So, the debacle of the Army’s Future Combat System is mostly dead. A lot of the networking initiatives are still alive, and some of the reconnaissance stuff as well. But the master plan for a family of armored vehicles to replace the Strykers, Bradley’s and Abrams all with one chassis is dead. The Army started looking at a follow-on program shortly thereafter, but the specter of 70 ton Armored Personnel Carriers doomed that paper program.
Now it looks like the Army is finally going to get serious about a program to develop the replacement for the Bradley.
The new troop carriers must meet “non-negotiable” criteria for protection against everything from cannon rounds and RPGs to explosively formed penetrators, along with the ability to accommodate future growth in terms of size, weight, power and network connectivity as well as carry nine soldiers, said Michael Smith of the Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence during a conference call with reporters today.
However, the rest of the vehicle’s performance will largely be up to contractors to determine as long as they meet minimum criteria.
The Army is looking at a unit cost of about $10 million apiece, which is mighty expensive, but not out of the realm of sanity in this day and age.
Now, you might have figured out that I’m about the biggest fan of the Bradley around, but I think it is high time to start this new program. Why? A couple of different reasons.
First, the fleet is old, and has been rode hard. I’ve said before that I think running the fleet through depot maintenance will be enough to keep it going. Sure. But depot maintenance ain’t cheap. And the older your fleet is, the more often you have to cycle through.
Secondly, there just isn’t a lot of room left for growth on a Bradley. It’s already been upgraded several times over its almost 30 years of service, to include changing the engine and transmission, ugrading the suspension somewhat, adding large amounts of new armor, redesigning the interior layout, totally revamping the communications system from Cold War era radios to a digital battle management system, and revamping the fire control system to include a laser range finder and commander’s thermal sight. There’s not a lot of physical room left to add stuff, and power supply to the electronics is limited.
Finally, the 25mm main gun on a Bradley is getting to be just a little light. Most infantry fighting vehicles entering production these days mount 30mm or even 40mm guns. Don’t be surprised if we see a 40mm on the next generation vehicle (alternatively, don’t be surprised if the MK46 30mm gun is selected as a cost saving measure- it’s already in service).
Oh, one last thing. I think it is great that they want to provide seating for nine dismounts instead of the 6 or 7 a Bradley can carry. Mech platoons are always short of dismounts. There’s never enough of them. And since the standard army squad is nine men, this will promote tactical homogenity throughout the force.
Replacing the Bradley before the Strykers and Abrams makes sense. The Stryker fleet is young, already networked, and has room for growth. The Arbrams fleet hasn’t been used nearly as hard as the Bradley fleet in recent years, was designed almost from the start for networking, and still has substantial room for growth. Further, it is still far and away the best tank on the battlefield. If the Army manages this replacement program tightly, and doesn’t try to make it a vehicle for all people at all times, they may just come up with a good design. Let’s just hope it goes a little faster than the original Bradley’s development, which only took about 20 years…