Army to buy new armor

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON – The Army took a major step in shedding its Cold War image Friday by agreeing to spend some $4 billion on more than 2,000 light-armored vehicles, providing soldiers with speed and maneuverability for the anticipated smaller-scale, urban-based wars of the 21st century.

The first 360 are headed to Fort Lewis, where the Army has created two new “interim brigade combat teams,” each with 3,500 soldiers. When ultimately ready, they are supposed to be able to deploy anywhere in the world within 96 hours.

“It’s a first major step in our transformation to that 21st-century Army,” said Lt. Gen. Paul Kern, noting that recent deployments have taken soldiers to places like Somalia and the Balkans. “We looked at the kinds of operations that we are conducting today … all of those characteristics show us with urban terrain.”

The 2,131 eight-wheeled vehicles will be built over the next six years by General Motors Corp. and General Dynamics Corp., and will have two variants: an infantry carrier vehicle and a mobile gun system with a 105mm cannon.

Army officials said that current units operating with the 70-ton Abrams tank and 30-ton Bradley fighting vehicles that were designed to repel Soviet troops are too heavy to quickly deploy to today’s hot spots. At 19 tons, the new vehicles can be flown on C-130 aircraft.

Some current and former Army officers have criticized the decision to go with a wheeled vehicle instead of a tracked one, such as the Bradley fighting vehicle. They said the Army’s initial tests showed that the wheeled vehicles did not perform as well as the tracked vehicles in muddy terrain.

But Kern said the light-armor vehicle has characteristics missing from the Army. They can move quickly across roads and have “good cross-country mobility as well.”

“I would not try to defend to you that this could do everything that a track vehicle can do in the worst conditions, but it can do some other things much better than a track vehicle can do in other conditions,” he said. “And so that was the balance in judgement we made.”

The new light-armor vehicle can carry nine soldiers and travel at 60 mph. It has enough armor to stop a 50-caliber machine gun round, officials said, and can travel cross-country or through tight urban streets. Similar vehicles are used by the Marine Corps as well as by Canadian and Saudi Arabian forces.

Kern said the vehicle is the first ground combat vehicle purchased by the Army since the Bradley fighting vehicle in 1980.

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