Army leaders continue to squabble over how best to satisfy soldiers’ immediate equipment needs and simultaneously develop futuristic weapons systems for the decades ahead.
At the heart of the problem is an antiquated “requirements” process, says Gen. William S. Wallace, head of the Army Training and Doctrine Command. Only months after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Army had to set aside its procurement rulebook so it could bypass the bureaucracy and buy loads of armored trucks, body armor and other critical supplies.
But the Army has yet to come to grips with how to permanently reform its buying practices, Wallace tells contractors at a recent industry gathering. “Some day we may evolve into two requirements processes: one deliberate and one rapid.” The Defense Department’s new guidelines for joint-service procurements — a process known as JCIDS — just adds to the confusion, Wallace says. “JCIDS: I’m not sure anyone understands it.”
Pentagon Scrutiny: How Much Is It Worth?
Too much Pentagon supervision can saddle weapon systems with unnecessary costs, says the Army’s top acquisition executive Claude Bolton. A case in point is a light utility helicopter that the Army is buying as a “commercial off-the-shelf” item, rather than as a customized military aircraft. Still, the Defense Department’s acquisition office asked for detailed proof that the Army is getting the “best value” by purchasing a commercial helicopter. That ended up costing the Army $52,000 in paperwork, Bolton complains.
“We’ll provide the office of the secretary of defense a bill for what I consider excessive oversight,” he tells an industry conference. “And the taxpayer got stuck paying $52,000.”
Industry sources speculate that the real reason why the Pentagon is watching Army procurements closely is the recent “aerial common sensor” fiasco. The ACS surveillance aircraft program was cancelled because the airframe selected was too small to carry all the sensors the Army wanted. After years of development and hundreds of millions of dollars spent, the Army is back to square one. “Bolton needs to explain how he’s going to prevent another ACS disaster from happening with other aircraft programs,” says one industry insider.
Massive Armor Needs Trigger Industry Gold Rush
A steady stream of military contracts for armored vehicles has set off a flurry of industry takeovers and lash-ups that would have been inconceivable only a few years ago. Just in recent weeks, the industry has undergone a gradual metamorphosis. One of the Army’s major truck manufacturers, Stewart & Stevenson, was acquired by an armor supplier, Armor Holdings. Another armor provider, Ceradyne Inc., entered the vehicle market with the introduction of a new line of commercial armored trucks. Oshkosh Truck Corporation, which dominates the Marine Corps’ truck market, signed an agreement with an Australian firm to sell the Bushmaster armored vehicle in North America. Defense industry giant Lockheed Martin purchased a British firm so it could secure the design rights for an armored vehicle it wants to sell to the U.S. military.
As one industry watcher points out, “When was the last time that trucks were this interesting?”