by Gary Sheftick and Michele Hammonds
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Nov. 20, 2000) - Army officials unveiled a family of wheeled armored vehicles Friday for the Army's transformation, to be fielded first with two new brigades at Fort Lewis, Wash.
The Light Armored Vehicle known as the LAV III will be manufactured in two major variants: the Infantry Carrier Vehicle and the Mobile Gun System.
Army officials signed a contract with a subsidiary of General Motors to produce 2,131 LAVs over the next six years at a cost just under $4 billion. The company - GM General Dynamics Land Systems - is the same firm that now builds LAVs for the U.S. Marine Corps, Canadian forces, the Saudi Arabian military and the Australian army.
The new LAVs for the Interim Brigade Combat Teams will be configured differently though, officials said, from the ones now being used.
Eight different configurations of the LAV Infantry Carrier will be used as scout, support and command vehicles. Another LAV variant will serve as a Mobile Gun System with a 105mm cannon, the same gun tube as the one on the original M-1 Abrams tank.
"This is not a tank replacement," said Lt. Gen. Paul Kern, director of the Army Acquisition Corps and military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology. "But it gives us direct fire capability to support the infantry elements."
All of the LAVs will be deployable by C-130 and larger aircraft. They will have a maximum speed of 60 miles per hour and a range of 300 miles on a tank of fuel.
"This Infantry Carrier Vehicle is swift, easily maintainable and most importantly includes features designed for the safety of our soldiers," Kern said.
The LAV has armor protection all around, even on top, Kern said. The armor will stop 50-caliber bullets and protect against 152mm airburst shells, and Kern added that the armor is twice as thick as original contract specifications called for.
The tires of the LAV can be inflated or deflated from inside the vehicle, Kern said, to make it safer for different surfaces ranging from deep mud to hardtop, and the vehicle has run-flat tires. The LAV has a built-in fire suppression system and self-recovery winch.
The first of the new LAVs should be fielded in Fiscal Year 2002, Kern said. The contract's first iteration calls for enough LAVs to equip the first IBCT at Fort Lewis. Each brigade will have more than 300 LAVs, and Kern said the six option years of the contract should produce enough LAVs for the first six Brigade Combat Teams.
The LAV is the first new ground combat vehicle the Army has procured since the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle in 1980, Kern said. He explained that improved versions of vehicles like the M1 Abrams tank have been fielded, but no entirely new ground combat vehicles.
Procurement of the LAV III "starts the material part of the Army's transformation" said Paul Hoeper, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, at Friday's press conference announcing the contract.
"In an award like this one, where there's been a very good competition, there is often a lot of talk about winners and losers," Hoeper said. "The winner I want you to pay attention to is the American soldier, who is a tremendous winner by being given the best off-the-shelf equipment in the world in this class."
The LAVs will run quieter than the current armored personnel carriers, Kern said, increasing their "stealth." They will also give the new brigades a reduced logistics footprint, he said, and make the units cheaper to operate than today's heavy brigades.
The Interim Brigade Combat Team should be about 25 percent cheaper to operate than today's heavy brigades said Lt. Col. Donald F. Schenk, program manger for the IBCT.
"We expect it's going to be billions of dollars we're going to save," Schenk said.
The LAV engine is a Caterpillar engine, which is common to the Army's family of medium tactical vehicles, Kern said. That means some of the same repair parts can be used. "Commonality of equipment" Kern said, reduces the brigade's logistical footprint and support costs, "and makes the entire vehicle fleet easier to maintain."
The different configurations of the Infantry Carrier Vehicle will include:
A number of subcontractors will be used to produce the different LAV configurations and equipment. The prime contractor - GM General Dynamics Land Systems Defense Group LLC - will conduct work in four primary locations. Structure, fabrication and final assembly of the LAVs will take place in both Anniston, Ala., and London, Ontario in Canada. Engineering will take place in Sterling Heights, Mich., and upper hull structures will be produced at a plant in Lima, Ohio.
"This vehicle will significantly increase the Army's ability to deploy forces rapidly worldwide," Kern said.
One of the goals of the Army's transformation is to deploy brigade combat teams anywhere in the world within 96 hours, a division on the ground in 120 hours, and five divisions within 30 days, according to Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki.
The LAV III is considered an "Interim Armored Vehicle" because it is not the final vehicle which will equip the transformation "objective force" of the future, Kern said.
"It's not the final answer by a long shot," Kern said.
Kern said he doesn't believe the current contract necessarily means the objective force will have wheeled vehicles instead of tracked vehicles.
"You will hear the argument of track vs. wheels, and I would suggest to you that argument is still a viable one," Kern said.
"This is not an experimental force," Kern said of the IBCTs, "rather it represents a force capable of meeting the needs of regional commanders-in-chief, while concurrently assisting the Army in development of 21st-century doctrine to meet the 21st-century threats."