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The Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle: Have we explored all the requirements?

A troop specializing in the safe loading and offloading of military equipment from railcars directs an M2A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle to maneuver to his left to keep the tanklike vehicle's treads centered on the ramp. (Keith Hayes/U.S. Marine Corps)
September 30, 2019

In 1990, I was a young Marine Corps Captain attending the US Army Armor Advanced Course in Ft. Knox, Kentucky.  One insightful book that stood out was “King of the Killing Zone: The Story of the M-1, America’s Super Tank by Orr Kelly, a longtime Washington defense reporter.  Kelly told the developmental story of replacing the M-60 series of tanks, first with the Main Battle Tank-70 design, (1960-1968) then the transition to the M-1 Program (1972-1980).  He concluded the secret of success was taking Soldiers with combat experience into the requirements process.

The Army learned valuable lessons from both its experiences in Vietnam and later studying the 1973 Yom Kippur Arab-Israeli War.  Many realized technology had moved on and it would be a catch-up race to field better weapons systems.  Today we have a similar story — potential adversaries are developing weapons systems that play to their strengths and exploit our weaknesses.  The battlespace is more complex today, and time is compressed.

For almost two decades, the US Army has sought to improve and/or replace the Bradley Fighting Vehicle (BFV) as they were developed over twenty years (1958-1981).  With service life extensions/improvements, they’ve been the mainstay armored mobility platforms for Army units since the early 1980s.  From my own experiences on the ground in Desert Shield /Desert Storm, the Bradleys proved their worth as part of the Army’s “Big Six Weapons Systems” that showcased Air-Land Battle Doctrine.  However, over time they’ve aged and need to be replaced because of threat capabilities that outmatch/outrange the current Bradleys.

Two previous pilot programs, the Future Combat System (FCS) and the Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) were started as acquisition programs to replace the BFV but both were canceled after spending at least $20 billion dollars. Wasting is another way to put it.  According to the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), DoD spent $46 billion between 2001-2011 on a dozen weapons programs that never even entered production.  The acquisitions process has been deeply flawed for decades, yet that doesn’t always have to be the case.

The Army’s Futures Command chose the Bradley replacement program as its number two modernization priority after long range precision fires. Originally titled, “Next Generation Combat Vehicle,” it was released to industry in March 2019.  Desired attributes and characteristics included: reliable proven automotive components; advanced weapons (that can counter/outmatch peer threats in today’s environment); and state of the art automation for manned/unmanned teaming as a desired future combat capability.

The Secretary of the Army, Ryan McCarthy and Army Futures Commanding General, General John “Mike” Murray, have placed the responsibility of defining requirements for the OMFV with Brigadier General Richard Ross Coffman, a Cross-Functional Team lead in the approach to developing capabilities.

The original industry contenders expressing interest were BAE (CV 90 Vehicle), General Dynamics (Griffin Vehicle), and Rheinmetall-teamed with Raytheon (Lynx Vehicle).  Original desired attributes were a 33-ton weight limit that allows the vehicle to be carried with one other OMFV aboard a C-17 Aircraft.  Bolt-on armor and a modular active protective system for survivability as well.  A FLIR sight capability and a weapons system at its desired objective of a 50mm cannon or at the low threshold of 30mm.

Before US Army Futures Command was created, Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) under the leadership of Lt. General H.R. McMaster wrote a “Combat Vehicle Modernization Strategy” noting that urbanization complicates tactics while increasingly sophisticated technologies boosts lethality.  McMaster believed it was important for warfighters from units who would have to employ the new weapons systems involved, right alongside the acquisition professionals.

Now as Fiscal Year 2020 begins on  Oct. 1, the Army is faced with a critical decision to move forward with one of the Bradley replacement contenders — or not.  Unfortunately, it appears on the verge of sacrificing OMFV capabilities and technological superiority by trying to get something fielded immediately.  While it’s understandable to “not let perfect be the enemy of good,” as the saying goes, it’s more understandable to ensure the warfighter has the right weapons systems for our national defense without squandering any more precious taxpayer dollars in the process.

From my experiences as a career armor officer, I believe it’s paramount to conduct robust field tests with all serious contender vehicles using Soldier “user juries.” With a FY 2020 request of $378 Million by the Army for Research, Development, Test & Evaluation (RDT&E) Funds, Congress and the Army Leadership need to ask these questions as good stewards of the taxpayer’s contributions to defense.  The Army ought to reconsider its requirements for OMFV capabilities before the taxpayers are quite possibly sold a bad bill of goods.

Colonel Preston McLaughlin, USMC (Ret.) was a career Assault Amphibian Vehicle Officer and Commanding Officer at the Company, Battalion and Regimental level. He is a combat veteran of Operations Desert Shield/Storm, and Operation Enduring Freedom. 

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