Army Acquisition Executive Silent on Ground Combat Vehicle, Scout Helicopter

By Valerie Insinna

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — As the Army’s top acquisition executive highlighted the service’s modernization and acquisition priorities in a speech at the Association of the U.S. Army Winter Symposium and Exposition Feb. 19, two troubled programs went conspicuously unmentioned: the ground combat vehicle and armed aerial scout helicopter.

Three portfolios — aviation, ground systems and machine command — make up more than half of the Army’s research, development and acquisition budget, said Heidi Shyu, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology. "Budget pressures mean that the squeeze will be felt harder in these larger portfolios. We have had to make difficult decisions about our priorities." 

The ground combat vehicle and armed aerial scout programs have long been rumored to be dead in the water, with even Army officials on the record that they are unlikely to come to fruition. Those two platforms would replace the Bradley and OH-58 Kiowa Warrior armed reconnaissance helicopter, respectively.

Earlier this year, Congress cut the Army’s fiscal year 2014 budget request for the ground combat vehicle program from $580 million to $100 million. General Dynamics Land Systems and BAE Systems have been working on ground combat vehicle designs, but have not built prototypes.

Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno in January stated that although the service needs a new fighting vehicle, it cannot afford one.

The Army’s top aviation official recently made similar remarks about the armed aerial scout program. Neither the option of upgrading the Kiowa Warrior or buying a replacement are feasible right now, said Maj. Gen. Kevin Mangum, commanding general of the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker.

Shyu's speech, coming two weeks before the Obama administration was expected to release its fiscal year 2015 budget proposal, focused on the positive. Among the service’s most successful acquisition programs are the armed multipurpose vehicle and joint light tactical vehicle, she said.

"Replacing the legacy Humvee with joint light tactical vehicle will improve mobility and survivability for our soldiers,” she said. The program is currently in its engineering and manufacturing phase, with Oshkosh Defense, AM General and Lockheed Martin competing.

The Army is also focusing on modernization initiatives, such as upgrading its fleet of AH-64 Apaches with new airframes and the capability to team them with unmanned vehicles, Shyu said.

Another successful modernization program is Paladin Integrated Management, which improves the howitzer’s chassis and suspension, as well as increasing commonality of parts with the Bradley fighting vehicle, she said.

Shyu spent the majority of her speech discussing the need for the service to continue developing innovative technologies. “This is where we are taking some risks,” she said. “We are still investing in new capabilities.”

For example, the Army is investing in developing future vertical lift rotorcraft that will be able to fly farther with more fuel efficiency. It also wants increasingly lethal weapons, she said. “We are designing materials that will give us a 10X capability.”

The service needs technologies that enable operations in visually degraded or contested environments, she said. Lightweight armor, multi-functional vaccines, and next-generation chemical detectors that can identify nontraditional agents were also on her wish list.

The best time for the military to invest in science and technology is at the end of a war, so that those developments are ready by the time the next conflict starts, she said. For example, the Army began developing the Abrams tank, the Bradley fighting vehicle, the Black Hawk utility helicopter and the Apache attack helicopter after the Vietnam War.

“These were key … weapon systems that ensured the Army’s victory in Desert Storm. We still have all of them with us today,” she said.

Topics: Aviation, Rotary Wing, Defense Department, DOD Budget, Procurement, Defense Department, Land Forces

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