US Army stresses the need for Ground Combat Vehicle amid doubts


US Army leaders have argued for the Ground Combat Vehicle troop transport after the Government Accountability Office said the Army needs to answer outstanding questions about the need for the vehicle before issuing technology development contracts.

Key questions exist regarding the urgency of the need for the GCV, the exploration of alternatives, the seven year delivery schedule and the level of maturity of the technology used. Michael Sullivan from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) raised these questions at the March 9 meeting of the House Armed Services subcommittee on tactical air and land forces.

The GAO’s testimony this month included new details from the Army GCV Red Team report, which the army initiated last year to examine the programme’s requirements and acquisition process. The group’s findings led the Army to rescind the original request for proposals in August and release a revised request in November.

In its study, the Red Team considered the urgency of the need for GCV in the next seven years. The report concluded “the funds that have migrated from the [Future Combat Systems] program were driving the events and activities of the programme, versus a true capabilities gap,” Sullivan said.
“Decision makers will have to decide if the Army has made a convincing case for the GCV before allowing it to proceed into the technology development phase,” he added.

The GCV will be the first combat vehicle designed from the ground-up to operate in an IED-threat environment and General Peter Chiarelli, vice chief of staff of the Army, said “The Ground Combat Vehicle takes into account all of the lessons we have learned over the last ten years of warfare and ensures that we have a combat vehicle that will allow us to fight in a full-spectrum environment”.
“So far the Army has justified the need for the Ground Combat Vehicle by pointing out that they need a vehicle with increased protection and more on-board power,” said Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, who went on to ask why upgrades to the Bradley Fighting Vehicle would not be sufficient.

Army leaders underscored the need for development of a Ground Combat Vehicle, as an upgraded Bradley does not have the capacity to deliver a nine-man infantry squad into battle a critical requirement, they said, given how the Army conducts operations. The Bradley can carry six fully equipped troops.

Army leaders also stressed that current vehicles cannot accommodate future advances in the areas of armour protection, computing and networking technologies. The size, weight and power considerations impose clear limits on how much current vehicles can be upgraded, they said.

Speaking before the Senate Armed Service Committee March 3, General Martin Dempsey, Training And Doctrine Command (TRADOC) commander and nominee to be chief of staff of the Army, told lawmakers that the Ground Combat Vehicle represents a process of change.
“I think the Ground Combat Vehicle is prototypical, not only of the next generation of a ground combat vehicle, but of a process change and that’s how we should look at it. The Bradley has been a venerable part of our inventor, but it has reached its maximum capacity in weight and energy,” Dempsey said.

Also, unlike the Bradley, the Ground Combat Vehicle will be designed to deliver a full nine-man squad under armour to the battlefield, something considered crucial to the Army’s ability to conduct fire and manoeuvre in close-quarters fighting in complex terrain, Army officials said.

Furthermore, the Ground Combat Vehicle would be of critical assistance in today’s current combat environments in Iraq and Afghanistan in addition to being helpful against anticipated future threats, Chiarelli explained.

The Ground Combat Vehicle will be built with an incremental ability to add or remove armour protections as dictated by the threat level and what becomes available by way of new technologies, he said.
“We see Ground Combat Vehicle as a vehicle for the future and for today. A vehicle that can add capability packages and add armour as it may be needed for a firefight or shed the armour when it is not needed,” said Chiarelli. “Through incremental builds we want to put new technologies on the vehicle as they become proven and capable.”

The Army is now evaluating proposals submitted by industry bidders in response to the recently released Request for Proposal (RFP), which outlines the need for mature technology and clear cost goals. The RFP was issued in February 2010 but this was cancelled in August so the Army could revise its requirements.

A new RFP was issued on November 30 last year, giving companies until January 21 to respond. The RFP states that the government intends to hit a target unit-manufacturing cost of $9-10.5 million per vehicle with operational sustainment costs of $200 per mile.

The Army plans to award up to three 24-month Technology Demonstration contracts. However, Pentagon acquisition chief Ashton Carter will have to approve the process when he meets Army officials in April for the GCV Milestone A decision.

Earlier this year, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) and BAE Systems-Northrop Grumman submitted proposals for the GCV. A prototype of the vehicle is expected in 2015, and will be fielded in 2017. Current plans call for the eventual construction of 1874 of the new vehicles, beginning in seven years, with the Army planning to whittle the field down to one winning design in about six years.

The RFP was for the Technology Development phase of the GCV, which will be followed by the Engineering and Manufacturing Development, and Production and Deployment phases. No more than three contracts will be awarded, in the third quarter of 2011. SAIC and BAE Systems-Northrop Grumman are expected to be the prime contractors.