[updated] WASHINGTON: The Army’s proposed Ground Combat Vehicle would offer less combat power, at a higher cost, than buying the German-made Puma already in production or even just upgrading the Army’s existing M2 Bradley, according to the Congressional Budget Office. CBO issued a report today assessing different alternatives to upgrade Army heavy brigades‘ infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs), tank-like war machines with tracks and turrets designed to carry troops into combat.

[Click here for the GCV contractors BAE and General Dynamics critiquing the CBO report]

The non-partisan CBO, Capitol Hill’s in-house thinktank, has slammed the Ground Combat Vehicle program before, but never this hard. The office’s analysts took the Army’s own criteria and created a grading system that scored different combat vehicles for effectiveness. Using a scoring scheme that prioritized protection above all, followed by firepower, mobility, and passenger capacity, in that order, the CBO rated the Puma highest, followed by a notional upgrade to the Bradley, followed in distant third place by the GCV. (The Israeli-built Namer came in fourth). Even under an alternative grading scheme that weighted all four criteria equally — putting much more emphasis on the capacity to carry troops — the 6-passenger Puma still edged out the 9-passenger GCV, largely because of its superior firepower.

Add in the cost and risk of developing a new vehicle, and the analysis swings even farther in favor of the Puma. Since the Germans already have the Puma in production — the vehicle entered Bundeswehr service in 2011 — there’s no untested technology to cause problems. And even after buying 25 percent more Pumas to make up for its smaller carrying capacity, the Army would spend half as much as to develop, test, and build the GCV, according to CBO’s estimate: $14.5 billion for 2,048 Pumas as opposed to $28.8 billion for 1,748 GCVs.

[Updated: But, as one alert reader pointed out, CBO isn’t counting the cost to add three more vehicle crewmen to every mechanized infantry platoon to drive the extra Pumas — at least 900 personnel Army-wide — nor the extra maintenance personnel to support five vehicles per platoon instead of four, nor the ripple effects of rejiggering facilities built to accommodate four vehicles to take five instead.]

There is room to argue with CBO’s scoring system. To start with, since the GCV does not yet exist, CBO grades the vehicle based on the Army’s 2010 “Design Concept After Trades”; the actual GCV might be better or worse. For example, CBO assumes the GCV will have only a 25 millimeter cannon, rather than the Puma’s 30 mm, but Army officials I spoke to were still hoping for the larger caliber.

Indeed, in the CBO’s scoring overall, the Puma’s big advantage over the other candidates is its firepower. (CBO scored Puma as slightly better protected than GCV but slightly less mobile). In particular, Puma scored high for its ability to kill tanks and other armored vehicles.

But the Army deliberately chose not to install an anti-tank missile launcher on the GCV: The US military already has far more ways to destroy enemy tanks — from the M1 Abrams’s 120 millimeter gun to the A-10’s 30 mm Gatling, from the shoulder-launched Javelin missile to the air-launched Hellfire — than there are enemy tanks left to destroy. In the post-Cold War world, the nightmare scenario isn’t a long-range battle with hordes of Soviet tanks on the plains of Germany, it’s a close-quarters slugfest with irregular fighters hiding in crowded cities, where anti-tank missiles are largely irrelevant. So the Army decided it could better spend its money on other things — although the GCV is being designed to be upgraded with a missile launcher if the Army changes its mind.

The Puma also mounts its massive firepower in an unmanned turret, remotely controlled from inside the vehicle. The Army considered such a design for GCV but ultimately decided it needed the gunner and vehicle commander riding inside the turret, as they do in the current Bradley and M1, able to look through the gunsights directly and clear jammed weapons if the automatic systems break down. A manned turret weighs and costs more than an unmanned one.

The Army has also insisted, over and over, that it needs the capability to carry nine foot soldiers in addition to the crew: Bradley can manage four to six — seven if they squeeze — and Puma can take six. But more passengers means a bigger vehicle, which means more cost, especially if you have to armor the whole thing to a high standard against everything from anti-tank rockets hitting the top to roadside bombs hitting from below. The Army still thinks it’s worth the price to deliver a full nine-man squad to the same place at the same time, instead of scattering teams over multiple vehicles; but at the prices CBO is quoting, just buying a larger number of Pumas to carry the same number of troops looks awfully attractive.

One major omission: CBO did not assign a numerical score to one of the Army’s most important considerations, the alternative vehicles’ ability to power new digital radios, command-and-control computers, and other military network hardware. The report does say “the Puma’s communications and networking capability would be less than that of the GCV or the upgraded Bradley IFV.”

On the other hand, there is at least one other factor CBO didn’t include in its scoring that actually would have hurt GCV more to include. The Ground Combat Vehicle, fully armored, would weigh 65 tons, says CBO. (CBO earlier estimated 64 to 70 tons). The Puma, with all its add-on armor, would weigh 47. Strategically, that lower weight, and the reduced gas consumption that comes with it, would make Puma much easier to deploy abroad and then keep supplied with fuel — crucial considerations as the Army pulls out of Afghanistan and tries to revive its capability to deploy rapidly to distant crises.

Updated 5:55 pm with reader comment.

Comments

  • Peter

    Don’t comments come with email addresses attached? Could you please send me an email if you like to discuss this? Thanks.

  • Kurt Plummer

    These folks are living in the Stone Age. If they think that the concept of MORE exposure to momma’s little boy is going to work out on either the TOE or political costlines of a modern military, they are nuts. What we need is more robots which can do the things humans do, like turn doorknobs and climb steps. Robots never get too old to hop an irrigation ditch with a 70lb pack, never quit after 4 years to go back to school and can be ‘stacked’, standing, in an IFV like sardines.

    THINK smarter, smaller and more force-conservation oriented people.

    We will never again send our boys to hold the line with a bunch of ungratefuls in a country whose oil we cannot even rely upon to cheaply feed our consumer needs.

    I also disagree with the concept of putting heavy autocannon on big targets for MOUT. If you’ve ever seen the clutter of a Mosul or Falujah or Sadr City street, you KNOW that you cannot negotiate them with any 64 -or- 47 ton vehicle. What you want is something the size of a Wiesel so that when a Marine or Army unit spends a half hour of sweat and blood to clear a single block, only to have the enemy sneak out the back door and set up, one street over, you have something quick and lethal to charge out ahead and cut them off. APS and ERA/NERA on a light tank will do exactly that in a 10-15 ton class that can be hybrid driven on bandtracks without huge fuel consumption or tearing up the streets like swiss through a cheese grater.

    Finally, if you want to have heavy fires ‘optional’, for pities sake _go hyper velocity_. ATGMs have a limited lifespan remaining while systems like Trophy and AMAP-ADS become ever more capable of defeating even 2,000m/sec threats.

    The reality of winning a tank vs. tank fight (which will still happen, no matter what they say) is that the first combattant to fire the most shots in ten seconds will WIN because the enemy tubes will stop firing back. Barring major advances in auto-loading technology, that is only going to happen if you salvo fire LOSAT/CKEM type rounds from a lot of launchers in a hurry.

    Your alternative being 120mm softlaunch from a NEMO/AMOS type turret with each round in an MRSI spread out to 10-15km being a bus for multiple SFW/BONUS type brilliant submunitions.

    The first thing infantry does when it gets pinned down is call for predator targeting and when the threat is located, support fires. This is the only means they have of obeying restrictive ROE without wading into a hailstorm of ambush RPG+RPK. With that as a given, it makes no sense to even dismount to me.

  • MHalblaub

    I guess CBO underestimated passenger capacity of the German PUMA. German Army has a different structure. The smallest unit, a so called “Trupp” (fireteam), consists out of 6 soldiers.

    According to CBO 7 passengers fit into one Bradley: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/ground/m2-specs.htm

    And on the other side: http://www.psm-spz.com/fileadmin/data/SPz_PUMA_Mobility_ENG_.pdf

    You may notice that there is no seat right beneath the turret. This space isn’t occupied by the turret because the ammunition is stored in a bustle above. There is just a rack to stow things. On the following picture you see the rack and that there is a lot of unused space beneath the seats:
    http://www.rommelkiste.de/Fahrzeuge/Puma/puma8.jpg

    If US Army squeezes 7 passengers in one Bradley then 9 additional soldiers will also fit in PUMA.

    According to compartment length a stretcher would fit in PUMA.

    The next thing is mobility.
    I doubt that GCV as heavy as an MBT will have a better mobility than Bradley. How
    many bridges can withstand such a weight even in the US? Ground pressure will
    be higher and therefore less terrain suitable. More weight means more fuel consumption. Fuel consumption is directly related to range. You can’t squeeze GCV
    in a C-130 or an A400M. With a weight like an Abrams Army would need one C-17
    or one C-5 to carry ONE full armored GCV! One C-5 could carry 3 full armored PUMA. That is also related to mobility.