Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle Stirs Confusion In Industry

By Grace V. Jean
The Army plans to spend more than $1 billion over the next several years on the design of a new “infantry fighting vehicle.” With new big-ticket military programs becoming increasingly scarce, this would normally qualify as great news for contractors.

But the Army’s recent request for industry bids for the IFV — the first phase of a larger “ground combat vehicle” program — is creating confusion, rather than excitement, sources said.

“Industry still doesn’t get what the Army is looking for,” said an insider.

The problem is that many of the technical specifications that contractors expect the Army to spell out are left open-ended. It will be up to industry to propose many of the technologies and features that the vehicle should have in order to satisfy the Army’s overall requirement: A mobile, lethal, survivable troop carrier that can transport a nine-soldier squad and its equipment. Beyond that, there is a long list of “tradable requirements,” including tracks versus wheels, weight and armor kits. It will be left to contractors to propose the best solutions.

The ground combat vehicle program follows the Army’s beleaguered Future Combat Systems, which was canceled in 2009 after nearly a decade and billions of dollars worth of effort. The IFV is intended to replace the 30-year-old Bradley fighting vehicle and potentially the 50-year-old M113 armored personnel carrier.

The Army last February solicited proposals to build a technology demonstrator. Three industry teams submitted bids — one led by SAIC; another co-led by BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman Corp.; and the final group headed by General Dynamics Land Systems. The service was to have awarded a contract in September, but internal Pentagon reviews, fueled by congressional concern over costs and ambitious technology requirements, prompted Army officials to cancel the request and begin anew.

In late November, the service released a revamped request for proposals for the IFV variant. The goal is to complete development in two to three years and be ready for production within seven years. The initial plan calls for 1,874 vehicles.

The Army is seeking a “capability for combined arms maneuver and area security over wide areas … a single ground combat vehicle that incorporates protection against [improvised explosive devices], tactical mobility and operational agility,” said Maj. Gen. Walter L. Davis, deputy director and chief of staff of the Army capabilities integration center at Army Training and Doctrine Command.

The Army plans to award up to three fixed-price contracts for a “highly-survivable platform for delivering a nine-soldier infantry squad to the battlefield,” the proposal stated. In their bids, competitors must use mature technologies and hit a target unit cost of $9 million to $10.5 million, with an operation and sustainment cost of $200 per mile. Proposals in excess of $450 million will be considered unaffordable, the RFP stated.

Awardees will have two years to complete the designs. An engineering and manufacturing development phase could begin by 2013. Up to two contractors will be selected and they will compete in 2017 for the production contract.

Exactly how many vehicles the service intends to build, and whether it can afford the production in the long run, has been unclear. Col. Bill Sheehy, program manager of heavy brigade combat team, attempted to shed some light.

The Bradley family of vehicles constitutes 34 percent of the heavy tracked fleet, or 6,452 vehicles. “The GCV will replace the infantry fighting vehicles in that formation — about 50 percent of the Bradleys, or 18 percent of the overall fleet,” said Sheehy at a National Defense Industrial Association conference in Dearborn, Mich. Production of the M113 was terminated in 2007. The Army has an inventory of nearly 13,500 vehicles, which comprise 31 percent of the overall heavy combat brigade team.

“Our intent to improve the Bradley and replace the 113 is critical to achieve the ability to cut the ribbon on a motor pool full of the most improved vehicles,” Sheehy said.  

He predicted there could be challenges down the road for the GCV, including the availability of funds.

“It is not a fiscal issue to begin the work, but it will be a fiscal issue to complete it,” he told the conference.

Some industry analysts have pointed out that the vehicle’s $10 million price tag makes it vulnerable in future budget drills. Army officials hope to convince lawmakers and critics that the revised program will not end up like FCS.

Another concern is sustaining the industrial base, said Maj. Gen. Kurt Stein, commanding general of the Army’s Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command’s life cycle management command.

“It is now time to lift our heads up a bit and look out with a more strategic view as we determine the true and enduring requirements for the future,” he said at the conference. As part of that, the Army needs to break down the industrial base by vehicle program to understand the issue.  

Few new combat vehicles are currently in production, officials said.

“That should strike fear in you. It does in me,” said Scott Davis, program executive officer for ground combat systems. The Bradley A3 production ends in 2012; the last Stryker armored personnel carrier rolls off the line in 2013 and the Abrams main battle tank remanufacturing program comes to a halt after 2014. Beyond that, only the Paladin Integrated Management howitzer will continue being built until the GCV starts production sometime in 2017.

Sheehy said the ground combat vehicle program will draw from the technology and industrial base that supports the Bradley and Abrams.

One of the unspecified requirements for the new infantry fighting vehicle is weight. Setting weight goals has not worked out for the Army too well in the past. FCS vehicles were supposed to be 20 tons although later it became clear that goal was unrealistic. So the Army is asking industry to do “engineering tradeoffs” in the IFV. That means that if the protection requirement — additional armor — increases the weight, engineers can figure out how to compensate by taking off pounds elsewhere.

In recent years, the Abrams, Bradley and Stryker fleets all have become heavier and overloaded with electronic gear and specialized armor to survive roadside bombs. The Army has equipped vehicles with bomb jammers, radios, mounted soldier systems, gunshot detection systems and others that are paid for and are in the pipeline heading to motor pools. But the problem is that the vehicles for which they are intended are already well beyond their space, weight and power margins.

“We have a lot of things we cannot put on the vehicles today, so we’re trying to turn back the clock in a sense, to buy back the margins for future capability, and then move ahead,” said Davis.

Current fleets will continue to be modernized for years to come, officials said.

“The intent is to create enough space, weight and power on board current vehicles. Then we have to draw a line in the sand to say that it will be the last time we touch the fleet,” said Sheehy. “If we don’t draw the line on phase one and say, ‘This is it, this is the last time we touch it,’ we will never get to phase two,” he said.

For phase two, the plan is to start a new competition to build the next-generation platform. The two phases will run concurrently. “It will cost a lot,” Sheehy conceded. “But to not do phase two will put you in trouble. If we only do phase one, we will be back to the [space, weight and power] issue again in three years. We’ll be caught in a vicious, expensive cycle with a logistical burden in the out years, and it will wear us out,” he said.                  

Topics: Combat Vehicles

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