Upgrades 'new normal' for armor in uncertain budget environment

By David VergunOctober 21, 2014

PEO Ground Combat Systems
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 20, 2014) -- If any journalists at the press conference expected to hear revelations of a major ground combat system acquisition on the near-term horizon, that notion was quickly dispelled.

"If you came today thinking we were going to describe the Future Fighting Vehicle, that we were going to tell you whether we were going to retain the nine-man squad in the back, or that we were going to have a manned or unmanned turret, or whether we'd discovered some new armor technology ... I apologize. You're not going to get any breaking news on that front," said Brig. Gen. David Bassett, program executive officer for ground combat systems.

Bassett and his team spoke at the Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting & Exposition, Tuesday.

The Army made the "difficult decision that it could do more good investing across the entire formation rather than in a specific vehicle," Bassett continued, adding that the current priority is restoring the armored brigade combat teams to their "relevancy so it can fight with all of its platforms across the entire formation."

That investment across the formation, he said, provides upgrades to current platforms and investments in science and technology.

A top priority, he said, is developing the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle, which is a vehicle integration program that will replace the old M113 Armored Personnel Carrier

A second priority is improving the Paladin self-propelled howitzer, Basset said.

Col. James Schirmer, project manager for armored fighting vehicles explained that the problem with the current Paladin is that it's "severely underpowered at the weight we're operating at now, so its speed of cross-country mobility is pretty restricted."

The forward maneuver force "needs that artillery umbrella ... and we really lost the ability to do that because it's one of the slowest vehicles in the formation," he explained.

The Paladin Integrated Management program is designed to address a number of weaknesses, he said. It's currently in low rate production and is "progressing very well."

One of the strengths of the Paladin, Schirmer said, is that its engine, transmission and suspension share a commonality of design and parts with the Bradley fighting vehicle. This commonality results in a reduced logistics footprint for the brigade on the battlefield. It also makes it easier to maintain and get parts when they're needed.

Regarding the Bradley, Schirmer, said there are a couple of important upgrades, notably the ECP1 and ECP2, meaning engineering change proposals.

ECP1 is all about restoring space, weight and power to the vehicle as Bradley has "grown pretty heavy over time, and as that happened, the vehicle got lower and lower on its shocks," he said. As it got closer to the ground it not only lost clearance over rough terrain, it also became more vulnerable to IEDs.

ECP1 will put a new suspension system on the Bradley and a new, lighter track. This will allow the Bradley to carry more weight and "put reliability back where it ought to be and restore our ground clearance protection," he explained. The contract to do that was awarded to a small company this summer.

ECP2 is about restoring "automotive power" to the Bradley. It includes a larger engine and a new transmission. ECP2 is also adding a smart-power management system to provide better electrical distribution on the vehicle. The upgrades also prepare the vehicle to accept future networking upgrades.

Schirmer also oversees development of the Future Fighting Vehicle. "The FFV is intended to eventually be the new infantry vehicle of the future," Schirmer said, adding that it could eventually replace the Bradley. "It would resemble a Bradley on steroids."

Andrew DiMarco, project director for main battle tank systems, said the Abrams main battle tank and the M88 Heavy Equipment Recovery Combat Utility Lift and Evacuation System, commonly called HERCULES, will get incremental upgrades to give the vehicles increased protection and lethality. Like the Bradley, they too will be configured for future changes in the network. Sensor upgrades will also be added.

Regarding the Stryker, Bassett said a fourth brigade of Strykers has been approved for conversion to double-V hull. Some other upgrades will occur to improve lethality, mobility, protection and reliability.


If sequestration continues in 2016, the cost of producing vehicles will climb as fewer units are ordered and the ordering-in-quantity discount is lost, Bassett lamented.

Bassett's strategy to this problem of the purse is: "Let's take a pause and learn."

Bassett's team is looking at a number of different maturing technologies that could affect various aspects of the FFV, such as its troop-carrying capacity. The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command is also working with Bassett's team. By the time sequestration ends, "we'll have a better idea of what Army wants and we'll have a range of technical options."

Besides the current investment in incremental upgrades, ground combat systems is focusing investments in the science and technology area, in an effort to bring down vehicle weight, improve firepower, and improve engine efficiency and power.

There's already a range of technical options that are now available to improve lethality, protection and maneuverability on just about all the vehicles. The problem, he said, is that with budget constraints, the Army simply can't afford some of the solutions, so it must calculate a cost-benefit analysis for every solution.

For example, he said there are some exotic metals out there that can bring down weight and provide good protection, but the prices are just too high.

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