GCV Redux

By Tony Bertuca / January 4, 2011 at 4:52 PM

Defense analysts at the Lexington Institute have been tough on the Army's Ground Combat Vehicle lately -- one official even went as far as to call the vehicle program "doomed" -- but the service hasn't been shy about defending its strategy. This back-and-forth has been playing out online as industry prepares to respond to the GCV technology-development phase request for proposals on Jan. 21.

The latest volley comes from Lt. Col. Mark B. Elfendahl, chief of Training and Doctrine Command's joint and Army concepts division, who wrote a response to criticism leveled by Daniel Goure, a Lexington Institute analyst who questioned the Army's need to invest in the GCV, expected to cost $10 million per vehicle.

"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," Elfendahl wrote in comments that were posted on the Lexington Institute's website. "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."

But Lexington's Goure argued in a Dec. 8 blog entry that the Army faced greater challenges that trumped the need for a new ground vehicle such as networking the force or improving precision strike capabilities.

"While there is value to be had in a highly survivable vehicle that can transport an entire infantry squad while also carrying 'heavy' weapons, such a capability does not seem to address the Army’s biggest challenges," he wrote. "In fact, building another massive, fifty to seventy ton vehicle does not seem the right solution to the problem of deploying into austere locations and sustaining operations in immature theaters. But even if it were, the dominant problem for the Army is not how to get a nine man squad from a Forward Operating Base to the scene of a tactical engagement but whether it will be able to conduct expeditionary warfare in the future or operate in a high-intensity threat environment."

A focus of the GCV program is to deliver the capacity to transport nine soldiers (a full squad) to combat zones, a capability the Bradley Fighting Vehicle does not have. The Stryker can carry a full squad, but it is less armored and soldiers must deploy further away from the fight.

Ultimately, Goure wrote, the Army should focus on modernizing its current fleet of armored vehicles.

"While the re-released Ground Combat Vehicle RFP could be the start of a revolution in how the Army develops requirements and acquires weapons systems it may not be the right place to invest lots of scarce resources," he wrote. "The Army already has a massive fleet of armored combat systems virtually all of which can or are being modernized. The opportunity costs of investing in another ground combat system seem to be just too high at this point in time."

The exchange between Goure and Elfendahl marks the second time the Army has publicly responded to criticism of its GCV solicitation. The back and forth began when Lt. Gen. Michael Vane, the deputy commanding general of TRADOC and director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center, responded to Lexington's chief operating officer, Loren Thompson, who posted a blog entry on Forbes.com on Dec. 2 calling the entire program "doomed" due to high costs and contract changes that will disincentivize industry. The GCV technology-development phase solicitation calls for a "fixed-price incentive-fee" arrangement in which industry has been given a ceiling of $450 million. If winning companies come in below that cost, the government will pay them 20 percent of any money saved. If they come in over budget, however, contractors will be responsible for any additional costs.

Thompson expounded on his reasoning in a Dec. 3 interview with Inside the Army.

"The development schedule is too aggressive and it yields a unit cost that is too expensive," he said at the time. "Yet the contractors are under-incentivized to perform. You have to keep in mind that most of these contractors are conflicted here. They have existing armored vehicle lines that are doing well and generating strong margins. And here comes the Army with a new contract vehicle and a new structure of incentives that does not compare favorably at all. It's expecting these contractors to spend a lot of their own money to get through the technology-development phase and be poised to win. It's also expecting them to keep the program sold on Capitol Hill and it just hasn't given them a good reason for doing those things."

Vane, who helped develop the GCV's requirements, provided the Lexington Institute with a written response on Dec. 6, which the think tank posted on its website.

"Affordability arguments are always related to how much money one has and what the effect is on the operation," he wrote. "It is hard to argue that any force other than the Army (which includes Special Forces) does as much engagement with our friends and enemies and makes as much difference. So, $10 million for nine soldiers that actually engage the enemy directly in this conflict and nearly every conceivable conflict in the future is not a pretty good deal? It think it compares very favorably to a joint strike fighter, a littoral combat ship, or a submarine."

Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli recently appeared at a pre-proposal GCV conference in Dearborn, MI, to assure industry officials of the service's commitment to the effort.

"The bottom line is this: the Ground Combat Vehicle [request for proposals] represents a great opportunity,” Chiarelli was quoted as saying in a Dec. 18 statement from the Army. "There is a real need for this capability now and in the future. The challenge we face is providing that needed capability, under an accelerated time line and in a fiscally constrained environment. This can only be achieved by working together. I believe this large gathering -- on a Saturday, a week before Christmas -- clearly demonstrates our shared commitment."