Contractors tap proven technologies in developing new platforms
At two recent shows—Defense Security and Equipment International (DSEi) in London and the Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA) here—contractors touted the non-developmental nature of their new vehicle programs as evidence of affordability and production-ready design. The experience was a far cry from a few years ago when the same companies boasted about outfitting their trucks, weapon systems and communication gear with the latest, greatest and often unproven technologies.
The change didn't happen because industry lacks ideas, but because customers—whether the U.S.or countries looking to upgrade wheeled vehicle and armored personnel carrier fleets—mandated it. The mandate is simple: Money is tight, schedules are short, and no one wants unproven, developmental technologies that cost too much or push schedules back.
Take for example the U.S.' Marine Personnel Carrier (MPC) program. The draft request for proposals (RFP) states that it only wants the best existing gear that's available. is submitting a modified Patria 8 X 8 amphibious infantry carrier to the competition, and is using the electronics architecture (made by Ultra Electronics) it has installed in the U.K.'s Warrior and Scout vehicles. Similarly, recently announced plans to team with Iveco Defense Vehicles to modify and adapt the Iveco Superav 8 X 8 for the MPC program—which means that both teams vying for the contract are using European vehicles as the base model for their submissions. The Marine Corps recently said it would issue a formal RFP early next year for what is expected to be about 600 vehicles.
Supacat, the U.K. vehicle maker, is taking the use of existing platforms a step further. The company unveiled its Wildcat light strike vehicle at DSEi in September, noting that the special forces-focused platform is a modified version of a commercially produced off-road rally car made by British company QT Services.and Granite Tactical Vehicles are teaming up with a civilian race-car designer to work on the steering and suspension systems for their submission to the U.S. Army's Humvee Recap program, company reps tell DTI. Though they decline to name the company, Granite founder Chris Berman did say that they “are the leaders” in what they do.
While this focus on mature technologies seems new, it isn't. For all of the major developmental programs such as Future Combat Systems, the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) and the Comanche that flamed out over the past decade, two of the more successful programs built over that same time period—the Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicle (MRAP) and the MRAP-All Terrain Vehicle (M-ATV)—relied solely on mature technologies, and were built and shipped to Iraq and Afghanistan in months, rather than years.
In short, the Pentagon seems to be learning—slowly, and in fits and starts—that not everything has to be a specially designed and lavishly funded “exquisite” technology to have utility. In fact, at a recent conference here, David Honey, director of research at the Pentagon's Office of Defense Research and Engineering, said that due to budget constraints, MRAP-style development “will dominate what we do in the future” when designing programs.
A few of the most recent requests for information drive this home. The Army's Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) will rely mostly on mature technologies, while the services' Humvee Recap uses only proven materials. Even the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) program, which has developed armor and mobility solutions, plans to open itself up to competition again, which means that mature systems would be back in the mix.
And when it comes to the Humvee Recap program, the Marine Corps recently said it's only interested in “harvesting” technologies from the Army's more robust Humvee Recap program, declining to buy any fully Recapped Humvees themselves. Instead, according to comments made by Dan Pierson, the Corps' deputy program executive officer for land systems, the service is banking on the JLTV, while upgrading several thousand Humvees. “When you look at the requirements that the Marine Corps had for the Humvee Recap,” Pierson said at AUSA, “it was much more robust than what the Army is trying to get out of recap because we were trying to install a lot more mobility” with more payload capacity. According to Marine Corps' studies, these requirements pushed the recap price tag “up in the $240,000-250,000 range [per truck], and now you're at a JLTV vehicle which has so much more payload, so much more capability,” he notes. “So the business case analysis for the Marine Corps for the recap was just not there.”
Pierson made his comments at a media briefing with Col. David Bassett, Army program manager for tactical vehicles, who praised development of the JLTV program, saying that the service has learned plenty of lessons about what works, and what doesn't, in trying to marry weight, mobility and protection. Bassett said that achieving MRAP-level protection “is now possible in a package that weighs about 10,000 lb. less than the original M-ATV. What we've learned is that there are really no silver bullets to achieve that level of protection. It's about good engineering.”
And manufacturers have started to work on getting ahead of the Pentagon's emerging acquisition requirements. Having identified what they see as a gap in capability between the JLTV and the Humvee Recap, vehicles like Oshkosh's Light Combat Tactical Vehicle and Navistar's Saratoga were built on each company's dime, using proven technologies, and were rolled out last month essentially production-ready. Navistar's Pat MacArevey confirms that the company is also submitting a bid for the Army's Humvee Recap program, and that the Saratoga shares plenty of similarities with its Humvee bid, including the same blast-protection package.
The JLTV program has seen better days. The Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee recently recommended that the program be canceled, but no final congressional vote has been taken.
The U.S. Army's main acquisition priority for the upgrade of its ground vehicle fleet remains the GCV—which is currently stalled while under protest—but it's No. 2 choice might come as a surprise. It's not the JLTV, Humvee Recap, the double V-hulled Stryker, MRAP or even M-ATV. It's the Armored Multipurpose Vehicle (AMPV), which the deputy chief of staff for Army programs, Lt. Gen. Robert Lennox, recently said was the service's second-biggest priority behind the GCV. The AMPV program is on the books as being a replacement for 3,000 M113 armored personnel carriers in the Army's Heavy Brigade Combat Team (HBCT) fleet.
Mike Cannon, senior vice president of Ground Combat Systems for, says that the company's eight-wheeled Stryker is the AMPV: “You don't have to do anything to a Stryker to replace a 113 with it.” He adds that the new double V-hulled Strykers, recently deployed to Afghanistan, have been performing well, and have proven highly survivable in several improvised explosive device strikes. Cannon would have no problem with a mixed fleet, saying the Stryker is well suited to all of the missions outlined by the Army for its AMPV family, save perhaps the mortar variant.
Rick Burtnett, program manager for the Bradley AMPV at BAE Systems, recently displayed similar confidence, noting that the company's design for the AMPV's five variants: ambulance, command post, general purpose, mortar and medical treatment vehicles, can be traced to the XM11 armored medical evacuation vehicle, which it designed as a Bradley replacement in the late 1990s before the now-canceled Future Combat Systems' Manned Ground Vehicle caused the Army to abandon the design. BAE is dusting off the program. Burtnett estimates there are 1,500 mothballed Bradleys that can be refit and reset for the program, and says the company is ready to begin work now, since the scalable design is complete. The design includes a variable-height top, and removable and reconfigurable underbelly armor plating that can be added or removed to meet a mission's survivability requirements. Burtnett says that if the Army goes with the BAE solution, HBCTs would have 74% commonality across the fleet.
Given these new-build and upgrade programs that aim at achieving cost relief and schedule adherence by using proven technologies, it appears that companies with a solid track record in the industry can expect to lock in a dwindling number of contracts in the future.