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FEATURE ARTICLE  

Army Encounters More Delays In Deploying Combat Vehicle 

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by Harold Kennedy 

The U.S. Army has suffered another setback in its drive to produce a new generation of light armored vehicles as part of the service’s effort to transform itself into a more agile, deployable force.

In November, the Army awarded a $4 billion, six-year contract to produce its planned Interim Armored Vehicle (IAV) to a team of contractors headed by the GM GDLS Defense Group–a joint venture between General Motors Defense, of London, Ontario, and General Dynamics Land Systems, of Sterling Heights, Mich. The platform selected was GM’s Light Armored Vehicle, Generation III (LAV III).

Almost immediately after the contract was awarded, however, one of the companies that lost the bid–United Defense LP, of Arlington, Va.–filed a formal protest.

In the complaint, United Defense representatives said that they had offered to provide a less expensive vehicle, more quickly and that the Army had ignored the requirements that it set out for contractors. "We offered a solution that did everything the Army said it wanted done, and at half of the price that they agreed to pay," said Douglas Coffey, vice president for communications at United Defense.

After the protest, the Army did what is required under the Competition in Contracting Act of 1984: It suspended the contract, pending a review by the General Accounting Office (GAO).

GAO, an investigative arm of Congress, must consider whether the Army had complied with the law in making the award, according to John Melody, assistant general counsel for procurement law. The review could take 100 days or slightly longer to complete, he said.

During that process, "several different things can happen," Melody said. Among them:

"We can continue to plan," said Peter Keating, a spokesman for General Dynamics. "But no direct work on the contract can take place until the protest is resolved."

The protest is merely the latest in a series of delays to hound development of the IAV. In the 2001 Defense Authorization Act, Congress required the Army to conduct "side-by-side" comparison tests between the platform selected as the IAV and the medium-weight combat vehicles currently in use by the service.

An estimated 46 percent of the U.S. combat-vehicle fleet consists of the four-decade-old M-113 Armored Personnel Carrier, made by United Defense.

The comparison tests will be conducted by the Army, but monitored by the Defense Department’s director of test and evaluation, Philip E. Coyle III. They "will take years" to complete, Coyle told National Defense. But the details of how they would be conducted "have not yet been determined," according to a spokesman from his office. "The director of test and evaluation is working with the Army to establish the scope and nature of the IAV cost-effectiveness comparison."

United Defense officials are optimistic about the tests, Coffey said. "I think our vehicles will do very well," he said. "The M-113 has more cross-country mobility. It has more internal capacity. It can carry more weight and more people than a LAV III.

"You can get four M-113s on a C-17," Coffey said. "The latest briefing from the Army showed only two fully combat-loaded LAVs fitting on a C-17."

When the contract award was announced in November, Lt. Gen. Paul J. Kern–the service’s top uniformed acquisition official–admitted that the project already had fallen seriously behind schedule. The first IAVs wouldn’t begin reaching the troops until fiscal 2002 at the earliest, he said. And some variants of the new vehicle require further development, which could take two years or longer to complete.

Unhappy Chief
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki "is not happy with the schedule that we are bringing in," Kern said. "He would like it to be much sooner than it is."

Shinseki had wanted to have the first of the medium-weight brigades now being organized at Fort Lewis, Wash., fully equipped with the IAVs by December 2001. That date now has slipped about 16 months and could slip further, Kern indicated.

Shinseki wants the new units, known as Initial Brigade Combat Teams (IBCTs), to get the IAVs as the first major step of his effort to transform the Army into a lighter, faster-moving force in order to be able to respond more quickly to international crises, such as Kosovo. His oft-stated goal is to be able to deploy a brigade anywhere in the world within 96 hours of notification, a division within 120 hours and five divisions within 30 days.

Shinseki intended the transformation process to be well along by the time that the new administration took office, and he wanted the first of the IBCTs to be fully equipped before his term as Army chief of staff ends in the summer of 2003. But the delays mean that the first brigade may not receive all of its IAVs before the spring of that year–and possibly later.

Some Army officials privately worry that the delays may encourage new leadership in the White House and the Pentagon to lose patience with the transformation process. Kern said that he believes the incoming leaders–whoever they are–will support transformation. He added, however, that he is concerned about keeping the momentum going.

"Clearly, we do believe that changing the Army, changing the culture and the organization, is something that does take momentum," Kern said. "It’s difficult to do."

The LAV III is an eight-wheeled platform that weighs about 19 tons–less than a third of the Abrams M1A2 main battle tank that took so long to get to Kosovo. The contract calls for GM GDLS to provide 2,131 of such vehicles through 2008.

Unlike the Army’s earlier combat vehicles, the LAV III is wheeled, not tracked. But Kern cautioned that "the debate of track versus wheels [for armored vehicles] is still open." The LAV III is just a temporary solution to the Army’s needs, he said. It "is not the final answer, by a long shot."

Research continues, Kern noted, on the next generation of armored vehicles, known as the Future Combat System (FCS), planned for deployment 12 to 15 years from now. In that research, he said, no conclusion has been reached on wheels versus tracks.

Still, the LAV III "is a brand-new acquisition for the United States Army," Kern said, "and it sets us on a path to change the organization and the culture of the Army."

It is the Army’s first new ground-combat platform since the Bradley family of fighting vehicles was acquired in 1980, he explained.

The LAV III is similar to vehicles already in use by the Marine Corps, National Guard and military services of Canada, Australia, Ireland, Saudi Arabia, Sweden and other nations.

It comes in several different versions. The basic infantry carrier vehicle (ICV) has armor that protects a two-man crew and nine on-board soldiers from machine-gun bullets, and mortar and artillery fragments.

A mobile gun system (MGS) is outfitted with a 105 mm cannon, the same gun on the original M-1 Abrams. The MGS, however, "is not a tank replacement," said Kern. "The Abrams tanks are the world’s best armor," he said. The Army, he added, has 5,000 of them currently in its inventory and plans to update them, as part of its heavy force.

Direct Fire
The MGS "gives us direct-fire capability to support the infantry elements," Kern said. Other LAV III variants are configured to:

An important trait offered by the LAV III is speed, Kern explained. "And that speed is in two senses," he said. "One, it’s the strategic mobility, getting to the battlefield ... and secondly, it’s the tactical mobility on the battlefield ... "

Unlike the 70-ton Abrams tank, Kern noted, the LAV III can be transported on C-130 aircraft, the backbone of the U.S. military air transport system. The Abrams can only be flown on C-5s and C-17s, which are much larger, but fewer in number and require larger, better-built runways.

Once on the ground, the LAV III can attain speeds of 62 miles per hour on the highway. "That allows you to move at much higher speeds than we are currently," Kern said.

"Most military operations today that convoy from point A to point B have limitations of about 25 mph, with a catch-up speed of five mph faster than that," he explained. "This vehicle will allow us to move at convoy speeds very safely at 40 mph, with higher catch-up speeds.

"And since all of the vehicles possess the same characteristics, whether it’s cross country or on highway, they move as a fighting unit–a brigade combat team–and are able to arrive together at whatever mission they are assigned and retain that cohesiveness."

Another important factor, Kern said, is fuel economy. The ICV, for example, has a 406-mile cruising range, with a 43-gallon fuel tank.

"This vehicle has very superior fuel economy, [compared] to anything that we have today," he said. "So the operating and support costs are going to be driven lower and give us an edge, then, in our ability to continue training."

Plans are to build the vehicle at GM’s plant in London, Ontario, and General Dynamics facilities in Anniston, Ala.; Lima, Ohio, and Sterling, Mich. Subcontractors include Caterpillar Inc., of Mossville, Ill., for the engine; CACI, also of Arlington, for the NBC reconnaissance system; New York’s Watervliet Arsenal for the 105 mm cannon; Rockwell Collins, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for the global positioning system, and Raytheon Company Electronic Systems, in McKinney, Texas, for the long-range advance scout surveillance system.

Some of the subcontractors are from outside the United States. The United Kingdom’s Pearson will provide mine rollers for the engineer support vehicle, Germany’s IBD will supply add-on armor, and Israel’s Rafael & Soltam will contribute external weapons.

Construction of the new vehicles could begin almost immediately, said Keating. It takes about 11 months to build an LAV, he said. That means that seven of the 10 variants could "start rolling off the line" as early as next fall, if the protest is resolved quickly, he said.

The congressional requirements needn’t slow down the program–at least initially, Keating said.

"The initial delivery order of the contract is for $61.7 million in research, development, test and evaluation," he said. "The second order–for 366 production vehicles–is worth $578.4 million." Those two figures, together, don’t come close to the limitations imposed by Congress for this year, he said.

Three of the IAV versions–the MGS, the fire-support vehicle and the NBC reconnaissance platform–still "require development," said Kern. All three incorporate technology that currently is too bulky to fit on a C-130, officials said.

For example, "the MGS turret has to be lowered," said Keating.

Of the three, the MGS is "closest to full development," Kern said. That, he said, should occur "in about two years."

Despite the delays, Kern expressed confidence that the LAV III is the right vehicle for the job.

In making its choice, Kern said, the Army "looked at the kinds of operations that we are conducting today," including the deployments to Saudi Arabia, Somalia and the Balkans. All of those operations, he asserted, involved urban terrain where wheels usually worked better than tracks.

Also, he noted, during the Persian Gulf War, LAVs operated by the Marines and Saudis demonstrated their "cross-country mobility across desert sand."

Furthermore, Kern said, the LAV III has a central tire-inflation system. From inside the vehicle, he explained, the crew can change the tire pressure to accommodate different road conditions, "whether you’re running on a hard-surfaced road, soft sand or mud."

The LAV III can’t do "everything that a track vehicle can do in the worst conditions," Kern admitted, "but it can do some other things much better than a track vehicle can do in other conditions."

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