Vendors Pour Funding Into Armored Vehicle Development

By Dan Parsons

Vehicle manufacturers are gearing up for several parallel armored vehicle programs and, without any guarantee of a contract, are pouring money into working prototypes so that when the time comes, they can offer an “off-the-shelf” design.

Competitors for the Armored Multipurpose Vehicle are putting up handsome amounts of internal research-and-development cash. The program is following an industry trend in which companies are rushing to build operational prototypes ahead of formal competitions, hoping the Defense Department will be motivated to take advantage of industry investments. Defense firms have taken this tack in competitions ranging from helicopters to small, mobile special operations vehicles.

In early December, Army buyers still weren’t sure what they are looking for in a replacement for M113 armored personnel carriers or when they plan to start production.

“The acquisition strategy has not been solidified,” said Ashley Givens, a spokeswoman for the Army’s Ground Combat Systems program executive office. “We are still getting input from the [Pentagon].”

Industry officials expect the Army to seek out a non-developmental design as a cost-saving measure.

Army documents, including an analysis of alternatives that was completed this summer, as well as the request for information for non-developmental vehicles, shed light on what the service is looking for.

Plans are to buy at least 3,000 AMPVs in five variants: General purpose, mission command, mortar carrier, medical evacuation and medical treatment. They will replace the 3,000 M113s currently serving with combat units. An analysis of alternatives was completed this summer and the Army plans to release a request for proposals no later than the third quarter of 2013.

At a target price of between $1 million to $1.7 million per vehicle, not counting government-furnished materials, the program represents a potential $5 billion deal. The program was budgeted for $74 million in the current fiscal year.

If the Army chooses to purchase an existing vehicle like the Stryker or a modified Bradley Fighting Vehicle, full rate production could begin as early as fiscal year 2015, or as late as 2017, according to Army documents.

The makers of those vehicles — General Dynamics Land Systems and BAE Systems, respectively — are planning to compete for a chance at the AMPV contract to replace M113 troop carriers, which entered service during the early years of the Vietnam War.

The Bradley Fighting Vehicle took over much of the M113’s frontline duties in the 1980s. The lighter armed 113s were relegated to the rear, but the absence of discernible front lines in the wars of the last decade have once again brought the vehicle’s vulnerability under scrutiny.

The Army in 2007 stopped buying M-113s, of which about 6,000 remain in the inventory.

AMPV is likely to draw the attention of those two companies and other ground vehicle manufacturers like Oshkosh and Navistar. The PEO for ground combat systems declined to provide the number of companies that responded to the original request for information.

A year ago, General Dynamics considered offering the wheeled Stryker as an AMPV candidate. But in October, the company unveiled a tracked version.

Swapping track for the vehicle’s traditional 8-wheel chassis was a developmental gamble that took five months and considerable resources, company officials said. But the effort was aimed at preempting a request for proposals from the Defense Department that is almost certain to call for a tracked vehicle.

“Initially we chose the Stryker double-V to be our offering, primarily for fuel efficiency,” Mike Canon, senior vice president for ground combat systems at General Dynamics Land Systems, said. “But the Army’s current requirements suggest it’s probably going to need to be a tracked vehicle. So we decided we needed to come up with a tracked vehicle that we could call non-developmental.”

Engineers modified the Stryker double-V hull vehicles with tracks and drove the only operational prototype onto the show floor at the Association of the United States  Army’s annual meeting.

Using externally mounted suspension, engineers were able to install M113-style tracks on a Stryker hull without disrupting the blast-mitigating attributes of the double-V.

It is the company’s first foray into the medium tracked vehicle market. Adding tracks increases the Stryker’s weight considerably — about 70,000 pounds compared to about 40,000 for a wheeled Stryker.  The suspension has been rated up to 84,000 pounds to allow for additional armor, weapons and cargo.

The addition of tracks put the Stryker on par with what will be its likely competitor to replace the M113 — the Bradley built by BAE Systems.

The company is trumpeting its ability to begin production at a rate of 1,500 upgraded vehicles a year, each interchangeable into one of the five variants the Army is likely to require.

Its existing assembly line can be used to produce all the required AMPV variants, said Roy Perkins, BAE’s director of business development for heavy brigade combat teams.

BAE plans to take the body of a Bradley, add a V-shaped blast-resistant hull and preserve the expensive engine and transmission components of the original vehicle. At the end of the assembly line, different roof sections with varying heights and equipment would be added. The modular equipment and roof would define the vehicle’s role.

BAE’s design could be modified in the field to any of the five variants, given the proper equipment, said Rick Burtnett, BAE’s AMPV program director.

General Dynamics believes it has a leg up on the competition because not only do supply chains for its Stryker exist, the Army already has wheeled versions doing the jobs called for in the AMPV program.

The company has built almost 4,000 Strykers for the Army, which have collectively logged more than 30 million combat miles. The Army has around 6,000 Bradleys, half of which are in service. BAE officials believe most, if not the entire fleet, can be used in their planned retrofit program.

The Stryker didn’t always have such a good reputation with soldiers. The double-V Hull was a flash engineering job in response to the roadside-bomb scourge encountered in Iraq. Soldiers in flat-bottom Strykers fared poorly against improvised explosive devices. The double-V redesign, which channels blasts out and away from the vehicle’s passenger cabin, has dramatically reduced casualties.

A brand-new double-V Stryker costs about $2.5 million, overshooting the Army’s target price of between $1 million and $1.7 million for AMPV. The service has taken delivery of 500 new Strykers of 789 double-V versions on order.

General Dynamics earlier this year launched a program to provide double-V Strykers at a bargain price by rebuilding flat-bottom versions when they return from combat. At least one rebuilt vehicle has been delivered to the Army from about 50 that will go through the trial program.

Adding tracks required no redesign of the new hull shape, Cannon said.

Rolling on eight wheels, the original Stryker gets better gas mileage than a tracked vehicle, is more maneuverable and less expensive to maintain, Cannon said. Stryker costs as much as $18 per mile to operate. That compares with $45 per mile for the M113. But the addition of tracks adds significant weight, though company officials were not forthcoming on what that would mean for gas mileage.

At around 80,000 pounds, Bradleys burn more fuel. To increase efficiency, BAE could consider equipping the AMPV Bradley with the hybrid-electric drive it developed for the Ground Combat Vehicle.

Overall, the hybrid engine shaves three tons from the company’s 70-ton GCV prototype. The electric drives are inherently lighter, allowing for three tons to four tons more armor. The engine improves fuel economy by 10 to 20 percent.

“It is a radically new approach to propulsion systems in combat vehicles,” Mark Signorelli, vice president and general manager of vehicle systems at BAE, said at the conference. “We believe it is a technology that has been mature, and we have done  a lot of work over the last three years to further advance that technology and make it ready for this class of combat vehicle,” he said.

BAE’s hybrid-electric drive is another in a long list of industry funded research-and-development efforts meant anticipate military requirements, rather than react to them. General Dynamics did the same with its fuel-efficient drop-in diesel engine for the M1 Abrams tank. The engine will reduce cost per mile by 14 percent compared to the current turbine engine. Because the engine is smaller than the turbine, engineers included a four-fan cooling system that reduces the tank’s heat signature by 120 percent.

Competitors for the Army’s Armed Aerial Scout helicopter contract have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into developing working prototypes that they can market as “commercially available.”

On the armored vehicle front, offering non-developmental designs could help companies land contracts in an increasingly austere environment. The Army and Marine Corps together have four armored vehicle programs in the pipeline or on the horizon. Add the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle to that list, and the field of programs competing for acquisition dollars becomes crowded.

The Army is also performing upgrades to its Abrams tanks, Stryker wheeled vehicles and Bradleys.

The Amphibious Combat Vehicle is scheduled to enter the Marine Corps fleet sometime around 2030 and is a replacement to the Amphibious Assault Vehicles the Marines have been using since the 1970s.

The Ground Combat Vehicle is the Army’s program to replace Bradleys attached to its brigade combat teams. Plans are to begin fielding a platform by 2017.

The Armored Multipurpose Vehicle could end up being a derivative of GCV. The analysis of alternatives weighed using existing vehicles like Stryker, Bradley and the mine resistant ambush-protected trucks, as well as developmental platforms like GCV.

BAE and General Dynamics are currently building GCV prototypes under an Army contract.

Marketing intelligence firm Frost & Sullivan published a study earlier this year warning of a bottleneck in the Pentagon’s armored vehicle procurement strategy. Of three major new ground combat vehicle programs — the Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle and Armored Multipurpose Vehicle and the Marine Corps’ Amphibious Combat Vehicle — one might not escape the budget ax, the report suggested.

Photo Credit: Defense Dept.

Topics: Business Trends, Manufacturing, Land Forces

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