For all the hand-wringing about the supposed “collapse” of its modernization, the US Army is actually unfolding some comprehensive efforts at renewal. The Army has recently contracted for a comprehensive upgrade ofits Paladin mobile howitzers, it is developing a concept for a "Future Fighting Vehicle” to possibly replace its Bradley fighting vehicles, and it has just commissioned the remanufacturing of surplus Bradleys into Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicles (AMPVs, or amp-vees) to replace its M113s. What’s notable, notwithstanding the yeoman service of the Army’s wheeled Strykers and MRAPs over the past dozen years of war, is that all those vehicles are tracked.
That said, there remains some debate about whether all five variants of the AMPV should be. BAE Systems has the whole contract, but General Dynamics has been lobbying hard for a wheeled alternative for the medical evacuation vehicle. It’s a reasonable prima facie argument: wheeled vehicles are just faster over roads. Writing last year for the Atlantic Council, I called for an honest hearing of that case (“Replacing the M113 Shouldn’t Be Hard,” 3 March 2014), but also for “More Engineering and Less Lawyering” (10 April 2014). But it was pretty questionable from the start that a wheeled vehicle would work for at least three of those variants. In a recent web seminar hosted by Defense News (and sponsored by Oshkosh Defense), Colonel Mike Milner, the Army’s program manager for AMPV, touched on this question. “The Army has never really said that it had to be a tracked vehicle,” he stressed, but a thorough analysis of the mobility requirements suggests that “maybe today only a tracked vehicle can get there.”
In Denmark a similar debate is underway regarding the competition to replace M113s there. In contrast to the US Army’s approach, the Royal Danish Army seeks an essentially off-the-shelf vehicle. General Dynamics and Nexter have offered wheeled products; General Dynamics, FFG, and BAE Systems have offered tracked ones. With this buyer, it’s less obvious which offeror has the advantage. As noted, there are things that tracked vehicles do not do so well. Wheeled vehicles offer great operational mobility—as evidenced by those “Strykers road-marching across Europe,” from Germany to Latvia and back—and lower running costs. But wheeled vehicles’ tactical mobility is sometimes questionable over adverse terrain—in, for example, the marshes of the Baltics and eastern Poland, which are suddenly seeming more important.
In that seminar last week, Colonel Milner called for “straightforward, honest assessments” of what different technological approaches can actually accomplish. The US Congress has asked the Army Department and the Cost Analysis and Program Evaluation office (CAPE) for reports on whether any variants of the AMPV should be wheeled. There have assuredly been intense analyses underway in Denmark as well. Over the past few years, my colleague Julian Eagle-Platón and I have also been studying the question of battlefield mobility. With financial support from BAE Systems, we have produced a lengthy study of where the answer stands today, which draws particularly on recent combat experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq. We hope that it will help inform the debate in the United States, in Denmark, and in any other country where the land forces face this question. Follow the link below for free access.
A biographical note about the authors
James Hasík is a William Powers Doctoral Fellow at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, and a Clements Graduate Fellow in the William P. Clements Center on History, Strategy, and Statecraft, both at the University of Texas at Austin. Concurrently, he is a senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security in the Atlantic Council of the United States. He holds an MBA in business economics from the University of Chicago, and a BA in history and physics from Duke University. Over the past three decades, he has been a military-industrial analyst, a business consultant to defense contractors, and a naval officer.
Julian Eagle Platón is an intern with the World Affairs Council of Houston. He holds a master’s degree in global policy studies at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, and a bachelors in history from the College of Liberal Arts, both at the University of Texas.