Army Must Get New Fighting Vehicle Right

By Stew Magnuson
Bradley Fighting Vehicle Bradley Fighting Vehicle

Defense Dept. photo

The Army just before the holiday season released its request for proposals for the optionally manned fighting vehicle.

Along with the RFP, the two senior leaders in charge of the program spelled out a new acquisition strategy to defense reporters. One that “will ultimately result in the design, development, delivery and capability of the optionally manned fighting vehicle and... replace the Bradley Fighting Vehicle,” said Brig. Gen. Glenn Dean III, program executive officer for ground combat systems.

We all hope so.

The Army has a few of these never-ending programs. Replacing the Kiowa Warrior scout helicopter began in 1982. Its latest name is the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft and is still years away from being fielded.

As for the Bradley replacement, its origins began as part of the Future Combat Systems suite of combat vehicles, which kicked off in 1999 and was subsequently canceled a decade later in 2009.

Then it was the ground combat vehicle program’s Infantry Fighting Vehicle. That lasted four years.

As anyone in the weapons business knows, every failed program reemerges with a different name. Who remembers the Future Fighting Vehicle? Then there was a next-generation combat vehicle. That version never really made it off the Army PowerPoints, but the name has lasted as a catch-all for all the new fighting vehicles. Then came the optionally manned fighting vehicle. The Army’s first attempt to develop it is a long, convoluted story that ended a year ago. To its credit, it didn’t rename the program for this second attempt.

But the Army is going to have to get it right this time.

First of all, it’s running out of names. The Army will have to rely on its next-generation AI supercomputers to come up with a new moniker if this new iteration doesn’t make it to fielding.

But more seriously, if the Army fails this time to field a Bradley replacement — and a Kiowa replacement as well — it might be time to do something truly radical, such as take away acquisition authorities from the Army and let an independent entity take a crack at it. That probably sounds insane, but each one of those named programs represents billions of dollars wasted.

The pressure is on Army Futures Command, which was created to get these programs right. Failure on these two programs should call into question its very existence.

The real losers here are the taxpayers and the soldiers who will not go to war equipped with the best technology American ingenuity has to offer them.

But the good news is — and we can only hope it’s good news — is that Dean and Brig. Gen. Ross Coffman, Army Futures Command’s director of the next-generation combat vehicle cross-functional team, have some new acquisition ideas.

First and foremost, they have done away with the word “requirements” and replaced it with “characteristics of need.”

Twenty years ago, the FBI replaced the perfectly serviceable word “suspects” with “persons of interest.” And two decades later, the public is still trying to figure out the difference.

The two generals have a better explanation for their new jargon. The idea is to be purposefully “nebulous” on what they want to see in the fighting vehicle. They don‘t want to take a contractor out of the running because their offering can only travel 190 miles on a tank of gas instead of some hard line-in-the-sand requirement to go 200 miles.

They don’t at this stage want to get bogged down in writing documents and seeing proposals that spell out standard features that are already included in about every military vehicle being produced today.

They are also doing their market research in the RFP stage instead of prior to writing their requirements. They are asking respondents to list some of the innovative ideas they have in the first round of proposals.

And the Army also wants to cast a wider net. It has — at least in the early stages of the program — done away with classified sections of the RFP so any company can respond, foreign or domestic, security clearances or not. It doesn’t want any barriers to entry.

Foreign competitors would eventually have to partner with a U.S. company or create a U.S.-based subsidiary with all the necessary firewalls. And the vehicle would be built in the United States, the generals noted.

The program is eschewing the popular other transaction authority trend that asks for competitors to develop working prototypes. It is jumping on the digital design bandwagon instead.

The program will take what it learned from the market research, digital designs and soldier feedback to refine the “characteristics of need” until they resemble something like “requirements.”

“We are not going to put a nail in a single requirement until we have to,” Coffman said.

They all seem to be good, innovative ideas which everyone hopes will result in the best industry has to offer. The Army simply has to get it right this time for the sake of the soldiers who are ultimately asked to go into combat with the vehicles.

Topics: Tank Automotive

Comments (1)

Re: Editor's Notes: Army Must Get New Fighting Vehicle Right

Is it really that hard to field a Bradley replacement?

Take a look at the USA's tracked armored chassis available from the AMPV, FCS, Crusader SPH, M2A4 stretched, M1A2SEP, RIPSAW, NGV 50mm, FMBT, MPF, and M109A7 ERCA. Is it really that hard to take an existing chassis, add a rear passenger module, add a 30-50mm turret, and make it optionally manned, or is the US Army looking for the "perfect" IFV to buy? Or is it that the Requirements page is so vague that Industry has no idea what to do, how much armor to add on, or what systems to marry with each other? These tested armored chassis have drivetrains that actually work.

The hard part is that the M2A3s are lacking the power to feed the power-intensive add-ons and electronics. The M2A4 should remedy some of that, but the US Army wants a Bradley replacement around 40-tons which pushes the envelope. So the US Army dismisses the 40-ton requirement and looks to industry for solutions, and most of the solutions are foreign-made that requires reprogramming, American systems and engineering, and other GFE, which sounds easier than it is to implement.

Based on NATO, Israeli, and foreign IFVs and concepts, it really shouldn't be that hard for the US Army to field an IFV replacement. The Israeli CARMEL design concept comes to mind. Perhaps if the US Army provides photos, drawings, scale models, 3D printed concepts, illustrations, and sketches to Industry, that can guide them to steer towards a proper replacement compared to just text pages of RFPs with not even a line diagram to give the slightest hint as to what the US Army is envisioning as a Bradley replacement.

Personally, I'd buy the NGV 50mm as a scout vehicle to relive some of the pressure of the M3A3 and M2A3. A combined NGV 50mm and MPF 105mm should make for a potent armored ground force better than the SBCTs and IBCTs as a "level up" from Airborne.

Trisaw1 at 7:21 PM
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