Army’s Light Combat Vehicle Gaining Traction

By Jon Harper
An Army effort to equip infantry troops with a light combat vehicle is now underway, and officials are aiming to issue a request for proposals in fiscal year 2017.

 “We have what we call a capability production document that is currently still in draft and it’s being socialized throughout the Army,” said Tom Stafford, chief of the support systems branch at the Army Maneuver Center of Excellence’s capabilities directorate at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Lt. Col. Garth Winterle, the provisional project manager for the “ground mobility vehicle” or GMV, said the document is already in general officer-level staffing at the Pentagon.

The focus in fiscal year 2016 will be on conducting an analysis of alternatives and an effort to “fine tune” the requirements, he said in an interview. From there, he expects the Army to issue a request for proposals from industry.

“We believe that we will compete for and receive funding in next year’s submitted budget … to do our initial RFP work and get that out into the streets sometime in [fiscal year] ‘17,” Winterle said.

“The strategy right now is, whenever this contract gets awarded we’ll enter into a Milestone C [decision], we’ll do a small number of LRIP — low-rate initial production — vehicles and then enter into product verification tests … to verify that yes, in fact, what we got on contract fits the requirements,” he added.

As things stand now, Winterle said he has a “high level of confidence” that the vehicle will make it to the LRIP and verification stage. The verification tests would be followed by “a very brief limited user test, and then we’re attempting to field as fast as possible.”

Assuming there are no hiccups, the Army plans for the GMV to achieve initial operational capability and be fielded no later than the end of fiscal year 2019, Winterle said.

Steve Bucci, a defense analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C. think tank, said the Army plans to move much faster than usual when it comes to pushing the GMV through the acquisition process.

“The delivery time that they’re shooting for is just out of sight compared to what you normally see in any sort of vehicle procurement in the military,” he said.

The plan to use commercial off-the-shelf technology is intended to speed up the acquisition process, according to Bucci and Army officials. Winterle said, “The market research has really shown that no government-run development is going to be required.”

The GMV was previously known as the ultra light combat vehicle. The name was changed earlier this year by senior Army leadership, officials said. The Army’s GMV is distinct from the GMV 1.1, which is a vehicle being pursued by U.S. Special Operations Command.

With the GMV, the maneuver center is looking to solve a problem faced by dismounted soldiers in airborne units when they have to travel off road from their landing zone to the point of attack.

“When they get on the ground they really don’t have a lot of mobility,” Stafford said. They move … just as fast as you can walk or trot. And when we put all this equipment on soldiers either they don’t move that fast or they are not fit to fight when they get to their objectives.”

The GMV is expected to meet their need for speed.

“That gives us the ability to move quickly into locations where our enemies will not expect us to go,” said Ted Maciuba, deputy director of dismounted requirements at the maneuver center. “Also it allows you to address the soldier load to some degree and rather than carrying that 100 [to] 118 pounds now, the vehicle carries it so that the soldier is fresher when he gets off and can accomplish his combat mission.”

Because airborne troops would need to bring their vehicles with them, the Army is looking for a GMV that is light enough and small enough to be carried internally by a CH-47 Chinook troop transport helicopter or externally sling loaded on a CH-47 or UH-60 Black Hawk.

Officials said the vehicle is essentially just a way to drive from point A to point B across rough terrain, and it is not expected to be armored.

“It’s not a fighting vehicle,” Stafford said. “Our focus is on the mobility aspect and the transportability of this vehicle, so our requirements are not written around any type of armor protection whatsoever. Basically the soldiers will move in this vehicle wearing their own personal protective equipment.”

Officials at the maneuver center said the GMV is not expected to be used widely across the force like the joint light tactical vehicle or the Humvee.

“Right now our line of thinking is that these would not be a standard item on the units’ table of organization and equipment. They would be in sets available to units that have a high probability of performing this initial entry or forced entry mission” such as the 82nd Airborne Division or infantry brigade combat teams conducting air assault missions, Stafford said.

But Winterle said there is still some debate within the Army about which units should get the vehicle. “There are also different camps about whether or not we’re going to procure these for … all of these infantry brigade combat teams,” he said. “We just don’t know yet until sometime near the end of the next fiscal year exactly how many we’re going to put out on [the initial] contract.”

He said decisions about the ultimate buy probably would not be made for several years: “We’re actually going through a two [to] four-year period once we’re out in the field, and then we’re having another assessment on whether or not we’re going to grow the requirement to the rest of the Army.”

The 18th Airborne Corps would likely be the first unit to receive the GMV, Winterle said.

Bucci doesn’t expect the vehicle to be widely adopted.

“Most other infantry units … don’t jump out of the back of airplanes,” he said. “There probably would be much less of a need to do this by other units. So I don’t foresee this turning into an Army-wide program or anything like that. I think it’s going to stay with the real light infantry units like the 82nd [Airborne Division].”

The Army hosted a platform performance demonstration last year at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where six potential GMV candidates were put through their paces: General Dynamics’ Flyer 72; Polaris’ DAGOR; Vyper Adamas’ V3X (the company intends to offer its V4X variant for the GMV); Boeing’s Phantom Badger; Hendrick Dynamics’ Commando; and Lockheed Martin’s High Versatility Tactical Vehicle.

A General Dynamics executive suggested the company might have a leg up on the competition because it is the manufacturer of SOCOM’s GMV 1.1, which is slated to go into low-rate production in October.

“Buying a program of record, there’s no development [process.]. You’re buying a vehicle right off the line that’s able to be delivered with minimal schedule impact, and the cost of developing a vehicle is non-existent there,” said Sean Ridley, deputy program manager for lightweight tactical vehicles at General Dynamics.

A Polaris executive said the company’s position as a major producer of civilian ATVs could give it an advantage if the Army embraces commercial-off-the-shelf technologies.

“They really do get a unique situation where we specialize in using commercial components and ease of operation, use and maintenance. So that’s the real value I think that Polaris brings to this defense market … if they go down the path of really wanting a commercial off-the-shelf capability,” said Mark McCormick, director of U.S. government sales for Polaris.

Polaris, which has already supplied the DAGOR to an element of SOCOM, hopes the Army will move quickly on the GMV.

The company is not “necessarily structured for a five-year, long haul procurement,” McCormick said. “I would hope if the Army is serious about trying to take advantage of commercial companies playing in the defense space, that they will continue with the momentum that they’ve started on this and that they get to a way to streamline the acquisition in a fairly reasonable timeframe.”

Vyper Adamas is much smaller than some of the big defense firms that have shown an interest in pursuing the GMV. But company CEO Nicholas Chapman said it could keep up with its larger competitors.

“We can react very, very quickly,” he said. “If you want [the vehicle] pink, we’ll give it to you pink tomorrow morning.”

Chapman noted that Vyper heavily utilized commercial off-the-shelf components for its V4X.

“If you design it properly those COTS products are highly reliable, inexpensive and allows you to build a vehicle and not have to charge half a million dollars for it,” he said. “We’ve taken advantage of that.”

A Boeing representative said the Phantom Badger performed well at the platform demonstration at Fort Bragg last year but the company is still on the fence when it comes to pursuing the GMV.

“We haven’t had a chance to look at the RFP,” said Kim McCamon, Boeing’s program manager for the Phantom Badger. “We don’t know that this Phantom Badger is the perfect fit or the best business case for Boeing. So we have not made a firm decision to move forward on the [GMV] competition.”

McCamon doesn’t expect the GMV program to be as large as some of the other Defense Department vehicle programs.  “I think that it meets the niche requirement” but “it’s not a replacement for the JLTV and I don’t believe it’s going to be built in those quantities either,” she said.

Hendrick Dynamics declined an interview request to discuss the GMV.

Breaking Defense, an online media outlet, reported that Lockheed had decided not to pursue the program. A spokesman for Lockheed would not comment about the project.

Officials declined to say which vehicle performed best at the Fort Bragg demonstration.

“We were not grading the participants. What we were doing is we were trying to assess whether the state of the art of light vehicles was such that our requirements were about right, and what we found was that they were,” Maciuba said.

The Army recently conducted more evaluations of some of the potential GMV contenders this summer at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. Additional experimentation with light vehicles is slated to be carried out at Fort Bliss, Texas, in September and October, officials said.

Bucci said the GMV program would be a good business opportunity, especially for companies that aren’t large defense contractors.

“It’s not the biggest program in the world but it’s not an insignificant one either,” he said. “If Lockheed or Boeing or GD gets it, it isn’t going to make that company’s nut for the year. If Polaris Defense gets it that’s going to be a pretty big bump for that company because Polaris just isn’t as big as the others.”

But Bucci said it is unclear if some of the smaller companies would be able to produce them in the quantities needed by the Army. Vyper Adamas, recognizing its manufacturing limitations, has teamed with Spartan Chassis, which helped rush large numbers of mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles into the field during the height of the Iraq War.

“They allow us to be able to respond with large production capabilities,” Chapman said. “So if the Army all of a sudden needs a lot of [GMVs] … our production plant can ramp up within one month and be up to speed if necessary.”

But buying off-the-shelf technology can create its own set of problems, Bucci said.

“When you do that you don’t end up with the whole logistical trail that comes with the normal cumbersome, big, long procurement process that you get with other types of vehicles,” he said. “So if they buy this stuff and it is fairly off-the-shelf in nature, they’re going to have to contract with these companies that produce these things to produce sufficient numbers of spare parts and everything else for the Army system to utilize properly… because you’ve got to be able to support it when you take it out in the field.”

The pace of progress for the GMV project will depend on how much money is made available for it within a constrained Defense Department budget, officials said.

Bucci doesn’t think the GMV is something that is going to break the bank or inevitably run into political hurdles. “This seems to be a pretty bare bones request that is going to meet an actual pretty easily understandable need,” he said. “This one may be small enough and easily understandable enough to get through the [congressional appropriations] system.”

Topics: Land Forces

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