WASHINGTON: On the margins of the $550-plus billion defense budget, the Army and the defense industry are quietly working on a program that could potentially replace 3,000 geriatric armored vehicles. So far, in this year’s budget, Congress is going along, but the real money — and the real battle — loom in the years to come.

The $1.7 billion Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV) program is the Army’s blandly named initiative to replace the M113, an all-too-lightly armored transport — sometimes called a “battle taxi” — that first entered service in 1961. Over 3,000 M113 variants serve in a host of unglamorous but essential roles from troop carriers to armored ambulances to mobile command posts.

The boxy M113 did yeoman’s work in the highlands of Vietnam, especially an up-gunned version bristling with machineguns called the ACAV, Armored Cavalry Assault Vehicle (pictured). Even in the sixties, though, M113s were so vulnerable to Viet Cong mines that some troops took to riding on top of the vehicle, rather than inside, in the hopes of putting an extra layer of protection between themselves and the blast. In the eighties, the better armed and armored M2 Bradley replaced the M113 as the front-line infantry transport, while the M113 was relegated to rear-area roles — but the post-9/11 wars have revealed just how vulnerable those support units can be.

America’s first Medal of Honor recipient for the Iraq war, an Army engineer named Paul Ray Smith, died in his M113 because he had to expose half his body outside the vehicle’s armor in order to fire its machinegun. That particular flaw might not be hard to fix: The Army has retrofitted “weapons stations” remotely controlled from safely inside the armored crew compartment on vehicles as small as the Humvee. But there are tight limits on how much armor the M113 can carry, especially to protect its low-slung underbody against roadside bombs. In Iraq, as the threat increased, Army units largely kept their M113s parked back at base and ventured out in MRAPs instead.

But the truck-like MRAPs can’t carry much, and most variants are painfully ungainly off paved roads. The Army wants something more versatile. In particular, as the Army moves away from relatively static counter-insurgency operations to contemplating more mobile warfare against a wide range of adversaries, its official requirements call for the AMPV to have off-road mobility comparable to the M1 Abrams tank and the M2 Bradley, something no MRAP variant can attain.

Until 2009, replacing the M113s was to be just one of the many problems solved by the Future Combat Systems program. FCS was supposed to field a family of light-weight armored vehicles in eight variants ranging from a mini-tank to an armored ambulance. But after years of growing cost and weight, the vehicles were cancelled by then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who considered them still too vulnerable to roadside bombs. Since then, most attention — and money — has focused on the Army’s effort to go back to the drawing board to replace the frontline fighting elements of FCS, which have evolved into the Ground Combat Vehicle, for which BAE and General Dynamics are now developing prototypes. The AMPV effort to replace the workhorse M113s in all their variants is still a step behind.

BAE has offered a stripped down version of its M2 Bradley, without the turret and heavy weapons, which would obviously meet the requirement to keep up with existing M2s. General Dynamics’ eight-wheel drive Stryker is less mobile offroad than the Bradleys (though better than MRAPs), but it has the advantage that it’s already being produced in multiple variants, from troop carrier to command post to ambulance, for the Army’s Stryker units, with $318 million for 58 new Strykers in this year’s budget. The Army is currently conducting an “analysis of alternatives” looking at these and other options, due to report back in June. A formal Request For Proposals from industry may come as early as the first quarter of 2013. The Army originally planned to start production in 2017, but it’s hopeful it could begin buying the vehicles in bulk in 2015 if it can find an off-the-shelf design — like the Stryker or a modified Bradley — to meet its needs at $1 million to $1.7 million per vehicle.

So far AMPV is a study project, a relatively modest $74 million in the fiscal year 2013 budget. Both the House of Representative and the Senate Armed Services Committee have fully funded this request in their respective versions of the annual defense spending bill, as have the House appropriators, although the Senate appropriators and the full Senate have yet to vote.

The Pentagon’s five-year spending plan, however, calls for $116 million in 2014, $313 million in 2015, and a total of $1.7 billion through 2017, when full-rate production is supposed to begin. What’s more, the Army got OSD approval in April to explore accelerating the start of production — and the attendant ramp-up in costs — to 2015. Buying a Bradley variant in particular would enjoy political support Congress, which is fighting to keep the Bradley production line in York, Pennsylvania from shutting down. But, sequestration or not, budgets are growing ever tighter, and investment is increasingly shifting from the ground forces that have fought so hard since 9/11 to the air- and sea-power that would be central against Iran or China. The Army will have to fight to make its case.

Comments

  • Guest

    A Bradley with no turret or heavy weapons?  Was that not the original concept of the thing nearly 50 years ago?  I guess that would do; either that or the Namer from Israel (which would be my preference).  Whatever they do, the M113 badly needs replacement.  As the article stated, they are no longer much use for line work due to their weak armor, which is only useful against small-arms.  However, when I was downrange, there was still a need for a vehicle with a large compartment that provided at least some protection; we used ours to haul supplies to the OPs or as a CASEVAC vehicle.  Whatever the Army picks should also have better coms capacity than the M113 because the examples I’ve seen are somewhat balky due to the fusion of old and new technology.  

    • http://defense.aol.com/ Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.

      The lack of electrical generating capacity on the M113 to run modern coms (and anti-IED jammers) is actually one of the big things they want to fix in the new vehicle.

      • Guest

        Whenever the old guys ask me what I think has changed the most since they were in, I always say “comms.” Even during the 4 years I was in, I saw 4 different generations of SINCGARS capable radios: basic SINCGARS, ASIP, MBITR, and the Harris line (which was by far the best). We went from being barely able to communicate over a few miles (depending on the power available) to having satcomms right out of the truck; and that’s not even including the blue-force-tracker. Who knows what they have now. Of course, the 113s weren’t of much use for any of that despite their large size.

        Besides more power for comms, the next generation of APC needs to place more emphasis on ergonomics/space and survivability rather than on armament and transportability (like the Bradley and Stryker respectively). As light-Infantry, I only had to ride in a Bradley once and it was total hell, like being crammed into an airless power-sander. I don’t know how the mechanized guys do it.

    • Charles Lemons

      You can never armor these vehicles enough to stand up against main guns, mines, or other AT weapons. As the article said – these were designed as “taxis” to get infantry and supplies to the battlefield. The M113 series did that very well. Put enough armor on it to protect the contents and you end up with a vehicle that can’t perform the mission (See the Infantry Bradley Fighting Vehicle). I am not saying that the M113 couldn’t or shouldn’t be replaced, but we need to keep the mission in mind. We built over 70,000 M113 variants and they are in use around the world.

  • Philby

    I am a Aussie, my first job way back in the dim dark past was at an ordnance factory in southern Australia where they were bolting 2inch slabs of aluminium to the botton of M113 due to go to the Task force in Vietnam. It is truely amazing that 43 years later we are still talking about replacing the M113. 

  • bevel450

    Where does the Israeli/GDLS Namir program factor into this ?

    • http://defense.aol.com/ Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.

      Namir/Namer is being looked at for the Ground Combat Vehicle to replace the Bradley as a frontline infantry fighting vehicle (http://defense.aol.com/2011/07/25/carter-approves-ground-combat-vehicle/), but it’s probably too heavy, specialized, and expensive for Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle, which is supposed to replace the M113 in a host of more humble support functions. Remember the Namer is a modified Merkava tank, stripped of the turret, and weighing in at about 60 tons, most of it armor — a very good thing for infantry assaulting into an urban area, say, but probably overkill for a mortar-carrier or mobile command post.

  • PolicyWonk

    I would think a mix of Strykers and modified Bradleys would be the way to go.  The infrastructure is already there, and I believe we’ve got a pile of Bradleys in mothballs already.  The M113 and its simplicity/versatility lasted a long time.  

    But if recent history is any indication, the army will opt for something completely new, will try to stuff as many uninvented stuff into it as is possible throughout every phase (including construction) so it can solve every scenario that can be hallucinated, will overrun its projected costs by an order of magnitude, and will have parts made in every state in the union to ensure the project will be difficult to kill when its out of control (and end up as yet another corporate welfare program).Of course, I’d prefer to be wrong, but our acquisition system simply stinks.

    • brotherbradshaw

      I thought they found that Strykers had drawbacks, for instance they are not armoured enough for IEDs. Wouldn’t that be taken into account?

  • Byron Skinner

    The problem with the M-113 is that it was to good. While it does not have all the armor that today’s vehicles have, from the results of Iraq and Afghanistan I can’t see where all that many lives have been saved but all this up armor.

    The old M-113 can a does go places a Bradley can’t. It less the half the weight, it swims and used off the shelf  available engine parts and can be serviced in the field.

    AS far as riding on top. I did as such in Vietnam in 1966 with the 11th.ACR. It wasn’t concern about mines so much was that we had on board as standard load.
    2,000 rounds of ,50 cal., 18,000 rounds of 7.62 NATO linked, 96 rounds of 40mm Grenades, two cases of M-26A1 hand grenades, two boxes of 5.56 NATO, a couple of 50 lb. boxes of TNT in addition to what ever a crew could get it hands on. All this rested on two layers of sand bags on the floor. There was no damn room inside if we wanted to go down.

    Replacising the M-113  would be foolish as well as a waste of money. it does what it does still after 60 years better then other Army armored vehicle, and thats a fact.

    The danger of Vietnamese snipers was not a factor. An AK-47/Chic.Com Type 56 couldn’t hit a moving  M-113 at 100 meters. We never bothered with them just saw the flashes in the rubber as we drove by.

    ALLONS,
    Byron Skinner
    11ACR 1966

  • Dave

     The m-113 might be old and somewhat under armored. However it is a truly amazing system. Fast, cheap, and efficient. Give it a ceramic/mix armor job and well suited for most roles. If you think spending millions to replace something that still works go ahead pull a F-22. and call it a tank.