House lawmakers concerned over clarity of Army combat vehicle modernization plans

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers in the House Armed Services Committee’s Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee are concerned the U.S. Army isn’t modernizing its combat vehicles or armored brigade combat teams quickly enough, and they are asking the service to present clarity on its strategy.

After years of declining modernization funding in the Army’s budget — as the result of the drawdown from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and coping with sequestration — the service is at a point where it is “out-ranged, outgunned and outdated,” to quote Army Vice Chief Gen. Dan Allyn’s testimony at an HASC hearing earlier this year.

And the reduction of modernization budgets over many years has caused a major lag — potentially up to 30 years for some rides — in upgrading the Army’s combat vehicles, Maj. Gen. David Bassett, the Army’s officer in charge of the fleet, said during an event in February.

“I can tell you right now the level of investment in my portfolio is unacceptably low,” he said.

Repeatedly over the last year, now-national security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster called for the importance of kicking off a next-generation combat vehicle development program and lamented that this is the first time since World War I where the Army hasn’t had a new combat vehicle under development.

So it appears Congress is hearing the Army on the need to move faster.

While the Army is prioritizing modernizing armored brigade combat teams, or ABCT, in its fiscal 2018 budget, House lawmakers are seeking, in the subcommittee’s FY18 defense authorization markup, ideas from the Army on how it might do more, and faster.

“The committee believes the consequences of reduced modernization funding are most dramatic with respect to ground combat vehicle modernization,” the subcommittee’s markup reads.

“While the Army has definitive plans in place for Army aviation modernization,” according to the markup, “the same cannot be said for ground combat vehicle modernization.”

The committee said it believed there is an “immediate need” for a faster ground combat vehicle modernization strategy to include a next-generation infantry fighting vehicle and a main battle tank.

But the strategy should also include upgrades for legacy vehicles to address existing threats.

Additionally, lawmakers are concerned about the reduction of active ABCTs and the service’s ability to ensure its ABCTs are ready to fight.

Previously, the committee ensured there would be no further ABCT force structure reductions and prevented production breaks in the combat vehicle industrial base and “given the return of armored units to the European theater, as well as the Army’s plans to increase ABCT capacity, the committee believes that these actions have been validated.”

The Army has 20 ABCT equipment sets, but five of the sets haven’t seen updates to its tanks or Bradley Fighting Vehicles since Desert Storm. The service will heavily invest in 2018 on combat vehicle upgrades and the full modernization of two ABCTs in 2018 and 2019.

The committee said it “remains concerned about the stability of ABCT modernization funding in fiscal year 2018 and beyond, and encourages the Army to fully modernize at least one ABCT per year,” according to the markup.

Lawmakers want a report from the Army no later than April 5, 2018, on the Army’s plan for executing a ground combat vehicle modernization strategy.

Included in that report should be the service’s priorities over the next five to 10 years, how those priorities can be supported using current funding levels within a “relevant” time period and what additional money might be needed to execute priorities.

The report should also detail how the Army will balance those priorities amid other efforts to achieve and sustain readiness and increase force structure.

The Army should also explain how it might balance near-term modernization efforts against accelerated long-term efforts for next-generation combat vehicles.

The U.S. comptroller general should assess the Army’s report no later than May 1, 2018, and provide that to Congress.

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