Options to Improve U.S. Army Ground Combat Platform Research and Development

Mel Daniels has served in the United States military for nearly twenty years. Mel is new to writing. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group or person.

National Security Situation:  The modernization of U.S. Army ground combat platforms includes risks that are not presently mitigated.

Date Originally Written:  August, 16, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  November 23, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author believes that the U.S. Army’s over reliance on immature technologies are a risk to national security. Further, the author believes that the risk can be mitigated by slowing development and reducing research and development (R&D) investments while reinvesting in proven material solutions until new systems prove technologically reliable and fiscally feasible to implement.

Background:  The U.S. Army is investing in programs that remain unproven and are unlikely to provide the capabilities sought. Specifically, the Army is heavily investing in its Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle (OMFV) and remote combat vehicles[1]. These programs are predicated on optimal battlefield conditions. Firstly, the assumption exists that enemy forces will not be able to degrade or destroy the battlefield network required to operate unmanned vehicles. Secondly, the risk of the enemy developing weapons that specifically target transmissions coming from control vehicles is a factor that needs to be taken seriously in threat assessments and in planning purposes[2].

Significance:  If the Army’s assumptions are incorrect and if these efforts fails to procure reliable and sustainable ground combat platforms for future operations, there will not be additional resources to mitigate this failure. Moreso, if the Army procures vulnerable systems that fail to deliver effects promised, the Army risks catastrophic defeat on the battlefield.

Option #1:  The U.S. Army could reduce and spread out its R&D investments to further invest in its legacy combat forces to offset the risks associated with funding unproven and unreliable technologies.

Risk:  The significant risks associated with Option #1 are that the technological investments needed for future capabilities will be delayed. The Army would lose its plan for fielding, as the Army will not fully field the OMFV until the early 2030’s, assuming there are no complications to the program of record. Additionally, Robotic Combat Vehicles (RCV) would be delayed until they can also be realistically evaluated. Lastly, investments into legacy systems could threaten the need for future platforms.

Gain:  If the Army elected Option #1, it would have the time to properly and realistically test RCV’s, OMFV and Manned-Unmanned Teaming concepts (MUM-T). This additional testing reduces the chances of investing significant resources into a programs that do not deliver as promised. It also reduces disingenuous and fraudulent claims prior to further funding requests. Simply put, the chances of ineffective systems being funded would be mitigated because proper and realistic testing from an independent entity would occur first. The Army would also gain additional capabilities for its current systems that otherwise would not be upgraded but yet will remain in service for decades.

Option #2:  The Army consolidates their modernization efforts and cancels select requirements. Currently the Army funds 4 major ground combat programs; the Mobile Protected Firepower, RCV program (Heavy, Medium and Light), OMFV, and CROWS-J/30mm. The Army could cancel the MPF program because the program is questionable due to its inability to defeat enemy near peer armored threats that will likely be encountered[3]. This cancelation would allow the Army to invest into the RCV light program, armed with the 50mm cannon and Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGM). The Army would retain a viable anti fortification and direct fire support vehicle, while reducing needless expenses. Further, the Army could cancel or delay the unmanned requirement of the OMFV until the technology and network is fully secured and matured, with no limitations or risks.

Risk:  A significant risk associated with Option #2 is that the Army will not get a light tank or get RCV Medium or Heavy platforms and it will not receive the “optionally manned” portion of the OMFV until later. The risk with not obtaining these desired capabilities mean that the Army would have to accept an alternative material solution that defeats enemy fortifications and armor as opposed to the MPF.

Gain:  The Army retains its desired capabilities while maximizing resources. The Robotic Combat Vehicle-(Light), armed with a 50mm cannon and ATGM’s, is less expensive, lighter and carries more ammunition than the MPF. Further, the RCV-L is better armed to defeat enemy armored threats, as the MPF’s 105mm cannon is inadequate to defeat enemy tanks[3]. Additionally, by removing the unmanned requirement from the OMFV, the Army would gain savings and reduce reliance on unproven technologies, reducing risk of battlefield defeat[4]. This option enables the Army to retain remote controlled concepts by shifting the focus to the RCV-L and equipping the Infantry Brigade Combat Team community with it, as opposed to the Army risking its combat strength and forcing immature technologies upon the Armored Brigade Combat Team community, which is the Army’s main combat formation for near peer conflict.

Other Comments:  The Army is heavily investing in vulnerable technologies without first ensuring it has an effective network able to completely support the operational concepts it desires. Without ensuring that the required network will be immune to enemy countermeasures, these technologies will not fully support operational requirements. Further, the costs associated with these efforts are already exceeding 60 billion dollars, and do not afford the service increased lethality or survivability, even by common English definitional sense. Army R&D efforts will continue to be at risk if they refuse to allow independent agencies full access and evaluation rights prior to further funding.

Recommendation:  None.


[1] Freedberg Jr, Sydney. August 6th, 2020. Breaking Defense. GAO Questions Army’s 62B Cost Estimates for Combat Vehicles. Retrieved from: https://breakingdefense.com/2020/08/gao-questions-armys-62b-cost-estimates-for-combat-vehicles

[2] Trevithick, Joseph. May 11th 2020. The War Zone: This is What Ground Forces Look like to an Electronic Warfare System and Why It’s A Big Deal. Retrieved from: https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/33401/this-is-what-ground-forces-look-like-to-an-electronic-warfare-system-and-why-its-a-big-deal

[3] Central Intelligence Agency. Gorman, Paul. Major General, USA. US Intelligence and Soviet Armor. 1980. Retrieved from: https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/DOC_0000624298.pdf

[4] Collins, Liam. Colonel, USA. July 26th 2018. Association of the United States Army: Russia Gives Lessons in Electronic Warfare. Retrieved from: https://www.ausa.org/articles/russia-gives-lessons-electronic-warfare

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