Thursday, January 23, 2014

Congress cut Ground Combat Vehicle's Funding, Hope Dim for BAe Hybrid Drive Design

The U.S. government’s decision last week to cut funding for the Army’s combat vehicle program may dash hopes for production of BAE Systems Plc’s so-called green machine.

The London-based defense giant’s U.S. subsidiary was competing against General Dynamics Corp. to build the Army’s future troop carrier, known as the Ground Combat Vehicle, to replace the Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

While General Dynamics, maker of the M1 Abrams tank, was developing a more traditional design, BAE, which manufactures the Bradley, was pursuing a more environmentally friendly model.

BAE conceived of a hybrid-electric vehicle that could operate on diesel or electric power, with lithium-ion batteries that recharge when braking. Think Toyota Prius, only super-sized and with tracks, armor and a gun turret. In addition to better gas mileage, the design would offer fewer moving parts and faster acceleration, officials have said.

Still, it’s no fuel-sipper. At a hulking 70 tons — about the weight of an Abrams and more than twice that of a Bradley — the vehicle would get less than a mile per gallon of fuel.

The Army in recent years repeatedly described the Ground Combat Vehicle as one of its top acquisition priorities. The service had planned to buy about 1,900 of the vehicles at a cost of as much as $17 million apiece, or $32 billion.

Lawmakers last week passed legislation that drastically reduced funding for the program in fiscal 2014, which began Oct. 1, from $592 million to $100 million — a decrease of $492 million, or 83 percent. The move essentially killed the acquisition program, as there isn’t enough money for the Army to move forward by awarding a production contract to one of the two companies.

“Congress cut a program they knew was doomed,” Loren Thompson, a longtime defense industry analyst and consultant, told’s Matt Cox.

But the prospect of a hybrid-electric combat vehicle may not be dead, as there is still funding to continue research, which presumably would include further analysis of the technology.

“While I do think that the tank-sized GCV concept is toast, BAE’s work on hybrid engines remains promising,” James Hasik, a senior fellow for defense at the Atlantic Council, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C., said in an e-mail. “Hybrids are said to provide power for hungry onboard electronics, power for silent overwatch, and propulsion for short stealthy movements.”

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