Sustaining the Fleet Amid Fiscal Retreat
An interview with Assistant Secretary of the Army Acquisition, Logistics, & Technology (ASA/AL&T).
As we say in the ASA/AL&T community, never send our soldiers into a fair fight. We are still facing significant fiscal challenges in the face of sequestration. Despite the supplemental funding provided by Congress at the start of 2014, our budget profile for beyond 2016 remains a cause of much concern. Since 2011, the last year of full engagement in Afghanistan, the Army’s research and development (R&D) and acquisition budget has decreased by nearly half. We are at great pains to achieve savings wherever possible. The decrease in budget has negatively impacted all our portfolios, with ground vehicle systems no exception.
Fiscal challenges have forced us to make difficult trades such as an option to continue Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) program into Engineering, Manufacturing, and Development (EMD) phase while focusing efforts on modernizing Abrams, Bradley, and Stryker platforms, each of which has maxed out in terms of size, weight, and power (SWaP) due to the implementation of additional survivability solutions. GCV costs would have consumed a disproportionate amount of the total ground vehicle budget through FY 18 including planned future fueling costs of over ten percent of the total fleet. We were forced to choose between GCV EMD and modernizing our existing fleet by buying back the SWaP and adding the network connectivity. We chose to implement modernizations in the near term and focus our scarce resources on developing the next generation of capabilities for future ground vehicles through investment in science and technology (S&T).
I’d like to outline our modernization strategy for the ground vehicle fleet in this fiscally-challenged environment. The base of our modernization strategy is divestiture through which we reduce our operations and support costs. The Army’s tactical wheeled vehicle program will decrease from 290,000 vehicles in FY 12 to 219,000 by FY 21. To date, we’ve divested more than 27,000 vehicles—including nearly 9,500 vehicles this year, at a rate of more than 12,000 per year. We’re on track to meet our FY 21 divestment goal of around 12,000 vehicles per year, and are actually three to four years ahead of schedule, which will help reduce overhead stocks. The Army’s MRAP divestiture will help eliminate a large portion of the fleet, especially older, badly worn excess vehicles.
The next step in [our] strategy is reset and sustainment, which will enable near-term readiness for contingency operations. As recent news would indicate, this world continues to be filled with uncertainty and threats. As we adapt to our new fiscal reality in the near term, resetting our worn, valuable systems is a must. If the Army is [ordered into combat] again, we will have to fight with what we have now, so we have to be prepared and our vehicles have to be ready.
[Our strategy also calls for] the incremental modification and modernization of existing systems. With a solid track record of substantially improving the capabilities of platforms we have through spiral upgrades, we are focusing our resources on improving the Abrams, Stryker, and Bradley family of vehicles. Our able fleet has an average vehicle age of four and a half years. To ensure future effectiveness, M1A2 Abrams systems enhancement package version three will improve lethality, sustainability, mobility, and survivability and will produce a digital command and control architecture.
The Bradley fleet—average age of five and a half years—[will] prepare for future needs [as well;] Engineering Change Proposal (ECP) 1 and 2 will further modernize our fighting vehicles to ensure operability beyond the 2030 time frame. Proposed improvements include core electronic architecture with digital command and control, enhanced survivability, upgraded suspension, and modification to increase size, weight, and power requirements. ECP 1 production is currently underway, with ECP 2 production slated to begin in FY 17.
Our Stryker fleet averages more than seven years for the flat body vehicle; however, [the] platform with the V-hull modification has received upgrades and has an average operational age of two years. ECP upgrades are focusing on power and suspension, as well as next-generation networking and computing technology. Phase two of this initiative is currently underway.
The next level of modernization strategy is the new systems tier, which involves providing resources for investing in the next generation of ground vehicle capabilities. An example of this is the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) program, the future of the DoD’s ground tactical vehicle fleet. It addresses force projection and capability limitations in the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV) fleet with improved reliability and mobility over the MRAP ATVs. Milestone C and Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) decision is scheduled for July 2015, with downselect to a single contractor for a three-year LRIP and five-year full rate production.
At the top of the modernization tier is the S&T portion—the seed for future systems. Since we must provide a preeminent ground vehicle force, at present, 17 percent of the Army’s S&T funding is dedicated to ground vehicles, with a $383 million split between survivability and mobility enhancement research efforts.
Future ground vehicle technology S&T efforts are underway, [including] the power of data architecture technology in the development of an open vehicle data power architecture that ensures data sharing, C4ISR integration, consolidation of computing resources and power management, and survivability technology. Design will demonstrate ballistic protection, blast mitigation, and advanced material technologies to influence the next generation of fighting vehicles, to include autonomous subsystem prototyping. We are absolutely seeking innovation from academia and industry to engage with us in developing the next generation of fighting vehicle capabilities essential to fleet survivability, mobility, reliability, and increased fuel efficiency, [which are] all necessary to achieve total life cycle sustainability and platform affordability.
A&M: As the force draws down, will the Army be ready to reduce crew size through automation?
Ms. Shyu: That’s the piece in terms of advanced technology that we have to focus on. In terms of robotics being developed today, in the future we may fight in a much more contested environment. We may need to rely on something other than GPS if jammed; so in a much more contested environment, we need to think through the implications as we design our systems so as not become obsolete. And that means more automation to help our soldiers meet the threat.
A&M: How embedded is the Research, Development, and Engineering Command within the Army’s future fighting vehicle development strategy?
Ms. Shyu: I’ve asked our R&D folks to think in terms of a 30-year plan so we have a long-term plan to spiral upwards. So as technology goes obsolete, we are prepared to refresh capabilities well before they need to be. Key to all of that is our industrial base communication so that maturing S&Ts can and are inserted into our program of record. Emerging technologies need to be picked out so that we can determine which we need to invest in for the long term. Around two years ago, the S&T community began working very closely with program managers, the PEOs, [the Army Capabilities Integration Center], and with budget folks, all coming together to help the Army develop a long-term roadmap by saying this is the portfolio we are focusing on at an S&T level so that folks at the R&D level can know ahead [of time] as to what’s most likely to emerge as a viable technology for growth and investment.
A&M: As budgets decrease and costs increase, how do you view the organic industrial base versus the commercial industrial base, and how do you balance them?
Ms. Shyu: One of the things we look carefully at is the work load we have and project ahead in terms of the folks beyond the first tier of capabilities. What we’ve found is that the second and third tier folks are often essential to first tier development, intertwined with the evolution of an entire system. For example, with programs involving multiple system upgrades we try and ensure overall investment from congressional funding pools takes into account these second and third tier suppliers from capabilities such as FLIR to vehicle transmission. As costs go up, we’re trying to figure out the critical enabling skillsets we need to tap from the organic industrial base and what work load can be shifted to the PEOs and PM teams so as to best balance the know-how in maximizing investment for targeted technology development.
A&M: How are you planning to realign the acquisition structure to support systems of systems integration? Specifically, will the vehicle PM or system PM be responsible for integrated performance?
Ms. Shyu: We are working on an approach where all the programs, from a requirements perspective, will be viewed in terms of one system at a time. So what happens is you have all these widgets with separate requirements, each essential to platform fighting capability. In situations where you have seven or eight subsystems working to support a main system, our effort is to extract the commonality in each piece’s functionality so as to address [the issue] much [more] holistically in streamlining targeted investment across the entire system of systems architecture. We’re working to figure out how best shift from existing programs of record to a strategy that enables an open interface—a standard plug and play methodology that does away with stove piping requirements and puts them in a single format for addressing changes as each program evolves from technology development to production and fielding.
We’re tackling one operating environment [after] another, looking at the impact to multiple systems as [an] individual integrated system of systems so that in the future we can better understand the effect each subsystem requirement has on system requirements as a whole, in much the same way multiple sensors within an array have on a common operating picture. This will enable proactive decision making in achieving integrated command and control over the processes that enable platform processes so critical to our soldier’s battlefield success.
This interview originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of Armor & Mobility magazine.