Col. Bryan J. McVeigh, program manager for Manned Systems Integration at PEO-Integration, said advancements in both lightweight physical armor and active protection systems will require an evolutionary integration process in the next several years, which in turn raises a new challenge to ensure design architecture is sufficiently open to accept those new technologies as they mature. But those designs also must allow for changes in personal body armor and equipment used by tank crews and troops riding in IFVs.
“That does play into how I design the vehicle. I must make sure an IFV for a nine-man squad has enough room and volume for all the squad to wear their armor, carry their weapons and egress ready to engage on scene. They have to be able to hit the ground running when the ramp drops without worrying about their personal armor,” he said.
“As far as the armor goes, however, I do not include personal armor into my survivability equations, just into my design equations with respect to volume. That’s where the advanced lightweight armor comes in. Previous concepts would have been much heavier and larger, but by integrating advanced concepts, we can defeat more bang for the buck.”
“OIF has been a strong validation for the use of heavy armor, which has proven to be very versatile in just about any environment – downtown, desert, Central Europe.”
Since the end of the Korean War, opponents of new investments in heavy armor have argued that the age of the tank war – and the need for tanks – has ended. But tank commanders proved the versatility of armor even in seemingly tank-defeating terrain in Vietnam. The first Gulf war proved the utility of the Abrams design, while the second demonstrated its value in urban and even COIN engagements.
“OIF has been a strong validation for the use of heavy armor, which has proven to be very versatile in just about any environment – downtown, desert, Central Europe,” Cameron says.
Even as new materials and technologies make tanks and armor lighter, faster, harder to kill and more lethal against a wide range of targets and enemy TTPs, the political and funding battles will continue. But those tasked with developing future generations of armor have their own view.
“The way our requirements are being written, I think the users have come up with a very innovative approach to that challenge,” McVeigh said. “You have Level Zero, One and Two armor, each designed to meet different threats in different scenarios. Level Zero would be used in peacekeeping, Level One more in line with what we are seeing today in Southwest Asia and Level Two for use in major conflicts – say IFV versus IFV.
“Our designs and requirements are based on a holistic survivability approach. I don’t think you can design a vehicle to effectively just defeat one attack or another; you need an effective, scalable ability to defeat a wide range of attacks and bring the force to the enemy at certain points on the battlefield. Scalable survivability and a modular approach without sacrificing mobility – it’s all a trade-off and balancing the requirements.
“Also important is the amount of work we have done to engage end users, who write the requirements for us, and industry early in this program, the latter so they understand what the requirements are and can tell the Army what they believe is doable within the time allotted to execute the mission. That was done on other programs in recent years and has been one of the smarter things we’ve done.”
Since this article was written, the Ground Combat Vehicle program has become the victim of budget cuts. What will replace the Abrams, and for that matter the Bradley, Gavin, and Stryker in the future remains an unknown.
This article was first printed in The Year in Defense: Review Edition in an abridged version as “Armor: Three Decades of Advances.” This is the final installment of four parts.