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One of the immense benefits of conferences such as the annual International Armoured Vehicles event (IAV 2019), taking place in Twickenham this week, is the ability to get first hand, ‘straight from the horse’s mouth’ information from senior officers and executives: direct, pertinent and very often pithy information that sets the scene for further debate and illumination. Depending on the character and operational constraints of the individual concerned, that information can occasionally be anodyne – but more often than not is arresting.

Sometimes it is just plain awe-inspiring. Though measured and low-voiced in delivery, the keynote address delivered on 23 January by Gen John W Murray was termed by the conference chairman, Gen Sir Adrian Bradshaw (former DSACEUR 2014-2017) as “a tour de force.” If anything, that is an understatement.

Gen Murray is Commanding General of the newly-established US Army Futures Command, headquartered in Austin, TX. As such, the audience expected to hear something of the programme of modernisation and enhanced readiness the service is embarked on – and got that in spades from the General. Although restrictions in reporting from the conference make it impossible at this stage to quote directly from his address, it is possible – even instructive – to muse briefly on some of the themes that he developed in his 30-minute address.

One such issue is the Army’s current modernisation plan – which some see as being overshadowed by a period of an entire generation in which modernisation has received little attention from leadership, focused as it has been on prosecuting conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Addressing that shortfall via groups of focused capabilities, the US Army is now embarked on a programme that will see it transform into an agile, prepared and well-equipped force capable of addressing the expeditionary, setpiece and near-peer adversarial conflict missions it will be called upon for. Most urgent will be replacing some of the Army’s key equipment, such as the ABRAMS MBT and BRADLEY IFV which, upgraded and effective as they have been, are now approaching the physical limitations of 1960s-70s design and 1980s-90s manufacturing.

One of those replacements is the Next Generation Combat Vehicle (NGCV) Optionally-Manned Fighting Vehicle (OPMV), for which the only non-negotiable requirement is the growth margin – which for electrical power consumption and management, for example, is set at a very ambitious 50%. Nothing else is sacrosanct – nothing. Which means industry and academia is free to propose radical innovation – if it will work in an acceptable timeframe. As a potential BRADLEY replacement, the capabilities of the vehicle will be the subject of intense scrutiny, debate and discussion over the next several years.

And thereby hangs a subliminal message that the informed observer inescapably carries away from listening to Gen Murray. The timescale is challenging, as well as ambitious. But it needs to be – there is a lot of catching up to do in order to maintain and sustain tactical overmatch and to be able to defeat Russian and Chinese anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) strategies.

To be frank, Gen Murray’s thought process, as expressed to delegates at IAV 2019, is sufficient inspiration for another conference all of its own. MONCh has already reached out to the General’s office with a view to conducting an on the record interview in the near future – and spin-off avenues of investigation stimulated by some of his comments are too many to be conveniently listed. But there is more to come, rest assured – watch this space!

What will the US Army’s Next Generation Combat Vehicle (NGCV) look like? It is far too soon to tell – but it will be a family of vehicles, some of which may well look as conventional as this US Army photo, others of which may look as if they are the product of science fiction publishers. (Photo: US Army)

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