Chief of Armor’s Hatch: Looking to the Future of Combat Vehicles

“We must invest in mobile protective firepower [sic] and develop combat vehicles that provide land forces with the appropriate combination of mobility, lethality and protection,” said Chief of Staff of the Army GEN Raymond T. Odierno at the recently held Association of the United States Army conference.1

He also listed improvements the Army needs:

  • The Army must invest in light reconnaissance and security capabilities, and in the lethality of missiles, interceptors and sensors.
  • The Army should also innovate with directed energy, a new Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) and a future tank with autonomous capabilities.
  • The Army must also reduce the size of its command-and-control footprint but also needs reliable and protected flow of information while on the move.
  • It is imperative that we adapt new technologies to warfighting concepts better than anybody else.2

Today, we continue to find ourselves in a challenge to keep up with technology while in a resource-constrained budgetary environment. There are several initiatives under consideration as we look to modernize the armored force. The Army is in the midst of developing a combat-vehicle modernization strategy (CVMS) that captures the essential requirements needed within our formations, not just our vehicle portfolios.

For example, the mobility of the infantry brigade combat team (BCT) is a significant shortfall coupled with a need for mobile protected firepower. As a former Sheridan platoon leader, I saw firsthand the impact a light tank brings to an infantry force and how it exponentially increases the formation’s effectiveness.

However, technological innovation is not the panacea for future maneuver. GEN Donn A. Starry considered these same challenges and provided very sage guidance back in the 1980s. Instead of solely relying on technology, it “must be harnessed to provide systems whose general characteristics are spelled out by a carefully structured operational concept of how the battle is to be fought. Technology should be harnessed to the tasks of identifying and developing the means to render ineffective heavy enemy investments in specific systems or capabilities. New weapons technologies should not just seek to match the enemy, qualitatively or quantitatively or both. Rather, they should seek to challenge the enemy in new, different and demanding ways. Technology must make the outcome of battle less, not more, predictable.”3

At the Maneuver Center of Excellence (MCoE), we are working on future maneuver as part of the Army Operating Concept. Joint-task-force-capable division headquarters that can task-organize different BCT types (i.e., a Stryker battalion attached to an armored BCT) may provide options for tactical problems other than material solutions. The MCoE is facilitating seminars and battlelab exercises with the operational force and U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command centers of excellence to put forth the intellectual rigor before the physical work. Set the theater, joint-force entry, joint combined-arms maneuver and wide-area security are ongoing efforts and provide interesting insights and opportunities for furthering the development of future maneuver.

As we work on the operational concepts, work continues on our vehicle modernization. The CVMS prioritizes enhancements over the near-, mid-, and long term. Most immediately, we need to improve on the ability to handle future weight growth; prioritize mobility and lethality improvements; plan for their transitions; adjust to doctrine, organization, training and leadership; and develop new programs addressing overmatch in the mid-term. Ultimately, the strategy must reduce the BCT’s sustainment requirements, further enhancing our expeditionary capacity in a complex world.

The Abrams main battle tank continues to undergo enhancements aimed to sustain capabilities of providing mobility, protection and firepower as well as versatility across various environments, to include hybrid threats. The research-and-development community is working to determine the capabilities of the future main battle tank and look for weight reductions, but with Abrams lethality and force protection. This effort generates learning requirements and informs experimentation, especially as we look at potential integration of autonomous systems or vehicles against direct-fire maneuver requirements. These solutions will maintain the Abrams tank as the critical component to decisive landpower as it retains technological, physical and psychological advantages against determined enemies.

Existing M3 Cavalry Fighting Vehicles are being converted into M2s (IFV configuration) to carry six scouts – the three-scout crew and three dismounted scouts. Enhancements are being made to add more seating and reduce the amount of 25mm ammunition and missiles stowed inside the Bradley. These configurations support the approved 6x36 Cavalry-squadron standard scout platoon (SSP) force-design update. Combined-arms battalions will transition to the SSP as Bradleys become available, remaining configured with three Bradley Fighting Vehicles and five uparmored humvees in the interim.

Other notable modernization efforts are ongoing with the M109 Paladin Howitzer and Joint Light Tactical Vehicles (JLTVs).

The recent review of capability gaps in our vehicle portfolios highlight the need to address fundamental shortcomings with our CVMS:

  • Modernized vehicles require network coverage over large distances on the move for situational awareness and the ability of commanders to make timely decisions.
  • Modernized vehicles require lethality upgrades to maintain overmatch due to the proliferation of enemy technologies emerging among near-peer threats.
  • Reconnaissance and security assets require enhanced/improved mobility and survivability due to a reduction in R&S effectiveness in the execution of screen, delay, guard and movement-to-contact.
  • The ABCT’s fleet of aging M113 family of vehicles (FoV), M109 FoVs and wheeled fleet have blast and ballistic protection vulnerabilities.

Finally, the integration of Active Protection Systems (APS), especially on our less protected fleets, must be part of our immediate research and development, as well as non-developmental options. There are some who doubt APS’ capabilities, but given the proliferation of anti-tank missiles and the increasing potential for expeditionary operations, this critical capability may prove vital to survivability. The Armor School will continue to pursue opportunities to work with Army Capabilities Integration Center on APS development.

We encourage discussions from the armored-force community on modernization and combat-vehicle capabilities. The Armor School established a Common Access Card-access MilBook page ( for discussion forums, including topics such as the light tank. We also have our Facebook page ( for general discussions. We always look forward to your professional articles that generate awareness and debate on topics relating to armored warfare. We must keep engaged and always Forging the Thunderbolt!

Chief of Armor/Commandant
U.S. Army Armor School

Armor School MilBook: (

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[1] Kathleen Curthoys, “Odierno: Readiness at historically low levels,” Army Times, April 2, 2014,

2 Ibid.

3 Lewis Sorley, editor, Press On! Selected Works of General Donn A. Starry, Vol. 1, Fort Leavenworth, KS: Combat Studies Institute Press, U.S. Army Combined Arms Center,