Modernization With a Repurpose: Sometimes It’s Better to Upgrade Than Replace
Military modernization is commonly associated with replacing an existing platform or weapon system. While the new items inevitably have higher unit procurement prices than those they replace, the costs associated with modernization are justified in terms of improved combat effectiveness and operating efficiency.
Among the Army’s six canonical modernization programs are several involving new vehicles and mobile weapon systems. The most obvious of these is the priority of producing a Next-Generation Combat Vehicle. The Army has an expansive vision of this vehicle. It will be a family of vehicles that should include a tank, troop carrier/infantry fighting vehicle, medical support variant and a logistics/engineering vehicle. These are expected to have an advanced autonomous operating capability, allowing for a manned option. While there was some discussion of building Next-Generation Combat Vehicle variants on a common chassis, that concept has been rejected.
Recently, Army leaders announced the first product of the combat vehicle effort will be a replacement for the Bradley Fighting Vehicle. The idea is to address the urgent need for an infantry fighting vehicle with greater mobility, power generation and protection and use the opportunity to develop, test and deploy many of the advanced sensors, weapons and vehicle systems that will support other Next-Generation Combat Vehicle variants.
At the same time, the Army is pursuing a modernization program across its many vehicle fleets, both armored fighting platforms and tactical wheeled vehicles. A new variant of the Abrams tank, the System Enhancement Program version 3, is in production. It will deploy an Active Protection System. Until recently, the Army also planned to produce an improved version of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle. Then there is the Paladin Integrated Management program to upgrade the M109 self-propelled howitzer using chassis and drivetrain components also employed on the Bradley.
Joint Light Tactical Vehicle
The one truly new vehicle the Army is producing is the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle. The purpose of the JLTV program is to modernize a portion of the Army’s wheeled tactical vehicle fleet with a platform that is larger and more survivable. The Army plans to acquire more than 49,000 JLTVs over the next 25 years and employ them in a variety of roles: armament carrier, utility, command and control (shelter), ambulance, reconnaissance and other tactical and logistical support roles.
What can be lost with the intense focus on new and different platforms is how much can be accomplished by repurposing existing vehicles. This process usually includes upgrading subsystems and components such as power trains and suspensions as well as adding new capabilities. But repurposing also involves employing these modified vehicles and the units to which they are assigned in new ways.
It is easy to forget that the Stryker was once referred to as the Interim Armored Vehicle, intended to be a placeholder until the vehicles of the Future Combat Systems program were developed. It could be argued that the Stryker is a repurposed Light Armored Vehicle. Today, with seven Stryker brigade combat teams in the active component and two in the Army National Guard, it has become a pillar of the service’s mobile warfare structure and a highly effective warhorse for Army operations.
The shift in U.S. national security concerns from a focus on regional contingencies and counterterrorism to one of great-power competition resulted in consideration being given to repurposing a portion of the Stryker fleet. U.S. Army Europe realized it had a significant lethality deficit vis-à-vis Russian combat vehicles. Rather than go back to the drawing board to invent a ground combat vehicle that would not be available for 20 years, the Army wisely decided to upgrade its existing fleets of armored fighting vehicles.
Part of the solution was to replace the Stryker infantry vehicle’s standard .50-caliber machine gun with a longer-range, highly lethal 30 mm cannon. General Dynamics and its partners, Orbital ATK and Kongsberg, created the Dragoon variant of the Stryker from an idea on paper to the first new model in only 18 months. Additional capabilities, such as tube-launched Javelin antitank missiles, soon could be included on the Dragoon platform. With a small addition to the Army’s procurement budget, every Stryker brigade combat team could be equipped with the new Dragoon variant in just a couple of years.
A similar deficit existed with respect to Army short-range air defense. In response, the Army initiated a program to use the Stryker as the basic platform for the interim Maneuver-Short-Range Air Defense system. The new vehicle is designed around a modified Reconfigurable Integrated-Weapons Platform with integrated sensors, weapons and mission systems. This platform can carry numerous missile types: standard Hellfire, AIM-9X Sidewinder or Longbow Hellfire. Additional sensors and weapons, including a tactical laser, could be integrated into the new turret for a long-term solution.
The most common vehicle operated by the U.S. military is the Humvee. There are some 110,000 in the Army alone. More than 60 foreign militaries operate about 250,000 Humvees. There is a plan to replace a portion of the U.S. Humvee fleet with the new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle. The U.S. Army and Marine Corps want to buy some 54,000 JLTVs over the next 25 years. But even then, the Army and Marine Corps will operate more Humvees than JLTVs for the next quarter-century, at least. What should they do with their large, young fleets of Humvees?
AM General has continually evolved the Humvee’s design and capabilities. The vehicle’s engine and transmission have been upgraded repeatedly. One of the most significant enhancements was the addition of protective armor. About half the current Army Humvee fleet is up-armored with the addition of improved shocks and suspension. The new Expanded Capacity Vehicle Humvee provides a 6.5-liter turbo-diesel engine, a microprocessor-controlled engine with an electrical start system and increased payload capability.
An example of making the Humvee new again is the proposed Hawkeye variant, a collaboration between Mandus Group and AM General. The Hawkeye Mobile Weapon System marries a Humvee prime mover to the U.S. Army’s M20 105 mm cannon with a digital fire-control system and front and rear hydraulic anchors that stabilize the gun when firing. The Hawkeye can fire and move in about 30 seconds. It can be carried inside a CH-47 Chinook helicopter. While the Hawkeye can be deployed on other tactical vehicles, the Humvee version provides the greatest mobility.
A future potential role for the Humvee is as part of the Army’s strategy for manned/unmanned teaming. At echelons above brigade, autonomous Humvees can conduct a whole series of support and sustainment activities. But an autonomous Humvee also could prove useful in combat in the scout role, carrying sensors to the leading edge of the battlefield, exploring enemy defenses and checking potential routes for booby traps and ambushes.
Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle
A classic example of repurposing an existing capability for a new role is the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle. This vehicle is the replacement for the 50-year-old M113 personnel carrier. The M113 plays a critical role in the armored brigade combat team as an armored ambulance, medical treatment vehicle, mortar carrier, command-and-control vehicle and general-purpose platform. The Army has long recognized that the M113 had become obsolete. It is an open-top vehicle that lacks the minimum level of armor protection for high-end combat. It is underpowered and lacks the ability to accommodate modern electronics.
The Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle is a modified Bradley, with the same basic hull form but lacking the latter’s turret. The multi-purpose vehicle has significantly more internal volume, armor protection, power, maneuverability and networking capability than the M113. Variants will have a common drivetrain, power plant, electronics and underbody protection. The vehicle’s drivetrain and suspension are the same as the Bradley’s and those of the Paladin Integrated Management program.
Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles
Even the workhorse of the arms transportation fleet, the Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles, is being repurposed. These vehicles have long provided the chassis for the Army’s High Mobility Artillery Rocket System. The Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles is now taking on a role as the transporter for the Multi-Mission Launcher system. The launcher is a key part of the Army’s program to modernize its tactical air and missile defense capabilities. It is part of a larger system, the Integrated Fire Protection Capability Increment 2.
The launcher is designed to support multiple missile types including the AIM-9X Sidewinder missile and an AGM-114 Hellfire missile. The Army also has been working on an interceptor to engage rockets, artillery shells and ballistic and cruise missiles. One potential solution is Lockheed Martin’s Miniature Hit-to-Kill missile. Another is SkyHunter, a collaboration between Raytheon and Israel’s Rafael.
The Army is looking at ways to become more agile and innovative in its development and application of technology to pressing military requirements. To this end, it decided to build the U.S. Army Futures Command in Austin, Texas, a center for innovation in commercial technologies.
But it is important for the Army to remember that innovation does not always mean building something new. Often, repurposing an existing capability or integrating two or more mature technologies into a new system or capability can achieve the same objective at lower cost and in less time.