Ground Truth?

By Marjorie Censer / January 13, 2010 at 5:00 AM

No pressure, Army, but the ground combat vehicle -- set to replace the Future Combat Systems manned ground platforms -- will be a profoundly significant system, influencing "all other ground programs from the network to sensors, aircraft, fire support and dismounted soldier systems," a retired two-star writes in a new Armed Forces Journal article.

Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, a former commandant of the Army War College and the current president of consulting firm Colgen Inc., notes in the piece that the Army does not have a great track record for equipping ground forces. Citing a "string of failures" from FCS to the Comanche helicopter, he stresses the importance of getting GCV right from the start.

"The GCV concept must fit the needs of today’s wars and yet be sufficiently expansive and adaptable to meet the needs of forces fighting higher-order battles," Scales writes.

To successfully produce the vehicle, he promotes changing the design focus of the GCV's network "from the operational and strategic to the tactical" and changing "the customer from the general to the individual soldier."

An individual soldier "should be well-connected inside or outside the GCV and should lose no situational awareness when making the transition from mounted to dismounted combat," Scales adds. Comparing the GCV to a "mothership," he says it must be "optimized to operate in small units for prolonged periods in inhospitable terrain and climate."

Additionally, Scales calls for the GCV to be a "universal carrier" whose design embraces the needs of all ground combat services and to be "optimized for the common purpose of transporting a squad-sized team to the fight, not just infantry but any small team likely to be placed in harm's way."

Writing that Strykers "have proven to be too thinly armored to survive the very large explosive power of Taliban IEDs and too immobile to maneuver off road to avoid them" in Afghanistan, Scales says the "new universal carrier must be able to travel and maneuver off roads that today are studded with IEDs." The GCV must also be fast -- able to sustain speeds of 70 kilometers per hour over broken terrain -- and quiet to perform counterinsurgency.

Despite his recommendations, Scales argues that no legacy system can meet the needs of all ground services across the spectrum of conflict. "The only practical solution is to build the GCV around the concept of a universal small-unit carrier and then stretch the system as far as possible to accommodate other functions," he writes.