Delay Fielding of the Army's Ground Combat Vehicle

The Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) program is the Army's latest attempt to design and field a new combat vehicle. Its previous attempt, the manned vehicle program that was part of the Army's larger Future Combat Systems program was canceled in the spring of 2009. Army officials have stated that the service needs a vehicle large enough to carry and protect a full squad of nine infantry soldiers at one time. In order to meet its goal of fielding units equipped with GCVs beginning in 2017, the Army would require appropriations totaling more than $10 billion through 2016: $8.6 billion for development--that is, to design, test, and evaluate the vehicle-- plus almost $2 billion to procure the items needed to begin production. After 2016, the Army could need as much as $3 billion in funding annually to purchase 200 vehicles each year.

This option would delay the initial fielding of the GCV until 2025. From 2012 through 2021, funds currently planned for developing the GCV would be reduced to roughly $600 million per year, thereby decreasing the need for appropriations by more than $2 billion. Under this option, no procurement funding for the GCV would be provided between 2012 and 2021, which would reduce the need for appropriations by an additional $14 billion. Some of the savings would be used to develop and purchase upgrades for Bradley Fighting Vehicles because they will remain in the Army's inventory through at least 2025, whether or not this option is implemented. Consequently, the total reduction in appropriations associated with this option would be roughly $7 billion through 2021, mostly between 2012 and 2016. In total, this option would lower outlays by about $5 billion through 2016 and by almost $6 billion over the 2012-2021 period.

An argument in favor of this option is that it would give the Department of Defense and the Congress time to evaluate the need for the proposed GCV and to consider alternative vehicles, as some defense experts have suggested. Under the Army's plan, GCVs would replace only about 25 percent of the armored vehicles that the service uses to transport soldiers on the battlefield. The Army would still rely on older vehicles that are based on the chassis of the M113 armed personnel carrier and on Bradley Fighting Vehicles to provide the bulk of its armored combat vehicles. The Army has already invested $27 billion between 2004 and 2010 to upgrade existing Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles and to purchase new Stryker vehicles, and continuing upgrades would still be required even if the Army proceeded with the GCV program.

An argument against this option is that if the Army eventually purchased some form of the GCV--because that vehicle would better meet the demands of current and future operations--delaying those purchases would push the costs out further into the future and perhaps increase the total costs over the very long run. It would also delay the fielding of a combat vehicle with greater capabilities than those currently available. For instance, the Bradley Fighting Vehicle cannot carry its own crew and a full infantry squad at the same time. Keeping a squad together, which the GCV would allow, would facilitate tactical planning while the force was moving. That capability would allow a squad to better synchronize its actions when it left the vehicle. In addition, the greater protection afforded by the GCV--especially against improvised explosive devices--would enhance the safety of soldiers who conduct the types of close operations among civilian populations that are becoming increasingly common. This option could increase the total cost of the program by adding eight extra years of research and development before achieving those goals.

A further argument against this option is that the Army has not fielded a new combat vehicle since the early 1990s. Delaying the fielding of the GCV would mean that an even larger portion of the Army would continue to use systems originally developed in the 1980s or earlier (although those systems have been updated several times since then). Some of those armored vehicles, notably the Abrams tank, are not fuel-efficient and require intensive maintenance. Improving the data processing and connectivity of those older systems would require that newer components be integrated into older frames, which can be a difficult process (although the exact costs are not easily estimated and are not included in the above estimate). Finally, retaining old systems might eventually cause the Army to lose its technological edge and compromise the service's dominance on the battlefield.