Magazine article National Defense

Ground Combat Vehicle Program May Not Yield What Army Intends, Analysts Say

Magazine article National Defense

Ground Combat Vehicle Program May Not Yield What Army Intends, Analysts Say

Article excerpt

As the Army pursues its latest effort to develop a new ground combat vehicle, analysts say that the high-stakes program may already be headed for technological disappointment.

Army officials are evaluating proposals for a prototype infantry fighting vehicle intended to replace aging Bradleys beginning in 2017. They expect industry offerings to yield an innovative personnel carrier that is protected from roadside bomb blasts and can transport a full infantry squad into battle. It must be able to operate in a wide range of combat scenarios, including missions in the urban environment to counter insurgents or on an open field to fight enemy tanks and heavy artillery.

But analysts predict that given the way the program is structured, the Army may just end up with a tricked-out Bradley or a mine-resistant ambush-protected truck on tracks.

"You can't get these leap-ahead, revolutionary programmatic objectives in place if you're going to go with a short timeline, low-risk, fixed-cost development approach. So you have to align your expectations with the realities of the type of program that you've put in place," says Dakota Wood, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

Still smarting from its failed attempt to produce the now-defunct Future Combat Systems after a decade and billions of dollars worth of development, the Army is employing a new procurement tactic for the ground combat vehicle. Blending traditional defense acquisition with the rapid-equipping model spawned by the war effort, Army officials are demanding that industry come up with designs that can be built as prototypes in a fast two-year timeframe.

"This is a collision of two very different approaches to acquisition," says Daniel Goure, vice president at the Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Va.-based public policy research organization. "It's biased against anything innovative," he says. "A spiffed-up Bradley is about what you're going to get. Or a souped-up [mine-resistant ambush-protected all-terrain vehicle] on tracks."

The two-year development period means that subsystem test articles would need to be completed three to six months prior to the deadline, Goure explains. So in reality, the program is on an 18-month schedule, which means companies will have to be ready to place orders the day they're awarded the contract and start bending metal. They simply won't have time to innovate, he says.

The Army previously tried to develop the vehicle in a lengthier and more technically challenging acquisition program, but that plan last year was shot down by congressional and Defense Department leaders as being too risky and unattainable.

The revamped program, which was unveiled in December, pushes cost and schedule as key concerns and lays out several technical specifications while leaving many other requirements open-ended. That has caused some considerable angst and confusion in industry, which is accustomed to the Defense Department delineating specifications for every component and feature in new weapon systems.

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Army officials insist that the requirements for GCV are clearly laid out.

Their top priorities include: force protection technologies to shield vehicle occupants from threats including roadside bombs and artillery; the capacity to carry an infantry squad with its kits and armor; adaptability for full spectrum operations, meaning that the Army wants a versatile vehicle onto which it can add newer features to suit future missions; and swift production to incorporate the vehicle into the fleet within seven years.

"The shortfalls are here now. We need this vehicle," says Rickey E. Smith, director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center-Forward.

Besides the four must-have items, the solicitation denotes second- and third-tier features that the Army eventually wants on the vehicle. It is up to the companies to decide which ones to incorporate into their proposals. …

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