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JLTV, GCV programs face uncertain futures

by Mike Hoffman on February 19, 2013

The Army’s plans to overhaul its vehicle fleet by replacing the Humvee and the Bradley Fighting Vehicle could see significant delays should the Pentagon absorb the devastating budget cuts associated with sequestration and the continuing resolution.

Army brass had hoped to replace the Humvee with the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV), and the Bradley with Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) with trucks and armored vehicles starting to roll off factory lines toward the end of this decade. However, Army acquisition officials have already announced a delay to the GCV and defense analysts fear a similar fate could face the JLTV program.

Soldiers and defense industry officials will discuss the future of two of the Army’s top modernization priorities at this week’s Association of the U.S. Army Winter Symposium at Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The uncertainty that surrounds the Army’s budget future has left both defense companies and the Army waiting to see how much funding they will have to support the modernization programs.

In January, the Army announced it will extend the Technology Development phase of the GCV program by six months and reduce the number of contracts issued for the engineering and manufacturing development phase from three to one.

The Army faces steep cuts to its budget should Congress and the White House fail to levy a deficit reduction agreement by March 1 and avoid the sequestration cuts that will subtract $500 billion from planned defense spending over the next ten years.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno told Congress that his service will have to remove $18 billion from its operations and maintenance budget between March and October should sequestration occur and Congress pass another extension of the continuing resolution.

No Army programs would be spared should these cuts come to pass to include modernization accounts. Defense analysts worry Army leaders will look to delay or cancel weapons and vehicle programs to fund other coffers to maintain readiness.

No such delays have been announced for the JTLV program – a program that inched close to the chopping block as per vehicle price estimates reached up to $500,000 a few years ago. The Army and Marine Corps have since reviewed the program and reduced the number of requirements to salvage the program, but there are those still those with doubts at how many JLTVs the Army will be able to afford to buy.

Lockheed Martin, AM General and Oshkosh each received EMD contracts for the JLTV program in August 2012. The three defense companies will have until 2014 to build their prototypes for Army testing and prove they can produce the trucks the Army hopes to replace the Humvee.

Those Humvees will age faster than they have already from 12 years at war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Odierno warned that sequestration budget cuts could force the Army to skip trips to the depot for resets from extended deployments.

Odierno told the Senate that the Army’s readiness levels will undoubtedly suffer should sequestration occur. Those readiness levels will drop partly because the Army’s fleet of vehicles will miss needed maintenance and upgrades due to potential budget cuts.

“We will have to reduce work in the depots, which will delay the reset of our equipment coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan. We will have to delay maintenance on our current fleets,” Odierno said.

Missing that maintenance could have both short term and long term effects for the vehicle fleets, the Army four-star said.

“The sad part about this is once you start these delays, it will take longer and longer and longer to catch up,” Odierno said. “So this will not be just a FY13 readiness issue, it will be a readiness issue that goes into FY14 and FY15.”

The Bradley Fighting Vehicle hasn’t seen nearly the same amount of use in Iraq and Afghanistan as the Humvee. However, the development program to replace it has faced severe questions on its affordability as per vehicle cost estimates have creeped up to the $10 million range.Congress has also raised flags over its weight. The GCV would likely weigh about 84 tons, meaning the armored troop carrier would weigh more than an Abrams tank.

Defense analysts have predicted that the Army will be forced to either upgrade the Bradley or find a similar vehicle already in production because of the costs associated with developing the armored vehicle.

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