By Tony Bertuca
Lawmakers dealt a heavy blow to the Army’s troubled Ground Combat Vehicle program in the fiscal year 2014 defense spending bill by slashing the service’s $592 million program request to just $100 million.
“That cut should put the nail in the current program,” said one congressional staffer. “Let’s see what the Army asks for in FY-15.”
The program took three major cuts in the FY-14 defense appropriations bill — $323 million due to a “program decrease,” an additional $99 million for “excess technology development [and] undefinitized contract extension funding,” and $70 million for “excess funding for prototypes.”
The fate of the GCV program has long been in question, with officials in recent months speaking about the high-priority effort as though it were slated to be downgraded into the science and technology realm.
“Even if GCV is at risk today, it doesn’t mean the Army is not ever going to design the next-generation vehicle,” Heidi Shyu, the Army’s acquisition executive, told reporters during an October press conference. “We may have to survive a bathtub, but during the bathtub years, we’re going to design the critical emerging technologies, so that when we come out of the bathtub, we’ll have an even better system.”
Industry officials privately said they hoped the Army could at least keep the GCV alive in some form as a limited combat vehicle research and development program aimed at preserving the engineering portion of the industrial base.
The GCV, which is intended to replace nearly 2,000 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles, is in its engineering and manufacturing development phase with competing contractors BAE Systems and General Dynamics Land Systems. The first vehicles were supposed to roll off the production line in 2019 with superior underbody protection and firepower.
But sources inside the Pentagon have been telling InsideDefense.com for months that GCV is poised for a “face-saving” termination that essentially wraps up the EMD phase this summer without selecting a winning bidder, followed by an effort to “harvest” data to inform a future acquisition.
The GCV came under fire from the Congressional Budget Office last April when it pegged the total program cost at $30 billion and recommended that the Army instead spend money to replace its M113 infantry carriers with Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicles. The service in November released an RFP for an effort to replace nearly 3,000 M113s with non-developmental AMPVs. Industry has until Feb. 24 to respond.
In a November report, the CBO found that the Army could also save $15.1 billion between 2014 and 2023 and an additional $16 billion between 2024 and 2036 if it terminated GCV and focused on upgrading Bradley infantry fighting vehicles. The CBO also took a swipe at GCV’s planned size, which, unlike the Bradley, would be enough to hold a full nine-man squad.
“The GCV . . . is too large and heavy to operate effectively in congested areas with limited space to maneuver; such conditions were common in Iraq and Afghanistan and are likely to occur in the future,” the November 19 report states. “In contrast, the Bradley IFV is significantly smaller and lighter than the GCV and could be a better choice for potential future conflicts.”
The CBO report also noted that the Army was planning to replace less than 20 percent of its armored vehicles with GCV to begin with, meaning “it will continue to rely on vehicles that it currently uses to equip its forces — including various versions of the Bradley fighting vehicles and Abrams tanks — for decades to come.”
The Army has spent $14 billion since 2004 to upgrade its Bradleys and Abrams tanks. “By keeping the infantry version of its Bradley fighting vehicles, rather than replacing them with GCVs, the Army would avoid the risk and expense associated with developing and purchasing a fleet of new vehicles,” the report states.