Army’s Infantry Squad Vehicle Sparks Robust Competition

By Mandy Mayfield

SAIC-Polaris photo

The Army is trying to fast-track the acquisition of an all-terrain, highly transportable vehicle intended to provide ground mobility capabilities for infantry brigade combat teams.

In February 2019 the service approved a procurement objective to purchase 651 infantry squad vehicles, or ISVs. The Army selected GM Defense, an Oshkosh Defense-Flyer Defense team and an SAIC-Polaris partnership last summer to build two prototypes each for the initiative. They each were awarded a $1 million other transaction authority agreement to build the vehicles. OTA agreements enable the Defense Department to cut through some of the bureaucratic red tape associated with the Pentagon’s traditional acquisition system by enabling them to speed up the delivery of new capabilities.

The service is holding a series of tests to inform its decision and is slated to choose one vehicle for production in fiscal year 2020 based on soldier feedback.

Prototypes were due in November and were assessed at Aberdeen Test Center in Maryland, the Army said in a press release. Following the trials — which ended in December — the vehicles were scheduled to be sent to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in January for a second round of testing.

The vehicle must be able to carry nine soldiers and weigh no more than 5,000 pounds so it can be sling-loaded from a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter and fit inside a CH-47 Chinook.

GM Defense’s bid is heavily based off of its Colorado ZR2 and ZR2 Bison variants — a Chevy-made, mid-sized, off-road truck, Mark Dickens, chief engineer at GM Defense, said in an interview.

Seventy percent of the vehicle is made of commercial products, he noted.

“The chassis — which is the frame, the suspension, driveline, engine, transmission, transfer case, axles, brakes — all of that hardware is directly from the Colorado ZR2, with the addition of some of our performance parts for off-road use,” Dickens said.

The contractor’s parent company, General Motors, builds approximately 150,000 vehicles per year that utilize the same chassis as its ISV offering, a factor that streamlined the design process of the vehicle, Dickens noted.

“Anything on this chassis … somebody could walk into a Chevy dealership and purchase those parts,” he said.

The rest of the components were either uniquely made for the vehicle, or built from modified existing commercial products.

The company leveraged computer analysis from General Motors to ensure specific aspects of the vehicle, such as rollover protections and off-road racing capabilities, were precise, Dickens said.

The vehicle can also accommodate different cargo and occupant configurations and is easily transportable via sling attached to a UH-60 Black Hawk or inside a CH-47 Chinook, according to the company.

Meanwhile, Polaris Defense has designed the DAGOR ISV, which “delivers off-road mobility while meeting the squad’s payload demands, all within the weight and size restrictions that maximize tactical air transportability,” said Nick Francis, director of the company.

Polaris’ partnership with SAIC further enhances the team’s offering by leveraging capabilities that have “been tested, certified and fielded to operational units” since 2015, he said.

The vehicle has an integrated turret, is heavy-weapons capable and has an oscillating arm available for additional lethality, he said via email.

The bid is based on Polaris’ DAGOR vehicle, which is a platform already in use by the Army. The new ISV variant offers warfighters more mobility and maneuverability, said Mike Gray, a vice president at SAIC. The company is providing the systems engineering to integrate new tools to meet the service’s requirements.

The vehicle also has casualty evacuation capabilities.

“If any squad member is injured, only a single seat needs to be stowed on the side of the DAGOR ISV for full [casualty evacuation] capability, making our solution the only light tactical vehicle that keeps the squad unified and moves soldiers safely from one objective to the next,” he said.

Left to right: SAIC-Polaris DAGOR, Oshkosh Defense and Flyer Defense’s Ground Mobility Vehicle 1.1, GM Defense ISV concept

By partnering with Polaris, SAIC is leveraging the commercial expertise and off-road vehicle capabilities of the company with its proven performance defense vehicles, Gray said.

The platform meets the Army’s requirements for the tactical environment, Francis said. It is under 5,000 pounds, able to carry nine soldiers and is air-transportable.

Additionally, training and field support for the company’s ISV submission are available through already established networks within SAIC and Polaris that currently provide support to the military, Francis noted.

Oshkosh Defense and Flyer Defense designed a platform that is based on two Flyer-designed vehicles. These include the Ground Mobility Vehicle 1.1, which is in use by Special Operations Command, and another version of the vehicle employed by the Army for ground mobility in the interim of acquiring a new capability, Flyer Defense said in a press release.

The ISV requirements shared 95 percent commonality with two of Flyer’s previously fielded vehicles, the company said.

Oshkosh declined to be interviewed, citing competitive reasons.

Though the Army has narrowed down the competition, the ISV solicitation drew heavy interest and submissions from members of industry, said Andrew Hunter, director of the defense-industrial initiatives group at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

It is notable that the Army often has numerous bidders for its acquisition programs despite the limited number of suppliers in the defense industrial base writ large, Hunter said.

“There [are] not that many competitors,” he noted. “Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and General Dynamics — they’re the big industry players and, in a lot of cases, they have dominant positions within their key markets.”

Nevertheless, the Army has been able to attract a number of bidders for its projects, Hunter said.

“They tend to have a very competitive marketplace that they participate in, and in particular when it comes to tactical vehicles, they have had a real history of being able to generate a lot of competition,” he said. “Those are all really encouraging signs. It’s an indication that this is a really healthy part of the industrial base.”

Competitive pressures can yield new innovations and options that the service might not have had with a more static part of the industrial base, he said.

The Army’s plan to procure the ISV to meet its ground mobility requirement comes following a significantly delayed effort.

The 2016 plan to hold a competition was delayed while procurement of the initial ground mobility vehicle was leveraged through an existing contract with Special Operations Command.

The service previously purchased the command’s vehicles for a number of airborne infantry brigade combat teams. However, in the fiscal year 2018 defense spending bill, Congress directed the Army hold a competition for the program.

The program executive office for combat support and combat service support posted on its website last year that the service planned to pursue a competition for a ground mobility vehicle, now known as the infantry squad vehicle.

As the Army is working to fast-track the acquisition of the ISV, its use of rapid prototyping for the design phase of the program is significant, Hunter noted.

“Rather than starting with a set of infinitely detailed military specifications and trying to find … [a] vendor willing to tackle and do the engineering to provide all that, they are going out to industry and saying: ‘Here are some general requirements that we have, show us what you can do,’” Hunter said.

If the service can find a capability that meets its requirements, it could potentially field it quickly, he added.

The same acquisition model was used for the M-ATV program, which was a version of the mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles. Over the course of the five-year program, the military quickly deployed approximately 12,000 MRAPs in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“This ISV competition really seems to have absorbed that heritage — that practice of success that the Army has used for tactical vehicles and are applying it to this requirement,” he said.

Another notable aspect of the ISV competition is the participation of GM Defense, Hunter noted.

There has been a lack of interest from the commercial automotive industry in the defense sector, even though it is a natural fit for manufacturing vehicles, he said.

“Even in recent years when the automotive industry started to take an interest in producing vehicles for the Army, it has been hard for them to break through,” Hunter added.

“The fact that GM Defense is one of the final three competitors offering a version of the Chevy Colorado — that is intriguing.”

Hunter believes the service could potentially benefit from leveraging commercial supply chains.

The ISV is a “test case, or really proof of principle, that the Army can really rapidly acquire something from scratch that fills a military need,” he said. “Beyond just this relatively small requirement here, it has the possibility to condition the larger acquisition space.”

The military could also benefit from utilizing commercial components, he noted.

If the service can prove with this competition that it can deliver a well-made capability quickly, it could enhance and potentially further shape its future acquisition initiatives, he noted. 

Topics: Tactical Wheeled Vehicles, Land Forces

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