Army Pitches 70 Ton GCV, Maybe

Uber-connected defense consultant and analyst Loren Thompson reads the tea leaves, and a Reuters news article, and concludes that Army plans for a new Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) may be unraveling. Apparently, DOD’s chief weapons buyer, Ashton Carter, didn’t like what he saw when shown the Army’s GCV plan earlier this month and told service leaders to go back and try again.

The GCV request for proposal was supposed to hit the street later this month. Thompson thinks it will be delayed. Even if the RFP does come out on time, he sees the new vehicle program running into real headwinds.

If this Reuters story is to be believed (I’m not sure it is as I have a hard time believing the Army would try and build a 70 ton IFV), the Army’s pitch had the GCV weighing in at 70 tons, which is as much as the M-1 Abrams main battle tank weighs. I can see how that would give Carter fits.

The GCV is supposed to be an infantry fighting vehicle. At 70 tons, that would make it the heaviest infantry fighting vehicle in existence; heavier even than the Israeli military’s heaviest infantry carriers such as the Achzarit, a chopped down T-55 tank weighing 44 tons or the Nagmachon, based on the Centurion tank chassis, which weighs 55 tons.

The Israeli’s can get away with extremely heavy infantry carriers because they drive down the highway to their battles. The U.S. Army must either fly or put their vehicles on ships to get them to where they fight. While protected mobility is clearly important, and a costly lesson learned on Iraq and Afghan battlefields, strategic mobility must factor in at some point.

The Army’s stated goals for the GCV, according to Army chief Gen. George Casey’s just released Brigade Combat Team Modernization Plan, is “carrying an infantry squad, to equal or surpass the under-belly protection offered by MRAP, the off-road mobility and side protection of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, and operational mobility of the Stryker.” Casey acknowledges that getting all that in a single vehicle will be a tall order.

Getting MRAP level under-belly protection is more a matter of hull design, the now industry standard V-shaped hull, and ground clearance than armor thickness. The Bradley, like the proposed GCV, was designed from the outset to allow “block” improvements, and it has received a number of new armor packages. According to armor vehicle expert Steven Zaloga, the Bradley’s appliqué steel armor provides protection up to 30mm auto-cannon. Reactive armor tiles would add protection against rocket propelled grenades. All of which adds up to a vehicle weighing at least 40 tons.

One of the problems, as Thompson sees it, is the proliferation of precision, heavy anti-tank guided missiles of the Kornet and TOW variety. The only solution he sees is technologically advanced armor packages, including an active-protection system of some kind. Thompson’s “insiders” tell him those needed technologies won’t really be available in mass production terms until around 2025. As Thompson puts it: “It appears the Army is spinning its wheels (or its treads), because the laws of physics won’t allow it to design a system that is both easily deployable and highly survivable against emerging threats.”

Then there is the whole issue of the much vaunted battle command network that was such a big part of FCS. “Even if it is a clear leap ahead in terms of capability, there is the question of what to do about the elaborate battlefield network Boeing developed to link together the family of future combat vehicles. It may look world-class today, but how will it look in 15 years, when the new vehicle finally starts reaching the troops in quantity?” Thompson says.

Both the Abrams and Bradley have a lot of life in them. The Army claims its battle fleet is outdated. To use the Israelis as an example again, they have continually upgraded and modified really old fighting vehicles – the Centurion, T-54/55, M-113, they even used Shermans in the ’73 war – to keep them relevant and useful on modern battlefields. The Army plans to buy at least two more brigades worth of the Stryker wheeled vehicle, its medium-weight platform.

Facing a very uncertain fiscal future, and not having done a particularly good job identifying the capability gap for a new, heavily armored IFV in an era of irregular wars, the Army is likely to have a tough job pushing ahead with the GCV.

— Greg

  • Jeffers

    Projectile technology will always be ahead of armor technology. They should be investing in systems that actively deny projectiles instead. Something like a cross between the ALTB and the mosquito-zapping laser system that could zap incoming RPGs.

  • John

    When is enough, enough? Why does the army need a new combat vehicle? These are the same idiots going insane for Crusader, a vehicle designed for the Fulda Gap.

  • Greg

    so in other words they started with crusader which got too big, then went to FCS which was too small, and now we’ve gone even bigger than crusader. It’ll be interesting to see how this comes out.

  • Scott H

    Without an active protection system, there is no way of defeating ATGM without ridiculous levels of armor, thus weight. I find it hard to believe that such as system will not be ready before 2025. ATGM teams could be a problem one day. You need at least 1200mm RHAe if you want to go the passive protection route. That is a tough nut to crack. I would say the biggest danger is Urban, so weight is not a problem. With offensive speed, you don’t need heavy armor, but we will be on the defensive more than offensive. Costs is a problem, 3-5 mil per vehicle will not go over well.

  • Using the same reasoning of a level of protection similar to MRAP you got the first JLTV HUMVEE replacement weighing in at 18 tons. That program was scrapped and started over. It makes sense that a Bradley replacement with the same type of protection levels would weigh fifty tons plus.

    The IED/Mine threat is to a point that armor becomes the number one goal and that drives weight. One would expect this program to be scrapped and started over.

  • elgatoso

    When we can get a BOLO?

  • Mark

    I honestly think that we need to put more effort into transportation vehicles/technology. Right now the major downfall of many of these designs is weight constraints. If the we (the US) can increase our heavy lift capacity we can let the engineers have a little more free reign. That being said I believe the better solution is to have more DARPA-like challenges. Get the universities involved, get the SOLDIERS involved, and get away from the on-paper-this-is-epic, uninspired garbage. I believe creativity is sorely lacking in our current process.

  • d-fens

    Ditch the heavy armor.
    Instead, make the vehicle carry pods for drones that fly in front of the vehicle spotting bombs in the road, ambushes etc. Then nasty surprises can be avoided, and mobility isn’t sacrificed.

  • Brian

    This *right here* is why weapons systems are so expensive. Let's look at the proposal for a minute.

    “carrying an infantry squad, to equal or surpass the under-​​belly protection offered by MRAP, the off-​​road mobility and side protection of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, and operational mobility of the Stryker.”

    This will not work. They are asking for too much in one platform. Yes, it would be AWESOME if they could design a vehicle to do all that. Unfortunately, they can't. But if you put out a request for proposal on something like that, defense contractors *will* respond. Because if one doesn't, another will. So they'll bid to make this thing that we really don't have the technology to make. And it'll come in incredibly over budget because we're nowhere near able to build this.

    Might as well strap on a disintegrator cannon while you're wishlisting.

  • R. Kelly

    An Elephant is nothing more than a mouse built to government specifications!

  • MAJ Clem

    Stick with the Bradley. It is still a class leader. With all of the added under-belly protection, it is fairly stout against the IED threat. Maybe rework the drivetrain to handle addintional addon armor and change ground clearance as mission dictates. It has to be cheaper than a 70 ton 113.
    ATGM threat can be mitigated by unmanned systems moving ahead of mech formations in the attack, both ground and air. Urban threat will not go away, lets try not to fight in cities or use Bradleys as sitting duck TCPs in complex environments with bad guys using civilians for cover.

  • Charles

    elgatoso: Amen. A Planetary Siege unit of the line would probably be somewhere down the line from a 70 ton IFV.

    Perhaps they’re going for a hybrid concept where the IFV and the MBT are a hybrid of sorts? Merkava-esque? Could be opting to consolidate the armed forces on a single vehicle to do both jobs. Unless airlift becomes much more capable in the future strategic airlift becomes problematic. As for ground pressure, I suppose you could lower it some with wider tracks or going with two rows of two tracks. Soviets had a prototype of the latter, but I forget it’s designation…

  • Alex`

    The Hardwire is much lighter that HRA for the same level of protection. There may be other advances in armor composition ahead. But an FELaser on every vehicle for point defence would be sweet. There’s you disintegrator cannon. Nothing to ruin anyone’s day than a laser that’s also an X-Ray beam.

  • joshm

    heavier vehicle? 70 years ago the german army did the same thing, bigger and heavier after the tiger tank didnt work. bridges allowable weight and road widths are pretty much fixed. a new strategy is needed around the problem

  • Brian

    The Army will always face a difficult choice. There are a lot of ways to kill people. We want to stop the enemy from doing that to our troops. So how do you defend against all the different ways they can kill you?

    The enemy has learned they can’t win in a straight up fight. The Abrams outclasses anything that could be fielded against it. So they switch to roadside bombs and taking potshots at us with anti-tank rockets. So we build the MRAP to cover that. So they go to bigger bombs and use more rockets.

    Now we’re hitting the point where we can’t cover every opening. There *will be* ways to kill US soldiers. I don’t like it, but that’s the way it is. We need to find better ways to deal with this than simply stacking on more and more armor. Perhaps better detection methods for IEDs?

    Regardless, I don’t think the answer is to build an APC that weighs more than an Abrams.

  • msufalcon

    Maybe we can add deflector shields and a small exhaust port on it too.

  • Looking for a little clarification, here; what slot or role is the GCV filling? A Bradley replacement, or something entirely different?

  • sferrin

    (Puts head in hands and wonders “W-T-F?”) Is that the best we can do? Really?

  • TMB

    If the program takes off, they’ll probably use the chassis to replace many other vehicles like the Abrams, FLAs, C2 vehicles, etc like FCS was supposed to.

  • Darth Death

    I would think Republican Gun Ships and Storm Troopers would lead the way. Guess we haven't got that far yet. You can never defeat the ATGM system 100% So we might as well provide ballistic protection for the troops and add on armor as needed. Build new M113 and M2 variants under 21 tons with layered ballistic protection and a new MBT under 70 tons. We do not have magnetic shields and that technology isn't being worked on because you would need a nuclear power plant to operate the coil system to repel bullets and tank shells.