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Ground combat vehicle caught in Congress' crosshairs

May. 2, 2013 - 04:11PM   |  
The Ground Combat Vehicle from BAE Systems-Northrop Grumman
The Ground Combat Vehicle from BAE Systems-Northrop Grumman (BAE Systems)
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A Congressional Research Service report has again raised significant questions about the cost and need for the next-generation combat troop carrier.

A Congressional Research Service report has again raised significant questions about the cost and need for the next-generation combat troop carrier.

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The Ground Combat Vehicle has taken another direct hit.

A Congressional Research Service report has again raised significant questions about the cost and need for the next-generation combat troop carrier. The April 17 report comes on the heels of an April Congressional Budget Office analysis that recommended the Army replace the $29 billion program with more Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles or foreign vehicles.

Indeed, GCV’s greatest threat may be found in budget drills rather than future battlefields. If you wonder why lawmakers have targeted your next combat vehicle, here are five things you need to know:

1 Is there a need? As the Army downsizes, it will have fewer armored brigade combat teams. The CRS report made it clear that the strategic shift to the Asia-Pacific region “presents questions as to the necessity for ABCTs and, by association, the GCV.” Both reports also take aim at immature technologies and vehicle weight — one variant comes in at 70 tons, which is equal in weight to the enhanced M1A2 tank.

2 Is there a better solution? The CBO report said an upgraded Bradley or German Puma would be “significantly more capable than the GCV.” The latter is equally as lethal and mobile, and boasts better survivability. But it only seats six, which means the Army would have to buy five Pumas for every four Bradleys it replaced. The Bradley carries seven soldiers. An Army squad comprises nine soldiers. It is worth noting that BAE Systems, which is designing one of two GCV variants, has been pushing upgraded Bradleys on Capitol Hill pretty hard in recent weeks.

3 Is it worth the cost? Buying more Pumas would cost $14 billion less than the GCV program and upgraded Bradleys would save $9 billion, according to the CBO report. The current plan is to purchase 1,800 GCVs. The Army puts the cost at $29 billion without overruns, setbacks and other problems these programs tend to face. 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.

4 Will soldiers get it in time? The first GCVs would enter production in 2018. That is remarkably fast for a new program, but it 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.

5 Does it have enough support? Congressional support is anything but certain. 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. Many lawmakers remain hesitant to commit after the Army dropped $14 billion on the failed Future Combat Systems. But GCV is not going down without a fight. Its combined combat capabilities are unmatched, and service leaders have long argued this leap is a necessary and worthy investment.

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