Magazine article National Defense

Army's New Combat Vehicle to Undergo Additional Tests

Magazine article National Defense

Army's New Combat Vehicle to Undergo Additional Tests

Article excerpt

The Army's choice for its Interim Armored Vehicle (IAV)--intended to replace the current generation of heavier tanks and other armored vehicles as part of the service's transformation into a lighter, more deployable force-may have run into a roadblock on Capitol Hill.

The Army was scheduled, in November, to select one of four existing medium-weight vehicles to become the IAV, the main combat vehicle for the new Initial Brigade Combat Teams, or IBCTs, now taking shape in Fort Lewis, Wash. At press time, no decision had been announced.

The Army is making the changes in order to be able to respond more quickly to rapidly unfolding international crises, such as Kosovo. The air campaign against Yugoslavia lasted little more than two months, leaving the Army little time to get its heavy weaponry into place.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki has said that he wants to be able to deploy a brigade within 96 hours of notification, a division within 120 hours and five divisions within 30 days.

The big hold-up to rapid deployment, Army officials agreed, is the 70-ton Abrams MlA2 main battle tank, made by General Dynamics Land Systems, of Sterling Heights, Mich. Designed in the 1980s to fight Soviet forces on the plains of Central Europe, the Abrams is too big to fit on the C-130 aircraft--the backbone of the U.S. military air transport system. Even the huge C-17 can carry only one Abrams at a time.

All of the candidates for the IAV weigh about one third as much as an Abrams and will fit easily on a C-130. The Army plans to begin deploying the IAV next March, Lt. Gen. Paul J. Kern, director of the Army Acquisition Corps, told the 2000 Combat Vehicles Conference at Fort Knox, Ky. But those plans may have to be changed as a result of the 2001 Defense Authorization Bill just signed into law.

That bill provides $1.3 billion--$750 million more than the Clinton administration sought--to buy IAVs for the new brigades currently in the works and to bolster research and development of the next generation of armored vehicles, known as the Future Combat System, or FCS.

Conferees from the Senate and House of Representatives, in a report working out the differences between the versions passed by the two bodies, said they were "encouraged by the Army's vision of the future, particularly the capabilities of future combat vehicles and automotive advanced technologies." They added $46 million to the president's $458 million request for FCS research and development.

The additional funding should help the Army meet what Shinseki--speaking at a recent meeting of the Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA)--called "two key milestones" in developing the FCS:

* In 2003, the Army plans to select the best technologies and concepts to go into the next phase of the FCS project, detailed design and demonstration.

* In 2006, the service intends to begin the engineering manufacturing development stage.

To ensure that those milestones are met, the Army has established a Future Combat System Task Force, to be headed by a general officer.

"We will be in production in '08 and moving to first unit equipped by the end of the decade," Shinseki said. "Is this too ambitious? Well, that's what everybody said last year.

"It is ambitious," he said, "and it will take bold and decisive action to sustain and build on the momentum that we have already generated this past year with solid, bipartisan congressional support."

When it came to the IAV, however, Congress added strings to the increased funding. The bill requires the Pentagon to:

* Test the IAV side-by-side against the medium-weight vehicles now being used by the service.

* Report the results of the testing to the congressional defense committees before procurement of IAVs for additional brigades.

* Provide a plan, by March 1, 2001, "that charts a clear course" for the Army transformation initiative through fiscal year 2012, according to a Senate report. …

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