the US Army
by James Hasik
Future Canadian Forces Armoured Vehicles –
Future Combat Systems – January 2010
Following the Foundering of the US Future Combat Systems Project:
James Hasik reviews US Armoured
Vehicle Modernization After FCS
Edited excerpts of a detailed analysis
prepared by James Hasik 
Editor: Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, brought
the US Army's Future Combat Systems Project to an abrupt halt when it became apparent that none of the 'Manned
Combat Vehicles' for FCS could survive the current IED threats. In the interim, wheeled armoured vehicles fill
in for the now-cancelled MCVs – MRAPs in support roles and Strykers for US heavy brigades. But
the wheeled armoured vehicles have limitations too and the US must hit the re-set button.
Some MRAPs are now lighter ( the M-ATVs or MRAP All-Terrain Vehicles ) and more nimble, but still well-protected,
vehicles are promised for the future – the Joint Light Tactical Vehicles. While JLTV might be some way off,
moves are already underway to enhance JTLV's off-road performance and protection levels to the levels of the
8x8 Strykers. That will be a challenge.
In Armoured Vehicle Modernization After FCS, Part One, James Hasik
reviews the future military vehicle options now available for the US Army and US Marine Corps. Mr. Hasik has
identified ten possible directions that the US Army may take in replacing its existing vehicles, upgrading
older hulls, buying new vehicles based on existing designs, as well as commissioning
completely new armoured vehicle designs.
In Part Two, Mr. Hasik will examine the
implications for industry of all this vehicular activity. Jim Hasik also offers some suggestions for Canadian Forces vehicle modernization based
on DND's existing plans for upgrades and new procurement. Such recommendations spring from a detailed analysis
of the opportunities presented and hurdles now faced by the US military in its future armoured vehicle procurement
– both MRAP/M-ATV and Ground Combat Vehicles.
US President Barack Obama's decision to send a further 35,000 American troops to Afghani- stan is naturally spurring
discussion of just how those troops will be outfitted and supported. Indeed, the move is of such strategic import
that it is crowding out much conversation over whatever else might pass for ground forces
modernization in the US Army and Marine Corps.
Rather below the fold of attention these days, then, is what is following the US Army's now-
foundered Future Combat System (FCS) program. It is important to remember why things went awry with that effort.
Only in late 2008, after five years of work by the US Army, Boeing, SAIC
[ Science Applications International
Corporation ], BAE Systems, and General Dynamics, that US Defense Secretary Robert Gates asked about the mine
protection qualities of the so-termed Manned Ground Vehicles (MGVs) then under development. Learning that MGVs
would have flat bottoms with 18 inches [ 45 cm ] ground clearance was the last straw. Today, Afghanistan may
not be the only war for which to prepare, but it is clearly the next war that must be
The Army's Emerging Plans
Thus, it now appears that the Army's leadership is coming around to heed the dictum from its former chief of staff,
Eric Shinseki: "... if you dislike change, you're going to dislike irrelevance even more." Through decisions
of the leadership of both the Defense Department and the Army Department specifically,
what is coming next is not a single armoured vehicle program, but an array of armoured vehicle plans meant
for full-spectrum operations. There are about ten major, interrelated aspects to vector on which the Army is
Buy almost 10,000 M-ATVs for the Afghan campaign, and beyond
New equipment for the US surge into Afghanistan is leading to at least one industrial windfall.
Reuters reported recently, Defense Secretary Gates saying "Right now we have the money in the budget ... for
5,000 or 6,000 MRAP all-terrain vehicles [M-ATVs]. With the additional [US] forces that are being sent in,
we are probably going to recommend increasing that number, ... to about 10,000." The speed of Gates'
decision-making is underwritten by the speed of Oshkosh's work. As the defense secretary put it
during a factory tour, the M-ATV has gone from conception to fielding faster than almost any
major military equipment program since World War II. The speed and size of that industrial
effort, and the broader MRAP effort that preceded it, have dominated discussions of how to
equip the US troops taking the fight to the Taliban.
The Marines will take some M-ATVs but the Army
will find itself with a fleet of almost 10,000 six-seater, off-road, 4x4 wheeled armoured vehicles, in
addition to existing 4x4 and 6x6 MRAPs and 8x8 Strykers. The long-term question is what will come of the
Joint Light Tactical Vehicle
( JLTV ) program. The JLTV is indeed meant to be a different
vehicle from the M-ATVs and MRAPs, with similar survivability but somehow shedding a few
tons of weight. That is a big deal to the US Marine Corps, which cannot lift an M-ATV by helicopter off a carrier
deck. But with M-ATVs starting at 12.5 tons, a few tons difference is less obviously critical to the Army.
Retain at least 3,700 RG33s for route clearance companies & infantry brigade motorization
The large number of RG33s [a development of the CF's RG31 APV] represents a lot of sappers devoted to mine
countermeasures, a clear indication that the US Army is permanently taking the mine threat seriously.
This vehicle has been officially named the Panther Medium Mine- Protected Vehicle (MMPV) [not to
be confused with the M1 conversion with the same name]. About 1,200 MMPVs will be upgraded from RG33s purchased for
infantry and others through the MRAP program; another 2,500 are RG33s on order from BAE Systems through
The continuing commitment to the MRAP also indicates an acceptance
of the importance of
armoring all infantry. It's awkward that the Army
calls its formations without organic armored
vehicles 'infantry brigades'
– it has infantry units in the heavy and Stryker brigades as well.
least it doesn't call them light. Airborne, airmobile, mountain – whatever
moniker, troops are not 'light' if they're riding in MRAPs. At that
point, they effectively
become panzergrenadieren – not light infantry.
As the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns have demonstrated, regardless of cap badge, infantry will ride under armour
whenever it's appropriate. The big question for industry – particularly for those contractors with an interest
in their installed base of vehicles – is how many trucks will be needed beyond the 10,000 M-ATVs
that the US military plan to procure. More vehicles in the inventory means more possibility for upgrade work later;
fewer means less opportunity domestically, but alternative opportunities through surplus sales to overseas
Buy about another hundred Buffalo A2s for route clearance companies
While there is precious little information on the outyears available directly from the Defense Department, another
hundred Buffalo A2s purchased is the estimate from Force Protection's recent investor call, which presumably
is based on solid indications from the Army. Given the importance of route clearance, the reputation of
the Buffalo, and the fetching image that the Buffalo has garnered with the public, the number
certainly does not seem low. If the US Army retain its Buffalo A1s, it could wind up with a total fleet
of roughly 400 Buffalo of both marks.
Replace the Bradleys with something more survivable – called the Ground Combat Vehicle
The Army abandoned interest in upgrades to the Bradley after the 1999 campaign in Kosovo,
the Stryker became its 'Interim Armored Vehicle,' and after the 2001 campaign in Afghanistan, when
armour was only slightly used. Heavier utilization and free-flowing funds after 2003 led the Army back
to a big commitment. With more heavy brigades becoming Stryker formations over
the next few years, the Army will find itself by the end of 2011 with a pure fleet of M2/3A3 Bradleys
in the Regulars, with the older M2/3A2 ODS Bradleys only in the National Guard.
The firepower of Bradleys is impressive. That said, flat-bottomed, aluminum-hulled Bradleys remain vulnerable to
mines. This and a low seating capacity explain why the Bradleys in Iraq have been clocking less than half the
mileage of MRAPs and one-fourth that of the Strykers.
What comes next – other than the moniker GCV – is the biggest question mark
amongst the Army's investments options, because until recently, the leadership of the service hasn't been clear
or consistent about what it has wanted. General Casey [ Chief of Staff of the US Army ] said in October
2009 that he was thinking about a roughly 24-ton vehicle that seats nine or ten which could very well suggest a wheeled
vehicle. That contrasts sharply with comments from other generals who were thinking about a 35 to 40-ton
vehicle, presumably tracked. Inside the Army reported recently how outgoing Deputy Chief of Staff
for Programs, Lieutenant General Stephen Speakes, told the media before retiring that the vehicle would
emphasize urban mobil- ity, because cities are where the Army expects to find itself frequently
fighting in the future.
The desires that emerged from 'industry days' held by the Army in southeastern Michigan in the past
three months provide more clarity, but little more certainty. The Army is providing plenty of time for
development. While the request for proposals is scheduled to be released in February of 2010, the winning
bidder will have until 2017 to get the first vehicles into the field. It may also have plenty of money:
Inside the Army reported that the Office of the Secretary of Defense recently approved shifting $4 billion to
the Army's vehicle development budget over the next five years. Ceteris paribus, that extra funding will
be useful, because amongst other things, this GCV must
be transportable by ship, rail, and C-17 Globemaster III aircraft
carry a crew of three and a dismounting section of nine
carry a remote weapon station (thus freeing up room inside for 12 people), and
offer "the urban mobility of a Stryker and the off-road mobility of a
The last quote is by Paul Mehney, the US Army's representative for its Brigade Combat Team Modernization (BCTM)
program at the last briefing to industry. If by urban mobility he means lower road impact and higher road
speed, then as Sponge Bob says, "Good luck with that." Combining these two requirements in a
single platform will be challenging, and overreaching requirements were part of what set the preceding
FCS program on such a bad trajectory early on. Still, at least the Army is not trying yet again to shoe-horn the thing
into a C-130 Hercules.
In this context, the GCV's lengthy development period signals a problem: the Army is tacitly
admitting that it has no idea how to combine the speed of wheels with the traction of tracks.
With so little clarity, it's a fair question just how heavy or agile the GCV needs to be, or
how many it will buy. In theory, the Army could lean anywhere in the spectrum of options from the Stryker up
through an infantry carrier version of the M1 Abrams tank [ie: a Heavy APC]. If the latter options seems
remember that it's effectively what Israel Military Industries is doing in building the Namer infantry
fighting vehicle (on the chassis of the Merkava IV tank ) for the Israeli Army. [ For more on HAPCs, see HIAV] As
noted in Part Two, entitled The
Implications for Industry, swinging towards either end of this spectrum rather limits
the number of vehicles that might go to a contractor other than General Dynamics. If that seems
counterintuitive, read on.
Replace the tracked M113s with something faster, more survivable, and more sustainable
As the Congressional Research Service reported in 2007, the Army's venerable M113s hardly get driven at all in
Iraq – despite recent up- armouring, no one wants to ride in them. This is unhelpful for
a type to which is assigned so many supporting roles in the Army's heavy brigades. Still, it's unsurprising
for flat-bottomed, aluminum-hulled vehicles amongst potential minefields, and it's also quite analogous to the
British Army experience with even the up-armoured 'Bulldog' version of the similar and equally
venerable FV430 [ with both appliqué and reactive armours].
The problems do not stop there: even the latest M113A3 models lack enough onboard power for modern communications
and networking equipment. M113s are already being replaced by RG33 and MaxxPro MRAPs in the ambulance role,
largely because the older tracked vehicles were too slow for the speedy delivery of the wounded to field hospitals.
For what comes next, the range of options remains wide open. There are four leading candidates for what
MRAPs provide an option if the Army is looking to economize, as its budget may so indicate
MRAPs ( Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected ) already serve as ambulances (see above) and engineering vehicles, so
their convertibility has been demonstrated. Presumably they would also be upgraded with Oshkosh's TAK-4
suspension system for better off-road mobility [ the Army and Marines are already upgrading 2,500 RG33s and
Cougars with the TAK-4 system ]. The downside is that while MRAPs would offer better mine protection than any
other option, they would, despite TAK-4 suspensions, fall short of even the off-road mobility of
Strykers (the US Army version of the LAV III) were the Army's preferred solution last year
US Army plans would place Strykers in its heavy brigades for the first time. The production line
is running and General Dynamics and the Army already have a large supply chain devoted to supporting the
Strykers in other formations. The Stryker offers higher road speed than any armoured vehicle in the
heavy brigades today, has good internal volume, and a demonstrated adaptability – in over a dozen armies around
the world, including Canada's – to a wide
range of roles.
The two chief disadvantages of Strykers are their lower off-road mobility, which makes them an
uncertain match to the M2/M3 Bradleys, M1 Abrams, and M109 Paladins of
US heavy brigades, and the expense of the Strykers, which could seem high for
Turretless Bradley Conversions put forth as a candidate for support roles by BAE Systems
The primary disadvantages of using the proposed turretless Bradley conversion/updates are the operating
cost of a 30-ton tracked vehicle would be high for utility roles, and the vehicle's already demonstrated
vulnerability to mines. That said, thousands of Bradleys, left over from the Cold War, sit in storage at the
Red River Army Depot in Texas, potentially awaiting future conversion, so the manufacturing cost would be low. The
Bradley's cross-country mobility is also impressive, and the presence of so many M2 and M3 fighting
versions of the Bradley in
the rest of the heavy brigades' structure would simplify logistics with broad parts commonality. Of course,
this logistics advantage falls away instantly if the US Army proceeds with its plan to replace the M2 /
M3 Bradleys with the forth- coming GCV (see above), so we have not heard much about Bradley hull
Turretless GCVs: Analogous option to Bradleys – if the GCV program continues on track
The Ground Combat Vehicle will presumably be much more expensive than either an MRAP or an M113, but there are
certain close support roles, such as mortar carrier, in which the heavy- but-mobile GCV platform would be preferred.
Of course, in the case of the GCV mortar variant specifically, the vehicles may actually be turreted
– with a weapon like the Advanced Mortar System (AMOS) from Patria-Hägglunds [ Ed: a twin-barrelled, breech-loading mortar system ].
There is a stark contrast between the comparative off-road mobility of existing MRAP designs and the planned GCV.
This will represent a significant disadvantage in formations designed to move cross-country at good speed.
While truck-bound logistics trains must move largely by road, even behind tracked units, closer support
is frequently desired from mortar, surveillance, and engineering units. It is reasonable to speculate, then,
that the M113A3s may be replaced not by a single type of vehicle, but by several. Despite the Army's
once-stated preference for Strykers, a reasonable possibility could be found in splitting duties
between GCVs in closer combat roles (such as mortar carriers) and the MRAPs in the service roles further to the
Upgrade the M1A2 SEP Abram Main Battle Tanks into M1A3s.
What's perhaps most clear amongst the lessons of the past decade is that there's a continuing if
considerably reduced role for heavy armour. In the early days of the FCS program, there was heady enthusiasm for
replacing the Abrams tank with a vehicle that would somehow combine its firepower and survivability with
air-portability in C-130 Hercules.
After relearning the laws of physics, the Army's leadership left that thought behind, and resolved to do what
so many other land forces around the world are doing: to upgrade its heaviest and most expensive vehicles from
the Cold War one more time, and in ways relevant to the modern battlefield.
The parameters of the latest proposed version of the M1 Abrams tank, the M1A3, are still being worked out.
The current notion is to finish the M1A3 design by 2014 and to begin putting vehicles into the force by 2017.
Certain to be included are more powerful onboard generators (to support more power-hungry networking and defensive
systems), and a form of the Tank Urban Survival Kit (TUSK), which has proven so handy on M1A2 SEPs in Iraq.
An autoloader for the M1A3's 120mm main gun is another possibility – the M1128 mobile gun version of the
Stryker has an autoloader for its 105mm main gun. Some significant assemblies on each M1A3 vehicle –
including armour – could be selectively replaced with more advanced materials to try to reduce the weight of
what is already the world's heaviest heavy tank.
Upgrade the Strykers, and buy more
Some years ago, as the FCS MGV effort was getting underway with lots of viewgraphs and not much
steel, the more clever observers in the industry were calling LAV III-based Strykers "the real future
combat system", in part because its attributes lined up well with likely future combat. The evolution of the
LAV series has by no means ended. General Dynamics showed its "Super Stryker" version [see: the 'Wheeled Combat Vehicle Demonstrator ' ] at
this year's Association of the United States Army (AUSA) exhibition. The "Super Stryker" offers some
compelling options: higher ground clearance, a slight v-shaping to the rear hull, and a remote 25mm cannon. The
cannon brings firepower up to Canadian and New Zealand standards, but this more advanced unmanned turret allows for
either two extra seats inside, or a surveillance mast like those carried by the second-generation
reconnaissance LAVs, the Canadian Coyote.
The Army seems committed to the Stryker family broadly, announcing recently that it would be converting
another two heavy brigades to Strykers in the next few years, for at least eight brigades in the Regular
Army, and one in the Pennsylvania National Guard. Perhaps just as importantly, the Army has just
this week awarded a $203 million contract to General Dynamics to develop yet more upgrades for the Stryker,
and to demonstrate them in a prototype vehicle. Plans include
upgrading the suspension system and driveline, and adding larger tires and a new braking
system to bring the total allowable weight up to 60,000 pounds
a new 450 horsepower diesel engine to pull all that weight (Stryker's current
puts out just 350 horsepower), and
a new digital architecture for follow-on C4ISR systems.
With the Stryker upgrade contract award, the Army is demonstrating enduring commitment to the vehicle. Of
course, with two of its seven Stryker brigades currently fighting in Iraq, and another in Afghanistan, the
service is already relying very heavily on its Stryker fleet and the concept behind it. Thus, for all the talk of future tracked vehicles, there is cause to wonder.
Retain the M109A6 Paladin 155mm self-propelled howitzer for now and possibly upgrade it
BAE Systems North America told Bloomberg in October that the Army has asked for a prototype M109A6 Paladin
self-propelled howitzer fitted with the autoloader that this company developed for the now-terminated FCS Non Line
of Sight Cannon (NLOS-C) vehicle. That is a clever idea, as it drops the M109A6's crew size from five to two, and
enables the remaining crew members to put multiple rounds on the same target with trajectory shaping. All the
same, the whole future of tracked self-propelled howitzers is a bit bleak. Other than Australia, no country
is committing to new purchases. The substitutes – wheeled self-propelled howitzers, towed howitzers, and
guided rocket systems [eg: MLRS] – are relatively inexpensive and reasonable alternatives.
to tracked SP guns offers features – such as higher road speed, air-portability, or unmanned operation
– unavailable in a weapon like the Paladin, German PzH2000, or British AS90
Braveheart. Indeed, the US Army has already committed to buying more M777s towed howitzers to
keep pace with the addition of Stryker brigades, and lots of Netfires LLC guided rockets-in-boxes
[Precision Attack Missile] for all its infantry brigades. So, while a reasonable idea, it is
not entirely clear that this Paladin with an autoloader upgrade project will
> Part 2 – Ground Combat Vehicles,
M-ATVs, JLTVs, and the Implications for Industry
 James Hasik is a founder and principal of
Hasik Analytic LLC. He is also a member of
the Council on Emerging National Security Affairs. Jim
Hasik can be reached at +1-512-299-1269.