Army Studying Path Forward For Future Fighting Vehicle

By Sarah Sicard

The shadow of the cancelled ground combat vehicle hung over the Association of the U.S. Army annual meeting and exposition, but the service is already looking at options for a Bradley infantry fighting vehicle replacement that could be developed in the future.

“Both because of affordability challenges and because we want to have an opportunity to explore those design concepts, our future fighting vehicle approach at this stage is about building knowledge [and] allowing technology to mature before we commit to a specific future design,” Brig. Gen. David Bassett, head of the ground combat systems program executive office, said Oct. 14.

The Army will decide by fiscal year 2016 whether to move forward with a new clean sheet design for the future fighting vehicle or an upgraded Bradley, he said.

A future fighting vehicle program could start as early as 2019, said Col. James Schirmer, program manager for armored fighting vehicles. Until then, the Army is studying budding ground vehicle technologies and potential designs.

For instance, the Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center is working on various science and technology projects that may be mature enough to be integrated into the new vehicle.

Additionally, “we have General Dynamics and BAE both under contract to do some concept exploration work starting with the work they've already done before [for GCV] and then working the designs to see what would happen if we reduce the number of troops to be carried,” he said. “What are the range of possibilities? What are the different advantages and disadvantages and price points we're looking at to help the Army determine which direction it wants to go in the future?

“When that comes back together toward the end of that time period, we will have a better idea of what the Army wants and we'll have some additional technologies ready for insertion,” he added.

Although the Army is interested in groundbreaking vehicle technologies, Bassett stressed that a future fighting vehicle design must be economically feasible.

“We’ve spent a lot of time in the Army chasing those kinds of requirements that proved neither designable nor affordable,” he said. A huge technological breakthrough “may be what we want wewould like to see, but it has got to be what we can actually build and afford.”

The Army was forced to kill the ground combat vehicle because of budget cuts, not because the program was mismanaged or wasn’t developing a quality product, Bassett said.

"Even when it was eventually ended, the ground combat vehicle was executing on budget and on schedule, and the prototypes that were developed — the automotive test rigs and other test rigs that were developed — were doing exactly what the requirement had asked them to do,” he said.

The problem was that the vehicle was conceived in a different fiscal environment. When budgets became more constrained, the Army chose to sacrifice the GCV in order to keep the armored brigade combat team relevant, Bassett said.

The service’s near term investment strategy is to incrementally modernize its Bradleys, Abrams tanks and M109 Paladin self-propelled howitzers, he said. Upgrades will provide the fleet with new ammunitions, better optics and a more integrated network.

The Army's only current new-start design program is an armored multi-purpose vehicle to replace the aging M113 armored personnel carrier.

Under the Army’s first engineering change proposal for the Bradley, the vehicle will be outfitted with a new suspension and lighter track to restore ground clearance, making it less susceptible to underbelly blasts. Those upgrades will also restore space, weight and power in the vehicle, Schirmer said. Loc Performance this summer won a contract to perform that work.

The second engineering change proposal will increase automotive power with a new engine and transmission. A new power management system will allow the Bradley to more efficiently distribute electricity through the vehicle and share more data between the turret and vehicle.

Topics: Land Forces

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