A CBO report says the German Puma would cost $14 billion less than the Ground Combat Vehicle, shown in an illustration above, while upgraded Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles would save $9 billion. (BAE Systems / Northrop Grumman)
A new Congressional Budget Office report has put the Ground Combat Vehicle squarely in its cross hairs, and may single-handedly kill the $29 billion program.
The analysis, “The Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle Program and Alternatives,” said the best strategy is to replace GCV with the German Puma or an upgraded Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle. Both would be “significantly more capable than the GCV” and Pumas would cost $14 billion less, while upgraded Bradleys would save $9 billion, the report said.
But Army leaders and the companies competing to build the GCV — BAE Systems Land & Armaments and General Dynamics Land Systems — dispute the CBO’s findings. They said the data is wrong, and the numbers don’t add up.
“It doesn’t matter how many Pumas you can buy. If you can’t keep the squad together, then what’s the point?” said one Army acquisition official who spoke on condition of anonymity. “The Bradley has served us well, but we are entering an era in which the squad stands as the decisive force. We need a combat vehicle that can get the squad — the entire squad — where it needs to be intact.”
Neither Puma nor the Bradley can do that. The German vehicle carries six soldiers, which means the Army would have to buy five Pumas for every four Bradleys it replaced. The Bradley carries seven soldiers. Nine soldiers comprise an Army squad.
The CBO report took another approach. It offered four options, and each falls short of the GCV in overall capability, but would provide the Army with an improved vehicle at less cost and in less time.
The options are:
Purchase the Israeli Namer APC. The armored personnel carrier has better survival rates than GCV and can carry a nine-member squad. But it lacks GCV’s lethality and mobility.
Upgrade the Bradley IFV. This vehicle would be more lethal than GCV while matching its survivability. But the upgraded Bradley, like the current version, would carry only seven passengers and lack GCV’s mobility.
Purchase the German Puma IFV. CBO said Puma is the most lethal of all the vehicles because it boasts a 30mm cannon, which is better than the GCV’s 25mm cannon. But GCV has been upgraded to a 30mm cannon, so this point is moot. Still, CBO contends Puma would match GCV’s mobility and beat its survivability.
BAE Systems took issue with the assertion.
“The Army’s Analysis of Alternatives completed last year supports the development of the GCV program and confirmed that there are currently no existing vehicles that would cost less and meet the GCV program requirements,” said Shannon Booker, BAE Systems’ communications manager. “The characteristics of the notional GCV used in the Congressional Budget Office study do not reflect the capabilities of the BAE Systems GCV design, which is significantly more lethal, survivable, and mobile than any of the alternatives discussed.
“In addition, the development work accomplished by BAE Systems under IRAD prior to and during the Technology Development phase has mitigated the development risk attributed to the GCV program in the report.”
Cancel the GCV. A reconditioned Bradley fleet could be maintained through 2030.
Although all options are on the table, don’t expect GCV to go down without a fight. Army leadership has long argued that the need for GCV is not just a matter of finances but fighting ability. And nothing, they say, can compare to GCV in that battle.
Maj. Gen. H.R. McMaster, commander of the Army Maneuver Center of Excellence, gave much love to the Bradley at the Maneuver Conference his command hosted last year.
“You can be in a machine-gun fight all day. You hit HE high on your weapons control box, and the firefight is over,” he said. “We love the Bradley. But the Bradley, we think, is extended beyond our ability to improve its mobility and improve its power generation capability.”
The Army is convinced that GCV is the solution, and that is why the vehicle remains the top priority in Army acquisitions.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno has led this fight from the front. He has courted a critical Congress, and has helped GCV live to fight another day. Lawmakers fully funded the Army’s fiscal 2013 request of $639.9 million for research and development. Still, the Senate Appropriations Committee required a business case analysis that detailed future improvements to various Army vehicles.
3 issues with GCV
Both BAE Systems Land & Armaments and General Dynamics Land Systems in August 2011 were awarded technology development contracts worth nearly half a billion dollars each. The plan is to build roughly 1,800 GCVs to replace the Bradley.
Both GCV designs are tracked trouble for any enemy. The GCVs have enough firepower and maneuverability to shape or silence nearly any battlefield. The vehicles boast far greater protection against threats and can carry a squad of nine soldiers.
But the program has its vulnerabilities. One is cost. It comes in at $29 billion — at least — without overruns, setbacks and other problems. Some estimates place the cost as high as $34 billion.
The Army will spend more than 80 percent of its combat vehicle modernization budget on GCV over the next five years. That sizable investment follows a loss of $14 billion on the failed Future Combat Systems.
Second is the timeline. The first GCVs would enter production in 2018. That is fast for a new program, but still means the first unit would not be equipped until 2022. It would be another 10 years before the Army was “pure fleet” in its armored brigades.
Third is GCV’s size — a matter that some see as a detriment and some see as a benefit. BAE Systems’ GCV tips the scales at 70 tons, for example. This matches the enhanced M1A2 tank, making it the world’s heaviest infantry fighting vehicle.
Much of its weight comes from multiple armor packages that rest on a steel core hull to provide maximum protection.
Some experts say the infrastructure of urban and developing countries limits the GCV to 45 tons. Others say irregular warfare has become so lethal that only 70-ton vehicles can survive.