Last month, the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, Dr. Bruce Jette, canceled one of the Army's most important modernization programs, the competition to build the Optionally-Manned Fighting Vehicle (OMFV). This decision must be seen as something of a blow for the newly established Army Futures Command (AFC) and for the Army's broader effort to streamline and speed up its ponderous acquisition system. While the Army has promised that the program will be restarted after an "operational pause," the problems with the OMFV procurement suggest that reforming Army acquisition maybe even harder than anyone expected. Underscoring this concern is the possibility that the Army is on the verge of repeating the OMFV experience in its effort to design and develop a new turret for its Stryker wheeled infantry vehicle that can carry a 30mm cannon. This is a vital lethality upgrade for the Stryker fleet. A second acquisition failure could prove highly damaging for Army modernization efforts.
The OMFV was one of AFC's signature programs and the top priority for the Next-Generation Combat Vehicle Cross Functional Team. The new platform was intended to replace the Army's Bradley Fighting Vehicle, which was first produced in 1981. Despite multiple upgrades, the Bradley has reached the end of the road when it comes to improvements. The Army wanted a new platform to carry infantry into combat that would be more lethal and survivable than the Bradley, could generate greater amounts of electric power, be easier to maintain, have lots of room to grow and add capabilities and, as the name suggests, be capable of operating remotely or even autonomously. In addition, the Army wanted the new vehicle fast, with up to two development contracts awarded in early calendar 2020, a downselect made in 2023, and the first unit equipped fielded in 2026.
The immediate reason for Dr. Jette’s decision to halt the OMFV effort was that only one company, General Dynamics Land Systems, had submitted a proposal and the required sample vehicle. A second competitor, a team of Raytheon and Rheinmetall, had failed to meet the Army’s deadline for delivery of its prototype vehicle. But in what perhaps should have been seen as a portent of what was to come, a number of major armored vehicle manufacturers had chosen not to participate, apparently concerned about the interplay between the program’s aggressive schedule and complex requirements. Dr. Jette acknowledgedthis dilemma in announcing his decision:
Despite an unprecedented number of industry days and engagements, to include a draft request for proposal over the course of nearly two years -- all of which allowed industry to help shape this competition --, it is clear a combination of requirements and schedule overwhelmed industry's ability to respond within the Army's timeline.
A similar situation appears to be occurring in the Army’s program to upgun some of its Stryker wheeled infantry vehicles. Officially called the Stryker Medium Caliber Weapon System (MCWS), the program is to design and develop a turret that can support a 30mm cannon. In 2018, responding to an operational needs statement from the 2nd Cavalry Regiment stationed in Europe for a more capable gun to arm its Stryker vehicles, the Army rapidly fielded an interim solution on 83 Strykers.
Based on the experience of operating these modified vehicles, the Army sought an improved solution in the MCWS. The processes the Army followed for the MCWS procurement mirrored many of the new acquisition approaches being pioneered by AFC for a streamlined, faster approach to acquisition. In May 2019, following a full and open competition, the Army awarded a number of relatively small, quick turnaround design integration study contracts for a better turret that would equip at least three Stryker brigade combat teams. In a second phase of this effort, the participating companies were required to provide by June 2020 a bid sample consisting of their turret mounted on a basic Stryker vehicle and XM813 30mm cannon both provided by the government.
Between May 2019 and February 2020, while the companies worked on their designs, the Stryker Program Office proceeded with the development of a final Request for Proposal (RFP) for the MCWS. The current plan is to release the RFP later this year to those companies that successfully complete the design phase. As currently understood, the RFP will be for a single contract awardto produce and integrate a MCWS, based on the XM813, onto some 269 Stryker Double V-Hull Infantry Carrier Vehicles.
Many of the problems contractors experienced with the OMFV solicitation appear to also be “infecting” the RFP for the MCWS. While the Program Office had initially assured the competing companies that the core requirements for the MCWS would not change, in fact, they have been revised repeatedly. Also, evaluation criteria have been changed in ways that create uncertainty for the companies.
The number of requirements has ballooned, many of which have nothing to do with the basic performance of the MCWS. For example, each competitor is now required to self-certify that the modified vehicle meets more than 100 technical performance specifications. But a number of potential competitors do not have access to the Stryker technical specifications required for a meaningful certification. In addition, a few months ago, the Program Office added a requirement that each competitor in the design phase add armor coupons to their June 2020 submission. An armor coupon is representative material of the integrated turret that could undergo parallel blast testing to validate the integrity of the material used. By the time this requirement was levied, the companies had already acquired the parts for their turrets. This means that there is no way they can provide armor coupons made from the same batch of steel as the turret. Once again, requirements and schedule are in conflict.
This effort is in danger of repeating the OMFV experience. Industry sources have reported that at least one company has pulled out of the competition, and others are seriously considering not bidding on the MCWS RFP. Come September 2020, there might only be one or even zero companies willing to provide the Army its new Stryker turret. Can Army acquisition afford two back-to-back failed combat vehicle modernization efforts?
Dan Gouré, Ph.D., is a vice president at the public-policy research think tank Lexington Institute. Goure has a background in the public sector and U.S. federal government, most recently serving as a member of the 2001 Department of Defense Transition Team. You can follow him on Twitter at @dgoure and the Lexington Institute @LexNextDC. Read his full bio here.
This article first appeared at RealClearDefense on February 19, 2020.
Image: A US serviceman stands on M1126 Stryker Infantry Carrier Vehicle (ICV) during a closing ceremony of NATO-led joint military exercises Noble Partner 2017 at Vaziani Training Area outside Tbilisi, Georgia, August 12, 2017. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili