Lawsuit Stalls Special Operations Ground Mobility Vehicle Program

By Dan Parsons
A new truck for special operators could have been bought in a swift, purposeful 18-month acquisition process. Instead, it is stuck in limbo pending a lawsuit from a losing manufacturer. 

A draft request for proposals for the ground mobility vehicle 1.1 was released in April 2012. U.S. Special Operations Command officials evaluated a handful of offered vehicles and chose a winner less than a year and a half later. In August 2013, it gave the $560 million contract to General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems.

It did not take long for the losing competitors to react. AM General and Navistar Defense each filed protests in December. Both were rejected by the Government Accountability Office, which prompted AM General to file suit against SOCOM.

“AM General did file a lawsuit in the Court of Federal Claims regarding the GMV 1.1 program,” company spokesman Jeff Adams said in an email. “We believe our GMV 1.1 offering provides the Special Operations Command with the strongest candidate vehicle in terms of innovation, mobility, survivability and affordability,” he said. “Other than that, we are not going to provide further comment.”

Adams’ reticence to comment matched that of SOCOM and other truck manufacturers that are awaiting a verdict in the case. Testifying on Capitol Hill March 11, SOCOM Commander Adm. William McRaven listed the GMV 1.1 among future capabilities but mentioned nothing of the lawsuit.

“To ensure the SOF operator has the required agility for future security environments, we’ve initiated the procurement of a new ground mobility vehicle,” his testimony read. “This vehicle can negotiate challenging terrain and, importantly, is internally transportable via our SOF rotary-wing aircraft.”

AM General requested that the court seal the complaint and associated documentation, effectively shrouding the company’s criticisms about SOCOM’s decision. The request was granted, and even redacted versions of the complaint remain hidden from public view.

An industry insider who requested anonymity because of the suit said there were “irregularities” with the acquisition decision, but was not willing to elaborate.

Navistar remains an interested party but is not involved with AM General’s litigation. AM General was SOCOM’s incumbent GMV contractor until it was ousted by General Dynamics last August.

General Dynamics, which netted the contract with a variant of its Flyer light tactical vehicle, refused to comment on the program because of the ongoing litigation.

“With AM General’s lawsuit still pending and a stop work in place, we are not at liberty to discuss the GMV program, SOCOM’s plans or any activities related to GMV,” said Laurie VanBrocklin, a company spokeswoman.

Protests to the GAO automatically stop any work on the protested contracts, though SOCOM could override that order if it could demonstrate an urgent and compelling need to do so, according to the law. SOCOM has not yet enacted such an override.

General Dynamics is represented by Jenner & Block in the suit brought by AM General. The firm successfully defended GD when the losing competitors filed bid protests with the GAO.  The same firm won one of the largest bid-protest upsets in recent history when it successfully netted The Boeing Co. a $35 billion contract for the KC-46 air refueling tanker. Boeing protested the awarding of that contract to the Airbus A330-based design built by an EADS-Northrop Grumman team.

Just before the lawsuit was launched, SOCOM expanded the scope and value of the program’s testing phase by $1.4 million, resulting in a total contract award of $564 million.

The increase accounts for nine instead of seven prototype vehicles, as well as slightly higher quantities of command-and-control and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems for the vehicles.

“Substitution of these items with incompatible products would void test results utilized for safety release and fielding to Special Operations Forces,” the solicitation stated. “The pursuit of full and open competition would result in unacceptable delays and substantial duplicate costs.”

If it wins the suit, General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems will move forward with the seven-year contract to build 1,297 ground mobility vehicles at about $245,000 per vehicle. Each truck will weigh less than 7,000 pounds, hold up to seven personnel and be transportable by M/CH-47 Chinook helicopters.

The Pentagon announced the award Aug. 22, ending the ground mobility vehicle 1.1 competition that drew seven truck manufacturers. The list was eventually whittled to three contenders.

AM General and Navistar Defense survived an earlier downselect that cut Oshkosh Defense, Lockheed Martin and HDT Global from competition. Oshkosh filed a protest but quickly withdrew it.

Orders for both Humvees and mine-resistant, ambush protected vehicles — built by AMG and Navistar, respectively, are on the decline as the U.S. military pulls out of Afghanistan. The Humvee is scheduled for replacement by the joint light tactical vehicle, which also will share common parts with its predecessor.

Of the original GMV competitors, only AM General did not build a new truck from the ground up, though its redesign of the Humvee-based GMV is significantly upgraded and not identical to the vehicle now in service. Oshkosh and Lockheed each offered up trucks designed specifically to serve a GMV role, but both were cut from the running.

Dean Lockwood, senior weapons systems analyst with Forecast International, said it was unlikely SOCOM based its decision on big Army’s vehicle modernization plans. The companies that lost out on the GMV should keep their eye on the larger prize of supplying joint light tactical vehicles to the Army and Marine Corps, he added.

Three companies — AM General, Lockheed and Oshkosh — are in the midst of a seven-year effort to develop the JLTV, which Lockwood called a “soap opera” of protests, withdrawals, redesigns and fluctuating price targets. They are currently participating in an engineering, manufacturing and development phase in which they have produced 22 JLTV prototypes.

The Army plans to buy 49,000 JLTVs and the Marine Corps 5,500 at $230,000 or less per vehicle. The program survived the fiscal year 2015 budget submission intact where other major procurement programs did not. The Army’s ground combat vehicle was terminated, and the Marine Corps all but lost its tortured project to develop an amphibious tracked vehicle.

The GMV 1.1 will replace SOCOM’s current fleet, which are Humvees specialized for use by commandos. Those vehicles were built by AM General and share a majority of their parts with the company’s GMV 1.1 offering. The acquisition was expected to be completed by September 2020, but will likely stretch beyond that date because of the lawsuit.

One delivery order was to be issued at the time of contract award and funded with $9.8 million of research, development, test and evaluation funds set aside in fiscal years 2012 and 2013, and $5 million in procurement funding.

The contract is worth $25 million in the current fiscal year. SOCOM included a 100-vehicle purchase in its budget request for that year.

About 80 percent of General Dynamics’ Flyer is commercial-off-the-shelf or Humvee compatible components. With a top speed of 85 miles per hour, it is transportable by V-22 Osprey and CH-47 and CH-53 helicopters. It has a 360-degree weapon mount on a central turret and has a cruising range of 450 miles.

SOCOM is also seeking a smaller vehicle that fits inside a V-22 Osprey, designated the internally transportable vehicle. A request for proposals for that program was issued in April. General Dynamics became the near-sole supplier of SOCOM tactical trucks when it also won that competition in September, again with a version of the Flyer.

The three-year indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract is for up to 10 vehicles and includes funding for integration and logistical support and training, according to company materials. The full contract is worth up to $5.8 million if all options are exercised.

The Flyer ITV can be used for combat and humanitarian efforts including light assault, search-and-rescue, command-and-control and reconnaissance missions. Its modular, armored design allows reconfiguration of armor and weapons to suit particular missions and personnel.

“This award positions General Dynamics as a key provider to the U.S. SOCOM for internally transportable vehicles. By using a high percentage of non-developmental technology, the Flyer can be fielded quickly and cost-effectively,” Tim Neaves, senior director of lightweight tactical vehicles for General Dynamics, said in a statement.

Compared to other ongoing vehicle acquisition programs such as the joint light tactical vehicle, the SOCOM contracts are relatively small, Lockwood said. Still, companies spent millions of internal research-and-development dollars to design and build prototypes based on SOCOM’s published requirements.

Despite the win, GMV will not be a massive moneymaker for General Dynamics, Lockwood said. More money will be available in later years through sustainment and upgrade contracts.
During the time their vehicles were being vetted by SOCOM, many of the manufacturers said they were leaning on a global shift to special operations forces as a backup plan if they lost the U.S. contract. Having poured millions of dollars into a purpose-built commando truck, the companies wanted to hedge their bets against a loss.

Contenders who lost out on the U.S. contract are looking overseas for buyers for their vehicles. But the fact that SOCOM’s requirements were so specific could be a disadvantage to losing contenders, Lockwood said.

VanBrocklin confirmed GD is “currently pursuing international opportunities with another variant of our Flyer ITV vehicle called the Gen III.”

Meg Kulungowski, Navistar’s director of government relations, said there is a strong market for light tactical vehicles in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Jordan all have presidential guard or special operations units for which a GMV-type truck would be a suitable fit, she said.

“We will continue to market that [vehicle] out for foreign military sales,” she said. “We thought we would win GMV, and that would have carried the day because everyone wants to buy what the U.S. bought.”

Topics: Business Trends, Doing Business with the Government, Defense Department, DOD Budget, DOD Policy, Land Forces

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