Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said Jan. 23 that he hopes the service can get back to building a new infantry fighting vehicle in a few years. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — If the omnibus budget bill that President Obama signed earlier this month didn’t already make it clear, the Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle program is all but dead.
After Congress slashed $492 million from the Army’s $592 million fiscal 2014 request for continued development of the program, it appeared that the next-generation infantry carrier was being relegated to little more than a technology development and study program.
In a breakfast speech Thursday, Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno drew a thick black line under that assumption when he asked, “Do we need a new infantry fighting vehicle? Yes. Can we afford a new infantry fighting vehicle now? No.”
Odierno said he hopes that the remaining funding will allow the Army to continue to develop technology so that “three to four years from now” the service can get back to building a new infantry fighting vehicle to replace the aging Bradley.
“I was very pleased with the progress of the Ground Combat Vehicle,” he insisted. “I think we have the requirements right. We’re starting to see really good development by the contractors involved with this so it’s important that we carry that forward, so we’re trying to figure out how to carry that forward.”
BAE Systems and General Dynamics have been given hundreds of millions of dollars by the Army since 2011 to develop technologies for the GCV program, even though the Congressional Budget Office has argued against building the platform due to its ballooning weight, armor and projected sustainment requirements. In an April report, the agency estimated that the Army would have to spend $29 billion between 2014 and 2030 to purchase 1,748 GCVs.
Repeating a mantra that other service leaders have espoused over the past two years, the chief said that the service is looking for “leap-ahead technologies” that would allow it to build ground vehicles that are light and mobile, while still providing the protection against rockets and roadside bombs needed on today’s battlefield.
Over the past decade “we’ve traded mobility for survivability,” he said, adding, “I need tactical mobility for the future.”
According to the results of recent Army war games and comments the chief and his top advisrs have made over the past several years, the service projects that it will have to deploy rapidly and in small formations in future conflicts.
Leadership has been vague as to why it is convinced that future conflicts will hinge so critically on the Army’s ability to get to the fight faster, but it’s easy to see the lessons that Army brass have taken from recent conflicts such as the 2006 Israel thrust into Lebanon, the French intervention in Mali, and the emerging role of ground forces in places like South Sudan and the Central African Republic.
In the future, “we have to be expeditionary” Odierno added. “We have to be prepared to deploy very quickly. We have to get there in small packages. We have to get there with the least amount of support necessary. We have to be able to go to remote areas.”
Given these requirements, it might be hard to square Odierno’s claims that the Army had GCV requirements “right” as the vehicle was estimated to weigh as much as 70 tons, and as such, would not be easily deployable.
But the service is pressing on with other ground vehicle programs.
“We’re going to build new when its absolutely essential,” Odierno said, calling out the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle and Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle as programs that will live on. “We have to have these systems” to replace the ancient M113 infantry carrier and the Humvee.
As far as the service’s helicopter fleets, Odierno said the Army will continue to invest in Black Hawks, CH-47F Chinooks and Apache Block III attack helicopters for the foreseeable future. ■