Embracing Evolution to Meet the Threat
The Army’s Combat Vehicle Outlook
By Kevin Hunter
AMPV on the Way
In December 2014, the U.S. Army awarded BAE Systems a $384 million, 52-month base term contract for Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) award to produce 29 Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicles (AMPVs) across five variants for delivery during the first half of 2017. Vehicles delivered from the EMD phase will be used for rigorous developmental and operational testing. The award also has an option for the Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) phase, where an additional 289 vehicles would be produced. If the LRIP contract were awarded to BAE Systems, the total value would amount to $1.2 billion for the AMPV effort. LRIP is currently scheduled to begin in January 2019 and should last for three years (ending in December 2021). Full rate production is not part of the current contract, but would follow the LRIP phase and is currently scheduled to begin in 2022.
“The new AMPV award has set in motion a long-awaited and important modernization effort for the Army,” said Brigadier General David Bassett, Program Executive Officer Ground Combat Systems (PEO GCS). “The AMPV family of vehicles will fill critical force protection, survivability, and mobility capability gaps inherent in today’s armored brigade combat teams (ABCTs), with increased capability to provide ABCTs with a highly survivable and mobile platform to accomplish operational support missions. Units equipped with the AMPV will be able to move as rapidly as the supported primary combat vehicles during unified land operations over multiple terrain sets. The combined protection and automotive performance capabilities of the AMPV will enable units to operate more securely and efficiently in the same operational environment as the combat elements.”
“The AMPV capitalizes on proven Bradley and M109A7 designs as well as integrating new survivability design and manufacturing technologies to achieve exceptional blast protection, meeting or exceeding the Army’s force protection and all-terrain mobility requirements,” said Mark Signorelli, vice president and general manager of Combat Vehicles, BAE Systems. “The vehicles fill a critical capability gap for the Army’s heavy forces, replacing the Vietnam-era M113 and significantly improving overall survivability.”
The Army terminated its nearly half century old M113 Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) program in 2007 due to inadequate force protection and the inability to incorporate future technologies and the inbound Army network due to size, weight, power, and cooling (SWaP-C) issues. The M113 could no longer provide commanders with viable capabilities to maneuver across the full breadth of the battlefield.
The current AMPV program will only replace 2,897 M113 vehicles at the brigade-and-below level within the ABCT. There are an additional 1,922 M113s supporting echelons above brigade (EAB). The EAB-level replacements may have different requirements than the current program, but these have not yet been fully determined. The Army is currently assessing how it will address these emerging requirements.
“AMPV will fight alongside the M1 Abrams and the M2/M3 Bradley to resupply the formation, conduct battle command functions, deliver organic indirect fires, provide logistics support and medical treatment, perform medical and casualty evacuation, and, most importantly, function as an integral part of the ABCT formation,” emphasized Bassett.
“Given the current fiscal environment, AMPV must be affordable and based on mature technical solutions. Force protection, survivability, mobility, and power requirements coupled with ABCT mobility continue to be critical performance drivers for the program,” Bassett indicated. “The Army is emphasizing a commonality across AMPV to the Bradley Family of Vehicles as well as the M109A7 Paladin Howitzer, currently in LRIP, with expected resulting improvements in sustainability across the ABCT formation.”
PEO GCS is working on the Abrams tank System Enhancement Program (SEP) to improve the vehicle’s lethality, protection, and ability to carry the network as well as greatly reduce fuel consumption.
The initial stage of this incremental upgrade will address the system architecture (power and data management systems) to support inbound technology, specifically the Army’s network. Army industry partners are currently building prototypes of the selected technologies for this effort and the program recently completed its Critical Design Review. The service’s goal is to drive down fuel consumption through the integration of an auxiliary power unit rather than allowing the turbine engine to idle for long periods.
In the latter stage of this upgrade, improvements are anticipated to the tank’s sights and sensors—centered on the integration of a new third-generation forward-looking infrared (FLIR) technology. “Lethality improvements via upgrades to the gunner’s primary sight and commander’s independent thermal viewer (coupled with new FLIR technology), a color camera, and a laser range finder will enable the tank crew to take full advantage of the capabilities of a new Advanced Multi-Purpose Round being developed by the Project Manager, Maneuver Ammunition Systems (PM MAS),” Bassett stated.
Presently, the Army expects a decision in the FY 18 timeframe on whether to improve the tank again through an incremental upgrade or initiate a new start program for a future main battle tank. This will support new requirements generation, inform science and technology investments in key technology development areas, identify feasibility and key trades, and remain synchronized with the Army’s Future Fighting Vehicle (FFV) effort to promote commonality.
Particularly with the last few rotations on the double v-hull (DVH) upgrade in Afghanistan, the Stryker has proven effective and survivable while fulfilling its intended purpose as a fast, highly mobile medium-weight vehicle.
“The Stryker Brigade Combat Team (SBCT) fills a critical role in terms of deployability, mobility, protection, speed, and lethality that bridges the gap between the tremendous capability that an ABCT brings and the infantry brigade combat team (IBCT) formation,” said Bassett. “Moreover, Stryker was the only ground vehicle during operations in Afghanistan and Iraq that consistently maintained an operational readiness rate well above 90 percent—far exceeding any other combat vehicle.”
Stryker DVH is not just a re-designed, unique v-shape hull, but also includes improved mine-resistant blast seating, improved fire suppression features, and a robust suspension system that provides a smoother ride, reduces shock and vibration, and improves readiness. “With the upcoming Engineering Change Proposal for the DVH Stryker, we’re making an already capable vehicle even better with improved mobility, reliability, and network integration,” noted Bassett.
The Army is strengthening its Stryker ground force tactical communications network one SBCT at a time. The 3/2 ID Stryker Brigade based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord is the first SBCT of three to be fielded with the upgraded Capability Set 14 (CS14) package, including Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, Increment 2 (WIN-T INC 2) and Blue Force Tracker 2 (BFT-2). WIN-T INC 2 provides increased battlefield maneuver speed and an interconnected tactical network for key leaders. Using a satellite network, BFT 2allows soldiers to see their location as well as other friendly and enemy units on a digital map display.
GCV Assessment and Beyond
Bassett said the cancellation of the Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) program perhaps says more about the resource challenges that the GCV portfolio faced as a whole than anything else. “Sequestration put GCV in the difficult position where the Army could not afford both program development and production—though the program was meeting requirements, on budget and on schedule—while simultaneously addressing the remaining needs across the ABCT and SBCT,” he pointed out. “In the end, we needed to ensure readiness and capability across the entire formation and chose to defer GCV until those priorities had been met.”
Implications of the Army’s new Operating Concept on the force’s combat vehicle fleets are becoming increasingly apparent in terms of investments that will be necessary to balance mobility, protection, and firepower across the entire spectrum of BCTs. “The IBCT has limited tactical mobility once deployed, especially in forcible entry scenarios, to swiftly seize key terrain or facilities to establish a lodgment for follow-on forces,” Bassett said.
While IBCTs have limited tactical mobility and lack a combat vehicle to provide mobile protected firepower to enable freedom of movement and freedom of action, the SBCT, although already an effective medium weight formation, “lacks sufficient firepower to suppress or defeat threats at extended ranges, or provide fire support for infantry as they dismount in close proximity to the enemy,” Bassett noted.
Although programs have not yet been initiated to meet these identified gaps, the Army expects additional focus on the needs of IBCT and SBCT formations going forward.
For the ABCT formation, new Infantry and Cavalry Fighting Vehicles remain the Army’s most critical requirement. Bassett said that managing the development of new capabilities under the FFVs effort has led to creation of a three-phase plan to mature these critical combat vehicle technologies.
Phase I – “Science & Technology Insertion” – This phase engages the GCV vendors to conduct vehicle design excursions, starting from their current designs, enabling the Army to understand what can be achieved in platform reductions to SWaP versus what can be gained in performance (i.e., mobility, survivability, lethality, reliability). This effort began with unexpended FY 14 funds from the GCV Technology Development (TD) phase, issued as six-month letter contracts to the prime vendors. Follow-on with FFV FY 15 and FY 16 funding will refine GCV TD and Bradley Fighting Vehicle modification concepts and continue technology and integration assessments. Phase I will be used to inform a potential new IFV requirement, and ensure that current designs take advantage of maturing technologies that were not originally included due to the original GCV infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) program schedule.
Phase II – “Art of the Possible” – Phase II will be a full and open competition to conduct further conceptual designs and trade studies. These design excursions will be unconstrained by the current IFV requirements and will inform Army strategy for the possible development of a new requirement by identifying tradespace between the requirements and current technology.
Phase III – “Converge” – This phase will be an option on the Phase II contract for vendors to provide robust system concepts to support an Army decision to restart an IFV program (if resources are available) and Milestone A decision. These concepts will provide higher fidelity capabilities, cost and risk assessments, and Cost Operational Effective Analyses to support an analysis of alternatives. The result will be early prototype builds that include integration of Army and industry advanced technologies.
Photo courtesy of Army.