With any major armament purchase or military equipment upgrades comes a struggle for policy and military decision makers: having to fulfill the need to provide troops with the best available, combat-proven and efficient equipment, while compromising with defense budgets and considering the general public’s acceptance of military spending. Making the choice is hard; making the right choice is even harder.
In 2014, the U.S. Congress cut $492 million in budget at the request of the White House for the U.S. Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle, the GCV. The program, which was supposed to represent a major acquisition for the ground forces, was downgraded to a simple “study program,” mostly due to its price and technical specifications.
During this time, two competing GCV contractors, BAE Systems and General Dynamics, were going to run out of funds to finance the program. Both companies were awarded less than $200 million to keep the program alive, but with no hope of foreign sales in the near future. “The army can’t afford anything new,” said Loren Thompson from the Lexington institute of Arlington Virginia, “It can afford mods, it can afford upgrades, but clean sheets designs have fallen out of the modernization plan. There’s no GCV, no Armed Aerial Scout, it’s all a continuation of the Army’s ‘Big 5’ during the Reagan years” he added.
When it comes to military power, even the number one country in the world experiences great disenchantment around future armament investments and military industry decision-making.
The number one problem often comes from the fact that new equipment, by definition, hasn’t been tested in combat and therefore isn’t trusted to begin with. The second issue comes with actually defining the “costs” – purchasing the technology is one thing, but possessing it is another. In most cases, being able to simply maintain equipment could present great struggles for some countries. Some major fleet upgrades that seemed to be good deals at the moment of purchase have proven to be disasters in terms of maintenance and lack of good customer service. Some nations are now looking carefully at all of these aspects before they make such critical decisions.
Today several countries are on their way to making major ground force equipment purchase and upgrading their fleets. Just last year, Denmark announced its wish to renew its old fleet of M113 troop carrier vehicles. Today it is one of Europe’s most important armored vehicle exports contest and Denmark is weighting its options. The economical aspect will most likely be preeminent in the Danes’ decision. Therefore vehicles that have already been tested in combat are more likely to win the deal, considering the fact that we already know how expensive they are to run in the long-term.
With BAE Systems Hagglunds and its CV90 Armadillo, Flensburger Fahrzeugbau Gesellschaft and its PMMC G5, General Dynamics European Land Systems ASCOD are the tracked contenders and the French Nexter’s VBCI and General Dynamics and its Piranha V are the 8X8 wheeled competitors. No doubt that the Danes would choose the “Best value for money” option.
Both the Danish Ministry of Defense and Denmark’s Defense Acquisition and Logistics Organization (DALO) will be making that call. “When a government has a plan that reaches up to 2020, it must also be fair enough that as a party leader we give thoughts to what will replace it when the time comes. So government policies are completely clear as glass. What I do as a radical party leader and as Minister of Finance and Interior is to relate to what is going to happen, now it turns out that we are able to realize the ambitions. We are on the right track,” declared Morten Østergaard, Danish Minister of Finance.
In Germany, we see another example of what can happen when costs become prohibitive. The German army had a long history with armored vehicles. Berlin decided, in the 1990s to buy a newer version of its APCs troop carriers. Working with France and England, the project was very successful, however as time went on, expenses grew and the two countries progressively withdrew in order to work on their own vehicles. Years later, the Boxer, which was seen as a success with a profitable future, is now only seen as second class and will most likely be shared only among its creators, even if smaller militaries have expressed some interests, such as Lithuania’s. “The Bower was a success… for a while. Recent equipment problems and upcoming reforms to Germany’s military strategy have made the vehicle’s future uncertain,” said author Till Rimmele (3).
There remains a constant dilemma for every country in the world that is thinking about renewing its military equipment. Not only must they consider how much the equipment will cost them at the time of the purchase, but they must also anticipate these costs for years and years to come.
(1) US Army’s GCV Program downgraded to study project, Defense News, January 18th 2014
(2) Morten Østergaard: »Jeg frygter, at vi luller os selv i søvn«, Politiken, March 27th 2015, translated from Danish.
(3) War is boring, Medium. Till Rimmele, March 14th 2015.