November 13, 2013

Discretionary SpendingOption 5

050 - National Defense

Cancel the Army's Ground Combat Vehicle Program

(Billions of dollars) 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 2014-2018 2014-2023
Change in Spending                        
  Budget authority 0 -0.9 -0.8 -0.6 -0.7 -2.3 -2.8 -2.6 -2.2 -2.1 -3.0 -15.1
  Outlays 0 -0.3 -0.7 -0.7 -0.6 -0.8 -1.5 -2.1 -2.3 -2.3 -2.2 -11.2

Note: This option would take effect in October 2014. Estimates of savings displayed in the table are based on the fiscal year 2014 Future Years Defense Program and the Congressional Budget Office’s extension of that program.

The Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) program is the Army’s latest attempt to design and field a new combat vehicle. Army officials have stated that the service needs a vehicle large enough to carry and protect a full squad of nine infantry soldiers at one time, and the Army plans to use the GCV to replace the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs) in its armored combat brigades. To meet its goal of producing GCVs beginning in 2019, the Army estimates it would require appropriations of about $4.0 billion from 2014 through 2018: $3.8 billion for development—that is, to design, test, and evaluate the vehicle—and almost $300 million to procure the items needed to begin production. Starting in 2019, the Army could need more than $2 billion in funding annually to purchase 150 GCVs each year.

Under this option, the Army would cancel the GCV program but develop and purchase upgrades for Bradley IFVs, decreasing outlays on net by $11 billion between 2015 and 2023, the Congressional Budget Office estimates. The bulk of those savings—about $9 billion—would be realized after 2018. Additional net savings of $16 billion would be realized between 2024 and 2036. Because the GCV program is in its early stages, the estimated savings are less certain than those that could be estimated for canceling an acquisition program already in production. In particular, CBO cannot predict what trade-offs in cost, schedule, and vehicle performance the Army would make within the GCV program if it continued with the acquisition process. Any trade-offs that might be made could affect the overall cost of the program and, thus, the amount of savings from cancellation.

An argument in favor of this option is that the GCV, although more capable than existing vehicles when operating in an open battle space, is too large and heavy to operate effectively in congested areas with limited space to maneuver; such conditions were common in Iraq and Afghanistan and are likely to occur in the future. In contrast, the Bradley IFV is significantly smaller and lighter than the GCV and could be a better choice for potential future conflicts. Furthermore, because the Army plans to replace less than 20 percent of its armored vehicles with GCVs, it will continue to rely on vehicles that it currently uses to equip its forces—including various versions of the Bradley fighting vehicles and Abrams tanks—for decades to come. In fact, the Army has invested $14 billion since 2004 to upgrade its Bradley fighting vehicles and Abrams tanks, and it plans to retain and continue upgrading them for several decades. By keeping the infantry version of its Bradley fighting vehicles, rather than replacing them with GCVs, the Army would avoid the risk and expense associated with developing and purchasing a fleet of new vehicles.

An argument against this option is that it would prevent the fielding of a combat vehicle with greater capabilities than those currently available and better able to meet the demands of future operations. For instance, the Bradley IFV cannot carry its own crew and a full infantry squad at the same time—but keeping a squad together, which the GCV would allow, would facilitate tactical planning while the force was moving. That capability would allow a squad to better synchronize its actions when it left the vehicle. In addition, the greater protection afforded by the GCV—especially against improvised explosive devices—would enhance the safety of soldiers who conduct the types of close operations among civilian populations that are becoming increasingly common. By contrast, Bradley vehicles do not have modular armor kits that can be adapted to meet a range of threats, and they lack extra capacity to accept new systems that might improve survivability or capability.

A further argument against this option is that the Army has not fielded a new combat vehicle since the early 1990s. Canceling the GCV program would mean that the Army would continue to use systems originally developed in the 1980s or earlier (although those systems have been updated several times since then). Improving the data processing and connectivity of those older systems would require that newer components be integrated into older frames, which can be a difficult and potentially expensive process. (Such costs are not included in the above estimates.) Finally, retaining old systems might eventually cause the Army to lose its technological edge and compromise the service’s dominance on the battlefield.