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Armor

First Look: Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV)

Friday, June 4th, 2010

We spent the day at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Md., yesterday riding around in the three entrants for the Army-Marine Corps Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) competition; the Humvee replacement as it’s often called. The industry teams are: BAE Systems, General Tactical Vehicles (GTV) — a joint venture between General Dynamics Land Systems and Humvee builder AM General, and Lockheed Martin.

They wouldn’t let us shoot the inside of the vehicles for security reasons, but they all pretty much resembled later iterations of the Humvee, a little cramped (particularly the 6 seat infantry carrier), though with plenty of extra goods such as blast seats, more computing and electrical power, flat panel monitors and functioning air conditioning.

The ride in all three JLTVs was impressively smooth and the vehicles had plenty of power climbing hills and obstacles. The JLTV family of vehicles will come in 2, 4 and 6 seat versions, along with a cargo hauler and ambulance. The program folks say they’ll provide MRAP level protection against IED blasts. The planned buy is 60,000 for the Army and 5,500 for the Marines; full production is planned for 2015.

Some video of the three JLTV entrants for your enjoyment (click below for all 3):

JLTV Demo-Lockheed Martin:

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Begun The Army GCV Source Selection Has

Friday, May 21st, 2010

The Army announced today that it has begun the process of selecting from industry proposals for its Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) program. The Army will award up to three contracts for preliminary designs of the new infantry fighting vehicle that will then enter the technology development phase by late fourth quarter FY 2010, according to a press release.

The delivery date for the first prototype GCV is scheduled for 2015. “The Army is approaching the GCV’s development in an incremental fashion – designing it for adaptability, modularity and scalability to adjust to and incorporate technological change,” the release says. The infantry fighting vehicle variant will carry a three man crew and a 9 man rifle squad.

The Army hopes to build on the six years of development work it paid for on the FCS manned ground vehicle program, GCV program manager Col. Bryan McVeigh told me back in March. The GCV will be significantly heavier than the planned for FCS vehicles, likely weighing in at 50-tons, plus add-on armor packages. The base level armor package will combine Bradley equivalent protection against auto-cannon and high-explosive fragments and MRAP level protection against IEDs.

I asked McVeigh how the GCV would match up against the current Bradley, which it is intended to replace:

“It will have significantly better mine and IED protection, it will have greater lethality, it will have a bigger cannon. It will allow us to carry more men… a complete squad. It will have about the same mobility of the Bradley but the ability to carry significantly enhanced communications and electronics so I don’t have to divert power from the propulsion system for cooling. It will have significantly improved reliability than the Bradley. It will have integrated non-lethal capabilities, which none of our vehicles have today.”

– Greg Grant

To Save EFV, Marines Must Kill Operational Maneuver From the Sea

Friday, May 7th, 2010

Earlier this week, we ran a story on the Marine’s Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle that questioned the swimming amphibian’s utility, arguing that it was a niche capability. Our resident maritime warfare expert, Craig Hooper, disagrees; but saving the EFV will require the Corps rethink how the vehicle will be used.

By Craig Hooper
Defense Tech Naval Weapons and Warfare Analyst

If the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) proves reliable and meets current performance goals, it has a chance to enter the American arsenal. But the EFV’s chances would get even better if the Marines decoupled the EFV from “Operational Maneuver From The Sea” (OMFTS).

In 2008, after a year of fighting with Marines serving on the U.S. Naval Institute Editorial Board, Proceedings published my essay on the EFV (you can read it here). In the article, I suggested that, to survive, the EFV forgo OMFTS to focus on the beachhead and the wetter side of the littorals.

But it’ll be tough. First, the Marine Corps must acknowledge that, in the case of heavy amphibious armor, the goals of “Operational Maneuver From The Sea” need to be dialed back. Let OMFTS goals for amphibious armor evolve…or die.

Look. Ever since Cold War-era Marines were tasked to take the Kola Peninsula, the OMFTS strategy and the EFV Program have been locked in a mutually-constraining strategic straitjacket. The relationship is stifling innovation. Instead, let’s acknowledge that heavy armored vehicles just can’t be built to reliably handle both sustained land operations and contested amphibious landings–and move on.

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Marine’s New Armored Amphibian May Get The Gates Treatment

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

I got a chance to see the Marine’s Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) up close and personal yesterday during a rollout ceremony at Quantico. First impressions: its a big, very big, boxy armored vehicle; definitely a departure from the standard armored fighting vehicle sloped and angular armor design. Still, as big as it is, it was very cramped inside; the large engine, turret bustle and other machinery take up most of the internal space. I once spent some weeks living in the rear compartment of a Bradley fighting vehicle which is cavernous by comparison.

Here is the story I wrote on the EFV for DOD Buzz:

Under sunny skies at Quantico, with a crowd of several hundred well wishers and the Marine Corps museum as a backdrop, the Marines displayed the latest prototype of their swimming armored personnel carrier, the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV). They unveiled it not quite 24 hours after Defense Secretary Robert Gates publicly questioned the very need for the costly new vehicle.

In one of his now trademark policy shifting speeches, this one at the Navy League’s annual conference, Gates pointed to the tracked amphibian as one of two examples, the other being carriers, of weapons that fall into a yawning gap “between the capabilities we are pursuing and those that are actually needed in the real world of tomorrow.” His view is that real world is unlikely to see the need for the very niche capability provided by the EFV: transporting Marines at high speed from over the horizon onto heavily defended beaches. The EFV is not that much of a departure from the original Amtrak, which was designed to crawl over coral in the face of formidable Japanese defenses.

It’s difficult to overstate how important the EFV is to the Marine’s traditional mission and self image as an amphibious assault force, rather than as a second land army, as it’s been operating over the past eight years. It is designed to enable maneuver from the sea, a key concept in Marine operations. “The EFV] creates places where it’s simply impossible for an enemy to defend against, so you can find those gaps and exploit those gaps, so that we don’t relive an Iwo Jima, a Tarawa, a Normandy,” said Marine Col. Keith Moore, EFV program manager.

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Lessons From Hybrid Wars: The IDF in Lebanon and Gaza

Friday, April 16th, 2010

Furthering our examination of hybrid threats and irregular war, RAND’s Dave Johnson, one of my favorite analysts, has an excellent new paper out, “Military Capabilities for Hybrid War: Insights from the IDF in Lebanon and Gaza.”

Prior to summer 2006, the IDF believed its future was fighting Palestinian terrorists, so, big cuts were made in funding for combined arms training, particularly in the heavy armored units. Air Force forward air controllers were removed from ground brigades. Counterterror operations in the West Bank and Gaza were highly centralized affairs, with the active involvement of Israeli leaders at the highest levels, which over the years had a stifling effect on small unit initiative.

In Lebanon, the IDF faced an opponent with a combat mindset very different from Palestinian terrorists. Hezbollah fought as small, tactically competent units, with lots of firepower, using fortified positions, but also skillfully using the terrain to maneuver and close with Israeli ground forces.

After Lebanon, the IDF set about correcting its many deficiencies. Big money was spent on training and equipping the ground forces with a “back to basics” approach to combined arms. While Israeli armor suffered mightily from Hezbollah’s vast inventory of anti-tank guided missiles, the IDF concluded that heavy armor was still the best protection against increasingly well armed opponents.

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Germans Sending More Heavy Armor, SP Howitzers to Afghanistan

Friday, April 16th, 2010

Via Nicholas Fiorenza at the Ares blog, Germany is sending PzH 2000 155mm self propelled howitzers, Marder Infantry Fighting Vehicles and TOW anti-tank missiles to its troops based in Kunduz, northern Afghanistan. German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, on a recent visit to Afghanistan, said the heavy armor shipment is not related to the fighting on April 2 that killed three German soldiers and wounded eight more. Just yesterday, four more German soldiers were killed and another five wounded.

– Greg

Trophy Active Protection System Ready For Deployment, Again

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

The Israeli military says that it’s Trophy active protection system, designed to shoot down incoming RPGs and anti-tank missiles, is ready for deployment, according to this AP story. Trophy is expected to be fitted to the Israeli Defense Forces large fleet of Merkava series main battle tanks and some models of heavy armored personnel carriers such as the Namer (based on the Merkava chassis).

The story quotes officials from Trophy manufacturer Rafael that the system has “passed” more than 700 live fire tests and has been installed on a number of Merkava 4 tanks in a pilot program. Of course, here is a story from way back in 2007 saying Trophy was ready for deployment.

The AP story gets a little carried away, quoting Israeli officials who say Trophy is a “game changer” in tank defense and could radically alter the balance of power if the IDF faces Lebanese Hezbollah’s vast anti-tank missile arsenal. That’s a big claim for any active protection system, but particularly this one that has been long in development and long on promises, that is not combat proven.

Developers say the Trophy can stop any anti-tank rocket in the formidable Hezbollah arsenal, which struck dozens of Israeli tanks and killed at least 19 Israeli tank crewmen during their month-long war. “We can cope with any threat in our neighborhood, and more,” said Gil, the Trophy’s program manager at Rafael.

That Trophy, and other active protection systems in development, can intercept and disrupt an incoming RPG warhead I don’t doubt. However, stopping a heavy anti-tank guided missile along the lines of a TOW or the Russian Kornet, well, I’ll believe it when I see it.

– Greg

Army’s GCV Not Just MGV Warmed Over

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

I wrote up an interview I did last week with Col. Bryan McVeigh, program manager for the Army’s new Ground Combat Vehicle program on companion site DOD Buzz and wanted to post it here for DT readers.

I asked McVeigh why the Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) request for proposal was held up by the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer Ashton Carter. Carter and his senior staff wanted to make sure that the Army was truly opening up competition for the GCV and that was made clear in the RFP, said McVeigh.

The GCV acquisition program “is focused on competition,” with up to three contractors selected for the technology development phase. The Army hasn’t kept two builders going head-to-head through early development since the Abrams main battle tank program, McVeigh said.

The Army wants companies other than armored vehicle builders BAE and General Dynamics to pitch proposals. “We want to be able to look at other American companies to allow them to break into this niche market. This isn’t just MGV warmed over. I just don’t want one or two companies that were deep in MGV have a competitive advantage in this,” he said.

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More GCV Details Emerge

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

I was on a reporter’s conference call yesterday with Army Maj. Gen. Keith Walker, the service’s Future Force Integration Directorate Commander, who discussed Army modernization post FCS. I asked him about new Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) Infantry Fighting Vehicle and how he sees it fitting into the future force. The GCV is intended to replace the Bradley, he said, and will also be used as a battlefield medical vehicle.

The number one priority of the GCV, according to what’s written in the initial capabilities document and the capability development document, he said, is to provide armored protection to the soldier, particularly against IEDs. Close behind it is mobility. “The MRAP is not mobile off the roads… protect the individual soldier, having a mobile off-road capability and having it networked… are the three [priorities] that come to mind.”

I asked him about GCV strategic mobility, which back in the day was the main goal of the FCS manned ground vehicles (seen above in an artists rendering), to be light enough to fly full brigades to distant battlefields. To be useful in a place like Afghanistan the GCV would have to be lighter than the 30 ton Bradley which is too heavy to fly there in any real numbers.

“We would hope that it would be lighter [than a Bradley], but there are some mathematics here. To survive an IED you’ve got to heavy up,” Walker said. The Army’s goal is to build an off-road mobile, heavily armored infantry fighting vehicle, but build it in such a way that it can be made lighter over time. Hence, the modularity concept that figures so prominently in GCV design.

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About that 70 Ton GCV (Updated)

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

I choked a bit when I read that Reuters story the other day saying the Army pitched chief Pentagon weapons buyer Ashton Carter on plans for a new Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) that tipped the scales at 70 tons. I know the Army has done some really dumb things acquisition wise in recent year (see FCS), but building a 70 ton infantry fighting vehicle sounds pretty far fetched.

Army officials have been clear that the GCV’s design is being driven by survivability, which means lots of armor and some type of underbelly blast-defeating hull design. But that’s not the only parameter. To repeat what Army Chief Gen. George Casey said about the GCV: “Our goal is for the GCV, 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.” Now that’s asking a lot of a single vehicle.

I fired off an email to Army spokesman Paul Mehney trying to get some clarity on the GCV weight issue. Here’s his response:

“Discussion on the weight class of the Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) is premature as the government has yet to release the GCV request for proposal and therefore the PEO has not received industry proposals on potential vehicle weight.

The first phase of GCV technology development will focus on obtaining competing designs and assessing their ability to meet requirements in the Request for Proposal. One of those requirements is that the GCV include a modular armor approach, which will allow the attachment of different armor modules to meet specific threats. Therefore, even when the vehicle is fielded, its’ overall weight may vary based on the tactical situation. It will be the commander’s decision as to what level of protection is appropriate and suitable for the mission and the operational environment.”

The modularity part is key. As we’ve seen throughout the history of armored vehicle design, once contact is made with the enemy, extra armor is added. World War II provides plenty of examples, as do the various Arab-Israeli wars, Vietnam and of course Iraq. I would expect the baseline GCV to come in around 30 tons, then bolt-on armor packages could increase that weight by up to 20 tons.

That GCV RFP is expected any day now so we’ll soon find out what the key performance parameters really are.

The RFP has been released and I’ve posted it over at sister site DOD Buzz.

– Greg