WASHINGTON — From the ashes of the US Army’s canceled 70-ton ground combat vehicle, the Future Fighting Vehicle (FFV) program has begun to sprout — at least concepts for it.
The Army has awarded two contracts of more than $28 million each to BAE Systems Land and Armaments and General Dynamics Land Systems to develop design concepts for the FFV. The work is due Nov. 28, 2016.
The effort is meant to inform whether the Army will produce an entirely new vehicle or a potential replacement for the BAE-manufactured Bradley fighting vehicle, or lead to a third round of improvements for the Bradley.
The companies are to conduct trade studies, requirements analysis, and modeling and simulation, and assess technology capability and maturity to support each of three design concepts, according to an announcement Tuesday from General Dynamics.
The Army has taken three or four pokes at designing a replacement for the Bradley, and all have been failures. The Bradley has pretty much reached the limit of its potential for improvement, and is lacking in margin for growth in weight and power. It’s still capable, but future needs call for a new vehicle.
The struggle the Army is facing right now is defining just what the next battlefield will look like, as that informs what type of vehicle it really needs.
When the Bradley was designed, it was focused on western Europe, and the need for Infantry battalions to counter the literally thousands of BMP and BTR armored vehicles they would face should the Soviet Union invade. That drove the design to emphasize anti-armor firepower at the expense of space for dismount infantry troops.
But what the Army has seen since then is that much combat will inevitably take place in built up areas, which calls for manpower more than mechanized firepower.
The Army seriously wants to increase the dismount squad size per vehicle from 6 or 7 to at least 9 troops. That’s relatively easy to do. The problem is, they also want to maintain at least the same level of firepower of the Bradley (or more likely, upgun from 25mm to 30mm or even 40mm). They also are seeking better armor protection against anti-armor weapons and IEDs and mines.
Those two forces very quickly drive up the size and weight of a vehicle. Pretty soon, the replacement for the 26 ton Bradley of 1982 looks to be about 70 tons and three or four times the cost. And even at 70 tons, it won’t have levels of protection that the 70 Abrams tank has.
Add to that the digital command and control and fire control systems that are required, and pretty soon you’ve priced yourself out of the market.
I’m increasingly thinking the next mechanized infantry platoon should consist of a 9-11 man vehicle with only a minimal weapons mount, such as the CROWS, say four vehicles to carry the dismount element, and two vehicles with little or no dismount capability, mounting a 30mm or 40mm gun and an anti-armor systems such as the TOW or perhaps even a Javelin missile.