May 1, 2010  

A realistic vehicle

Retired Maj. Gen. Robert Scales’ article “A vehicle for modern times” [December-January] highlighted a number of issues regarding combat vehicle design relevant to today’s insurgency wars. Several of his comments are directly on target and warrant further discussion.

Certainly the Army has too frequently crafted vehicle requirements that eventually led to program terminations due to cost and/or technical overreach. The Future Combat System with its multiple “man for all seasons” variants showed signs of being unaffordable well over a decade ago. Why the Army acquisition leadership failed to significantly truncate the program and focus development on one or two key platforms is a fair question. The Crusader program bet on liquid-propellant technology long before LP was ready for prime time. These are blatant failures of the acquisition system.

The issue of improvised explosive devices required the military to spend billions on Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, many of which were built by U.S. firms using technology data packages from places such as South Africa, where they have been building mine-resistant vehicles for decades. As Scales inferred, the MRAP procurements are an expedient but necessary Band-Aid, but do not necessarily offer optimum levels of mobility and protection. Going forward the vehicle acquisition leadership must acknowledge that while no vehicle will be totally impervious to some IEDs, the focus should move to design innovations to mitigate IED effects on occupants while providing enhanced off-road mobility.

The author’s opinion that only a tracked vehicle can meet requirements for speed and stealth over broken and undulating terrain is a topic for further discussion. Suffice it to say if we had a core of uniformed combat-arms officers with a background of engineering studies in the major facets of combat vehicle design, we would likely draft more realistic requirements and obtain needed systems quicker and at reduced cost.

— Col. Colin McArthur, Army (ret.), St. Helena Island, S.C.