South Front Report on US vehicular equipment.


"The U.S. Army has been plagued with costly acquisition failures in recent decades, chief amongst them the Future Combat System (FCS) program. This $200 billion program initiated in 2000, the largest U.S. military acquisition program ever attempted, failed to produce results on a multitude of levels and was abandoned by 2009. The Armored Ground Vehicle (AGV) and Armored Gun System (AGS) programs also wasted tens of billions of dollars before being cancelled without achieving their intended goals. These programs were chiefly defeated by an overly bureaucratic Army acquisition system, and the fact that the Army had asked for far too much from the defense industry, demanding many new and unproven technological advancements.

The FCS was the most expensive, most ambitious, and most transformative modernization program ever undertaken by the U.S. Army. It is often hypothesized that the U.S. experience in the first Gulf War of 1991 and in the NATO Kosovo intervention of 1999, led to the desire for a more rapidly deployable U.S. Army expeditionary force. FCS envisioned a highly mobile new Army, light enough to be air-deployable, yet lethal enough to survive on the modern battlefield. This survivability would be provided through the leveraging of new technologies, as well as superior command and control capabilities that would tie together all the various armed forces in a seamless information sharing and communications network.

The Army set very high deployment goals as part of FCS, which would prove to be unattainable."  South Front


The US Army is still in the midst of a long term transition to an expeditionary force capable of brigade sized interventions on short notice with a high degree of lethality and sustainability in its systems. The attainment of that goal is still  long way off.

It should be noted that the joint SOF forces involved in the GWOT are really a separate army fighting a different kind of war from that envisioned for US Army general purpose forces.

I suppose that someone will now argue for the irrelevance of such forces in the world of Bill Lind's 4th generational warfare,  I agree with the US Army leadership that the US needs to possess highly capable ground forces that amount to more than a huge SWAT Team.  The Russians seem to think that with regard to their own forces as well.

The history of the present wars in Syria and Iraq support my belief in the continuing need for general purpose forces.    pl

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49 Responses to South Front Report on US vehicular equipment.

  1. FND says:

    True national defense requires equipment that can be mass produced if needed. Our only real threat of losing our sovereignty is from another major economic power. Maybe a heavy industrial army is not needed for our adventures abroad against totally outmatched opponents, at least when it comes to technology, but its needed for true national defense. Point is, our military needs to be scalable in relative short order if needed. But its hard to imagine mass producing F35s.

  2. turcopolier says:

    We are in the process of mass producing f-35s. Look at the numbers. pl

  3. FND says:

    Oh, Ok, I have not kept up. Hopefully the costs will come down with mass production.

  4. Lars says:

    For those with experience in this field, is it the decision process that is flawed? With the F35’s, it seems they are asking too much from it and thus increasing the complexity. I have spent decades in the construction industry and while engineers and architects are wonderful people, they will never come up with a simple solution for anything.
    From what I understand, the popularity of the AK-47 is that it is uncomplicated and thus very reliable. If the Army needs a reliable vehicle, I would recommend the Hyundai Santa Fe. I have had one for 8 years and it is the cheapest and best car I have ever owned going back to 1965. I am sure a military model could be produced and just be used to move people from point A to point B.

  5. VietnamVet says:

    I keep coming back here to be reminded that it is what they do that is important not what they say.
    The USA will always have to have a military to defend North America and will supply it. It will have to include nuclear forces to assure MAD, naval forces to keep sea lanes open and refugees off the beaches and border guards/militia. Being the world hegemon is too expensive. The USA cannot conduct a conventional war with Russia or China and survive. After the next financial crisis, the US Army will likely be withdrawn to England and the Homeland. What to do about Mexico, as you indicated in your earlier post, will determine the future shape of the US Army. If North America continues to be run for the benefit of the wealthy instead of the people; it will inevitably split along ethnic lines and will settle back near the 1846 borders with Northern States, English Canada, Mexico, No Man’s Land, Cascadia, Texas and Quebec dotted with city states (San Francisco) for the top ten percent:
    The only way to stay united is to secure all of the coasts and share the wealth within for everyone. If North America starts to split apart, it is guaranteed that outsiders will meddle in its affairs. The New Democrats allege this has already started.

  6. PeterHug says:

    Heinlein’s “Friday” makes some interesting predictions along these lines. I guess we shall see.

  7. charly says:

    Around 4000 for its life is not exactly mass produced. Especially not with two lines. It also assumes that no Israeli F35 will be shot down this year. If Syria does shoot one down than all bets are off

  8. turcopolier says:

    what would be “mass production” for you at these prices? pl

  9. TV says:

    Government by it’s nature (political, bureaucratic, unaccountable) is unable to succeed at anything beyond the simplest task – unless it has (given itself) infinite money and gazillions of man years.
    Obamacare, the VA, wide-open (and repeatedly hacked) computer systems.
    F-35, Navy LCS and “Zumwalt”, the Army spending endless money and time to buy a HANDGUN.
    They can’t even secure a border – certainly no great technology challenge.
    Which is why I’m not worried about all the “chicken little” wailing about the government reading emails and listening to phone calls.
    They can’t get their act together for more than 2 consecutive days.
    And NOBODY ever loses their job.

  10. mike says:

    The complexity is due to the Did insistence on a single platform that gives VSTOL and CAS to the Marines, carrier capability to the Navy, and range and load capacity to the AF. it would have been simpler and less expensive to have three completely different airframes.

  11. Balint Somkuti, PhD says:

    Even in 4GW a balanced and modern army is needed as a deterrent against conventional threats. Along with a navy and an air force.

  12. egl says:

    I find reports of to-date production of 4500 units for the F16 and 1500 units for the Boeing 747, so an eventual 4000 units for the F-35 would be quite respectable.

  13. Fred says:

    Why Sheridan as a caption photo? Sorry about the caps lock. Still trying to get the hang of the table using these fat fingers.

  14. turcopolier says:

    a master of mobile conventional war. pl

  15. turcopolier says:

    we had much the same phenomenon in the time of McNamara and his whiz kids for the F111. pl

  16. Lars says:

    Will the DoD learn from this? You could have several types of Army vehicles with interchangeable components in areas like the drive train, but configured for more specialized missions. After watching the Lady Gaga drone swarm last evening, could you have a fleet of vehicles acting in concert guided by robotic software? Software is relatively easy compared to complex mechanics.

  17. LeeG says:

    I wonder how much of the motivation for the FCS was to secure a chunk of the DOD pie for the future against other services that garner more funds for expensive weapon systems. Turning the Infantry into a system requiring a long logistical tail of technicians and contracts. Stealth aircraft and V22 require a lot more maintenance and down time than prior aircraft likewise FCS would increase ancillary costs for infantry. The refurbishment of our nuclear force, F35, new ships, and the new long range bomber are all competing for future budgets.

  18. LeeG says:

    Software is one of the factors contributing to ballooning costs in the FCS and F35. Multi tools are neat but not robust or affordable compared to specific tools for specific tasks.

  19. I witnessed up close one R&D/procurement success story in the military. While he was 10th Group Commander, Dick Potter got DOD approval to develop a new cold weather clothing and equipment system. A group of seasoned NCOs were given the task to establish requirements, oversea design and work with labs and manufacturers. The gear was tested by Group. The result was the polypropylene and Gortex clothing now used by the military. New skis, bindings, rucksacks and other gears also emerged. This was being done right around the time of the Falklands War. Potter, because of his connections with the SAS, gave a batch of this equipment to the Brits. After the war, the Brits said that clothing saved a lot of lives. I wonder if our DOD will ever use experienced NCOs to work with developers on heavier equipment design and procurement in a similar manner.
    The Russians have developed a fairly impressive family of combat vehicles that can be airdropped and air transported with some impressive capabilities. That includes self-propelled armored artillery and mortars. They don’t have the armor protection we demand in our vehicles, but they’re still impressive. They’ve been using a 30mm gun on many of these vehicles since the 80s. The newest gun system uses a 30mm auto-cannon, a 100mm rifled gun and a machine gun in the same turret. It’s the same Batchka-U turret used on a number of vehicles. I’m surprised we’re only now moving to a similar 30mm gun on the Strykers.

  20. Lars says:

    I was thinking more in terms of navigation in essentially a 2D environment. That should not be all that hard to do. Maybe they need to check with Elon Musk?

  21. Fred says:

    “Turning the Infantry into a system requiring a long logistical tail …”
    When has infantry not required a long logistical tail?

  22. Vic says:

    There has always been a conflict between specialized equipment (and units) and general ones. It is cheaper to buy fighter-bombers rather than pay for specialized fighters and specialized bombers. However the fighter-bomber can not do either mission as well as the specialized system.
    The same is true of armored vehicle chassis for IFVs, SP Arty and Tanks. One size does NOT fit all, at least not without performance trade offs. For similar reasons a line infantry battalion is not the same as a mech infantry battalion, is not the same as a ranger battalion. Also consider that most units organize on a Modified Table of Organization and equipment (MTO&E) based largely upon where in the world they expect to operate.
    One designs to function. The more functions you throw into the design basket the less performance you get an any single requirement.
    When performance problems are identified, the private contractors look to make even higher profits. When the military program managers ask “can this be fixed” the contractor gives an engineers answer – YES! However, they leave out how long it will take and at what cost.
    A more recent “problem” has been that the need for new equipment is no longer based on a requirements (do we need it, does it fix a problem) More often today it is based on a technological justification (hypothetical assessment of how advanced technology will perform).
    Now instead of just paying for equipment development, the tax payer is being charged for the front end technology development (R&D) along with the equipment development on the back end. This is EXPENSIVE! It is also risky, not all R&D efforts pan out.
    Congress does not care as long as their district gets some money off these projects.
    This acquisition system is unsustainable.

  23. ked says:

    With FCS & JTRS the Army thought they had finally found the scale of tech-rich programs (to add to Patriot, THAAD, MLRS & all those rotorcraft) that would be as significant (budget + capability) as those in the USN & USAF.
    My little company at the time participated in those programs as a “spiral development” play, so I got to watch ’em up close for a number of years – briefed the JTRS executive steering committee when it was stood-up, in a small ivy-covered WWI era red brick building at Belvoir… quaint… discussing digitizing SINGCARS waveforms… & Link 16… & every other signal known to the DoD since Vietnam. The Big Players looked upon it, drooling w/ anticipation of Big Programs for Many Years. I felt for the Army/USMC PMs & smes who sat in the crossfire. FCS was much the same (but Bigger! since there was metal-bending in the offing).
    When asked what role advanced technology / small biz might play, I suggested that it was safest to await the inevitable re-org / re-set of the Program, or simply position oneself to be acquired and get outta the game while the going was good.

  24. turcopolier says:

    Yes, of course they should check with Elon Musk. Now, if they can persuade Congress and uniformed ad non-uniformed bureaucrats to delegate all R&D and acquisition power to one man … pl

  25. Babak Makkinejad says:

    That was never a technical problem; one needed only 3 transmission antennas to cover the entire United States and provide location information to any and all vehicles.
    It was the introduction of cellular phones and the regulatory environment that eliminated that technical approach in the United States.

  26. ex-PFC Chuck says:

    The three requirement configurations were combined onto one platform for “political engineering” reasons. The bigger the program and the more states and Congressional districts the subcontracts are distributed among, the more bullet proof it is in Congress. After all, what’s more important? Defending the country or keeping the revenue stream flowing into the Military-Industrial-Congressional complex via its industrial segments?

  27. ex-PFC Chuck says:

    The cost of an F-16 when it first came out 40+ years ago is stated as $6M, per Robert Coram’s biography “Boyd.” (page 302, referred to as the “lightweight fighter.” Of course that cost has inflated over the decades. According to Wikipedia the unit cost ranged from $14 to $19 in 1998, the most recent data it lists. I don’t know the fly-away cost of the F-35 this week but I do know it’s already deep into nine figures to the left of the decimal and getting deeper as we speak. There’s no way world-wide demand for the F-35 will approach anything close to 4,000 units.

  28. mike says:

    ex-Pfc Chuck –
    Distributing defense dollars around the country has been ongoing since the Continental Congress. Navy warships during the revolutionary war were built in shipyards of at least 12 of the original 13 colonies. Some of those shipyards were small, some large. But if you added in the timber, rigging, canvas, and armaments then the revenue was pretty much divided as evenly as the Congress critters could make it.
    Actually, it is a good idea for survivability. If you built them all in Norfolk and/or Boston, you put your shipbuilding industry at risk of being shut down by the Royal Navy.
    The same concern for risk is also valid for the ballistic missile age. Spread out our defense industry is what I say thru all 50 states and the territories. And do away with the BRAC base closures. Why not station two or three active duty battalions in every state of the union, and a Naval base in every port?

  29. mike says:

    Colonel –
    Yes, I recall the F-111B naval version was a total bust. Much too big and heavy for carrier ops. It was five tons heavier than the A3 that airedale sailors called “Willy the Whale”. It went thru several iterations to lighten it, which in the end made it a completely different airframe than the AF version. They never went into full scale production.

  30. charly says:

    You need to see two know your location so three seems a bit low to me

  31. Booby says:

    DoD’s Byzantine acquisition system is ideal for producing weapon systems that are over budget & obsolete by the time they finally reach the field.
    While the system is suppose to meet threat based requirements, too often, the threats are generated to meet the Services “pet rock” requirements & desired force structure. The tail wags the dog.
    DoD has a propensity to look for joint “one size fits all” systems. While great for management & logistical efficiencies, this approach usually results in compromised performance for all missions. The V-22 was the result of DoD merging the requirements for an Army fixed wing EW/SIGINT aircraft, a SOF helo & a USMC medium lift helo. The F-111 was an attempt to produce a single fighter for the USAF & USN. The Navy was saved from the F-111 by Adm. Tom Moorer putting his neck on the chopping block & telling Congress, “All of the thrust in Christiandom will not make the F-111 a fighter.” The Navy went on to develop the F-14 Tomcat, named after the Adm.
    Currently we have the F-35 – over budget & behind schedule – it is “too big too fail.” When the aircraft was being designed I remember that the long pole in the tent was the software, with an anticipated 10 year lead time. The software is still an issue with the aircraft. When high tech systems are being developed in a bureaucratic, slow acquisition system, the technology changes faster that the system can incorporate the advances. Thus the design is constantly changing & new requirements & capabilities are being added. Think time & dollars.
    When SOCOM was created they were given some freedom to use a streamlined acquisition system. This has allowed them to use “skunk works” and off the shelf acquisition to stay ahead of the game.
    When the IED’s became a problem in Iraq, Blackwater simply purchase South African “Mamba’s”, a proven off the shelf MRAP.
    Nations have always faced military budget constraints. At one time Rome fixed the force structure at 24 legions & then limited the Empire’s military ventures to the capabilities of those 24 legions. The Venetians avoided the costs of maintain a huge standing Navy by developing a manufacturing capability to produce a large fleet rapidly. The “Armory” maintained an inventory of long lead time ship components & the pre-fabricated materials for ship assembly. When a threat developed the Venetians could surge production.
    Until DoD changes it acquisition system I fear they will continue to live up to one service organization’s informal slogan, “We may be slow, but we’re expensive.”

  32. LeeG says:

    I should have said a more lucrative one for high tech industries.

  33. Booby says:

    TTG –
    When I was a FAC in VN my team had to hump 3 radios – FM, UHF & HF. The HF PRG-47 was the bear. It took 2 men – 1 for the radio & 1 for the batteries. I was given a Hughes proto-type digital HF by a Hughes rep. The company had developed it without a requirement or R&D funding & couldn’t get the military to look at it. The little civilian HF radio was about the size of 2 bricks, weighed nothing & had a battery life of “forever” using commercial batteries. It was love at 1st use. I gave it glowing reviews.
    About a year later I was in Hawaii in an air control unit & we were given a militarized version of the Hughes digital HF to field test.

  34. Joe100 says:

    Another interesting perspective on the F-35 procurement is that the core body design was driven by the USMC STVOL need (a small fraction of proposed procurement) which thus significantly compromised capability to perform the other service roles..
    Tail wagging the dog??

  35. Lord Curzon says:

    Colonel, Gentlemen,
    May I point you to the clusterf@ck that is the UK MoD procurement system? It’s all the above and more. And when capability is allowed to deliberately wither like the replacement for Challenger 2, such that the nation that invented the tank no longer has the ability nor senior officers and political leaders the will to order the design, test, procurement and fielding of a modern replacement, you just despair.

  36. turcopolier says:

    Lord Curzon
    Is there still a tank factory? We have one, only one. pl

  37. Lord Curzon says:

    From the USMC Gazette:
    Innovation, and other things that brief well – by Capt Joshua Waddell
    “Here’s the reality: we have a headquarters establishment that has grown too comfortable. When I watch entrenched civilians treat orders from Marine Corps generals as minor annoyances as they wait out that officer’s PCS timeframe, or observe officers deferring executive action to loosely organized integrated planning teams which spend their first year simply attempting to agree on their own charter, I begin to doubt the objective effectiveness of our headquarters. Only aggressive executive action on the part of emboldened and passionate leaders, both military and civilian, will be able to break the gridlock we currently face. If we recognize our recent failures and the coming challenges to the force, this becomes a moral imperative. A military department charged with the duties of the Nation’s crisis response force is a department that must be on permanent war footing. Our supporting establishment’s leaders should execute aggressive and invasive leadership throughout their organizations to ensure the same fighting spirit we find in our forward deployed Marines exists in the hallways of the Pentagon and in Quantico.”

  38. Greg D says:

    Let’s take a few steps backward. The problem with weapons development is capitalism! Yes I did say that!
    We used to have a system of Naval Shipyards and Army Arsenals that produced weapons. According to the specs of the Military officers involved. The stress in these organizations was the most bang for the buck. Case in point the M-1 rifle was developed at the Springfield arsenal Arsenals produced limited numbers in peace time.
    If a new weapons system was not working out was easier to walk away from the project and admit to the correctness of the Doctrine of Sunken Costs. Case in point NASA tried to develop a reverse delta wing aircraft down at Moffet field in the 80’s. The design would have had real advantages at low speed but was know to be very unstable at Mach speeds. They thought they could stabilize the plane with high speed computer aided adjustments. They failed. If the developers had to face a Board of Directors with a big loss it might have gotten ugly. Failure at NASA was not a great thing, but if you got to a known point of failure… During a war production was turned over to civilian manufacturing co’s on a fixed cost basis. Ford motor produced more bombers than Boeing. This forces the co’s into a better cheaper faster mind set. Instead of everyone is going to get rich mind set
    It is my understanding that both the MIG and SUKHOI aircraft were designed by design bureau’s and actually production was done by completely separate aircraft factories. There is a story I can not confirm that the chief designer on the MIG-15 was a prisoner in a special GULAG camp for scientists and engineers. How’s that for controlling costs!!!
    For those of you with enough gray hair you can remember when the emblem for SAAB was a front on view of a two engine aircraft. SAAB was wholly owned by the Swedish govt to product aircraft that fit the Swedish Defence System requirements.
    They figured that if they boot strapped up to be able to design a two engine aircraft they could compete with NATO and the Warsaw Pact. They only got into car and truck design as a way to keep “15 aircraft engineers” busy.
    The above is only a pipe dream until we go to publicly funded elections.
    What does every one think?

  39. Greg D says:

    The last I heard the Lima Ohio tank plant was run by Chrysler but sold off to someone during the crash of 2008.

  40. Lord Curzon says:

    No, all gone. The last, Vickers Armstrong as part of BAE closed a few years ago. Not even tank shells are made indigenously any more (existing stocks are to be run down), as the ammo for the rifled barrel of Challenger 2 is not compatible with smoothbore designs; yet Challenger still holds the record for the longest tank kill ever, 5100m (3 miles) with a DU round in GW1.

  41. turcopolier says:

    Lord Curzon
    The Lima, Ohio plant evidently has excess capacity. pl

  42. Lord Curzon says:

    My understanding is of the two contenders we could go with, the UK is more likely to collaborate with Germany on the Leopard 3 programme with certain UK specific details (eg armour), than the upgrade to the M1. The feeling is the M1 programme has had too long a delay in investment and with, say a 20% stake in Leo, it gives us commonality with the Germans, the Poles and the Baltic States.
    In addition the Royal Armoured Corps has sunk below critical mass: the actual number of working tanks amounts to one Regiment! The real worry is hard-won institutional knowledge of tank warfare on a large scale has gone with it.

  43. different clue says:

    ex-PFC Chuck,
    Keeping the F35 ( and such) revenue streams flowing would be more important to the Industrial-Congressional side of the Complex than to the working Military side . . . I should think.
    Wasn’t it the Industrial-Congressional side of the Complex, along with only certain very highest placed Industrial-Congressional-involved Air Force leaders who wanted to sacrifice the A-10 in order to divert the money to the F35? For example?

  44. different clue says:

    The New Democrats helped facilitate the poverty-driven splitting apart process by joining the Republicans to advance Free Trade. ( I don’t think the New Democrats really believe their little tale about Putin Diddit.)

  45. different clue says:

    Government succeeded in organizing the building of the TVA dams, the Interstate Highway System, the Manhattan Project, etc.
    President Reagan and his Administration led the way in filling government with its own moles and gophers and termites . . . to destroy the functionality of government from within . . . . so as to be able to fake the case that “Government by it’s nature ( political, bureaucratic, unaccountable) is unable to scceed at anything beyond the simplest task–unless it has (given itself) infinite money and gazillions of man years).”

  46. Lord Curzon says:

    It looks as if the DoD is doing exactly that:

  47. Lord Curzon,
    Interesting report. I suppose these armored suits were inevitable, but I don’t like them. I never wore body armor or even conceived myself wearing it in my days in uniform or in my days in DIA. Hell, didn’t even wear a helmet while under five inch shell bombardment, although I would have taken one at the time.
    The author is naive to think the Ybor City is not near a military base. That is in the heart of Tampa, the home of both the CENTCOM and SOCOM headquarters.

  48. Lord Curzon says:

    The armour / mobility restrictions plus normal patrol kit became an issue on several Afghan tours, where the lads were being engaged and needed to F&M.
    The need for speed as opposed to protection to close with Terry led to some advocating the ditching of armour but it never got above platoon / company level, as no officer was going to jeopardise his career if someone went down as a result of not wearing body armour.

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