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National Defense > Blog > Posts > Army Will Start Experimenting With New Combat Vehicle Concepts
Army Will Start Experimenting With New Combat Vehicle Concepts
By Jon Harper
 


HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- The Army plans to build prototypes of next-generation combat vehicles within about five years, according to the director of mounted requirements at the service’s Maneuver Center of Excellence.
 
Many questions remain as to what the platform, also known as NGCV, would look like and how it would fit in combat formations.
 
“As of today we’re not certain if NGCV is going to be a replacement for the Bradley -- in other words if it’s going to be an infantry fighting vehicle -- or if it’s going to be a replacement for the … the Abrams [tank], or potentially both,” said Col. William Nuckols, Jr.
 
It could end up being “a family of vehicles,” he told members of industry and reporters March 14 at the Association of the United States Army’s Global Force Symposium.
 
Later this year the service will establish a NGCV integrated concept development team to flesh out potential options, he said.
 
“That will begin in earnest the … assessments of technology” in terms of readiness levels and manufacturability, and “begin to chart the course” for the project, he said.
 
Technologies of interest include directed energy and energetics; power generation and storage; vehicle protection and protective suites; and robotics and autonomous systems.
 
The need for offensive and defensive cyber and electronic warfare capabilities is also on the minds of Army planners as they look toward the future, he said.
 
A near term objective is the production of at least two technology demonstrators to further assess what’s available and inform requirements.
 
“We plan on building the demonstrators collaboratively with stakeholder partners [in the Defense Department] … and collaboratively with industry,” Nuckols said.
 
The Army hopes to have them completed no later than fiscal year 2022.
 
“We do have sufficient funding beginning next year to at least do 80 percent” of what would be required, he said. But “I think we need more money … to get what we need to get out of those tech demonstrators in terms of assessing technology and informing the requirements,” he added.
 
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley is “a big proponent” of this type of prototyping, Nuckols noted. “I think we’re going to be OK” when it comes to funding, he said.
 
Fiscal year 2022 is expected to be a key decision point for the project.
 
“We anticipate FY22 being when we decide whether or not we want to make NGCV a program of record and move forward, or take a pause [and] wait for the critical mass of technologies to get us where we need to go in order to make that decision to invest that huge sum of money into a new program,” he said.
 
Alternatively, a decision could be made at that time to modernize the Abrams and the Bradley rather than move forward with the next-generation combat vehicle, he noted.
 
“We’re really looking at everything and trying to see where the sweet spot is in terms of waiting for something to develop, and not waiting too long that we’re left with 50-year-old Bradleys and 50-year-old Abrams that we nurse along for that entire time,” Nuckols said. “It’s a balancing act.”
 
The Army aims to field a next-generation combat vehicle by the early 2030s, although it could potentially come sooner, he said.
 
“We could go faster once the technology demonstrators are completed and we assess the technologies and we make some refinements to our requirements,” he said. “But the anticipated first unit equip date is based on our assessment of our current acquisition strategy and the timelines of bureaucracies associated with that.”
 
Nuckols said decisions about requirements and the role of NGCV would be driven by lessons learned from recent conflicts in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere; expectations about the future operating environment; current and future enemy capabilities; Army warfighting concepts; and “fiscal realities.”
 
The service will also look to overseas partners, he noted.
 
“When we look at things like materiel solutions for capabilities, we’re looking across the globe and taking the best of breed from many of our allies’ capabilities and technologies,” he said.
 
The Army is also drawing lessons from the successes and failures of past programs such as Future Combat Systems, which was canceled in 2009.
 
“FCS was … waiting forever for those technologies to finally come down the chimney with Santa Claus,” he said. “We’re not taking that approach. We have some aspirational operational capabilities that we’d like to have but we’re going into this with our eyes open.”
 
“We’ll make decisions along the way on whether or not we’ll even continue with NGCV based on … technologies available” and their readiness levels and manufacturability, he added.
 
The project could be abandoned later on if the Army determines that “we’re better off simply integrating those technologies into our current platforms,” he said.

Photo: M2A2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles (Army)

Comments

Re: Army Will Start Experimenting With New Combat Vehicle Concepts

It could end up being a "family of vehicles"?  Sounds a bit like a case of "FCS is dead...long live FCS!"  Does the Army never learn from its past mistakes? The past twenty years have seen program after program suck down huge amounts of development money, only to be canceled with nothing (or danged little) to show for the investment. Wolverine, Grizzly, RAH-66 (and the short-lived successor ARH), Crusader, FCS... Note to procurement wonks--trying to develop a "family" of vehicles around a common baseline will result in a bunch of different variants that are not particularly good in any single role.  FCS redux is a bad idea.
Kevin at 3/14/2017 10:49 PM

Re: Army Will Start Experimenting With New Combat Vehicle Concepts

I think it would behoove the US Army to first start with the Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) light tank as the next prototype, two of which already exist under the M8 AGS by BAE and the light tank with Abrams turret by GDLS.  But these are not what the US Army wanted because the US Army never really stated what it wanted in the light tank.  These are concepts presented by companies for the US Army.  As the companies said, the US Army needs to sit down with them and tell these companies what they like and don't like about their light tank designs.  Did this happen yet?

The issue many contractors criticize about the US Army is their lack of clear and precise requirements.  WHAT does the US Army WANT and HOW do they WANT it and for HOW MUCH?  It's that simple.  If the US Army doesn't give clear instructions, information, and guidance, then all heck breaks loose, such as that 80-ton Ground Combat Vehicle prototype that proved too big and heavy to transport.

So start small with the MPF light tank.

Another thing is that, once again, the tank and Bradley stole the show (and the funds), as usual.  It's like the fighters steal the show for the USAF and the carriers grab all the attention for the US Navy.  Does the US Army always need to focus on its star "big ticket" players of tank and IFV?  Can another vehicle be a star such as a LOSAT or CKEM tank killer, or a quiet scout vehicle, or a wheeled tank destroyer with 120mm gun?

WHAT issues do the US Army need to solve?  Is it the need for a cannon to support the troops in bunker busting?  Is it a need to combat new enemy tank armor?  Is it the need for more SAMs?  Is it the need for armor for the light infantry and Airborne?  These are the issues that have faced the US Army for years and the US Army struggled to field a solution.

I think that the US Army is running into the problem of not fielding anything new.  SOMETHING new is another vehicle and weapon for the enemy to worry about ("quantity has a quality").  By canceling this and that, the issues the US Army has still remains unresolved and so it's back to the same inventory of M1s, M2s, M3s, M109s, MLRS, and M113s as your staple crop of AFVs.  By just fielding something new would add a new player with new capabilities to the playbook...like the MPF, Multimission Launcher, or a CKEM launching vehicle.  The Russians, Chinese, and NATO have a lot of vehicles in their stable, more so than the US Army.  And the ironic thing is that these armies seem to be able to manage them all with the supply chain.
Peter at 3/14/2017 11:09 PM

Re: Army Will Start Experimenting With New Combat Vehicle Concepts

Good write up, I found the quick brief informative. DATC is the OTA for the NextGen prototype and they are hosting an information brief in Michigan at the end of this month. Looking forward to gathering more information.
Misty Martin at 3/15/2017 12:10 AM

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