WASHINGTON — The Army's plan to modernize its combat vehicles fleet in the near-term looks to acquire a new lightweight vehicle for infantry brigade combat teams and increase the lethality of its Strykers, according to the service's brand new combat vehicle modernization strategy.

In the outlying years of the strategy, vehicles will have robust mobile protected firepower capability and formations could see mostly unmanned, autonomous systems carry out security and reconnaissance missions.

The strategy acknowledges there are no "silver bullet technologies," Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the head of the Army's Capabilities Integration Center and chief architect of the service's operating concept, told Defense News in an exclusive interview. "We recognize that there is no single combat vehicle that does everything for you . . . so what we do in the Combat Vehicle Modernization Strategy is identify, okay, 'Hey, what are our first principles for combat vehicle development. What do we really want to do through the fielding of combat vehicles?"

The Army's brigade combat teams need to come to the battlefield overmatching the enemy's capabilities, McMaster explained. "We know that in a battle a fair fight means barely winning, and barely winning is ugly and costly."

When the Army is "in close combat with the enemy, you want to be the Terminator, if you can be," he added.

The Army has struggled to get new vehicle programs off the ground, cancelling its Future Combat System and the Ground Combat Vehicle without providing new capabilities. The Army awarding a contract to OshKosh for its new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle is the service's only recent victory in the vehicle realm.

The Joint Light Tactical Vehicle.

Photo Credit: Oshkosh Defense

And while the Army has failed before to procure new combat vehicles, recent fighting between countries like Russia and Ukraine "have highlighted the criticality of combat vehicles, and expose gaps in U.S. Army capabilities," according to the strategy obtained by Defense News.

The strategy acknowledges that future missions will require the Army's brigade combat teams to fight with a joint force and "to win against well-armed state, non-state and hybrid threats across a range of operations. Therefore, there is urgency in refocusing the Army's combat vehicle modernization strategy and a need to increase investment to prepare for existing and emerging threats."

Infantry BCTs need lightweight combat, recon vehicles:

The Army identifies a critical shortfall in the infantry brigade combat team's ability to rapidly deploy in restrictive areas whether it's urban, mountainous, in a desert or a jungle. The BCT doesn't have a lightweight combat vehicle that provides mobile protected firepower essential to securing terrain or lodging counterattacks, the strategy states.

The infantry BCT's combat vehicle requirements "are the most pressing across the Army and require the highest priority," the document notes.

Infantry BCTs are the most strategically mobile force, McMaster said, but "the problem with IBCTs once committed is they do not have the mobility necessary often times to accomplish the mission especially when we are looking at so-called anti-access area-denial capability."

Lt Gen. H. R. McMaster

Photo Credit: Mike Morones/Staff

That means the Army is looking to procure a Ground Maneuver Vehicle quickly. The plan is get three battalions worth of vehicles, McMaster said, and then assess the vehicles for possible fielding to further IBCTs. "So we are developing that capability and we are assessing it and we are going to make more decisions," he said.

The Army also has to develop a light reconnaissance vehicle in the near term partly to provide an interim solution to the infantry BCTs lethality shortfall, the strategy notes.

"We need something now," McMaster said, "to particular Cavalry squadrons, especially those that we think would execute early or forced entry operations . . . We are asking industry to show us [their] variances which they have done over the past two years."

While the Army doesn't need a decade to develop a light reconnaissance vehicle, in looking at commercial off-the-shelf and capability throughh a non-developmental vehicle study, "at first glance we do not see anything that really does everything we want it to do," McMaster said, but there could be a more short-term solution to get the mobile protected firepower capability needed while simultaneously developing a vehicle for the long term.

More lethal Strykers:

Strykers are important because they provide soldiers protected mobility, but during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan where roads were littered with improvised explosive devices, added protection made the vehicles heavier and therefore less mobile.

The vehicle also "lacks the sensors and weapons to detect, recognize, identify and suppress or defeat threats at extended ranges or provide fire support for infantry as they dismount in close proximity to the enemy," the strategy states.

Some upgraded Strykers will have 30mm cannons, others anti-tank missiles. Both will have machine guns.

Photo Credit: Sgt. Gemma Iglesias/Army

The plan for Stryker armored personnel carriers, McMaster said, is to equip half of them with 30mm cannons and machine guns and the other half with Javelin anti-tank missiles and machine guns.

"You want to pose the enemy with multiple dilemmas," he said, and so the strategy calls for near-term commitment to the Stryker modernization efforts with plans to evaluate a broader range of options to address the capability gap in the future.

The fiscal 2016 National Defense Authorization Act heading towards the White House would authorize the Army to upgrade 81 Stryker vehicles based on a request from US Army Europe to field upgraded Strykers to the 2nd Cavalry Regiment as security concerns rise due to Russia's continued incursion in Ukraine. Congress did, however, express concern over the unit cost of the upgrades and urged the service to find ways to reduce that cost.

The service will adopt an interim mobile protected firepower capability and develop a solution that fully meets its needs later. The interim plan is to modify existing vehicles or purchase an off the shelf solution in small numbers. The infantry and Stryker vehicles will later get stabilized weapons that will allow it to fire directly while moving.

Nearly obsolete armored vehicles need replacements:

"The Armored brigade combat team is at risk of . . . losing overmatch over potential adversaries," McMaster said.

The strategy notes particular challenges with the Bradley infantry fighting vehicle, which "lacks sufficient protection against underbelly threats" and states, "many enemy combat vehicles outgun it."

With the cancellation of the Ground Combat Vehicle program, the Army has fallen further behind in replacing the aging Bradleys. A newer program – the Future Fighting Vehicle – is on the horizon, but McMaster said the Army needs to move on its development.

"We want a Future Fighting Vehicle like now. I mean like right now. I mean we wanted to do it yesterday, right? Ten years ago," McMaster said.

The strategy places the development of a Future Fighting Vehicle between fiscal 2022 and 2031.

And the Army, from his vantage point, knows what it wants. "We are nailing down the requirements . . . We are going to produce the documents that will help lay the foundation for whatever the acquisition strategy is going to be," McMaster added.

If given the money, the Army's ability to expedite the delivery of a Future Fighting Vehicle is there, he noted.

The Army needs to continue Bradley and tank improvements even as the Army is developing new capabilities, McMaster added.

The strategy calls for improving existing Bradleys through "the introduction of autonomous ground systems that eliminate (or significantly reduce) the need for tele-operation (direct, continuous remote control by an operator)."

Additionally, according to the strategy, the M113 armored personnel carrier (AMPV) is "obsolete, because of inadequate protection and electrical generation capability." The strategy calls for its near-term replacement.

The Army needs to do "everything it can do to accelerate the AMPV because we are already behind," McMaster said, adding the M113 is "kind of a death trap now."

Farther down the road, beyond 2031 and into 2046, according to the document, the Army will prioritize enhancing the armored BCTs ability to deploy quickly and improve mobility, protection and lethality. This means fielding new direct and indirect fire systems, adding in autonomous systems, while replacing main battle tanks, howitzers and mortar indirect fire platforms.

"Such systems will significantly enhance the formation's reconnaissance and security capabilities, provide limited lethality capabilities in discrete formations that are predominantly unmanned, with small manned planning and command and control elements," the strategy lays out.

Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.

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