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Army's top vehicle program gets another black eye

Apr. 2, 2013 - 06:27PM   |  
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WASHINGTON — The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) took a serious jab at the Army's highest priority vehicle program today, issuing a report that includes a recommendation of keeping the current Bradley infantry fighting vehicle fleet as opposed to building new Ground Combat Vehicles (GCV) to replace them.

The report outlines four possible options to develop a next-generation armored combat vehicle starting in 2019:

• Purchase the Israeli Namer armored personnel carrier.

• Buy new, upgraded versions of the Bradley infantry fighting.

• Purchase the German-made Puma infantry fighting vehicle.

• Cancel the GCV program and improve existing vehicles in the Bradley fleet to extend its lifecycle.

The agency estimates the Army will have to spend $29 billion between 2014 and 2030 on 1,748 GCVs. Using a set of metrics that aligns with the Army's requirements for protection, weight, firepower and ability to carry a fully loaded, nine-man squad, the CBO estimates that “fielding Pumas or upgraded Bradleys would cost $14 billion and $9 billion less, respectively, than the Army's program for the GCV and would pose less risk of cost overruns and schedule delays.”

The Namer would cost an estimated $9 billion less than the GCV, the CBO said.

Of the four options, the CBO said if the Israeli Namer was chosen, “soldiers and vehicles would probably survive combat at slightly higher rates than would be the case for the GCV” while still carrying nine soldiers. However, the Namer is much larger and heavier than what the Army is currently looking for.

The second option, upgrading the Bradley IFV, “would be more lethal than the GCV against enemy forces and would probably allow soldiers and vehicles to survive combat at about the same rates as would the GCV.”

The drawback is that it only carries seven soldiers, which would break up squads.

Buying the Puma IFV, which only carries six passengers, would mean the Army would have to buy five vehicles for every four of its current Bradley IFVs. That said, the CBO writes that the vehicle “would be much more lethal than other vehicles that CBO evaluated, including the GCV. Its ability to protect passengers and survive combat would be slightly better than the GCV's and it would be almost as mobile.”

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The fourth option, of course, is to buy no new vehicles and instead spent $4.6 billion between 2014 and 2030 to maintain the fleet effectiveness of the Bradley through a life extension and modernization program.

The analysts wrote that while this last option would offer “no improvement over the fleet's current capability,” it would allow the money to be spent on other Army priorities while the service better articulates its strategy. Looking at the numbers, this means that the service would have an estimated $24 billion more to play with between now and 2030.

Teams led by General Dynamics and BAE Systems won $400 million Technology Development contacts in August 2011, and the Army plans on downselecting to one competitor before a 2019 production decision.

During a lengthy analysis of alternatives conducted last summer at Fort Bliss, Texas, the service evaluated the Bradley A3, a turretless Bradley, a double V-hulled Stryker, the Swedish CV9035 and the Israeli Namer.

The Army also evaluated other European vehicles in other locations, including the German Puma, the Russian BMP and the VBCI infantry fighting vehicle, produced by France's Nexter.

Army officials said in February about some of the reasons why the European variants were deemed inferior to the service's own new-build plans, concerns that were echoed on Tuesday by Army spokeswoman Ashley Givens.

Givens told Defense News that the assessments of the vehicles at Fort Bliss “confirmed that currently fielded vehicles are optimized for performance within their expected operating environments,” which don't necessarily align with current and future Army requirements.

“Although all assessed [vehicles] met some of the critical GCV requirements, none met the minimum set of GCV requirements without needing significant redesign,” she said.

Moving forward, Givens said, “the Army continues to fine-tune the vehicle requirements to support cost targets while continuing to evaluate requirement trades that better align with the goal of an affordable and achievable vehicle.”

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