Saturday, November 18, 2000

Army awards contract for
lighter armored vehicle

By Chuck Vinch
Washington news bureau

WASHINGTON — The Army has awarded General Motors/General Dynamics Land Systems Defense Group of Sterling Heights, Mich., a six-year contract potentially worth almost $4 billion to produce 2,131 of its new "interim armored vehicles," officials said Friday.

The historic unveiling of the versatile wheeled weapons platform — the Army’s first new armored combat vehicle since the Bradley came on line in 1980 — is the most visible symbol to date of the service’s commitment to reinventing itself into a leaner, more deployable force for the 21st century.

"This is a terrifically exciting day that really starts the materiel part of Army transformation on a wonderful note," Paul Hoeper, the service’s assistant secretary for acquisitions, logistics and technology, said at a Pentagon briefing.

In seeking its new infantry combat vehicle, which strongly resembles the vehicles used for years by the Marine Corps, the Army wanted a weapons platform that would move fast, be light enough to fit on the smallest combat transport planes but still pack a powerful combat punch, and fulfill a variety of roles and missions.

Hoeper said the new vehicle fits the requirement to "get to the fight quickly and come back alive" in every respect.

It will have a top speed of 60 miles per hour, a range of more than 400 miles, wrap-around 14.5 mm armor plating that will withstand .50 caliber machine-gun fire, and a weight of under 19 tons — a drastic change from the current armored superstar, the M1-A2 Abrams tank, a 70-ton tracked behemoth.

The vehicle will be able to take on many different roles with little change in its basic configuration. The contract calls for two variants — the infantry armored carrier and a mobile gun carrier.

The infantry carrier model will have a .50 caliber machine gun, an MK19 40 mm gun, and two Javelin missiles. Crews will operate those weapons remotely from inside the vehicle, said Lt. Gen. Paul Kern, Hoeper’s senior military— deputy.

The vehicle, which will transport nine soldiers and have a crew of two, will also be adaptable for use as a mobile command center and for fire support, medical evacuation, engineering, mortar carrier, reconnaissance, anti-tank, and nuclear/biological/chemical-detection missions.

Using a common chassis and design for the various configurations will cut down on the mammoth logistics chain of spare parts and mechanics now required to support mechanized forces in the field and save the Army billions of dollars. About 85 percent of the vehicle’s nine configurations will be common parts, Kern said.

The other variant, the mobile gun system, will carry on its turret a 105 mm cannon, the same size weapon installed on the original M-1 tanks.

All the vehicles configurations will be designed to roll off a C-130 or a ship, be ready to engage immediately and remain operational for 72 hours with no external logistical support, Kern said.

But one critical area in which the vehicle will not meet Army requirements is its delivery date. The Army originally wanted the first vehicle to be fielded by December 2001, and wanted its first interim armored brigade to be operationally available for real-world missions by March 2002.

That timetable has now slipped by at least 16 months, Kern said, which will put the first unit deliveries at around July 2002 and the first unit operational availability at April 2003, Kern said.

He did not go into details about the reasons for the slippage, except to say that it stems from the amount of time the contractor says it will need to meet all the performance requirements the Army wants for the vehicle.

Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki, who has been trying relentlessly to push the transformation effort into high gear, "is not happy with that schedule," Kern said. "He would like it to be much faster."

Whenever the vehicles head to the field, the first several hundred will go to the new combat brigade that has been taking shape for the past year at Fort Lewis, Wash.

Each company of the interim armored brigades will have 20 of the new vehicles — 12 infantry carriers, three mobile gun systems, two mortar carriers, two command vehicles and one fire support vehicle.

Once the first brigade is equipped, five more will follow over the next few years to form the cornerstone of the Army’s new "medium-weight" force that is designed to be deployable anywhere in the world within 96 hours.

The interim armored concept is a recognition that the service’s Cold War structure, built to battle massed Soviet forces on the open plains of Europe, left its "heavy" divisions too cumbersome to deploy quickly and operate in urban and rugged terrain, and left its "light" divisions lacking in sufficient combat punch.

The radical decision to move away from heavy tracked tanks as the centerpiece of its future armored formations is sparking controversy within the service, with critics homing in on the degree of armor protection that the new vehicle is giving up as a trade-off for its lighter weight and greater speed.

But Kern said the armored protection is about twice that of the Marine Corps version and pointed out that the new vehicle is not designed to go head-to-head against heavy tanks in open terrain.

"We looked very heavily at this vehicle’s operational characteristics, and at the environments in which this vehicle will operate in the future — places like Somalia and the Balkans," Kern said.

"This is a trade we can make," he said. "It’s judgment of the balance of the situations in which we think we’ll find ourselves in the 21st century. This vehicle represents a capability that is clearly missing in the United States Army."

The Army plans to keep its big battle tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles in the inventory for 10 to 20 more years for conflicts with such potential adversaries as Iraq, while also developing the medium-weight brigades.

The new concept carries an "interim" label because it’s actually seen as a transitional stepping stone to a future force equipped with high-tech weaponry that today is still only a gleam in research scientists’ eyes. The Army does not envision fully fielding that "objective force" force until some time in the late 2020s.

RELATED LINK: Transcript of Friday's Pentagon news briefing on the contract award