Recently, author Daniel Goure questioned the Army’s need to invest in the Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) in his article “Is a New Combat Vehicle what the Army Needs Most?” In this piece, Dr. Goure wondered about U.S. Army’s priorities by asking whether the Army should be focusing at all on a new ground combat vehicle. To address this question, it is necessary to consider the prospects for conflict and challenges to U.S. national security in the 21st Century with a view toward a more balanced approach to defense investments.
Since the end of the Cold War in 1989, the land domain has been the primary venue for military conflict around the world. From Operation Just Cause in Panama through Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, conflicts have occurred predominantly on land masses. Interestingly, our Nation has not witnessed a pitched naval battle involving aircraft carriers, battle cruisers, or destroyers since the Battle of the Philippine Sea in 1944. That battle was 66 years ago. In the air, the U.S. military has not observed a fierce air-to-air campaign with tactical fighters in aerial combat since the Vietnam War.
The quiet reality is that U.S. overwhelming dominance in the air and naval domains has largely priced adversaries out of those competitive markets. Very few countries today can afford the large-scale investments in state-of-the-art equipment such as $360 million F-22 tactical aircraft, multi-billion dollar missile defense shields, $22 billion aircraft carriers, or $587 million defense satellites. While some countries are making significant air and naval investments, those weapons are largely designed for coastal homeland defense and not long-range intercontinental engagements across strategic distances. Compared to these purchases, $10 million for a ground combat vehicle is a reasonable investment, considering its likely and continued use for years in combat.
Ground combat Soldiers bear the brunt of war today and will do so tomorrow. America’s adversaries have made the conscious decision not to fight the U.S. in the air, or at sea, and with good reason. Because enemy losses in these domains would be disproportionate, adversaries will continue to avoid confronting the U.S. there. As pointed out by MG (ret) Robert Scales in a recent Armed Forces Journal article entitled Small Unit Dominance: The Strategic Importance of Tactical Reform, “89% of all deaths in Afghanistan occur in small units and more than 90% occur within 400 meters of a road.” Moreover, roughly 80% of the total combat deaths reported for U.S. service-members have been ground combat soldiers. And yet, some in the defense community have continued to argue for reduced funding for vehicle crew-protection measures.
Well-designed combat vehicles save Soldiers’ lives. The U.S. Army has learned about Soldier survivability through nine years of war. Today, the Army has a more coherent modernization pathway than it had for much of the past decade. Combat vehicle and network strategies are nearly complete, reflecting affordable, integrated plans linked directly to capability gaps in the present force. The Army’s tactical wheeled vehicle strategy is largely complete and will be finished shortly. Needed improvements to the existing fleet of Stryker, Paladin, Abrams and non-IFV Bradleys reflect the continued need to provide mobile armored protection.
These plans also provide for growth in space, weight, and power, and incrementally improve lethality, fuel efficiency, and reliability. These improvements do more than just get soldiers to the scene of a tactical engagement, they address comprehensive challenges in terms of survivability, lethality, mobility, communications, and operations in both high and low intensity threat environments. The need for mobile armored protection and the ability to deal with sophisticated hybrid opponents is articulated in the new Army Operating Concept and the larger Army Concept Framework.
Dr. Goure suggests that the Army has not made the proper investments in several key areas. In particular, he contends that three areas need greater attention from the Army: air and missile defense, precision strike, and networks. However, these areas are already essential components of the current Army modernization strategy.
The Army continues to invest in its air and missile defense capabilities. The Army is near completion of its Patriot Pure Fleet initiative thus ensuring all Patriot units have the most current “hit to kill” PAC-3 missile. Additionally, the Army is considering incorporating the Missile Segment Enhancement missile into the force, expanding the engagement zone to counter today’s most stressing ballistic missile threat set. With regard to counter rocket and counter mortar challenges, the Army has already fielded Counter Rockets, Artillery, and Mortars (C-RAM) capability in response to a field request to provide the capability to sense, warn, and intercept rocket, artillery, and mortar rounds. C-RAM is a success story and lays the foundation for the near-future fielding of a new Indirect Fire Protection Capability (IFPC).
In addition, Theater High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) is currently being fielded and will be assigned to functional Air Defense Artillery (ADA) brigades. THAAD provides upper tier defense capability, and, coupled with Patriot, enables a robust and effective multi-tiered ballistic missile defense of critical assets.
The Army is also investing heavily in precision strike capabilities. The Paladin Integrated Management (PIM) 155 millimeter howitzer is the most technologically advanced self-propelled cannon system in the Army today. Low rate production delivery of PIM begins in the third quarter of FY15, with production continuing beyond FY17. Other enhancements to precision strike capabilities include: Excalibur 155mm precision engagement projectile, Precision Guidance Kit (fuze) for 155mm munitions, enhanced AN/TPQ-36 counter fire radars, AN/TPQ-50 lightweight counterfire system, lightweight laser designator rangefinder (LLDR), guided multiple launch rocket system (GMLRS), increment 2 of the advanced field artillery tactical data system (AFATDS), and improved position and azimuth determining system (IPADS).
Finally, the Army has a capable operational network today and is working steadily to improve its capabilities. In FY12, the Army will transition to a new network based on the latest increments of Warfighter Information Tactical (WIN-T) and the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) programs to provide secure data, voice, and video capabilities to a mobile force. These steps will fill capability gaps currently mitigated by off-the-shelf products. The hand-held, manpack, Soldier JTRS radios will extend the network to the dismounted Soldier. Network transport consists of WIN-T, Military Satellite Communications (MILSATCOM), and functional network systems that deliver services and provide information infrastructure to Soldiers.
Ground forces today provide the preponderance of national response capability to challenges as diverse as Katrina, Haiti, and Korea. Given this reality, it makes little sense to reduce funding for such a necessary part of the combat force. Rather than critique a relatively cheap and sorely needed ground system, the U.S. defense establishment should find other ways to reduce expensive, big-ticket defense capabilities that are less used, less challenged, and perhaps less needed.
The GCV will be a well-used, highly challenged, effective and efficient means to employ U.S. soldiers around the world. It will field the latest technology to provide growth potential, enhanced survivability, and operational adaptability. Developing the GCV is an essential step toward providing the necessary capabilities for U.S. forces to engage and to respond to the wide variety of threats in our future.