APRIL 9, 2019 – The Bradley Fighting Vehicle of the past nearly 40 years, which, with the M1 Abrams tank, spearheaded the coalition victory over Iraq in Operation Desert Storm, is destined to be a part of history before long. In its place will be a member of the Next Generation Combat Vehicle (NGCV) family, a work in progress at the top of the list for the Army’s high-priority, multipart combat vehicle modernization initiative.
The Bradley has undergone four major upgrades since its introduction in 1981, said Brig. Gen. Ross Coffman, “and what we’ve seen to date is that the Bradley has been upgraded really to its limit.” Coffman, director of the Next Generation Combat Vehicle Cross-Functional Team for the U.S. Army Futures Command, spoke with Army AL&T on Feb. 7. “Those were extremely effective and really have served the Army in a great, great way in every battlefield I’ve been on,” he said. “But we can’t look backward, we’ve got to look forward.”
The armored personnel carrier of the future, officially being developed as the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle, will be stealthy, adaptable and able to defeat enemy fire, as Coffman described it. Perhaps most important, it will be easy to upgrade. “ ‘Upgradability’ is king,” he said.
Upgradability will be important for the other four elements of the new ground combat vehicle, as well: the Armored Multipurpose Vehicle, replacing the M113 Armored Personnel Carrier, which also cannot accommodate any more upgrades; the Mobile Protected Firepower light tank; the Robotic Combat Vehicle; and the Optionally Manned Tank.
GETTING AHEAD OF THE FUTURE
The Bradley M2 and M3 Infantry and Cavalry Fighting Vehicles, respectively, were not quite in production when the Army began laying the groundwork for the generation to follow. An article in the May-June 1981 edition of Army RD&A, the predecessor to Army AL&T, described efforts by the U.S. Army Tank-Automotive Command (TACOM) to explore with Soldiers and industry the technological capabilities that Army combat vehicles would need on the future battlefield … of the mid-1990s.
In “Fighting Vehicles: The Next Generation,” Clifford D. Bradley, then-chief of the Exploratory Development Division of TACOM’s Tank-Automotive Concepts Laboratory, described a May 21, 1980, all-day presolicitation conference that his laboratory hosted to discuss future close-combat vehicles with some 220 representatives from industry and government. “The objective of the conference was to bring the best ‘brains’ of industry together for the specific purpose of inviting them to look at the challenge of the follow-on vehicles,” the aptly named Bradley wrote.
The conference kicked off a competition to identify and develop “the best concept or concepts to fill the future role of the follow-on Ml, M2 and M3.” The Army chose four industry teams to evaluate technologies and trade-offs and produce detailed designs of the selected concepts. Also taking on the challenge was an in-house team.
A year later and after several in-progress reviews, the industry and in-house teams would present their final concepts of next-generation combat vehicles to TACOM for review. A team of experts from the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command and the Army Materiel Development and Readiness Command, the predecessor to U.S. Army Materiel Command, would then evaluate and rate the concepts.
The most promising of them would provide the framework for technology test beds with the objective of resolving “critical issues in components, subsystems and total system concepts,” Bradley wrote. “Results of these test-bed evaluations and other supporting technologies will then form the technical basis for the specifications for the next family of future close-combat vehicles.”
If the process has a familiar ring to it, there’s a reason. Nearly 40 years later, the Army is emphasizing collaboration with industry and across the doctrinal, combat development, test and evaluation and Soldier-user communities as it modernizes at unprecedented speed.
ON TO THE NEXT GENERATION
Back to the present: The Bradley’s 2026 replacement will not only have to dominate against enemy anti-access and area denial strategies, likely in an urban setting, but also defend itself against enemy attack. Gone are the days when the United States could count on neutralizing enemy forces with airstrikes to clear the way for ground troops to enter a relatively uncontested battlespace on open ground.
Weapon systems on the next generation of combat vehicles will have to aim higher and lower than present combat vehicle-mounted guns—a characteristic known as elevate and depress—“so that you can fight the enemy in tall buildings or in basements,” said Coffman, whose first operational assignment was as an armored cavalry platoon leader in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm; one of his most recent was as a heavy infantry battalion commander in Operation Iraqi Freedom. “Our legacy fleet was designed to fight in Eastern Europe against a known enemy in known terrain. The elevation and depression was not as important,” he said.
Enemy capabilities will have matured, Coffman noted. “While we’ve been fighting wars over the last decade and a half, our potential adversaries have begun to modernize their equipment. And we must again not settle for parity, but seek overmatch. That’s why this modernization effort is so important.”
The Bradley replacement will be capable of “an increased degree of engagement, as well as increasing effectiveness of munitions that [can] not just glance on buildings, but actually can engage and destroy the enemy … in these tall buildings,” Coffman said. “So if the enemy fires something at a vehicle, the vehicle has a response that destroys that before it strikes the vehicle.”
Combat vehicles also must protect the Soldiers riding in them, as the U.S. military’s experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown. The rampant threat of improvised explosive devices and mines, for example, drove key innovations, including the double-V hull introduced in 2011 for the Stryker fleet. The double-V hull deflects blasts away from the vehicle and the Soldiers inside. Rocket-propelled grenades and Russian RKG3 parachute-equipped hand grenades are just a couple of the enemy weapons that the Army’s future combat vehicles will need to defend Soldiers against.
The Army is not starting from scratch in developing the Next Generation Combat Vehicle family. It will feature a number of combat-tested capabilities introduced to the current fleet through incremental upgrades, including the double-V hull, Coffman said.
Another technology that holds promise for future combat vehicles is the Stryker urban kit, basically a large cage on the vehicle designed to keep rocket-propelled grenades and thrown explosive devices from hitting the vehicle itself. Additional battle-tested technologies include see-through armor; jamming technologies to defeat enemy radio capabilities used to detonate bombs; and bomb-removal systems.
Size, weight and power are perennial concerns for combat vehicles. Current issues include:
The engine must not only generate enough power for what the first model will do, but have sufficient excess capacity to allow the Army to add requirements as technology advances. Ditto for space in the vehicle. The reason the present-day Bradley cannot accommodate any more upgrades is that there is no reserve space, weight and power capacity left.
The vehicles cannot run continuously on the battlefield, for reasons of stealth and fuel efficiency. The Bradley replacement, as well as other combat vehicles, will need to have a silent capability in its power source, a battery backup allowing the crew to operate without running the engine.
The vehicle’s power supply must fit the Army’s logistical needs. The Army is looking at a variety of power sources, including hybrids, pure hydrogen and pure electric. “What we really have to decide as an Army is which technology provides the logistics at range and the ready-now capability for our Soldiers that we want on the next battlefield,” Coffman said. “For instance, if you went totally electric, it takes time to recharge a battery. It takes about seven minutes to refuel a tank. So if you can’t recharge the battery in under seven minutes, I’m not sure that’s a technology that is going to make us better on the battlefield.”
PLAN NOW TO UPGRADE LATER
Incremental upgrades are an established concept in combat vehicle development. The Next Generation Combat Vehicle initiative is just taking it to a new level of planning.
“Now we’re going into it with a set plan, with both schedule and monies allocated,” Coffman said. “Rather than seeking everything that we desire on the first increment that is fielded to the force, through prototypes and incremental upgrades we’re able to identify those technologies that aren’t quite mature yet. We now have a plan to upgrade the systems through time to maintain pace with technology and outpace our adversaries. And that is a new thing for the Army.”
Through the five-year program objective memorandum, Army Futures Command can estimate spending for future upgrades. “So we understand what the costs are, and if that funding remains as predicted, we absolutely have a plan to spend it. We also understand that things change … and we lay that out over time.”
The Army is working with industry to plan ahead for upgrades in the design and development of the next generation of combat vehicles, Coffman said. “We need not only our [vehicles] capable of handling increased weights, but we need electrical upgradability. As technologies advance and we want to put additional systems onto an existing vehicle, we have to have the reserve power onboard to be able to handle multiple electrical requirements from these systems.”
Also necessary is “sufficient space to handle increased technologies, because while we expect that as technology advances it becomes smaller, you still only have so much room in a vehicle. And so you have to have a certain percentage of space available, so you’re not having to over-engineer something to make it fit into a very, very tight space.”
This degree of planning would not be possible without what Coffman sees as “an unprecedented level of communication with industry.”
“We are sending out draft products, letters to industry; we’re meeting with them for up to three hours at a time,” he said. “It’s really an attempt to overcome the pitfalls that the Army experienced in the previous [combat vehicle] programs”—Future Combat Systems, canceled in 2009, including the Manned Ground Vehicle; and the Ground Combat Vehicle, canceled in 2014—“where a requirement was not informed by the realm of the possible.”
Army senior leaders, including Gen. John M. Murray, commanding general of Army Futures Command, and the command’s cross-functional teams charged with the individual modernization priorities “have gone to school on the past, and we’re applying those lessons … to make sure that we don’t fall into the same mistakes that have occurred.”
The five vehicles in the Next Generation Combat Vehicle initiative are moving forward at varying paces. The Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle initiative to replace the Bradley began about a year ago, with 2026 the anticipated date for the first unit to be equipped.
by Margaret C. Roth and Jacqueline M. Hames