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U.S. Vehicle Modernization Programs Should Continue Despite Budget Pressures

8408212129_6e55470d16The U.S. military is facing a struggle with its budget over the next 5 year based on current plans. It is winding down its commitment in Afghanistan and facing the effects of debt ceiling limitations and sequestration. At the same time it needs to reset itself after 12 years of commitment in South West Asia and the Middle East. This means force structures will be changed and equipment repaired and rebuilt. There will also need to be investment in certain new programs and capability to continue technical improvement to the forces overall.

Sequestration was implemented for 2013 but had minimal affect on the actual execution of the budge and mission. People were furloughed; some programs didn’t do all their planned development but generally plans were accomplished. The Congress has yet to pass a 2014 budget but the versions that passed the whole House and voted out of Senate Committee assume there will be no sequestration in 2014 and fully fund the President’s request. That assumes some deal being made where either sequestration is cancelled or cuts are made to other parts of the budget.

The recent talk of fighting in Syria by U.S. Navy and Air Forces only has reinforced the view of many in Congress that the defense budget cannot be cut.Vehicle down

There are several core modernization programs in the U.S. that should continue. These include the biggest of them all, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and for the Army, the Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) and the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV).

The GCV will replace the M2 Infantry Fighting Vehicle and the JLTV the ubiquitous HUMVEE. Both programs are following similar paths where they will pay to develop prototypes from vendors to test and then choose one or more for production and entry into service. This was the successful concept used to buy the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP)-ATV used in Afghanistan. That concept was won by Oshkosh (OSK) with their MRAP-AT vehicle.

The JLTV is reaching a point where the 3 teams vying for the contract have sent in their prototypes for testing. These are Lockheed Martin (LMT), AM General and Oshkosh. The GCV is still earlier in the program and is working to reach that stage with 2 competitors, General Dynamics (GD) and BAE Systems (BAE), one are working to meet their solutions. Both programs have substantial budgets supporting these development efforts in FY13 and planned for 2014.

The two programs biggest struggle, like many Americans, is with weight. To meet the protection requirements demanded of fending off mines and IED’s while facing a variety of direct and indirect fire threats lead to all discussed designs being very heavy. Both the JLTV and GCV had programs before them that had to be ended and reevaluated due to the total weight of the proposed solutions. The initial JLTV concepts were weighing 18-20 tons and the GCV over 80, or in the class of Main Battle Tanks (MBT).

The solution discussed for both programs are to use add on armor depending on the level of threat. This means in most situations not all of it would be carried improving weight and performance. In high threat areas more would be bolted on with affects on capabilities. In all situations the maximum armament would still be carried while protection would vary. This does though increase the overall cost of the vehicle and the programs at a time when budget dollars are going to be scrutinized and spread very thin.

In the past when the Pentagon faced a similar budget crunch programs in development would see delays as their annual budgets will be decreased. Production quantities will be reduced and spread over more years shifting cost to the “out year” budget and delaying full entry into service. In extreme cases outright cancellation of the project has occurred.

These two systems are critical to the overall upgrade of the U.S. military ground forces. The HUMVEE and M2 are both originally 30 year designs. They have received constant upgrades especially in the last 10 years due to the changed threat in Iraq and Afghanistan. The HUMVEE, especially, has seen more and more armor added and improved weapon and tactical communication systems added.

Their fates are also tied to the removal of the MRAP from service. The MRAP’s were a quick reaction to a specific threat and public outcry over casualties from the IED and mines. They were never meant to be battlefield vehicles and the armor protection requirements for these programs show why. The U.S. is resetting their MRAP force of several different designs and models and trying to fit them into their standard organization and doctrine. Most likely they will be eliminated from these and used only in extreme depending on the threat.

These programs are expected to continue with the possibility of seeing delays and lengthening of schedules. They are critical to the continuing U.S. armored vehicle capability as there are few other systems coming. The Army has proposed shutting down their M1 production facility for several years due to overcapacity and demand. Congress has fought that and will most likely not allow it but it indicates the budgetary situation. If the JLTV and GCV are cancelled or extremely delayed the U.S. could lose industrial base and capability that would affect future modernization efforts down the road.

Photos of the M2 and HUMVEES courtesy of DVIDSHUB flickr photostream.

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