked for $270 million in fiscal 2013 to address its depot recap efforts — work that is not scheduled to include any survivability enhancements.
There is less controversy surrounding the Northrop Grumman-made Stryker, which carries nine infantrymen and has had multiple, mostly successful deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Both houses of Congress fully supported the 2013 budget request of $318 million to procure 58 new Strykers. The Army has so far taken delivery of 4,100 of 4,466 Strykers under contract and is refitting 760 Strykers to a double-V hull configuration, which offers better underbelly protection from roadside bombs. Army officials said the new variant has been successful in Afghanistan.
On May 24, Frank Kendall, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, signed a Milestone Decision Authority for the Stryker family of vehicles. That means the Army “now has the right to make its own decisions in regard to the Stryker fleet — from modernization to the conversion of flat-bottom Strykers to double-V hull Stryker vehicles” a General Dynamics representative said. A decision is also expected soon on a $60 million pilot double-V hull program in which 49 flat-bottom Strykers are converted in addition to the 760 refits.
The Stryker also has an edge in Army modernization plans because its electronics infrastructure can accommodate the service’s Capability Set 13 — a new communications suite that includes the developmental Warfighter Information Network-Tactical system. The system, which is scheduled to begin delivery to Afghanistan-bound brigade combat teams this fall, is difficult to operate on Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles.
The Abrams tank has been the subject of some debate, with the Army and Congress sparring over how to fund the platform’s modernization and keep General Dynamics’ Abrams plant in Lima, Ohio, open.
The Army wants to wrap up its Abrams buy in 2014 and hold off on upgrading its fleet until 2017, which will mean shutting down Abrams production for three years. The House Armed Services Committee is worried that the shutdown will not only harm the “intellectual industrial base” but also smaller suppliers who will not be able to make up the business they lose during those three years. The governing body added $181 million to the Pentagon’s budget for the M1 upgrade project, while the Senate Armed Services Committee reduced that number to $91 million to fund 33 additional tanks that would sustain production through fiscal 2014. The original White House request was for $74 million to continue the Abrams M1A2 system enhancement package. The fight over the Lima plant and the Abrams program has been hot for the past two budget cycles, and will likely come to a head in the 2013 cycle.
Bradley Fighting Vehicle
The Army requested $148 million for upgrades to its BAE Systems-produced M2 Bradley fighting vehicle in fiscal 2013, while the House Armed Services Committee added $140 million to the bottom line to bring the proposal up to $288 million. The House Appropriations defense subcommittee markup stated that while the committee supported the Army’s scheduled work to upgrade the track, suspension and forward-looking infrared systems on the Bradleys, more was needed. The extra $140 million would pay for upgrades to the “power train and electrical system, in order to better support the technology advances of the Joint Tactical Radio System, Battle Command System, Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, and Second Generation Forward Looking Infrared,” the bill stated. Without the extra work, BAE Systems’ Bradley plant in York, Pa., would have to be temporarily shuttered, which the company says could cost $750 million to reopen in three years.
Ground Combat Vehicle
After developing a new battlefield communications network, the Army’s biggest priority is the Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV), which would replace the Bradley in the Army’s 16 active and eight National Guard heavy brigade combat teams.
The GCV represents the Army’s second attempt at developing a next-generation infantry carrier after the Future Combat Systems Manned Ground Vehicle was canceled in 2009. The service issued two $450 million technology development contracts to teams led by BAE and General Dynamics in August, but while the competitors continue work on their designs, the Army is also conducting a $45 million non-developmental evaluation at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. There, the Army is putting the Bradley A3, a turretless Bradley, a double-V hull Stryker, a Swedish CV9035 and the Israeli Namer through operational evaluations, while also evaluating the German Puma, the Russian BMP and the VBCI infantry fighting vehicle, produced by France’s Nexter off-site. All of these evaluations will inform a separate analysis of alternatives that must be completed before the program can move beyond the technology development phase.
And there’s the cost. The Army estimates that the average unit production cost for the GCV will be $9 million to $10.5 million. That rises to $11 million to $13 million when factoring in spare parts. The Pentagon’s Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation, however, puts the average unit production cost between $16 million and $17 million. The Senate Armed Services Committee voted to fully support the budget request of $639.9 million for GCV development.
Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle
The effort to replace roughly 3,800 M113s in heavy brigade combat teams so far has mustered only $74 million in fiscal 2013 funding, and both congressional committees have fully funded the request.
But that modest outlay won’t last. The program should run at about $1.7 billion through 2017, when full-rate production is scheduled to begin, though in April the Office of the Secretary of Defense granted the Army approval to move the start of production up to 2015, if possible.
BAE Systems has said it plans to offer a version of its M2 Bradley, while General Dynamics plans to submit its Stryker. Navistar has also signaled that it wants to team with industry partners on a design.
Army documents presented at an April 24 industry day state that the vehicle’s average unit manufacturing cost should run $1 million to $1.7 million, and that the service is looking for a platform that has an off-road mobility comparable to the Abrams while offering protection against “direct fire, indirect fire and underbelly threat.”
An analysis of alternatives should be complete by June, with a request for proposals due between the first and third quarters of fiscal 2013. Army leaders have said on several occasions that the program will likely take advantage of existing platforms as opposed to being a new build effort, and Congress has taken a keen interest in the program as a way to keep domestic production lines open.
When the service scuttled the MECV in favor of the JLTV, it essentially threw the door open for industry to go all in for the 55,000 JLTVs the Army and Marine Corps are interested in purchasing. While the program has been in development since 2005, it was thrown wide open on March 27 when submissions for the engineering and manufacturing development phase (EMD) were due. Until that point, three teams had been competing for the contract, led by BAE Systems, General Tactical Vehicles (a joint venture of General Dynamics Land Systems and AM General) and Lockheed Martin.
On March 27, Navistar Defense announced that it was leaving the team headed by BAE Systems to strike out on its own, while BAE said it was turning to an engine made by commercial manufacturer Ford for its family of JLTVs. At the same time, AM General submitted an independent bid for the program, and Oshkosh Defense — which was shut out in the technology-development phase — also re-entered the program with a new design.
The down-select of winning bidders for the EMD phase has been pushed to July, when as many as three teams may receive an EMD contract for 22 prototype vehicles. A low-rate initial production award is still expected in 2015. The Army is planning on a unit cost in the $225,000 range, before armor packages are added.
When the Future Combat Systems was canceled in April 2009, it left a huge hole in the Army’s modernization efforts. The program, which burned through $18 billion in an attempt to supply soldiers with everything from communications and surveillance equipment to new weapons and several new manned and unmanned vehicles, remains a cloud over Army acquisition efforts. Everything the service has done since can be seen as a reaction to the mistakes made in that program. Schedule slippages, retracted requests for proposals and the succession of open competitions over the past three years are all a product of that modernization dream, deferred.