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Gear: Procurement cuts put programs under scrutiny

Oct. 31, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
The Ground Combat Vehicle's $29 billion price tag can't be ignored as the Army manages its expectations for gear in 2014.
The Ground Combat Vehicle's $29 billion price tag can't be ignored as the Army manages its expectations for gear in 2014. (BAE Systems)
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Vendors large and small have used the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual convention for the past decade to showcase emerging technology to an Army that looked to equip its troops with the best that money could buy. But purchases are dwindling as the coffers run dry.

The 2014 National Defense Authorization Act will provide $16 billion for Army procurement. That is a $1 billion cut from 2013, which saw a $1.7 billion procurement drop from the previous year. The bill awaits Senate approval and the president’s signature.

Service leaders must also contend with a number of “ifs.” For example, if sequestration continues, the Army will also be forced to end, restructure or delay more than 100 acquisition programs. Specific programs at risk include the Ground Combat Vehicle, Armed Aerial Scout, unmanned aerial vehicle system upgrades and air defense command-and-control system modernization.

The service in fiscal 2013 had a $5.5 billion shortfall due to sequestration. Belt tightening prevented the planned purchase of double-V hulled Strykers and Apaches, and also cut unit training, flying hours and family programs.

Overseas contingency operations funding is another big “if.” Modernization will suffer more unless this funding continues well into fiscal 2017. The 2014 NDAA, approved by the House in June, includes $2.1 billion for OCO procurement. That represents an $800 million drop from last year’s OCO procurement budget but a $600 million boost over what the Army had requested.

Weapons at risk

Army leadership is adamant that the GCV program would get an entire squad into a vehicle better suited for future fights and, as such, is a top priority. But the program’s $29 billion price tag can’t be ignored.

Helicopter cuts will hurt, as well. The aviation fleet has been in a holding status for years following the cancellation of Comanche and the Armed Reconnaissance Program.

The 2014 NDAA includes $5.2 billion for aircraft. Nearly $760 million will go toward Apache procurement while $96 million will buy the final 10 UH-72 Light Utility Helicopters. This will bring the total purchase to 315 aircraft instead of the 346 originally planned.

Aircraft will consume $772 million, or one-third of the planned 2014 OCO procurement. The AH-64 Apache Block IIIb (new build) doubled from 2013 to $142 million, while OH-58F Kiowa Warrior wartime replacement aircraft funds will drop from $183 million to $163.8 million. CH-47 Chinooks saw an increase from $231 million in 2013 to $386 million.

The Warfighter Information Network-Tactical is also under the microscope. It hit milestones in the past month, but the Government Accountability Office this summer said the program was “not effective” and that its technology had continued poor performance and reliability issues. The GAO report called the Army’s decision to field the technologies risky, but it acknowledged that soldiers would prefer to deploy with the system “as it provides a capability that the Army cannot currently provide to soldiers in theater.”

The Army last year cut the much-anticipated M806 lightweight .50-caliber machine gun. This summer, it was the carbine competition. Army officials couched it as a cancellation, saying none of the eight contenders could beat the improved M4A1. But the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform had questioned spending $50 million to find a weapon that could meet that lofty goal.

Procurement isn’t the only problem. The Army does not yet know how much money it will have to reset gear coming out of theater. The service planned $4 billion worth of reset in fiscal 2013, but funding was cut by about $1.7 billion. The cut meant repairs that would bring 800 vehicles, 2,000 weapons, 10,000 pieces of communication gear and 32 helicopters to near zero hours/zero miles were pushed into fiscal 2014.

If budget cuts and sequestration continue, which defense leaders and analysts say is likely, the service will be required to rebalance the force by decreasing end strength to as low as 420,000 in the active Army, 315,000 in the Army National Guard and 185,000 in the Reserve by fiscal 2023. This will result in a 45 percent reduction in active Army brigade combat teams and organic equipment such as tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, trucks, machine guns, mortars and artillery systems.

Programs in high gear

There are some programs that look to be moving forward or gaining steam.

The Joint Light Tactical Vehicle program looks safe. Sixty-six prototypes produced by three companies started 14 months of rigorous testing and evaluations in September. The price tag is the program’s best defense. Each vehicle will cost as much as a refurbished Humvee.

An initial order for nearly 55,000 vehicles will go to the winner. Long-term plans include the first Army units receiving JLTVs by fiscal 2018 and all 49,000 JLTVs delivered to the Army by the 2030s.

General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems in August won a $562 million contract to build 1,297 Ground Mobility Vehicles. While this is a special operations program, it could have a future among other high-speed, low-drag units. Army leaders have increased their demand to return high mobility and firepower to a vehicle fleet bogged down by armor protection. And many industry and military analysts believe the GMV will provide the performance and profiles needed for long-range reconnaissance, airfield seizure — all of the high-speed missions common to force-entry organizations such as the 18th Airborne Corps.

Weighing in at less than 7,400 pounds, the GMV can be airdropped, sling-loaded or internally loaded on the CH-47. Some competitors fit in the V-22 Osprey.

Some individual and crew-served weapons programs are moving forward, as well. The XM25 Punisher is back on track. Testing and evaluation of a variety of pistols should begin in early 2014 as the service looks to replace the M9. The Lightweight Counter Mortar Radar, whose funds were cut by half last year, is budgeted for $83 million in the 2014 NDAA. That is a more than a 200 percent increase. And the M240L light-medium machine gun is moving ahead.

The Bradley will get $158 million for modifications, while the M88A2 improved recovery vehicle program will get $186 million, a 68 percent increase over the Army request. Modifications to mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles are funded at $563 million.

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