The Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle Program and Alternatives

April 2, 2013

CBO compares the Army’s plan for the GCV with four options and finds that, although no option would meet all of the Army’s goals, all are likely to be less costly and pose a smaller risk of delay than CBO expects for the Army’s plan.

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The Army is planning to develop and purchase a new Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) that will serve the dual purposes of operating as a combat vehicle and transporting soldiers to, from, and around the battlefield. The GCV is intended to replace the current fleet of Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs), which operate with the service’s armored combat brigades. CBO estimates that implementing the GCV program on the most recent schedule would cost $29 billion (in 2013 dollars) over the 2014–2030 period.

This report compares the Army’s plan for the GCV with four other options the service could pursue instead. Although none of those alternatives would meet all of the Army’s goals for the GCV program, all are likely to be less costly and less risky (in terms of unanticipated cost increases and schedule delays) than CBO anticipates will be the case under the Army’s plan. Some of the options also would offer advantages relative to the GCV in meeting the Army’s mission.

What Are the Program’s Objectives?

The search for a new GCV has forced the Army to find a balance among several objectives. While staying within prescribed costs per vehicle, the service hopes to field a fleet that will offer improvements over the current Bradley IFVs in several areas:

  • Protection against threats coming from all directions and ability to operate after an attack,
  • Effectiveness as a weapon against enemy forces,
  • Mobility on- and off-road, and
  • Capacity for a full nine-member infantry squad along with a vehicle crew of three.

Seating capacity for nine passengers is among the Army’s highest priorities for the vehicle. If a squad is dispersed among several vehicles, as is the practice for units equipped with the current Bradley IFV (which accommodates only seven soldiers), it can be difficult for leaders to organize and direct the soldiers immediately after they exit the vehicle, especially if the forces are under fire.

What Are the Program’s Challenges?

The trade-off for providing better protection and the ability to accommodate more passengers typically is a larger and heavier vehicle. Other objectives for the vehicle, such as reduced cost and better maneuverability in urban settings, are more easily met with smaller and lighter vehicles. Although the Army’s program allows contractors some flexibility in meeting various goals, initial designs indicate that the GCV is likely to be much larger and heavier than the current Bradley IFV.

Whether the GCV that results from the design process will be well suited to a range of potential future operations is not known. The vehicle as envisioned should provide improved protection against mines and improvised explosive devices—the most prevalent threat in operations such as those recently undertaken in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, several Army officials have said that vehicles that are as large and as heavy as the GCV is likely to be are not well suited to operate in situations that were common in Iraq and Afghanistan and that are likely to be faced in the future.

What Alternatives Did CBO Analyze?

CBO analyzed four alternatives to the GCV program. For comparison with those alternatives, the agency used the characteristics of the Army’s notional model (known as the GCV Design Concept After Trades vehicle).

Option 1: Purchase the Namer APC

If the Army replaced its current IFV with the Israeli Namer armored personnel carrier (APC), soldiers and vehicles would probably survive combat at slightly higher rates than would be the case for the GCV. Moreover, the Namer, like the GCV, could carry a nine-member squad, although it would be less lethal (that is, have less capability to destroy enemy forces) and less mobile than the GCV. The Namer probably would be produced, at least in part, in the United States, but its fielding would nevertheless require collaboration with foreign companies and governments.

Option 2: Upgrade the Bradley IFV

An upgraded Bradley IFV would be more lethal than the GCV against enemy forces and would probably allow soldiers and vehicles to survive combat at about the same rates as would the GCV. But like the current model, the upgraded Bradley would carry only seven passengers—two fewer than the Army’s desired nine—and it would not be as mobile as the GCV.

Option 3: Purchase the Puma IFV

If the Army chose the German Puma, which carries just six passengers, to replace the current Bradley IFVs, the service would need to buy five vehicles for every four of its current Bradley IFVs. The advantage of the Puma, however, is that its capabilities are expected to be similar to or better than those of the GCV in other areas. It would be much more lethal than other vehicles that CBO evaluated—including the GCV. Its ability to protect passengers and survive combat would be slightly better than the GCV’s and it would be almost as mobile. If the Army decided to field the Puma, the development and production of that vehicle, like the Namer, would require collaboration with foreign companies and governments.

Option 4: Cancel the GCV

If the Army reconditioned its current Bradley IFVs instead of replacing them, the current capability of the IFV fleet could be maintained through 2030. The Army could continue to investigate ways to improve the current Bradleys, but it would not field any new or improved vehicles.

How Were Differences Assessed?

To estimate the improvement in capability the GCV and the alternative vehicles would yield compared with the current Bradley IFV, CBO applied two metrics based on characteristics that are considered important in a fighting vehicle. Those measures combined the various improvements the alternative vehicles offer in four categories compared with the current Bradley IFV: protection of soldiers and survivability of the vehicle in combat; lethality; mobility to and around the battlefield; and passenger capacity.

CBO’s primary metric weighed improvements in each category on the basis of soldiers’ preferences. The agency’s secondary metric emphasized a vehicle’s ability to achieve the Army’s goals by giving more weight to its capacity for carrying passengers and by giving additional credit to vehicles that can carry a nine-member squad.

Which Vehicles Would Be Most Capable?

On the basis of CBO’s primary metric, the Puma would be the most capable of the vehicles, and both it and the upgraded Bradley IFV would be significantly more capable than the GCV (see figure below). In addition, fielding Pumas or upgraded Bradleys would cost $14 billion and $9 billion less, respectively, than the Army’s program for the GCV and would pose less risk of cost overruns and schedule delays. Although the Namer would be much less capable than the GCV overall, it would still provide the Army with a vehicle that could carry nine passengers, and fielding it would cost $9 billion less than the Army’s plan for fielding the GCV.

Cost and Improvement in Capability Under the Army's Plan and CBO's Options, Using Two Metrics

The Puma is slightly more capable than the GCV, but the upgraded Bradley IFV and the Namer are less capable than the GCV in an evaluation of the various vehicles on the basis of CBO’s secondary metric, which emphasizes the ability to carry a nine-member squad. Because the GCV and the Namer are the only vehicles CBO studied that could carry a full nine-member squad, their capability is higher relative to the other vehicles by that metric. As a result, the GCV is nearly comparable to the Puma, and the Namer is equal to the upgraded Bradley, although less capable than either the GCV or the Puma. Even by CBO’s secondary metric, fielding a fleet of Pumas would give the Army slightly more capability than a fleet of GCVs and at only half the cost of the GCV. The Puma fleet also would pose a lower risk of cost overruns or schedule delays.

No improvement over the fleet’s current capability would be achieved if the Army canceled the GCV program and instead decided to rely on the current Bradley IFVs until the need for additional capabilities became more pressing and new technologies were readily available. Nevertheless, that approach offers other advantages: The cost to the Army would be $24 billion less than the projected cost of the GCV program, and the service would incur essentially no programmatic risk.