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The U.S. really needs to face facts and once and for all tackle the issues surrounding how we acquire things for the military. It’s time to initiate a plan that accommodates changing Administrations and Congresses and their ever changing vision for the military’s mission. The military has three basic procurement environments: immediate, short term and long term. The problem is all three of these environments have a range to them. Immediate can range from acquiring software or technology to halt an immediate cyber attack to finding a stop gap solution for IEDs. At the other end we have large items ranging from a new tactical vehicle for the Army and Marines, to the next tactical aircraft for the Air Force to the next generation aircraft carrier for the Navy.
Resolving the military’s acquisition policy is a lot like riding a Tilt-A-Whirl. It’s ever changing; you’re not exactly sure where you are or where you’re going. Our elected officials are focused on immediate or current issues potentially requiring use of our military—and military is only one segment of our government. Will the Arab Spring quickly turn into the Arab nightmare? Will any of the “rogue” nations require military attention? And do we need to have a sufficiently strong and feared military presence to deter any emerging economic powers from attempting to intimidate us into decisions that are not in our best interest?
The problem of acquisition reform clearly falls into the lap of Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, and the Pentagon acquisition chief Ashton Carter. They need to propose a structure that eliminates the “stop, start, shift focus back and forth” approach to long-term acquisitions. That structure will then be used as the template for setting in motion the development of systems and equipment necessary for our military to ensure its success no matter the mission. A different template will be necessary for the immediate or short-term—5-7 year— procurement needs. These two areas require flexibility and a completely different process. At the detriment of individual political gains, all these structures have to be insulated from political tampering—something we have never been able to achieve. The current budget crisis and sensitivity by voters to political self-serving dealings may provide Secretary Panetta with an opening to actually make some meaningful changes to our acquisition process.
One area lacking focus and direction is the U.S. Army vehicle program. This program falls into the long-term acquisition area…well, for the most part. We’ve had to throw the MRAP in as an immediate solution and then stretched it to a short-term requirement. I don’t think anyone anywhere feels that if we had a 10-year development program to find a vehicle to transport a squad of soldiers as safely as possible in Iraq or Afghanistan, the result would be the MRAP. We currently have three prongs to our future tactical vehicle strategy: the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV), the Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) and the Humvee recap program. I guess there are a couple others that are on the periphery: the Stryker and the MRAP All Terrain Vehicle (M-ATV). This last one, the M-ATV, is like trying to put an extra leg on a set of crutches (MRAP) and telling the patient he won’t have any trouble walking through the rock quarry.
The JLTV is a joint program between the Army and the Marines started in 2006, and it has yet to set what the design requirements are. Nor has it been decided yet how many are needed or how much they will cost. BAE was awarded a $450M contract and General Dynamics was awarded a $440M contract for the two-year Technology Demonstration (TD) phase of the GCV program. The Humvee recap program is just in the preliminary phase with mostly talk and no money yet. The intent is to give the Humvee better armor than is now available or provided even for the current-armored Humvees as well as an improved suspension and additional features including electronics. The intent is to extend the Humvee’s life into the 2030s.
The Army anticipates starting to field GCVs in 2017, and JLTVs…when? Who knows. Not the Army. It’s possible to start fielding Humvee recaps as early as 2014. So let us sum up: the military budget is under pressure and will only see greater pressure. Meanwhile the JLTV doesn’t know what it is or how much it is. The GCV is just starting work on a TD. The MRAP has its problems and is extremely restricted in what it can do where. The Stryker has its issues especially with regard to protecting its occupants from IEDs and mines, and we have almost 100,000 Humvees we could recap. Can the Army support a GCV, JLTV, MRAP, M-ATV, Stryker and Humvee? Clearly it can’t, so some programs have to get off the bus. A betting man might read the tea leaves this way: JLTV is history, GCV will stay a technology demonstrator for a long time, fielding something around 2025, and the Army and Marine Corps will find a way to get along with recapped Humvees, Strykers and M-ATVs.