Monday, November 25, 2019, 15:26 (GMT+7)
Several programs for developing weapons and equipment by the U.S. Army

In recent years, with the rapid development of military technology, America has conducted a number of costly programs for developing weapons and equipment with the ambition to increase its Army’s combat capacity. Although some of those programs had been closed without expected outcomes, the U.S. Army has continued to implement other ones in the medium and long terms to achieve its ambition.

Currently, America believes that its combat capability on the ground could hardly undergo a qualitative change in a short time; however, it could overcome several weaknesses in its key combat capacity, such as manoeuvre command, electronic warfare, airborne landing, defence during manoeuvre, and long-range attack. Those weaknesses by the U.S. Army have been pointed out in the recent wars.

The U.S. programs for developing weapons and equipment without expected outcomes

They were the U.S. Army large-scale programs for development weapons and equipment, namely “Future Combat System” and “Ground Combat Vehicle.” In fact, the U.S. Army had the ambition to carry out a major reform in its organizational structure via the modular program with a view to establishing “Brigade Combat Teams” in parallel with the program for developing materiel called “Future Combat System.” This ambitious program had been initiated since 2003 with the involvement of 550 contractors, aimed at synchronously modernizing forces (tank and armoured, army tactical missile, and unmanned reconnaissance vehicles) in a smooth Internet connection environment from the supreme commander to every soldier on the battlefield.

According to the Pentagon, with this renovation, the U.S. Army would be lighter, more mobile, networked and capable of engaging anywhere in the world. However, according to military strategists and scholars, the “Future Combat System” program by the U.S Army hadn’t met expectations. This is shown in the fact that its 8 newly developed combat vehicles which had been designed to replace its existing tanks and armoured vehicles have not been put into service, the new system of communication has yet to meet the requirements, and the system of future soldiers has yet to be synchronous. Therefore, in 2009, the then United States Secretary of Defence announced the end of the “Future Combat System” program after it had cost 21.4 billion USD without providing any piece of equipment for the U.S. Army. The end of the large-scale ambitious program far ahead of its time by the U.S. Army for studying and developing military equipment came as a big shock.

Immediately after the end of the “Future Combat System” program, the U.S. Army adjusted its mode of development, returned to the development of single complex, and conducted the program for studying and manufacturing the “Ground Combat Vehicles” in order to replace all old-fashioned M2 Bradley fighting vehicles. In August 2009,  the then United States Secretary of Defence decided to carry out the “Ground Combat Vehicle” program aimed at meeting the requirements for all combat forms of the U.S. Army and integrate combat experiences drawn from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq into the program. However, after 5 years, the U.S. Army cooperated with the Office for Acquisition under the U.S. Department of Defence in overall reviewing and assessing the core components of this program and they came to a conclusion that the “Ground Combat Vehicles” were too dependent on immature technologies while the requirements for their feature were too high. Thus, in 2014, the U.S. Army recommended the annulment of this program.

The programs for developing weapons and equipment in the medium and long terms

           An M1A2C tank - the latest version of Abrams tanks (photo: General Dynamics Land Systems)

In addition to failures in the programs for developing new weapons and equipment, the U.S. Army has gained considerable achievements in developing new versions of the existing weapons and equipment, particularly of tanks, armoured vehicles, and artillery rockets. In July 2019, M1A2C tanks - the latest version of Abrams tanks - were provided for a tank and armoured brigade. Thus, the United States Congress approved a budget of 1.5 billion USD to purchase 135 M1A2C Abrams tanks for the U.S. Army. The M1A2C tanks were equipped with the active and passive protection system enabling them to effectively counter the latest anti-tank weapons. Notably, they were equipped with the Trophy active protection system and an armoured shield on their gun turrets. The Trophy system used radar to detect the incoming missiles and rockets and then destroyed them with a shotgun-like blast. The U.S. Army was planning to install this system in a number of old-version M1 tanks. A part from the M1A2C tanks, the U.S. Army planned to develop a new version called M1A2D whose “core technology” would be modern infrared sensors. The M1A2D tanks would be equipped with a new laser range finder and artificial intelligence to make them capable of self-operation.

Not abandoning its ambition to develop new weapons and equipment, the U.S. Army has continued to consider developing the “Next-Generation Combat Vehicles” in order to replace the M2 Bradley ground combat vehicles by 2025. In spite of the fact that the U.S. Army has always been at the forefront of the Pentagon’s development plan, over the past 40 years, it has not been able to develop any weapon or piece of equipment which could make a hit like the U.S. Air Force’s R-22 Raptor stealth fighter or the U.S. Navy’s Ford-class future generation aircraft carrier. Therefore, more than ever before, the U.S. Army’s leaders have really desired to achieve a breakthrough in developing the program for the “Next-Generation Combat Vehicles” with the core technologies including offensive and defensive capacity, electronic operation, artificial intelligence-based automated control system, and energy source. More specifically, the protection technology of the “Next-Generation Combat Vehicles” would allow 360-degree defence, their active protection system could detect and destroy incoming missiles, and their directed energy weapons could form electromagnetic protection shield. In the upcoming time, the U.S. Army will plan to trial and use 50 kW-class laser weapons for destroying drones and bullets flying at a low speed as mortar shells and to manufacture advanced complex armour for its future combat vehicles. As for the technology for producing energy sources of the “Next-Generation Combat Vehicles,” the feasibility of biological energy and fuel cells is rather high. The combination of fuel cells and high-power batteries could provide a rich source of energy for weapons on the “Next-Generation Combat Vehicles,” such as laser and artillery.

The U.S. Army has also been interested in developing and using precision-guided munitions so as to gain the advantage in combined operations. At present, the U.S. Army is leading the world in the indirect-fire weapon system and it is executing the program to develop the precision-guided rocket Increment 4 with the maximum range of 300 km and the semi-active laser-guided artillery shell Excalibur-S. Besides, the programs for the precision-guided rocket Increment 5 which could destroy moving targets and for the precision long-range fire has been initiated to complete the U.S. Army’s system of precision-guided munitions.

In addition to short-term programs for developing weapons and equipment, the U.S. Army has started executing the long-term ones. In the report to the U.S. Congress in 2018, Secretary of the U.S. Army proposed 6 priorities for developing weapons and equipment and modernizing the U.S. Army towards 2035. (1) Long range precision fires enable multi-domain forces to penetrate and neutralize enemy A2/AD capabilities while ensuring military overmatch at every echelon. (2) Next generation combat vehicles increase the firepower, speed, and survivability of land forces, allowing them to maneuver into superior positions on the battlefield and pair with robotic vehicles. (3) Future vertical lift platforms and technologies increase the maneuverability, endurance, lethality, and survivability of Army aircraft - increasing their operational reach and effectiveness against near-peer competitors. (4) The modernization of Army network technologies is necessary to command and control forces distributed across vast terrain, converge effects from multiple domains, and maintain a common situational understanding in MDO. (5) The air and missile defence system will defend ground forces against adversary air threats. (6) Modernizing Soldier lethality will increase the capability of individual Soldier weapons, provide Soldiers with enhanced night vision, and increase their ability to quickly understand and react to emerging situations - increasing their lethality, precision, and survivability.

To realize these 6 priorities, on August 25th 2018, America officially established the Army Futures Command to accelerate the modernization of Army materiel which has been the largest reform in this military branch since 1973. The Command would be in charge of the command work, mobilization of resources, research, development, trial, and acquisition. It would put forward solutions to developing next-generation combat systems for the U.S. Army, thereby enabling America to maintain the status as the “only military superpower” in the world.

It is thought that the U.S. Army’s programs for developing weapons and equipment with huge funds will stage a new arms race on a global scale and negatively impact on the world’s security and political situation.

Sr. Col. Dang Dong Tien, Lt. Col. Nguyen Hoai Nam

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