Next generation Army vehicles will be 'Net-ready'

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - The Army plans to pursue its battlefield digitization project while it develops and fields a new family of lightweight, easily deployable combat vehicles.

Gen. Eric Shinseki, Army Chief of Staff, said digitization will be part of that new force, with the Army adapting tactical, wireless intranets under development for the past five years for tracked Bradley fighting vehicles to the new lightweight force, which could be based on a new family of wheeled vehicles. Shinseki, speaking here at the annual winter convention of the Association of the United States Army, said fielding that new force will cost "$3 billion a year...for two [newly equipped] brigades a year for the next five to eight years."

He emphasized that the new, lightweight brigades — including two currently standing up at Fort Lewis, Wash. — should in no way be viewed as experimental. "This is not Viewgraph technology," Shinseki said. "We're not creating an experimental force....we can pick it up and deploy it [if needed]." Though lightweight, Shinseki said the new brigades would be combat-capable and "not just a peacekeeping force."

Digitizing the new, lightweight Army should be an easier task than retrofitting the old, heavyweight Army, said Maj. Gen. Robert Nabors, commander of the Army's Communications-Electronics Command, because the Army intends to build digital technology into the new vehicles rather than bolting it on as it has to do with older tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles. "The new vehicles will come with the wiring built in" for battlefield digitization and computer and communications systems, Nabors said.

Robert Lehnes, Army deputy program executive officer for command, control and communications systems, said working with a new vehicle design with built-in digital systems should save the Army time and money, pointing out that retrofitting computers into Bradleys requires "removing the turret...not an easy task."

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