Build it and they will come, the saying goes. But for the Pentagon's advanced-research arm, in its drive to cut weapon-system development times by a factor of five, the maxim is build it and they will believe it. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) plans to prove it by designing an infantry fighting vehicle in one year, not the five it could take using traditional methods. Through a series of three design challenges, the Fast, Adaptable, Next-Generation (FANG) ground vehicle is to be built and tested alongside the U.S. Marine Corps' conventionally developed Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV) to see how it compares.

With a $4 million prize purse, FANG is a real-world test of all the elements of Darpa's Adaptive Vehicle Make (AVM) portfolio of programs: the model-based design, integration and verification tools, collaborative engineering environment and foundry-style programmable manufacturing.

When the initial FANG Challenge begins in January, it will be the first time participants get to use the design tools, model libraries and cooperation portal that Darpa is developing under AVM. “In mid-January, teams will be able to download the tools and explore the supporting component model libraries to start putting their designs together,” says Lt. Col. Nathan Wiedenman, Darpa program manager.

Darpa is hoping FANG will attract not only the defense primes, but also entities and individuals who would not normally compete and could bring innovative ideas. “We really want to open the aperture to nontraditional design entities; folks who have the skills, but don't traditionally have a mechanism by which they can participate in the development of military vehicles,” he says.

“I can be a transmission engineer for a civilian firm who really knows my stuff, [and] I can log on, join and participate in a meaningful way,” Wiedenman says. It is not crowd-sourcing in the traditional sense. “AVM and FANG are more focused on someone who has the technical training and skills to be an engineer in complex cyberphysical systems, but who doesn't have a way to provide any input.”

FANG will be the test of the new tools' ability to raise the level of abstraction so more people can understand the design, and of the collaboration environment so that more people can participate.

The Meta toolset will allow teams to compose designs using models from the component, context and model library (C2M2L, or “Camel”), explore a wide trade space, integrate structural and computational models with all their interactions, assess the complexity of different designs, and test them against realistic models of the operational environment and requirements to see if they work as intended.

Using the tools within the VehicleForge open-source development environment, team members in different places will be able to collaborate in real time. A virtual collaborative design element will allow users to cooperatively explore a design in a three-dimensional environment. “An entire team can occupy the virtual design space at any one time, debating different component and design options,” says Wiedenman.

Under Challenge 1, teams will have three months to design, assemble, integrate and virtually test the drivetrain and mobility system—engine, transmission, suspension and tracks/wheels—using the Meta design tools, C2M2L component models and VehicleForge portal. Designs will be tested against the requirements using simulation benches and context models. The winner will be built by the Instant Foundry Adaptive through Bits (iFAB) foundry as an automotive test rig for ground-vehicle acceptance tests.

Challenge 2, in late 2013, will give teams another three months to design the chassis and structure around the drivetrain and mobility system, integrate the occupants and auxiliary systems, and virtually test the vehicle's performance against requirements such as payload and durability. The winning design will be built by the foundry as a hull-article test rig and put through testing, including for survivability.

In Challenge 3, planned for 2014 and the culmination of FANG, teams will have six months to design, integrate and virtually test a complete vehicle. An automated scoring system will evaluate the simulated performance characteristics against vehicle requirements. The winning design will be built by the foundry as a production-ready vehicle and tested by the Marines alongside its ACV prototypes to see if it can meet the requirements and be a candidate for the program.

Combined, the 18-month program will give teams 12 months of collaborative design time to produce a complete vehicle. The first and second challenges each carry a $1 million prize, with $2 million riding on the final competition.

“We are not part of the Marines' ACV program of record,” says Wiedenman. “We have a close working relationship with the Marines, but they are not counting on FANG for the success of their program. We will run in parallel and, if we are successful, the ACV program will simply be the first beneficiary.”