Memorandum to Secretary of Defense Designate
A Feasibility Study on the Chief of Staff of the Army’s Transformation Plan
David T. Pyne, Esq.
December 6, 2000
Mr. Secretary, the Chief of Staff of the United States Army, General Eric Shinseki, has proposed that the Army be transformed into a more strategically mobile, ‘medium weight’ and preferrably all-wheeled force. He has concomitantly proposed that the ‘heavy’ forces be disbanded over the next two decades. This issue is extremely important to future US national security because if the Army’s heavy tanks are retired, then the US will lose the expertise and military capability needed to fight and win one, let alone two major regional conflicts (MRC). The two MRC fighting requirement continues to be the national requirement for and mission of the US armed forces today as specified in the 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). In addition, the Shinseki plan, as currently outlined, envisions the scrapping of all tracked vehicles including the Bradley IFV excepting only a redesigned and lighter Crusader self-propelled (SP) artillery system. These changes will further degrade the US Army’s combat ability by reducing the protection of its vehicles, its firepower, and most importantly curtailing its mobility in the rough terrain where most battles are fought.
Mr. Secretary, in writing this memorandum, I have organized the paper into six sections. First, I will examine Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki’s vision, plan, and motivations for aggressively pushing through what he refers to as Army Transformation. Here, I will also examine the planned mission of the new fighting organization and intent of the Chief of Staff as to what it should be. I will analyze whether the new ‘medium weight’ force will be capable of fulfilling the national military requirements outlined in the 1997 QDR for being able to simultaneously fight and win two major regional conflicts (MRCs).
Second, I will outline the organization, tactics, and fighting doctrine of the new Interim Brigade Combat Teams, or BCTs as they are called. Third, I will analyze the weapons and equipment being considered to equip the new BCTs including their inherent strengths, weaknesses, and capabilities focusing primarily on the level of survivability they will give these new lightly armed and armored units. I will focus on the interim equipment since that is what is being examined today. However, I will also take a look at the plans for the Future Combat System (FCS), which has yet to be designed and for which the technology does not currently exist.
Fourth, I will examine the costs of implementing the Army’s Transformation Plan since it seems highly unlikely in an era of limited defense dollars such an ostentatious plan can be fully funded and the Legacy Forces modernized at the same time as the Chief envisions. Here, I will examine the likely impact of the ‘mediumweight’ force initiative upon the training and operational readiness and maintenance of US Army fighting forces. I will also analyze its impacts on the warfighting capability of the Army in regards to funding for important Army weapons programs, which have been cancelled or cut back to fund it. Fifth, I will estimate the likely future threat from potential foes. Lastly, I will briefly outline potential alternatives to General Shinseki’s current Transformation plan and make a final recommendation as to the best course of action.
I. The Chief of Staff’s Transformation Plan
On October 12, 1999 at the annual Association of the United States Army (AUSA) conference, US Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki announced that his vision for the Army is to transform it into a force that is strategically responsive and dominant across the spectrum of operations. Shinseki said the Army must be more deployable, lethal, agile, versatile, survivable and sustainable to meet the needs of the nation. In his address to the AUSA conferees in October 1999, Gen. Shinseki shocked the entire Army community by announcing that heavy tracked vehicles like Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles (ICVs) and M-1 Abrams tanks would be phased out by lighter, faster, more fuel-efficient wheeled vehicles during the 21st century.
The vision statement for Gen. Shinseki’s revolutionary, innovative, and praiseworthy plan established a goal to deploy a combat capable brigade anywhere in the world within 96 hours after liftoff, a warfighting division on the ground in 120 hours, and five divisions within thirty days. The new lighter force is intended to give the National Command Authority a greater ability to respond rapidly with ground forces to crises and small-scale contingency operations. Gen. Shinseki plans to improve the Army’s responsiveness by reducing numbers and types of systems it deploys. In order to accomplish its goals, the Army will also reduce its ‘logistical footprint.’ Reducing the numbers of systems will reduce the numbers of repair parts needed. Greater fuel efficiencies will also decrease the total weight of deploying forces. When technology permits, the Army will move to develop an all-wheeled force.
The newly transformed brigades are to be equipped with the LAV-III armored car, which was selected on November 16, 2000 as the new Interim Armored Vehicle (IAV). This vehicle and the brigades it will equip are designed to test the validity of General Shinseki’s ‘medium-weight’ Army transformation and develop tactics and strategies for employing these new light armored units. Gen. Shinseki has set a goal of fully equipping the first transformed brigade referred to as the Initial Brigade Combat Team (BCT) with IAVs by December 2001, at which point it will be retitled as an Interim Brigade Combat Team. The first four of these would be equipped with their IAVs and fully operational by 2003. Shinseki plans to convert a total of eight of the Army’s 32 total active-duty combat brigades to the ‘medium weight’ standard by 2010. These forces collectively will be known as ‘The Interim Force.’
The current target date for completing development of the Future Combat System (FCS) has been moved from its original date of 2012 up to 2008 in what can only be described as an extremely and perhaps overly ambitious goal. The goal is to have an Initial Operating Capability (IOC) of 2010 for the first FCS equipped brigade of what will be known as ‘The Objective Force’. The FCS is to be a 20-ton vehicle, which is to replace the tank and incorporate multiple technologies, which do not yet exist. Based on General Shinseki’s policy pronouncement, the FCS is, in all likelihood, going to be a wheeled vehicle similar to the LAV-III, also known as an armored car as opposed to a tank, which is by definition, a tracked vehicle.
If all goes according to this ambitious and fast-paced schedule, beginning in 2008 the FCS will then methodically replace all but a few of the heavy brigades—both mechanized infantry brigades and armored brigades. A declining number of heavy brigades, referred to collectively as ‘The Legacy Force’ will continue in existence during the next two decades as a hedge against the US having to fight in a Cold War style conflict engaged against an enemy equipped with thousands of heavy tanks.
The Army leadership recognizes that a major war cannot be won without heavy tanks and heavy brigades so they plan to keep a small force of heavy brigades until the FCS is fully deployed throughout the Army and ‘The Objective Force’ is realized. Secretary of the Army, Louis Caldera, stated, "Until the objective force is fielded throughout the Army, it is likely that we will need to maintain heavy, digitized divisions with the capacity to win against Soviet-era armor that may be employed against us in places like Korea or Southwest Asia."
A minimal force of ten active-duty heavy brigades, including some forward deployed, dubbed ‘The Counterattack Force’ and roughly equivalent to three divisions, is to be maintained until 2017 at which time it will be phased out over time until the last active-Army heavy brigade is retired in 2024. These ten heavy brigades are believed by the US Army to be the absolute minimum necessary to win one major regional conflict. They would follow the medium-weight divisions, which would arrive first and would establish a base of operations, but which would be unable to launch effective counterattacks against heavily armored enemy forces. The last few heavy brigades in the US Army Reserves and National Guard are not due to be phased out until 2027, at which time the last of the Army’s remaining tanks and Bradley ICVs will be retired. The goal for total transformation of the Army including light brigades to ‘The Objective Force’ equipped with a full compliment of FCS vehicles and other types of next generation weapons and equipment is 2032.
Gen. Shinseki instituted this plan in order to make the Army more strategically deployable and thus more suitable to deploy rapidly in support of UN peacekeeping efforts in the Balkans and around the globe. The General’s Transformation Plan enjoys broad support in Congress and in the Department of Defense, but has been questioned and criticized by Army combat arms officers, both active and retired, particularly those who have served in the Armor branch. The plan is designed to reflect current assigned missions of the US Army whose members are deployed in over 70 different countries around the world for ‘peacekeeping’ missions.
If US policymakers wish to continue to use US forces in a ‘peacemaking’ role, they will require equipment better-suited to operate in an urban warfare environment like armored cars which move faster along paved roads. The Shinseki plan would significantly improve the Army’s capability to engage in rapidly respond to a wide range of ‘peacemaking’ missions and small scale conflicts especially those involving urban warfare scenarios. However, some analysts believe his revolutionary reforms will make the Army less capable of fighting and winning a Major Regional Conflict (MRC) as the National Strategy requires.
The Chief of Staff’s revolutionary plan has not been free of criticism from other high-ranking Army officers. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Henry H. Shelton, who serves as the highest ranking officer in the entire US military, recently offered a note of caution concerning the Shinseki Transformation plan even while he continues to support its overall objectives.
I'm all in favor of increased agility, lethality and mobility…But there is a fundamental flaw in the logic that we can achieve this only at the expense of our 2-MTW capability. ... (which) allows us to meet our commitments to our allies. If we abandon our 2-MTW capability, we risk our own security and the security of our friends around the world.
General Shelton, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, June 16, 2000
General Shelton argued against allowing the Shinseki plan to do away with the ‘heavy’ forces from going too far to degrade or even eliminate the ability of the US Army to fight and win two simultaneous major theater wars (MTWs). Shelton stated that those who say the United States should abandon its capability to fight two MTWs are wrong.
II. Planned Organization, Doctrine, and Tactics of the ‘Medium-Weight’ Force
Army planners estimate that the new brigade will be much more strategically deployable and require sixty percent less cargo capacity to deploy than a heavy brigade would. The brigade organization, however, may omit some critical elements, the most crucial of which is that it has no helicopters for air support because helicopters are considered too heavy and bulky to transport. The BCT sacrifices most of its support forces in order to make it light enough to significantly enhance its strategic mobility and be transported within 96 hours to any location around the globe. Consequently, the BCT's headquarters lacks the support personnel to keep itself supplied and repaired for long, and it cannot easily coordinate operations with allied forces and the other U.S. armed services.
The BCT comes equipped with enough supplies to fight for only 72 hours after which it is immobile and thus vulnerable until resupplied. The unit will have about the same density of vehicles as a Bradley battalion, but help from only 12 mechanics in the BCT's brigade support battalion. By contrast, a traditional Bradley battalion has access to 80 mechanics. There is also no support platoon to deliver fuel or ammunition. Proponents of the Army Transformation plan argue that wheeled vehicles require less maintenance, but they admit that fuel and ammunition shortages could be more problematic.
What the Interim Brigade Combat Team lacks in survivability in terms of armor protection is intended to be compensated by a greater degree of situational awareness delivered by command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or C4ISR. Dr. Myron Holinko, the Associate Director for Integration for RDEC summed this up in stating, "what we are going to do is trade armor for information." Three of the brigade’s four battalions will be infantry, which is an increase over the Army’s more heavily armed mechanized brigades it currently deploys that have only two infantry battalions. The brigade’s fourth battalion, referred to as the Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Target Acquisition (RSTA) squadron, unlike previous scout squadrons, will feature higher level manning in the scout platoons, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and counterintelligence soldiers in each scout section to gather human intelligence on the battlespace.
The RSTA squadron won't provide security for the main body in terms of firepower. The squadron's main job will be to provide information to the brigade commander so the commander will have situational understanding as well as situational awareness. That will enable the commander to make precise, deliberate decisions. The mission of the RSTA Squadron is to find the enemy before the enemy finds the BCT. This is absolutely essential to the survivability of the BCT since it lacks the firepower to engage more heavily armed and armored units head on and would have trouble defeating even a single enemy tank battalion unless everything goes exactly according to plan which in war it rarely does.
For the BCT, communications systems like the Force XXI Battle Command, Brigade and Below network, which will carry information to individual platforms and soldiers, are intended to help compensate for the lack of armor protection. The BCT does not have the significant fire support of traditional brigades and will rely instead on the synchronized employment of combined arms at the company level, carried out by mobile gun systems, antitank weapons, mortars and small arms. The brigade also will be supported by towed howitzers in a field artillery unit and Javelin antiarmor missiles. These Javelin antitank missiles constitute the brigade’s most plentiful defense against enemy tanks and mechanized vehicles. Their range is only 2000 meters, which is a much shorter range than Russian and Chinese Anti-tank Guided Missiles (ATGMs) which can typically fire accurately from a distance of up to 5000 meters. Even the TOW-II ATGMs fired by the BCT’s twelve antitank (AT) vehicles have a range of only 3750 meters and thus the BCT can be outranged and potentially outfought by an enemy using Chinese or Russian weapons and equipment.
The armor on the 20-ton FCS vehicle now envisioned is equal to about 9 tons whereas the armor for the 68 ton M-1 Abrams tank weighs about 36 tons or four times as much armor protection. Relying for survival on information instead of big guns and thick armor also is a cause of concern for many of the Army’s tank unit commanders and their soldiers. Some of them believe that the new brigade is undergunned, is not survivable, lacks combat mobility, and is incapable of concentrating significant firepower due its inability to fight mounted. Lightly armed and armored motorized units such as the BCT have historically fared poorly in combat against heavier tank-armed and mechanized formations. They believe that the BCTs of the Interim Force would likely take heavy casualties in combat.
Army wargames show these concerns may be justified. When the Army first ran simulations pitting BCTs against the Yugoslav Army on Kosovo terrain, the results were alarming as the BCTs suffered surprisingly high 1 to 1 loss ratios. Since Army forces were unable to survive first hits from Yugoslav tanks, they suffered heavy losses in ambushes while they moved through ravines and other choke points in the rugged Balkan terrain. The thin-skinned medium-weight vehicles also were found to be highly vulnerable to enemy artillery fire, a problem with the organization and fighting doctrine, which has not yet been resolved. These simulated battles revealed a number of new concepts the Army would have to incorporate into medium-weight brigades. The vulnerability of the 20-ton fighting vehicle to a first shot ‘kill’ means that the new unit will have to find and destroy enemy tanks, artillery, and other armor defeating weapons before they can target US vehicles. Army officials counter by stating that the loss ratios in these first simulated battles are now much more favorable to the BCTs now that tactics and doctrine are being developed to counter the BCT’s discovered vulnerabilities.
The new BCT organization has been described by Army officials as being ‘dismounted infantry-centric’ because of its focus on infantryman as its primary fighting unit intended to be engaged in "deliberate, dismounted operations." Even its artillery is to be towed, rather than self-propelled as in the case in heavy brigades today. The Army did away with its requirement that the IAV be required to fire on the move when none of the wheeled vehicles competing for the IAV contract could do so.
Traditionally, tank heavy ground units have provided the heavy firepower, and protection, and overall survivability necessary to provide the margin of victory in war. The closest thing to a tank in the new revolutionary BCT organization will be an armored car armed with a 105mm gun. This platform will essentially be a wheeled tank destroyer, which will be widely dispersed in small packets of three per infantry company.
Similar tactics of dispersing the tanks with the infantry proved absolutely disastrous when tried by the French against the Germans who concentrated their tanks en masse into larger units known as Panzer (tank) divisions. Such a dispersal of the mobile gun systems would also preclude any repeat of the US Army’s masterful success in utilizing German Blitzkrieg/Air-Land Battle tactics against the Iraq Army to avert casualties in Operation Desert Storm and resolve the conflict with unprecedented rapidity. This new BCT organization would likely be equally disastrous in the event the US is involved in another major war against a major or regional power like Iraq or North Korea. This is particularly true in light of the fact that the US Army will no longer field any tanks after 2024, let alone tank divisions.
III. Selection of Weapons and Equipment for the BCTs
The biggest question for Army transformers was whether the Interim Armored Vehicle (IAV) would be tracked or wheeled. General Shinseki stated in his October 1999 ‘State of the Army’ speech at the 1999 Association of the United States Army conference his intention to transform the Army into an all-wheeled force. At the conference he stated, "Can we, in time, go to an all-wheel vehicle fleet where even the follow-on to today’s armored vehicles can come in at 50 percent to 70 percent less tonnage? I think the answer is yes and we’re going to ask the questions and go where the answers are." The historical trade-off between wheeled and tracked vehicles is that wheeled vehicles cost less than tracked vehicles to build, are easier to maintain, and travel faster on roads, but tracked vehicles are more tactically mobile when travelling over obstacles and rough terrain, are capable of being more heavily armored, and can carry heavier firepower.
The Army formed the Initial BCT at Fort Lewis in early 2000, using a heavy brigade, doing away with its tanks and ICVs and replacing them with LAV-III armored cars. The goal was to get it fully operational and equipped with IAVs by December 2001 at which time its name would be changed to the Interim Combat Brigade Team.
In January 2000, a variety of wheeled and tracked vehicles competed to be chosen as the Interim Armored Vehicle (IAV) at Fort Knox, KY. Much to the surprise of senior officers pushing a transformation of the Army, the tracked equipment did as well, or better, than the wheeled. On another front, defense contractors complained that the bidding process was initially confined to wheeled vehicles only. The Army was forced to open the competition. Many Pentagon observers have expressed the belief that, after the demonstration at Fort Knox, the Army lowered weapons requirements to ensure the wheels would win.
Tracked vehicle enthusiasts protested that Army studies unfairly compared heavy tracked vehicles traveling through open country against light wheeled vehicles running on cleared roads. Many Army and industry officials complained about an inherent bias on the part of the Chief in favor of wheeled vehicles and against tracked vehicles even in the face of field tests that showed that tracked vehicles held a distinct advantage on the battlefield. Due its concerns about the perceived bias of the Army Chief of Staff against tracked vehicles, the Senate Armed Services Committee mandated that a ‘side by side’ testing program be conducted. This program requires the Army to test its selected IAV—against the MTLV tracked vehicle, a modernized and digitized upgrade of the M-113 APC, to prove that they chose the most capable vehicle.
The initial timeline for the Interim Brigade Combat Team to become operational has been set back by about 16 months to 2003 by the decision to select the LAV-III as the new IAV. The principal reason for this delay is that the LAV must be upgraded with state-of-the-art US electronic systems to make it compatible with other US Army vehicles and capable of fighting as part of a ‘digitized’ force—a standard to which the rest of the Army is also in the process of undergoing modernization.
The LAV-III wheeled vehicle car recently selected as the Army’s new IAV has already begun the process of replacing a large portion of the Army’s heavy M-1 Abrams tanks and Bradley Infantry Combat Vehicles (ICVs). The Army plans to purchase 2100 of the Canadian-built LAV-III vehicles at a cost of $6.9 billion IAV program. By necessity, the LAV-III sacrifices armor protection and survivability to achieve the Army’s requirement that they weigh no more than twenty tons which is the maximum vehicle weight transportable by the Army’s most plentiful transport plane—the C-130. The primary advantage of the LAV-III being touted by the Army is its increased strategic mobility, which allows the Army’s largest transport plane—the C-5A—to transport twice as many LAVs as Abrams tanks.
The Army did require that the finalist chosen to be the IAV have cross-country mobility, all-weather and night-fighting capability, Nuclear Biological Chemical (NBC) protection, and the ability to be transported fully-loaded by C-130s. However, these requirements were dropped when it became clear that none of the wheeled vehicles would be able to meet them. The requirement for mounting a main armament of a 25mm autocannon capable of shooting on the move was downgraded to a 50-caliber machine gun and grenade launcher with no capability to shoot on the move. Accordingly, the infantry carrier variant of the LAV-III recently selected as the IAV, which will constitute the bulk of the IBCT’s, will only mount a 50 caliber machine gun alongside a Mk. 19 automatic grenade launcher. After months of training to fight in a medium-weight force, the unit commanders of the Initial CBT at Fort Lewis have expressed doubts about their ability to face an enemy without the heavy armor protection, firepower and bounty of logistics support found in traditional units. Survivability is of particular concern to them.
The Canadian-built LAV-III which was chosen to equip the Initial Combat Brigade Team, can be penetrated at close to medium range by standard Russian 14.5 mm Armored Piercing (AP) rounds fired by the machine guns of the BTR family of Russian armored cars, particularly those impacting the side and rear of the vehicle. These BTR armored personnel carriers (APCs) are standard fare among the armed forces of many of the countries of the world whose forces we are most likely to fight against. Additional ‘applique’ armor can be bolted on after the IAV has been deployed. This add-on armor will provide limited crew protection from bullets fired at medium to long ranges from a 14.5mm heavy machine gun mounted on the standard Russian-built wheeled APC known as the BTR. It should also provide limited protection from Russian rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) which hit the most critical areas of the vehicle. The US Army, in selecting its selection of the LAV-III, boasted that the US-purchased LAV-IIIs would have all around protection against 14.5mm bullet calibers and below. This pronouncement indicates that the applique armor described above will now be standard issue on all US Army LAV-IIIs, although it appears that the additional applique armor which provide limited crew protection against RPGs in critical areas will not.
Unfortunately, the IAV will have no defense against an anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) or a tank cannon. In fact, even a 20-mm or 30mm autocannon, found on cheap Russian and Chinese vehicles sold worldwide, can penetrate and thus destroy the medium brigade's lightly armored vehicles. Due in part to this fact, skeptics say that the new brigade is nothing but a glorified police force, ready to rush into peacekeeping missions, that will be outfought, ‘overmatched’, and decimated as soon as the shooting starts even against an outdated Third World country force. Supporters of the Army Transformation plan say that information superiority and long-range fire will alleviate the need for heavy, virtually impenetrable armor such as that used by the M-1 Abrams tank and enable the BCT to destroy a better armored enemy force before it is able to get close enough to destroy the combat vehicles of the BCT.
The mobile gun version of the LAV (Light Armored Vehicle) can be equipped with a lightweight 105mm cannon. Accordingly, its firepower might be sufficient to destroy most potential threats with the exception of modern Russian and the very latest Communist Chinese heavy tanks, which incorporate advanced reactive and composite armor packages. Unfortunately, the LAV-105, which weighs in at only 16 tons, shares its cousin’s vulnerabilities of being very lightly armored. The infantry-carrying version of the LAV and its Future Combat System successor is intended to serve merely as a ‘battlefield taxi’ and Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) to carry infantry to the battlefield where they are intended to fight dismounted or outside their vehicles.
There have been some speed bumps in General Shinseki’s plans to accelerate Army transformation. On December 4, 2000, one of three losing bidders, United Defense L.P., based in Arlington, Va., formally protested the Army's decision to the General Accounting Office, forcing the Army to suspend its decision to award the IAV contract to the producers of the LAV and setting off a review that could last 100 days. The protest claims the United Defense vehicle, the MVLT, is the "best value for the taxpayer." United Defense executives complained that they had proposed building a cheaper vehicle, more quickly and that the Army had failed to consider the criteria it had laid out for contractors. A United Defense spokesman, Douglas Coffey, stated that the company's offer had met all the Army's criteria and cost less than $2 billion, or roughly half the winning bid and, unlike the LAV-III, is ready for immediate production. Daniel I. Gordon, assistant general counsel for procurement law at the General Accounting Office has stated that the agency would focus on whether Army officials had properly followed contracting rules. In an extreme case, it could order the Army to put the contract out for bid again, thus opening up the possibility that a tracked vehicle could still be selected as the IAV in the near future. Army officials responded to the challenge by stating that the Army had selected the GM-General Dynamics Land Systems LAV-III because it was the best vehicle, even though it cost more.
The design concepts beginning to be looked at for the Future Combat System, which is slated to be the final replacement for the main battle tank, starting in 2008, are extremely innovative. One of the design concepts consists of a two-man vehicle using newly developed enhanced armor and an electrothermal gun based on a wheeled vehicle similar to the LAV. However, the primary FCS design concept now being considered assumes that the FCS will consist of a network of several vehicles. A system of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) may gather targeting data, then transfer it to an unmanned rocket or missile launcher. A human controller may be in a third vehicle, somewhere behind the front lines, to authorize all weapons launches. Making those components survivable against the armor penetrators on the market in 2010 will require some breakthroughs in armor technology. One concept is "active armor" that will automatically sense when a round is inbound and send out sheets of flak to deflect the weapon. The Army may also experiment with ceramics and other high-tech materials.
Gen. Shinseki’s plan enjoys many supporters in Congress who applaud him for his daring and revolutionary plan to transform the Army and design a new innovative weapons system like the FCS. However, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), believes the Army may be moving too fast. He has stated that the Army, before making any decisions, should create entire experimental units, with troops testing several alternative organizations and vehicles. Congressman Thornberry is probably correct to urge caution and a reduction of the pace of the Transformation effort. The last major attempt to transform our forces with the creation of the two light infantry divisions in the mid-1980’s met with failure since they performed disastrously during wargames at the National Training Center. Soon after, they were disbanded. While the Army should not abandon its radically revolutionary plan to transform itself into a lighter force, it should be more cautious in eliminating too much of its heavy forces too quickly in view of previous failed efforts like the one above intended to accomplish much the same thing.
Some experts deride the reforms as marginal changes that might improve the Army's image but not its performance. One of the many unanswered questions to proponents of Transformation to a lighter force was voiced by Andrew Krepinevich, executive director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington, D.C., think tank. "The Army is solving a legitimate problem…[but] what's this thing supposed to do besides get there in a hurry?" Krepinevich added, "It sounds like this thing isn't supposed to fight, it's just supposed to get to Albania in four days."
General Shinseki has declared that he wants to design the Future Combat System to be as lethal and survivable as a 68 ton M-1 Abrams tank, but weigh only 20 tons. Even with new wonder materials, that is still physically impossible. Army senior scientist Michael Andrews stated, "We've been looking at something like this for about two or three years…The best we could [do] was somewhere about a 40-ish-ton kind of tank." Shortly after becoming Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Shinseki transferred the design concept responsibilities for the FCS to Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to see if they could design a 20-ton vehicle as potent as a heavy tank where their predecessors had failed. It remains to be seen if they will succeed in doing so. Assuming they do in 2003, just as his term as chief ends, Shinseki will select the finalist for the FCS that will replace the tank and equip the entire Army.
General Shinseki’s ambitious time schedule for completing development of the FCS seems to be problematic largely due to the fact that the technology to build it does not yet exist. According to DARPA Director Frank Fernandez, the director of one of the two agencies developing the system, the FCS program is a "very, very, very risky" endeavor. Mr. Fernandez has told top Army officials that the program will be hard pressed to meet its deadlines, including whether his agency and the Army will be ready to build the first prototypes in 2006. Fernandez stated, "Make sure you don’t bet the farm on this program. It may not happen as fast as we want. ... There has to be another parallel activity going on, ... so the Army’s got something they can keep on fighting with if some of these technical areas don’t come through just as quickly as we’d like them to."
Proponents of Transformation like Dr. Myron Holinko who is helping to design the FCS at Aberdeen Proving Ground state that the question is not whether Shinseki’s vision can be realized, but when. While Dr. Holinko readily admitted that Shinseki’s schedule for FCS completion is unrealistic, he believes that it is only a matter of time before such a vehicle is developed that fulfills his vision of being equal or superior in combat capabilities to today’s Abrams tank. He believes that 2020 would be a more realistic goal for the FCS. Dr. Holinko hopes to design an upgradable vehicle to allow for technologies not yet available when initial production of the FCS begins in 2008 can be added on the vehicle as they become available.
IV. Costs and Affordability of Transforming the Force
In response to criticism of the Army in failing to get its hardware to Kosovo quickly enough in the spring of 1999, Gen. Shinseki devised the most comprehensive and ambitious plan to transform the Army in decades. However, he failed to first securing a commitment to provide the tens of billions of dollars in extra funding necessary to successfully do so. The Chief of Staff’s Army Transformation proposal is an expensive one, having been conservatively estimated by the Army itself to cost $74 billion to implement. According to some defense analysts, including the Secretary of the Air Force, Whitten Peters, and Dan Goure, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the US military’s current force structure is already severely underfunded by as much as $100 billion a year. The $74 billion price tag for Shinseki’s Army transformation is making the already major funding shortfall even more severe.
The average cost of the LAV III is $2.6 million. The LAV-105, which will serve as the BCT’s mobile gun system, will cost $4 million per vehicle. Army officials touted what they consider one of the LAV-III's main strengths, which is the commonality it offers by using a single chassis for all 10 configurations. Army officials have stated that this will enable units to take fewer spare parts and maintainers to the field, thus reducing the logistics load. Lieutenant General Paul Kern, the Army’s top acquisition official, stated that commonality was a leading reason why the Army chose the LAV III for the MGS instead of splitting the buy with another contractor. According to Lieutenant General Kern, other advantages of the LAV III include low sustainment costs and quiet operation, which will allow soldiers to move stealthily in battle and its much higher strategic mobility over heavy forces.
President-Elect George W. Bush has proclaimed his general support for the Army Chief’s Transformation Plan. His national security advisers are signaling a bigger push for modernizing the Army, advocating deeper cuts in battle tanks and vowing to set aside more money for research and technology. The President-Elect has declared his plan to "skip a generation of technology" and kill or drastically scale back next generation weapons systems like the F-22 Raptor, the Joint Strike Fighter, and the Crusader artillery system which he opposes as being too heavy.
The Chief’s costly Transformation initiative is already cutting into funding for readiness and modernization of heavy forces such as the M-1 Abrams and Bradley IFV. Secretary of the Army Caldera stated: "We killed and restructured programs to generate almost a billion dollars of internal savings. We haven't said we don't have requirements for those [programs]; we've just said transformation is a higher priority."
There are a total of ten major Army weapons programs which have been cancelled or drastically scaled back including the Crusader self-propelled artillery system to help fund the Army transformation to peacekeeping and small-war forces. They include the next generation of Stinger shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, the Army tactical missile system (ATACMS), a mobile command and control unit, the Grizzly mine-clearing vehicle and the Wolverine heavy assault bridge. Slated for significant cuts are the Crusader artillery piece, its ammunition supply vehicle and the Future Scout and Cavalry Vehicles (Tracer). According to a confidential congressional analysis and the Army's own internal documents, the savings come at the cost of lowered combat capabilities.
The problem is that there is not enough money to both sustain current Army force structure and to finance new programs critical to the Army's transformation. In March 2000, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman, John Warner (R-VA), warned that the Army leadership that the Service's modernization plans were in "jeopardy," because there wasn't enough money to build lighter, more strategically mobile forces and continue procuring all the other updated weapons the Service has requested.
Although the Army is reluctant to give up equipment to save money, it is unwilling to make the major troops cuts required to finance their costly transformation plan. "The Army is too small for all of the engagement missions" in Bosnia, Kosovo, and elsewhere, said Secretary Caldera, adding that its 480,000-troop strength is non-negotiable. Many members of Congress want to boost the Army budget, but with any increase likely to be small, the Army finds itself in a fierce competition with the other services for increasingly limited defense budget resources.
V. The Likely Future Threat from Opposing Forces
There may be a significant danger in the Army’s new approach of using information and intelligence superiority to provide its combat units protection rather than actual physical protection provided by heavy armor. The BCT would be particularly vulnerable to defeat and destruction if there were a breakdown in the information flow needed to identify threats the brigade must avoid. The planned FCS, which is currently intended to be a "network-centric" combat system consisting of satellites, robotic vehicles and UAVs linked to a lightly armed and armored command vehicle, would be equally vulnerable to such a disruption in communications.
Many of our likely enemies, most notably Communist China, have invested huge sums of money in building an asymmetrical information warfare capability to counter the US advantage in electronic technology, neutralize it, and employ it to their own advantage. In addition, last year the Russians completed development of a new Electro Magnetic Pulse (EMP) warhead, which could be mounted atop ballistic and even cruise missiles. They have since reportedly provided this new EMP warhead to the PRC under the terms of their new joint military technology development agreement signed at the Shanghai Five meeting in Bishehk last year.
This EMP warhead reportedly produces the EMP equivalent of a tactical nuclear warhead using an enhanced conventional explosive. Such a warhead could be exploded above a US ‘medium weight’ BCT and render its electronic systems inoperable within a several kilometer radius. Communist China is also developing a potent ASAT capability employing both relatively low-tech killer satellites or "space mines" pioneered by the Soviet Union in the late 1960’s, but also high-tech ASAT lasers capable of blinding or disabling US military reconnaissance and GPS satellites. Meanwhile, the Chinese have stolen US GPS technology and purchased Russian GLONASS technology and have used it to make their own missiles more accurate and their military units more effective. Of course, the Russian ASAT capability is far more advanced than the PRC ASAT capability. Yet another potential threat would be the use of sophisticated hackers by an enemy country which could conceivably take control of US remotely controlled weapons systems including potentially robot tanks, UAVs, and missiles. The planned ‘network-centric’ FCS would be especially vulnerable to this type of attack.
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, which in the case of the FCS could be either its communications or its lightly armored command vehicle. The bottom line is that in the event that war breaks out between the US and Communist China, the PLA could conceivably utilize an asymmetric warfare attack using ASATs or EMP weapons, which could not only blind our network-centric IAV and FCS brigades, but prevent then from being able to function together or even communicate with one another. Such an attack would leave US forces vulnerable to destruction at the hands of older, but still highly capable heavily armored opposing forces, which could conceivably surround the blind and immobilized BCTs, and once US forces have lost their information superiority ‘protection’, annihilate them in detail with their heavy armor.
When implementing drastic or revolutionary reforms in equipment and doctrine such as the Shinseki Plan, it is very important to tailor it to the future threats facing this country to ensure that our army is capable of quickly and effectively countering such threats with a minimum loss of life. Most military analysts believe that the next major war involving the United States will be fought over the fate of Korea or Taiwan with either the PRC or the DPRK as our primary opponents. The Korean People’s Army (KPA) is a highly capable and formidable force. While it is largely devoid of high technology that could seriously threaten the US Army today, it will retain its heavy tanks even as the US Army phases out and eventually abandons her own and will pose a much more serious threat to the proposed new ‘medium weight’ force.
In addition, both Russia and China are developing and producing new and more formidable heavy tanks capable of effectively challenging current US superiority in land warfare although Russia clearly lacks the funding to procure them in quantity. Russia has deployed limited numbers of their new T-90 tanks and has developed a revolutionary new tank design, incorporating new technological advances in active and passive defense known as the T-95 with a 152mm cannon and heavier armor and better protection than the M-1 Abrams. One example of a new Russian active protection system is the ARENA system which automatically fires projectiles to shoot down an enemy Anti-Tank Guided Missile (ATGM) once it reaches a certain distance from the tank.
The PLA is building the T-99 tank with more effective armor and a better and more accurate gun with better armor penetration.
The United States, on the other hand, has not only not built any new main battle tanks over the last several years, it is planning on phasing them out over the next two and a half decades. The elimination of our war-winning M-1 Abrams tank fleet over the next couple of decades in particular will make it difficult if not impossible for the US Army to credibly challenge likely opponents like Communist China or even North Korea for land battlefield dominance in the future. It is worth noting that the US could not have fought and won Operation Desert Storm against an Iraqi Army armed with 5500 heavy tanks without its own better trained and equipped heavy armored units. If the Shinseki reforms are implemented by the US Army during the next decade or so, it is inconceivable that the US could successfully fight and win a war against a much smaller Iraqi Army armed with only 2500 heavy tanks as is the case today.
VI. Possible Alternatives and Final Recommendation
The Shinseki plan is laudable in its attempt to make the US Army more relevant and more capable of fulfilling its most frequent assigned missions by making it more strategically mobile. However, his plan overreaches because its scale is too grandiose in that it aims to transform the entire army and eliminate all of the heavy brigades and along with it the tank by 2024. Shinseki’s plan to lighten the force makes sense only within the context of making the underequipped light forces heavier and more survivable even while preserving the heavy tank and mechanized brigades without which many in the Army readily admit no war can be won.
The Chief of Staff has been far too presumptuous in assuming the newly transformed and reorganized force will work several years before any new weapons have been designed to equip it and give the concept of a medium-weight force hope of working. Rather than convert any heavy forces to the new medium-weight standard now to be equipped with yet to be chosen Interim Armored Vehicles, Shinseki should have waited until his envisioned Future Combat System came on line. This is a particularly relevant point since the FCS is to be equipped with multiple technologies, which have not even been invented yet. If the Army is successful in truly meeting Shinseki’s vision of making the FCS fully as "lethal and survivable" as the M-1 Abrams tank, only then should the Army’s active-duty forces discard its heavy forces and tanks in favor of the new, much lighter vehicles.
Any and all Abrams tanks and Bradley ICVs, which are retired from active-duty service should not be sold, scrapped, or put in storage as is currently planned. Rather, they should be preserved and used to reequip the light divisions of the US Army Reserves and 50 state National Guard organizations with Abrams tanks, Bradley ICVs, SP artillery, and other tracked vehicles discarded by the active-duty forces. These Army Reserve and National Guard brigades would not be ready for action until 90-180 days after being called up. However, they would then be sufficiently well-equipped and capable of staging a D-Day style amphibious invasion to retake territory lost by the light and medium-weight forces at the hands of opposing force tank-heavy forces, thus potentially snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.
Even if the Army does decide to discard its heavy tanks in favor of the much lighter force proposed, it should replace them with light tanks rather than wheeled vehicles like the LAV. That means that the Future Combat System envisioned should be tracked rather than wheeled. Tracked vehicles are capable of being much better armored and protected and thus can be much more survivable than wheeled vehicles.
A more desirable alternative to the massive scope of the current Transformation plan would be to convert some if not all of our ‘light’ forces to the proposed ‘medium-weight’ standard, primarily the 10th Mountain Division and the 25th Infantry Divisions. The two divisions of the 18th Airborne Corps, the 82nd Airborne and the 101st Air Assault should also be upgraded with ‘medium weight’ equipment. The 82nd in particular should be upgraded with a brigade or two of Armored Gun Systems. However, Army officials have indicated the desire of the leadership that the high strategic mobility of the 82nd Airborne remain largely unchanged by Transformation. The 101st Air Assault Division should be upgraded with even lighter armored vehicles, which are airmobile. The British-built Scorpian light armored vehicle, which mounts a respectable 90mm cannon yet weighs only ten tons, comes to mind as a potentially excellent off-the-shelf capability for the 101st Air Assault, which must now rely exclusively on its gunships for firepower. Ten tons is the maximum lift capability of the new model CH-47 Chinook medium lift helicopters which are now being upgraded.
For these light forces, the new 20-ton Future Combat Vehicles envisioned for the new transformed ‘medium-weight’ force would constitute an upgrade that would make them more tactically mobile and most importantly, more survivable. In addition, the ‘light’ elements of the three Marine divisions could also be upgraded with these units, whereas our pre-existing ‘heavy’ Marine armored forces should be retained. The bottom line is that we must maintain all of our remaining six ‘heavy’ mechanized and armored divisions if we are to retain a capability to win major regional conflicts sure to take place in the not so distant future. In the event of a major regional conflict, these few quick response air-deployable medium weight divisions could be deployed first to the threatened theater of operations and establish a base of operations for the more capable heavy forces to deploy later.
In addition, the US Army should make its heavy divisions more strategically deployable by placing prepositioned stocks of tanks, attack helicopters and other heavy equipment which is difficult to transport on forward deployed bases in areas where major conflicts involving the United States might be likely. The US currently prepositions a couple of heavy brigades worth of equipment at its base on the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to provide a hedge against a war with Iraq or Iran. We could also pre-position this equipment on ships, which would be constantly escorted by an Aegis warship to protect against air or missile attack or near bases where adequate air/missile defenses existed. Such prepositioned stocks could be deployed on our bases in Japan to help provide a rapid response to an attack by North Korea across the Demilitarized Zone or an invasion of the Republic of China on Taiwan by the People’s Republic of China.
The Army’s decision now suspended to use the LAV-III armored car as its new IAV should be reconsidered in favor of a more capable tracked vehicle of equal weight and comparable strategic mobility. The Bionix vehicle, which boasts twice the armor thickness of its wheeled competitors or the newly modernized version or the MVLT, a much-improved version of the venerable M-113 tracked vehicle, should replace the LAV-III as the selected IAV. The Bionix, with its heavier armor, would seem to be the best choice for the IAV. However, if either it or the MVLT were selected, they would need to be upgunned from their current 50 caliber machine gun main armament configuration to mount at least a 25mm autocannon and preferably a 30 mm or even a 40mm autocannon, which have a limited capability against older tanks.
Selecting either of these vehicles would keep our forces mechanized rather than motorized and thus maintain their current tactical mobility in all potential combat situations and terrain while greatly increasing their strategic mobility. The difference between mechanized forces and motorized forces is that mechanized forces are equipped with tracked vehicles like tanks and Bradley ICVs whereas motorized forces are equipped only with wheeled vehicles like armored cars and trucks. Wheeled vehicles are traditionally less lethal, less tactically mobile and less survivable. Selecting tracked vehicles will allow for armor upgrades in the future if future policymakers believe it is necessary to make US forces more survivable once again.
It is very important that the IAV be capable of allowing the infantrymen being carried within the vehicle to fight mounted from within the vehicle like a true ICV. The LAV-III selected to fill the IAV requirement is only capable of fighting with its troops dismounted like the largely obsolete armored personnel carriers (APCs) of World War Two and Korea, although it does have remotely-controlled weapons in the 50 caliber machine gun and Mark 19 automatic grenade launcher. The irony of the Chief’s Transformation of the Army is that in his haste to make the Army more strategically mobile, he will be making the Army less tactically mobile because all of its primary weapon systems aside from its anti-tank company and mobile gun system platoons will fight dismounted which means outside their vehicles.
It is also essential that these vehicles meet the original IAV requirement to have a NBC filtration/protection system so that they are capable of fighting in environments where Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) may be employed. An NBC protection system would be especially important because chemical weapons would likely be employed against US troops by North Korea in a potential future war on the Korean peninsula. Korea remains one of the most likely future conflicts for the US according to General Schwartz, Commander of US Forces Korea and others.
Rather than build the LAV-105 as now planned, the Army should select the United Defense M-8 Armored Gun System (AGS) as the "mobile gun" IAV variant. The AGS was designed to replace the largely obsolete M-551 Sheridan as the light tank of the 82nd Airborne. It weighs only 18 tons without its modular armor add-ons and is completely air-transportable and air-droppable. The Army’s previous requirement for 300 M-8 AGSs was killed by the Clinton Administration in 1995. The M-8 is a proven design that was made to order for the "mobile gun" requirement and is ready for immediate procurement. Using off-the-shelf technology to equip the BCTs by selecting the AGS and other currently available weapons systems would save billions in unnecessary short-term development costs and modification costs. The M-8 is a light tank and because it was specifically designed to provide the greatest mix of both firepower (lethality) and strategic mobility, it is the closest thing to the FCS envisioned by Gen. Shinseki, which the US has recently designed. As such, it should be used as the model for the FCS to build and improve on.
Even if the Army decides to retain the LAV-105 to fulfill the BCT’s mobile gun requirement, these mobile guns should be reorganized and grouped together with the ATGM company’s vehicles to form a reinforced tank destroyer battalion rather than divvied out in packets of three among the various presumably motorized infantry companies. This piecemeal distribution strategy for the mobile gun vehicles would make the BCTs highly vulnerable to neutralization or destruction by opposing force (OPFOR) heavy armor and incapable of effective counterattack or even adequate defense against such a likely contingency.
During the summer of 2000, the number of mobile gun vehicles per platoon was reduced from four per platoon to only three per platoon because the BCT was not viewed as being light enough. These vehicles should be restored to enhance the BCT’s combat capability and especially its ability to defend itself against enemy tank units of battalion size or larger. This new reorganization would yield 64 mobile gun systems 16 ATGM vehicles per BCT up from the current 48 mobile gun systems and 12 ATGM vehicles. The aforementioned reinforced tank destroyer battalion could act as the BCT’s shield in the event it encounters heavy tank units of battalion size or higher which it would otherwise be unable to overcome. Without a concentrated tank destroyer battalion integrated into the BCT to assist it, these enemy tank battalions, regiments, and brigades could easily bypass and/or surround the much less mobile motorized BCT and move on to take their primary objectives. In this fashion, they could force the BCT to mount their vehicles in pursuit or in a counterattack operation, which since the BCT is not capable of fighting mounted and since the vast majority of its firepower can only be employed when dismounted would likely end in disaster. Preferably, the tank destroyer battalion could be employed as a mere temporary defense for the brigade until heavy armored units could arrive to more permanently deal with the Opposing Force (OPFOR) heavy armor threat.
Such a revolutionary concept as the planned Army Transformation will require several years of experimentation and implementation before we should discard the heavy forces that won Operation Desert Storm. Until and unless such experimentation is rigorously undertaken with a variety of types of vehicles and organizations, the US Army will be taking the risk that it is prematurely changing over to an organization that may not work or fight well in battle and which may not even be survivable against even Third World heavy forces at all. If that is the case, US casualties on the ground will be far greater than they would have been if the force had not been ‘transformed’ and lightened to the ’medium-weight’ standard.
Building a light armored force to compliment heavy armored forces is an idea whose implementation is long overdue. However, building such a force at the expense of the continued existence of the entire U.S. Army tank and Bradley Infantry Combat Vehicle (ICV) force and all of the heavy armor brigades defeats the entire purpose for transforming the force. Change is not always for the best. Sometimes it is for the worse as seems to be the case here. Mr. Secretary, I am recommending that we drastically cut back the scope of the planned Transformation and limit it to our light forces, while preserving our war-wining heavy brigades and main battle tanks until lighter equipment of equal or better lethality and survivability is successfully developed.