Aviation Week contributing editor Mike Fabey weighs in on the Army's ground vehicle situation.
My Sunfire is nearly a decade old and I can't afford to buy a new one, so I can understand the Army's plight in trying to field a successor to its vaunted Bradley.
With the Pentagon breathing down its neck about programs that cost too much, take too long and have questionable relevance in current or future military conflicts, the Army's strategy of putting its $40 billion ground combat vehicle (GCV) procurement on hold to make sure the service is getting what it really needs for what it can afford is a sound one.
I wonder, though, about freezing other major ground program procurement, including some Bradley refinements, until the GCV review is done.
If you’re not going to buy new vehicles, you should do anything you can to keep the old ones current and capable.
It’s because I lack the money to buy a new car that I need to pump even more money into my Sunfire to keep it on the road.
Upfront I need to say this: I am a big fan of the Bradley. When I covered the 3rd Infantry Division out of Fort Stewart, Ga., I spent a lot of time in Bradleys - there’s a certain feeling of security soldiers feel being encased in their metal womb.
But, as Lexington Institute analyst Loren Thompson recently pointed out in a briefing paper: “The problem with the existing armored vehicle fleet is that it wasn't designed to cope with improvised explosive devices. Efforts to adapt the fleet to the new style of warfare have used up all the space, weight, power and cooling capacity of the vehicles.”
Making the Bradley relevant for current conflicts did require some tradeoffs, said Roy Perkins, BAE director of business development for the heavy brigade combat team.
“We lost some performance attributes when we made it survivable,” he said.
Now, the Army and BAE would like to buy back some of those lost attributes. They want to bulk up the Bradley’s internal power supply to support additional electronic systems, increase the ground clearance and regain its speed.
BAE is ready with some designs for the Block 2 configurations that would include these refinements - but plans for that next-generation Bradley are on hold pending the outcome of the GCV decision.
It’s not as though the Pentagon has completely abandoned the Bradley. The Army gave BAE a contract this spring to order long-lead items to reset 551 vehicles.
And the service awarded General Dynamics a $48 million contract in August to produce reactive armor side skirt tiles for the Bradleys.
If the Army’s willing to put this much money into Bradley programs, it may as well invest just a bit more and see what it can squeeze from the Block 2 vehicle. It could wind up with a pretty big bang for relatively few bucks.
Or, as those with us with older cars can attest to, the Army can save those few bucks now and be stuck with a much bigger bill later.