The core of the Army's ground combat systems is under threat of being seriously outmoded by foreign adversaries like Russia, China, and North Korea, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Developed primarily in the 1970s, the Army's fleet of main battle tanks, tracked infantry fighting vehicles, tracked self-propelled artillery and multiple launch rocket systems were designed to battle a larger Cold War adversary, a report produced by CRS explains.
"U.S. Army leadership notes for the first time since World War I that the Army does not have a new ground combat vehicle under development and, at current funding levels, the Bradley [Fighting Vehicle] and Abrams [tank] will remain in the inventory for 50 to 70 more years," the report reads.
Efforts to modernize the Army's artillery and armor systems have been a Sisyphean task, costing roughly $1 billion dollars a year since 1996 — representing nearly 42 percent of the Army's research, development, testing and evaluation budget in failed and cancelled projects, according to the CRS.
Failed projects include the $11 billion Crusader SP artillery system, $160 billion Future Combat System program, the M-2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle, and the M-109A6 Paladin SP, congressional researchers wrote.
In comparison, near-peer competitors such as China and Russia are close to fielding or have already fielded modern main battle tanks and infantry fighting vehicles. Russia's new T-14 Armata tank — which boasts 48 tons and a 125mm smooth bore autoloader as its main armaments, is currently under development. China fielded the MBT-3000 in 2012 — coming in at 57 tons, the tank is capable of firing laser-guided rounds, the CRS reported, citing data supplied from IHS Jane's 360.
Although interstate war between Russia and China is unlikely, congressional researchers note that the possibility of combating their weapon systems is high — pointing to conflicts in Syria, Iraq and the Israeli- Lebanon conflict of 2006 as hybrid wars in which irregular armed groups conducted warfare with modernized equipment, including tanks and ant-aircraft rocket systems.
The potential for adversaries to surpass the U.S. in its technological edge with military weapons systems is a real likelihood. And with the Defense Department's slow acquisition process and budgetary issues, new projects to modernize the Army’s ground combat systems could take decades, the CRS warns.
Shawn Snow is the Senior Reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.