When the U.S. Army released its fiscal 2011 Tactical Wheeled Vehicle Strategy in January, the service was lauded for a forward-looking approach in defining and addressing needs that also laid plans to reduce its fleet of 260,000 trucks 15% by 2017. The Army is “at a strategic crossroads,” Maj. Gen. Thomas Spoehr, director of force development, said at the time, since it “cannot afford to sustain and modernize a fleet of the current size, given future budget expectations.”

But those plans have since been mugged by budget realities. As it stands, the Pentagon is set to absorb at least $350 billion in cuts over the next decade, with deeper reductions looming as Congress seeks an additional $1.2 trillion in government cuts.

Given all the unknowns in the budget situation, Army leaders are moving forward with three combat vehicle programs—two wheeled and one tracked. How many will actually make it to the fleet remains to be seen, though the service maintains that all three—the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV), the (tracked) Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV), and the Humvee recap program (DTI June, p. 41)—are doable.

Others aren't so sure. Stephen Daggett of the Congressional Research Service recently told DTI that he thinks “the Army is going to give up the Ground Combat Vehicle and JLTV” in subsequent budgets, relying instead on recapped Humvees, Strykers, M-ATVs (MRAP All-Terrain Vehicles) and recapped M-ATVs.

In August, the Army awarded almost $900 million to two teams led by BAE Systems and General Dynamics for its GCV program, a move that appeared to be a big vote of confidence in the program. But then came the details.

In giving the green light to the program, Pentagon acquisition chief Ashton Carter instructed the Army to conduct two analyses of alternatives (AOA), which will come on top of the AOA the Army completed to ensure that no existing programs perform the tasks envisioned for the GCV. Army Col. Andrew DiMarco, GCV project manager, asserts that his office “looked at a variety of platforms,” including the Bradley and the Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicle, as well as several foreign programs such as the Puma infantry carrier, made by Germany's Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and Rheinmetall Land Systems. None had the capabilities that the Army believes it can achieve with a newly built vehicle.

The other sticking point in Carter's memorandum was the issue of differing price estimates between the Army and the Pentagon's Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) office. While the Army is sticking to its average unit manufacturing cost range of $9-10.5 million, and its $11-13 million estimate for average unit production cost—which includes spare parts—CAPE estimates the average unit production cost to be $16-17 million, DiMarco reveals. He calls the discrepancy the result of “different methodologies” in estimating costs.

Asked if there might come a time when the GCV program is abandoned because of rising expenditures or better alternatives, DiMarco replies that “certainly there's a point where you're paying money for a capability that might not be any better than what you have today.” In the next two sets of analyses, “we'll be more focused on looking at requirement trades for affordability,” he says.

Overall, the GCV program is estimated to be worth $40 billion, and the Army wants more than 1,800 GCV infantry carriers to be fielded beginning in 2017, with each incorporating enough modularity for armor and armament to be swapped out for different mission sets while delivering up to nine infantrymen to the battlefield. Now, $40 billion is nothing to take lightly—especially at a time when big contracts like this will likely be few and far between. The leaders of the winning teams are BAE Systems, which received a $450 million contract, and General Dynamics, which was awarded $440 million for work during the two-year technology demonstration (TD) phase. SAIC submitted a variation of Puma but was denied a contract, even though the Army budgeted money for up to three TD contracts, and subsequently filed a protest in August. A company representative tells DTI via email that “we believe the government relied on evaluation criteria outside its published request for proposals. We also believe several aspects of the bid may have been discounted because of a lack of familiarity with their non-American origins.”

One thing is certain: the $890 million investment in GCV development isn't a guarantee of anything.

Meanwhile, plans for the joint Army/Marine Corps JLTV, which could cost $70 billion, seem to be missing in action. While the program has been active since 2006, nobody knows how many trucks the Army and Marines want (or if the Marines want any), how much each will cost, or what the final design requirements will be. Eyebrows were raised earlier this year when the House and Senate Armed Services committees agreed to cut $50 million from the requested $172 million fiscal 2012 budget for the JLTV, moving that cash to the Humvee recap program. But that was only the beginning. “We're looking to take more money out,” Col. David Bassett, the Army's project manager for tactical vehicles, tells DTI.

The way to do that is to push back the award date for the JLTV's engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase, while shortening that planned four-year phase to accelerate the program schedule. The EMD competition should also be open to all bidders, not just the teams led by BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin and General Tactical Vehicles, a joint venture between General Dynamics and AM General, which already won development contracts. Bassett expects to issue a draft request for proposals (RFP) this fall. “And, assuming that we get approval for the updated program, we would be looking at the spring of next year for the next round of contract awards,” he says.

In the time since the three JLTV industry teams started building their trucks in 2008, the program—and the Army's wheeled vehicle fleet—has gone through changes. MRAPs, MATVs and up-armored Humvees have come on line by the thousands, and the Stryker has become a big part of the Army's future. Through it all, the JLTV remained an enigma. With so many different armored vehicles, and with the GCV and recapped Humvees looming on the horizon, will the Army finally define the goals—and cost—of the JLTV program? The RFP slated for this fall is critical to the program's future.

With GCV and JLTV competitions well under way, the next box to be ticked off for the Army is the Humvee recap program. While no RFP has been issued, Bassett says a draft will be out in fall, followed by an industry day.

While a recap of the iconic Humvee will give the vehicles better armor, improved suspension and other upgrades, it will also extend vehicle life into the 2030s—a long haul from its birth in the 1980s. The recap of 50,000-100,000 Army Humvees, and at least 3,400 Marine Corps trucks, has created tension with the JLTV program, with some wondering if the Pentagon can afford both programs at a time when budgets are shrinking. Bassett, who manages both programs, is quick to say, “we've structured these as two mutually supportive programs, where Humvee recap is intended to demonstrate for the Army exactly how much improvement they can gain in their light fleet through an upgrade of the truck they have, at a cost that the Army would be willing to invest.”

Bassett stresses that the recap must “be cheap enough where there's no confusion in the strategy between the role of a Humvee recap and the role of a JLTV. There is clearly going to be a difference between the Humvee and JLTV.” In other words, while the Army is looking for the recap program to use existing technologies to refit the fleet, it is looking to JLTV for new communication and weapon systems and armor solutions that will make it a leap-ahead truck. Still, while the Army has established a base price of $180,000 for each recapped Humvee, after five years of development, there's still no hard cost projection for the JLTV, something Bassett chalks up to changing requirements, threats and evolving technology.

Despite contract awards and reassuring words, the Army's combat vehicle program is in flux. Once Congress makes its decision later this year, the Army's ground vehicle road map will come into sharper focus.