Newly-fielded M-ATVs in action in Helmand, Afghanistan (Pic: USAF)
Late last week during the Army’s annual AUSA convention in a rainy, chilly, Ft. Lauderdale, my colleague Bettina Chavanne and I had the chance to sit down with Lt. Gen. Michael Vane, the Deputy Commanding General of the Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC)
We were there to talk about Army modernization, and Gen. Vane, as usual, was pretty frank in his assessments. Sitting in a large room with wall-length windows overlooking the convention floor, Vane bristled at the suggestion that the Army lacked a coherent tactical vehicle strategy for the future, retorting “the current is always going to beat the future … and that was a challenge we had with [the cancelled Future Combat Systems’ Manned Ground Vehicle.]” He added that his staff has “been pushing pretty hard” to examine the current set of systems to decide what characteristics the vehicles need to have, and how the systems already in the Army’s inventory can be upgraded to meet new and future threats. In short, the Army is trying to figure out how to “decide when to just reset, divest of something, or buy new. So that is broadly the strategy to apply that [to existing systems], then to current or future systems.”
When it comes to the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, Vane expressed frustration with some aspects of the vehicle’s development. “We’re going to have to make some modifications to that in the requirements document,” he said, “and both ourselves and the Marine Corps are largely in agreement. Details of the changes we’ll have to negotiate and figure out the cost benefit, but clearly some adjustments are going to need to be made.” Rickey Smith, director of ARCIC stepped in to add that “some of those are based on opportunities where the industry has done better.”
“It’s opportunity and need,” Vane continued. “I don’t think we challenged ourselves enough on fuel efficiency on JLTV for example, I think we could do a lot better. We didn’t get any hybrid vehicles, we didn’t get anybody using alternative fuels, why didn’t we?" Bettina pointed out that one of the rejected proposals was, in fact, a hybrid design (the submission by Northrop Grumman and Oshkosh), and Vane agreed that "we set the bar too low,” but didn't elaborate as to why the hybrid design didn't move on in the competition.
Then, of course, there is the Army’s other big ground vehicle program: the Ground Combat Vehicle. Arising from the ashes of the canceled Future Combat Systems program, the vehicle is still in the early stages of its development, with the Army just last week releasing an RFP to industry. Rickey Smith said that the Army is looking at a modular approach to vehicle development (I covered most of this in the February issue of DTI) in everything from the armor to the network package.
He called it an “open architecture approach,” which in lay terms means you “slap a box in, pull a box out every two years or whatever…you’ve got to make it more modular in the sense of upgrading it as you go.” That means building the vehicle with the ability to be easily upgraded every couple years as technologies and missions change. “You have to be thinking about that in the most open sense of architecture,” he continued, “not only in the sense of hardware but in the physical device and space and capacity.” On the equipment side, if the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have taught the Army anything, it's that “the ability to grow and change is an operational requirement,” as Gen. Vane said. “You are going to change it,” the only question is when, and what.