Uncertainty Lingers Over Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle Program
Although General Dynamics Land Systems pulled out of the competition in May, Congress may force the service to adopt a mixed fleet comprising wheeled and tracked vehicles from both manufacturers.
“You might have a case where [Congress] might say, ‘Award a contract to BAE Systems and then throw GD a bone,’” said Dean Lockwood, weapons systems analyst for Forecast International. “Probably the most likely scenario is that there will be some form of a mixed fleet ... just to keep both major contractors happy.”
Earlier this year, General Dynamics filed a protest with the Army Materiel Command alleging that the AMPV requirements favored BAE. After the command in April rejected its protest, the company announced it would not pursue further legal action or bid on the contract.
“It was not our intent to hold up the program,” GD spokesman Peter Keating told National Defense. “Our intent was to have the Army see the argument [that] if they would change the requirements or adjust the requirements slightly, there could be a more open competition.
“A federal court case would have just stalled the Army’s program and hold it up, and it’s unlikely that they would … have the technical expertise available for them to make a ruling on that. So we just decided it’s not worth pursuing at that point,” he added.
The AMPV is slated to replace the Vietnam War-era M113 armored personnel carrier, which originated as an infantry fighting vehicle. The Army has retained about 3,000 M113s for missions including command and control, general purpose, mortar carriers and medical treatment and evacuation, said Andrew Feickert, a military ground forces specialist, in a July 2014 Congressional Research Service report on the AMPV program. However, those vehicles are aging and in need of replacement.
Initially, the competition unfolded as a battle between BAE’s tracked offering and a wheeled vehicle from General Dynamics.
BAE’s design is based on a turretless Bradley fighting vehicle but has some significant differences, said Mark Signorelli, the company’s vice president and general manager of vehicle systems. The AMPV has to meet slightly different mobility and ballistic protection requirements, including the ability to take an underbelly blast.
General Dynamics considered offering a variant of its eight-wheeled, double-V hulled Stryker fighting vehicle, Keating said.
The Army is planning to award an engineering, manufacturing and development contract in January 2015, said Ashley Givens, the spokeswoman for program executive office ground combat systems. Citing the sensitivity of the source selection process, she declined to comment on the program, including General Dynamics’ claims that the competition favored BAE.
With the cancellation of the Army’s ground combat vehicle earlier this year, the AMPV is one of the few new-start ground vehicle contracts still up for grabs. A 2014 Government Accountability Office report estimated a total program cost of $10.23 billion for 2,907 vehicles.
Although the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act recommends fully funding the Obama administration’s $92.4 million request for research and development in fiscal year 2015, the House’s NDAA caps funding at 80 percent of that figure until the Army provides Congress with a report detailing its plans to replace M113s at the echelons above brigade level. The report must also analyze whether a wheeled vehicle could fill the AMPV’s medical evacuation role.
General Dynamics is closely watching the outcome of that report and would aggressively pursue Strykers in those roles, Keating said.
In April, a group of 10 congressmen from Ohio, Alabama and Michigan — states which are home to General Dynamics facilities — wrote a letter to Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall urging him to adopt a mixed AMPV fleet.
“A mixed fleet is not about picking Bradley or Stryker; it is about fielding the current vehicle type depending on the mission,” the letter stated.
However, adopting a mixed fleet could stall the program and leave the Army stuck with the M113s, service officials have said.
“The Army contends that if a mixed fleet proposal is adopted, the AMPV program could be delayed by up to three years because the current [request for proposals] would need to be pulled back and modified,” Feickert said in the report. “The Army suggests such a change could cost the AMPV program an additional $300 million.”
If the issue is not solved in the near future, Feickert recommended deferring the medical treatment and evacuation AMPV variants, as well as any variants that could fall into the echelons above brigade level. That would allow the Army to begin fielding tracked AMPVs while it analyzes whether a wheeled variant would also be beneficial.
Signorelli said tracked vehicles generally have greater ballistic protection and mobility across varied terrain than wheeled vehicles, and are thus better suited for all mission requirements. Furthermore, having a single AMPV manufacturer would help the Army reduce maintenance costs.
“When you have increased commonality across the brigade, your support costs, your lifecycle costs go down,” he said. “When you have a mixed fleet, now you start to have to have unique mechanics, you have to have a second set of repair parts and repair capabilities all through the organization to support those unique vehicles.”
Those who evaluate the AMPV competition solely in terms of its mission and requirements are missing the role that political and human factors are playing, Lockwood said. In order to keep the program funded during a time of dwindling budgets, it’s in the Army’s best interest to satisfy Congress and defense contractors.
“The Army has to keep these contractors happy because the Army is very dependent on the two of them, and within their own realm of expertise, they’re the only game in town, really,” he said.
However, General Dynamics may have hampered its own cause by protesting the requirements and refusing to bid, Lockwood said. The Army may be more resistant to adopt Strykers as AMPV variants after the company criticized the service publicly.
“It almost looks like GD is complaining because their existing vehicle doesn’t meet the requirements. Is that the Army’s fault?” Lockwood asked. “The Stryker is a great vehicle, don’t get me wrong, but it has its limitations, just as the Bradley has its limitations. The Bradley is a lot heavier than a Stryker. Neither one of them is a perfect solution to the problem, but they’re both viable solutions.
“Had GD not gone into this hissy fit the way they did ... you may have eventually come up with a situation where the Army would have bought a mixed fleet of modified Bradleys and modified Strykers to meet the requirement,” he added. “Given GD’s reaction, who knows? That might all be out the window now.”
Signorelli said the Army loosened requirements as much as possible to allow for greater competition among companies.
“I think that the Army went out of its way when it established the requirements to open the aperture as wide as they could to allow vehicles that could be competitive and meet those requirements to compete,” Signorelli said. For instance, a wheeled vehicle cannot pivot the way a tracked vehicle can, so the Army put forward turning radius requirements.
Another adjustment the service made to expand competition was to drop its initial $1.8 million per unit target cost. “They were interested to see whether there were vehicles that might not exactly fit under the cost target, but offered unique characteristics that would be desirable,” he said.
While devising its AMPV strategy, General Dynamics considered several different proposals, but ultimately, none of them would have been competitive, Keating said.
“We realized, no wheeled vehicle can meet that requirement,” he added.
The company considered offering a tracked vehicle for the competition, including ones in use in Europe and a tracked Stryker variant still in development. However, the cost needed to modify those vehicles to meet requirements was too expensive, Keating said.
General Dynamics executives then thought about modifying Bradley vehicles that the Army was offering to competitors at a low cost, but the company did not have access to all of the Bradley performance testing and technical data, he said.
“You’re not likely to be able to prove to the Army that any changes you made to the Bradley stays within its performance data because you don’t have its performance data,” he said. “That’s why we decided … there’s just no way we can bid.”
The company filed a protest with Army Materiel Command in the hopes of gaining that information, Keating said. “We made the case ... of why we thought the bidding favored someone that had access to all of the technical data.” Ultimately, the protest was denied.
Lockwood said it was ridiculous for GD to believe that the Army or BAE would hand over that data to the company’s biggest rival. “Why on Earth would BAE Systems give that to them?” he asked. “They’re in a competition here. This is business.”
Signorelli contends the Army’s requirements do not favor a modified Bradley above any other vehicle type, but they describe a vehicle that is congruent with the armored brigade combat team — of which the Bradley is a part.
“It was designed and upgraded to operate in that combat environment with M1s [Abrams tanks], and so the requirements and the characteristics of a Bradley are going to be very compatible with any vehicle that is in that formation,” he said. “I think that there are other vehicles that also can meet those performance requirements. They may not be already in the armored brigade combat team.”
The Army’s requirements prioritized enhancing the survivability of the M113 while retaining its mobility, Signorelli said. The service also desired the ability to integrate its network and existing mission equipment from other platforms onto the vehicle.
“We had to rework the power in the vehicle because of the additional power requirements based on the vehicle configuration [and] the integration of the network,” Signorelli said.
Although the Army revoked its cost ceiling of $1.8 million per unit, Signorelli believes price will continue to be a priority for the Army.
“It was an intense focus of our team to meet that cost target even though it was not a specified requirement,” Signorelli said, although he would not divulge whether BAE’s vehicles would exceed its $1.8 million per copy goal.
The Army’s current schedule defines a 54-month EMD phase, with low-rate initial production beginning in 2020. If awarded the contract, Signorelli believes BAE could compress development by at least 12 months because many of the components used in its AMPV are already approved for use in Bradleys and other vehicles.
“Things like engines have already been thoroughly tested in other vehicles,” he said. “Do you have to retest that unique component again?”
Even though the AMPV competition has been dramatic thus far, fielding a mixed fleet might actually be in the Army’s best interest, Lockwood said. “When you look at the requirements, there is room for both a wheeled or a tracked vehicle, depending on the circumstances, depending on the terrain it was deployed to.”