If the U.S. Army decides to
reduce funding for Abrams tanks, M2 Bradleys and Stryker
wheeled combat vehicles, it will mean some fresh challenges for
General Dynamics Corp. and BAE Systems Plc.
General Dynamics, based in Falls
Church, Va., builds Abrams tanks and Stryker wheeled combat
vehicles, while BAE Systems, Farnborough, England, makes M2
Bradley infantry fighting vehicles.
But the move toward Future Combat
Systems (FCS) might not be entirely unwelcome. The two
companies together secured contracts to build prototypes of the
lighter FCS manned ground vehicles.
A General Dynamics spokesman said his
company isn't anticipating significant changes in its steel
plate requirements "for the time being." He declined to
speculate further, noting that possible cuts by the U.S. Army
haven't been confirmed at this point. "Orders for armor
upgrades and for Stryker production are all continuing fairly
aggressively," he said. "There is a significant backlog in all
of those vehicle programs, so based on that we don't anticipate
any significant changes."
General Dynamics expects to produce a
total of 477 Abrams tanks this year, up 71 percent from 279 in
2007, according to another company spokesman. The company's
plans for the Stryker were scaled back slightly, though, with
316 Stryker wheeled vehicles earmarked for production this
year, 20 percent less than the 397 produced in 2007.
General Dynamics uses 3.7 tons of steel
per Abrams tank and 6 tons in each Stryker wheeled vehicle,
according to Peter Keating, vice president of communications at
General Dynamics Land Systems, the division focused
specifically on military ground vehicles. General Dynamics uses
military-grade high-hard steel on both the hull and turret of
Abrams tanks, while Strykers have steel hulls with an overlay
of ceramic armor tiles.
Lighter-weight materials, including
aluminum composites, are being targeted for use in FCS manned
ground vehicles, Keating said. However, he noted that FCS
vehicles are still early in the design phase and plans can
change. "Those decisions are still about two years away, so
there are no specifics yet. We're only building eight of the
FCS prototypes in the next year, and as for further prototypes
after that those decisions will be made later next year."
Chicago-based Boeing Co. and Science
Applications International Corp. are leading the FCS
modernization effort, intended to be a family of 14 manned and
unmanned aerial and ground systems tied together by
communications and information links. The U.S. Army said in
June it wants to speed up delivery of portions of the FCS
weapons program to get equipment to soldiers in Iraq and
Afghanistan as soon as possible.
A significant ramp-up of FCS manned
ground vehicles would take three years after a final decision
is made to proceed, Keating said. A new administration in the
White House also could throw a wrench in the plans, as it could
bring new or different spending priorities.
As for BAE Systems, a company spokesman
for the defense giant didn't appear to be sounding any alarms.
"In response to orders for steel plating and vehicles, BAE
Systems is flexible and responds to the needs and requirements
set by the U.S. Army as outlined in the contracts," he
Indeed, in a mid-year update to
shareholders in August, the company indicated that overall
order books were strong, with particularly hefty growth seen in
land military systems. "Orders for further mine protected
vehicle and other land systems contracts have enhanced the
group's outlook for 2008," BAE management wrote in the report.
"Notwithstanding budget pressures in many defense markets, BAE
Systems' large order book, together with realistic planning
assumptions, provide confidence in the outlook for the
The M2 Bradleys produced by BAE Systems
have an aluminum hull, although the latest version of the
Bradley, the M2A2, has additional applique steel armor for
added protection, according to company sources.
A Pentagon spokesman declined to
comment on the possibility of funding cuts for the heavier
vehicles and its impact on the industry. "Given that both our
budget and the future of our tactical wheeled vehicle fleet mix
are currently undecided, it would be irresponsible to speculate
about the amount of steel expected to be used," he said.