U.S. Army picking up the pieces of the ‘lost decade’, just in time to drive off a budget cliff
John Grady is a ScoutComms Special Correspondent
Looking back at a “lost decade” in equipping the Army for the future in late May, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said, “I think it’s widely recognized, and it’s sad.” He didn’t specifically mention the impact of the canceled Future Combat Systems program or that of the on-again/ off-again/ on-again Manned Ground Combat Vehicle; the Non-Line of Sight Cannon; or the Comanche armed reconnaissance helicopter.
He didn’t have to.
June, however, is turning into a pivotal moment in righting Army acquisition, buying ground combat vehicles and keeping its industrial base functioning. This is the month a report on the next critical step in how the Army, with close DoD supervision, will replace its 6,000 M-113 troop carriers. About half of the M-113s are in the Army’s heavy brigades and many folks didn’t even know this Vietnam era vehicle was still around.
So far, there has been strong congressional support to at least study what should replace the M-113s that proved vulnerable to mines and lacked mobility even during their first deployments in the 60’s. Army officials have said publicly they are considering new versions of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and/or the Stryker, talk that was music to Capitol Hill ears.
Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles are not seriously in the running as an M-113 replacement. They do not operate well off-road, nor are they capable of carrying many fully equipped soldiers, nor serve as effective ambulances and mission command vehicles.
Stryker variants already carry out those missions.
Speaking before the markups of the Defense Authorization Bill that called for keeping Bradley production lines open, Scott Davis, program executive office for Ground Combat Systems, said at the Association of the United States Army’s winter meeting, “It would certainly help that manufacturing industrial base [of Bradley’s and Stryker’s].” It also would keep costs down, he said. Fifty-eight Stryker’s are in next year’s budget request.
Called the Armored Multipurpose Vehicle, three of the four key congressional committees approved $74 million for the study next year. The Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee is expected to also include it in its spending bill. The plan the Army unveiled earlier this year is to spend $1.7 billion from 2014 through 2017 at a price of about $2.4 million a piece. The production schedule is the same as FCS projected timeline.
Like the Manned Ground Combat Vehicle, it was a casualty of the cancellation of the FCS program.
As for the Manned Ground Combat Vehicle, the fiscal year 2013 defense budget request largely put it on hold for a year. Carter said that the Pentagon was exercising “strategic patience” in working with the Army on how it will proceed with the program that ultimately will replace the Bradley’s.
Even with keeping the program in the research, development, test and evaluation phase, the Congressional Research Service reported that affordability questions remain because “most defense analysts expect even deeper cuts in end-strength” than the 80,000 now forecast and the elimination of at least heavy eight brigade combat teams. The Army forecast buying 1,874 of these vehicles. Estimates of cost run from $9 million to $13 million per vehicle, including spare parts.
The “strategic patience” to get the program right comment reinforced a point made in the Defense Business Board’s most recent review of Pentagon spending. The board reported, “In the last 10 years, the department has walked away from over $50 billion in weapons that either did not work or were overtaken by newer requirements,” like FCS, et al., for the Army.
With $487 billion in cuts or caps in defense spending over the next 10 years, the message is clear: There is no more money and tapping emergency war spending for pet programs is not an option.
In the first year under the Budget Control Act, defense acquisition and Army and Marine Corps manpower were the bill payers. The industrial base paid 40 percent of the bill. Even with that much at stake, industry was not consulted about targeted cuts, delays and terminations. House and Senate hearings this year has been filled with congressional weeping and lamentations about lost jobs and vanishing skilled workers.
Carter promised that would not be the case in the future. “We’ll be looking, as we make changes, for any parts, any skill sets that are now in the defense industry that, if we allowed them to go away, would be very difficult to — or time-consuming or expensive — to recreate, and which skill sets can’t be found in commercial industry. Those we have an obligation to sustain. And I’ve invited my partners in industry to identify those opportunities for us.”
Of course, all that hinges on Congress approving and the White House signing off on a spending plan before the beginning of the new year that avoids automatic, across-the-board cuts in defense spending and entitlement programs, like Medicare.
For now, most of the Veterans Affairs’ budgets are exempt but it seems hard to believe anyone will be immune for long.