Monday, January 08, 2007

Number and Age of US Army Combat Vehicles

The Army classifies its vehicles on the basis of their function and physical characteristics. For example, tracked vehicles (Abrams Tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles) are classified as combat vehicles; wheeled vehicles (trucks, automobiles, cycles, and buses) are classified as motor vehicles. Motor vehicles are further separated into tactical and non-tactical categories and within the tactical grouping, into light, medium, and heavy classifications based primarily on vehicle weight. Unfortunately, I was not able to find comprehensive data on wheeled vehicles. Therefore this analysis focuses on combat vehicles.

At the end of 2005, the US Army had a combat vehicle fleet of approximately 28,000 armored vehicles.[1]

M113-based vehicles, which constitute almost half of the fleet, were first introduced in the 1960s. The Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles are based on technology that is roughly 20 years newer.

M1 Abrams Tanks: stock 5850, average age 13
Bradley Fighting Vehicles: stock 6659, average age 10
M-113 Based vehicles: stock 17839, average age 13
M109 Self-Propelled Howitzers: stock 1517, average age 11

An aging fleet

At the beginning of 2006, the average age of the Army’s entire armored combat vehicle fleet was 16.4 years (which exceeds the Army’s preferred average age of 10 years), and the status of that fleet has prompted concerns among the Army’s leadership. Because, the fleet comprises vehicles designed several decades ago.

More than half of the Army’s armored combat vehicles are based on systems that were introduced in the 1960s, and even the most recent models are based on technology that is roughly 25 years old.

More than 2,500 of the 5,850 Abrams tanks had been in service 15 years or more, and 540 tanks had been in service 18 years;

Of the roughly 6,700 Bradley fighting vehicles in the fleet, 370 were 20 years old, and more than 1,500 were at least 15 years old;

More than half of the M113-based vehicles were produced or rebuilt at least 15 years ago, and almost 1,000 had been commissioned 18 years earlier;

Almost 300 of the M109 self-propelled howitzers were at least 20 years old.

The useful service lives of armored vehicles may extend from 20 years to 30 years. Unless significant upgrades or modifications, many of the vehicles that currently provide much of its combat power will reach the end of their useful lives in the next decade.

Source: See Note 1

Source: Compiled from [1] and [3]

Impractical to transport

The weight and size of most armored vehicles prohibit them from being easily transported by air.

For all practical purposes, heavy combat units must be transported overseas by ship—a process that takes weeks. For instance, M1 Abrams tanks are so heavy that USAF’s newest cargo aircraft C-17 can carry only one at a time and the C-5 (the largest transport aircraft) can carry only two. Even though the Bradley fighting vehicle[2] weighs less than one-half as much as an Abrams tank, it, too, can be airlifted only by a C-17 or a C-5 (not with the USAF’s large fleet of C-130s). Therefore they have been most commonly transported overseas by ship.

To address the concerns on transporting heavy combat units anywhere in the world in a matter of days, the Army has undertaken two initiatives

a) modularity (reorganizing all of the Army’s combat forces into smaller, more standardized units to allow the service to reduce the overall size of its armored fleet and retire some of its older armored vehicles) and,

b) the Future Combat Systems (FCS) program (a major modernization effort designed in part to develop and purchase a total of 18 new weapon systems, including eight manned vehicles, to replace most of the armored systems now used in heavy units. The new vehicles would be much lighter, which would make units equipped with them easier to deploy. However, no such new vehicle until 2015 is expected to enter into service. If successful all the armored vehicles now in the Army’s combat units will be replaced by FCS components before 2040. The Army will need fewer armored vehicles and could retire more than 13,000 of its oldest by 2011. Nevertheless, the resultant fleet would still have an average age of 13 years.

The research and development (R&D) portion of the program is scheduled to extend through 2016 and cost a total of $21 billion from 2007 to 2016. According to the Army’s estimates, total annual costs to purchase the various FCS components could be somewhere between $10-$20 billion. Because the proposed annual purchases of armored vehicles under the FCS program represent only 3 percent of the total fleet, they will not begin to lower the fleet’s average age until 2024—and even then, the average age could exceed 15 years.

The Army aims to maintain the average age of its armored vehicles at or below half of their useful life by continually upgrading them to reflect the capabilities of the latest models and by incorporating FCS technologies into them when the new systems become available.

Fuel Enemy

The FCS vehicles are also being developed to be more fuel-efficient than the Army’s current armored vehicles, some of which—notably the Abrams tank and Bradley fighting vehicle—go less than two miles on a gallon of fuel.[3]

Armored vehicles, such as the Abrams tank and Bradley fighting vehicle, have very low fuel efficiency (they can travel less than 2 miles on a gallon of fuel). Consequently, heavy units[4] in combat burn fuel at a high rate—about 420,000 gallons of fuel per day for a heavy division. The logistics burden associated with heavy units illustrates why it is difficult to deploy and operate them without a large support structure. Gary’s combat’s vehicle reference guide gives more details.

[1] The Army’s Future Combat Systems Program and Alternatives. Congressional Budget Office, The United States Congress. August 2006.
[2] Developed at the same time as the Abrams tank, the Bradley fighting vehicle was designed to replace at least some of the service’s older M113 armored personnel carriers.
[3] Statement of J. Michael Gilmore (Assistant Director, The Army’s Future Combat Systems Program) before the Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces Committee on Armed Services, U.S. House of Representatives, April 4, 2006.
[4] Units equipped with armored vehicles are referred to as “heavy” units; the rest of the Army’s combat forces are referred to as “light” units.

see also
Number and Age of US Navy Ships
Number and Age of US Air Force Aircraft

Tags: US Army, US Military


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