Arguing that engineering methods in use for decades can no longer cope with the complexity of weapon systems, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has launched a competition to build a ground combat vehicle using new design tools that promise to reduce development time by up to a factor of five.

Registration has opened for the first of three design challenges planned under the Fast, Adaptable Next-Generation Ground Vehicle (FANG) program, which will demonstrate new model-based, collaborative design tools and methods developed under Darpa’s Adaptive Vehicle Make (AVM) initiative.

“The position in military acquisition is not sustainable,” says Lt. Col. Nathan Wiedenman, AVM program manager, citing the escalation in program cancellations caused by development problems. “Systems are much more complex, but the way we engineer them has not changed fundamentally in 50 years.”

AVM is an effort to follow the example set by the integrated-circuit industry 30 years ago when it tackled the problem of spiraling microchip complexity by developing electronic design automation tools.

AVM is developing design tools and model libraries to make it easier and quicker for engineers to identify the best design, then avoid the unexpected subsystem interactions that plague development programs.

The first FANG challenge, to design the mobility/drivetrain system for a heavy amphibious infantry vehicle, will kick off in January, with a $1 million cash prize for the winning team.

The goal of FANG is to demonstrate that a system meeting the U.S. Marine Corps’ requirements for the Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV) can be designed and built within one year.

The second FANG challenge, to design the chassis and structural subsystems for vehicle survivability, is planned for late 2013, again with a $1 million prize. The third and final challenge, to design the full vehicle, is expected in 2014 and will be worth $2 million.

After each challenge, the winning design is to be built by the iFAB foundry, a reconfigurable manufacturing capability being developed by Darpa under another part of the overall AVM program.

Although FANG is not part of the formal ACV program, the intent is for the winning vehicle to undergo operational testing by the Marine Corps alongside the ACV prototypes, Wiedenman says.