Academic journal article Military Review

Tactical Utility of Tailored Systems

Academic journal article Military Review

Tactical Utility of Tailored Systems

Article excerpt

We have to avoid million-dollar solutions to hundred dollar problems. That doesn't put us at any advantage. That puts us at an economic disadvantage at the strategic level.

--Gen. David G. Perkins, TRADOC commanding general

The Army has traditionally been equipped to confront what is expected, but winning in today's complex world requires being prepared to fight an unknown enemy. Future enemies will have access to off-the-shelf technologies that previously only large nation-states could afford. Meanwhile, large nation-states are able to duplicate or steal U.S. high-technology investments at a fraction of the research cost. For example, China rapidly duplicates Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and other U.S. innovations, often improving on designs. One can find evidence of such activities in replicas of the Big Dog robot and the Switchblade tube-launched drones. (1) No longer can the U.S. spend billions to develop the next stealth technology and expect a twenty-year payoff; the return on investment is likely not there.

This article explores the idea of combining virtual environments and rapid manufacturing to create tailored materiel specific to a region or even a battle. The Army needs a powerful innovation process to tilt the cost-effectiveness calculation back in the favor of the United States and drastically increase the rate of materiel innovation.

In the 1970s, the United States chose to offset the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic's superior numbers using technological differentiation (developing weapons with superior capabilities). This led to the development of the Abrams tank and Bradley fighting vehicle (along with precision munitions and stealth technology). However, while the world changed over the years, those vehicles were still expected to perform interchangeably anywhere they were required.

Notwithstanding the changed world, equipment still must provide maximum capabilities for the war-fighters. However, the multiplicity of missions that have emerged has led to the development of over-specified exquisite systems that require extraordinary (and expensive) technology leaps. The recently canceled Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) Program provides an excellent example of an exquisite system. GCV requirements included a three-man crew, nine dismounts, and high protection and lethality levels--all bundled into an individual platform. The result was a tactically repulsive 75- to 85-ton vehicle that would have required exotic technology leaps to become useful.

In contrast to exquisite systems, tailored systems focus on specific functions, specific geographic areas, or even specific fights. The narrow focus allows achievement of high performance without the needless development of exotic and expensive technologies that aim to satisfy too many requirements.

The wide range of potential operating environments the Army may encounter requires vehicles with correspondingly different capabilities. For example, a vehicle solution for a megacity may require a small size, much like those driven by the local population. On the other hand, a swamp- or amphibious-entry vehicle may need a screw propulsion system, and a desert environment may require yet a different type of solution. Modularity of components may be possible across these platforms, but the hull structure would likely have to be custom made.

Since the U.S. Army is increasingly becoming a CONUS-based expeditionary force, wherever we deploy, the regional actors will already have home-field advantage, including equipment attuned to the operating environment. For example, the South Korean K1 tank is similar to the U.S. M1 tank except that it has a hydropneumatic suspension, which increases the available gun elevation and depression angles. The increased angles provide a greater vertical firing range, an important advantage in Korea's dense urban areas and surrounding mountainous terrain. …

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