By MATTHEW COX
The U.S. Army's chief of staff wants to put the service's Ground Combat Vehicle program on a diet.
Gen. George Casey said he thinks the future replacement for the Bradley Fighting Vehicle needs to be much lighter than the estimated 70 tons program officials are projecting that the new GCV will weigh.
"I keep saying, 'Look, man, an MRAP [mine-resistant ambush-protected] is about 23 tons, and you're telling me this is going to be 70 tons, which is the same as an [M1] Abrams. Surely we can get a level of protection between that, that is closer to the MRAP than it is the M1,' " Casey said June 7. "It's not going to be a super heavyweight vehicle."
Casey's comments come less than a month after Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli said at the Armor Conference at Fort Knox, Ky., that the GCV would weigh 50 to 70 tons.
Critics point out that a 70-ton GCV would be the world's heaviest infantry fighting vehicle. By contrast, the heaviest vehicle for the Marine Corps is the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, an amphibious armored personnel carrier. Still in development, it is expected to weigh 38 tons.
The Bradley can weigh up to 36 tons.
Defense firms submitted their proposals for the first phase of the GCV in late May. Program officials expect to award up to three contracts for the technology development phase in September.
The Army launched the GCV program in April 2009 as part of a larger Army Brigade Combat Team Modernization program, formerly known as Future Combat Systems.
The effort stood up quickly after a decision by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to kill the Manned Ground Vehicles portion of the Army's FCS program in the fiscal 2010 defense budget. Gates spared the high-tech communications network and the spin-out technologies slated for fielding in 2011, but canceled the program's family of 27-ton MGVs, criticizing the design as ill-suited to survive current battlefield threats.
The Army wants the GCV to have the underbelly armor of the MRAP, better side protection than the Bradley, some type of automatic cannon and an anti-tank missile system.
The V-shaped hull on the MRAP allows the vehicle to withstand blasts from roadside bombs and protect soldiers inside. The Bradley has side armor that can stop 20mm and other potent calibers. Newer Stryker vehicles can stop 14.5mm projectiles.
Officials want the GCV to perform well in open country, on roads and in urban areas.
Army officials stress the importance of the GCV since the service continues to rely on its fleet of 16,000 combat vehicles on a battlefield dominated by powerful improvised explosive devices.
"The Ground Combat Vehicle is going to be the first vehicle designed to operate in the environments that we're operating in today, particularly in IED environments," Casey said. "None of the vehicles that we have now, except possibly the MRAPs, are designed for that. ... With the Bradley and the tank, they started back in the late 60s and early 70s, and they have been great, but as we built out the Bradley, it's at the limits of size, weight and power."
The Bradley can carry up to seven infantrymen in addition to a commander, gunner and driver.
The GCV is being designed to carry a complete nine-man infantry squad and a three-man crew and provide them with MRAP-like protection - that's at least 50 tons using today's technology, Chiarelli said at the Armor Conference.
But Casey said that soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan have told him that big, heavy vehicles just aren't practical in urban combat.
"They'll tell you, we stopped using tanks and Bradleys on the streets of Baghdad just because of the size," Casey said. "We have to work the tradeoffs between protection and size."
As for wheels or tracks, the Army did not specify in its request for proposals, but Chiarelli and other senior Army officials have said the GCV would likely have to be tracked based on the current weight projection.
For now, the plan is to ensure that the new vehicle can be transported by C-17 aircraft, rail and ship. An Army "analysis of alternatives" will attempt to provide some type of recommendation sometime this summer.
It is unusual for an analysis of alternatives to be done in parallel with the request for proposals process, but Army officials have said it's being done that way to save time.
Army officials have said the five- to seven-year development timeline is in place to follow Pentagon acquisition-reform guidelines that call for more testing and competitive prototypes. The decision to build a new vehicle or buy a current design will be up to the Defense Department.
Casey said the Army has the time to work through these issues. The service aims to have a prototype in hand by 2015, and field the new infantry fighting vehicle in 2017.
"We're at the beginning of the process," Casey said. "This thing is going to take about seven years to get on the street."