The US Army has announced the award of two contracts to BAE Systems Land and Armaments (US$449 964 969), and General Dynamics Land Systems (US$439 715 950) for the Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) programme technology development phase. The companies have been selected to, over the next two years, develop designs for a new Army Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV).
The contract awards on Thursday follow the Department of Defence’s formal approval of the GCV programme to enter the technology development phase. Approval of this first major milestone builds on months of ongoing collaboration between the Army and the Office of the Undersecretary of Defence (Acquisition, Technology and Logistics) to successfully develop, build and field an affordable, effective and suitable IFV, the US Department of Defence (DoD) said.
“The Army enthusiastically welcomes the formal launch of the Ground Combat Vehicle programme, which will provide much needed protection and mobility to soldiers in combat,” said Secretary of the Army John McHugh. “Given the economic environment the nation currently faces, the Army recognizes that it is imperative to continually address requirements as we build a versatile, yet affordable, next-generation infantry fighting vehicle.”
To develop a successful programme with well-informed decision points at each major milestone, the Army will undertake a three-pronged approach during the first phase of this effort. First, contractors will work collaboratively with the Army to develop competitive, best-value engineering designs to meet critical Army needs, the DoD said. Concurrently, the Army will initiate an update to its GCV IFV analysis of alternatives and conduct separate technical and operational assessment of existing non-developmental vehicles. Results from this assessment, along with contractors design efforts, will inform GCV requirements to support the next programme milestone and facilitate a full and open competition for the next phase of the GCV programme, according to the DoD.
“This is an important milestone in our Army’s modernization programme. GCV is the first combat vehicle designed from inception for an IED environment. It will provide armour protection and the capability to manoeuvre cross-country with the nine-man infantry squad,” said Army Chief of Staff General Martin E. Dempsey.
A prototype of the GCV is expected in 2015, and will be fielded in 2017 to replace the Army’s Bradley infantry fighting vehicles. Current plans call for the eventual construction of 1 874 of the new vehicles, beginning in seven years, with the Army planning to whittle the field down to one winning design in about six years. Each GCV could cost up to US$10.5 million.
Although the contracts have been awarded, key questions remain regarding the urgency of the need for the GCV, the exploration of alternatives, the seven year delivery schedule and the level of maturity of the technology used, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
In March the GAO examined the Army GCV Red Team report, which the army initiated last year to examine the programme’s requirements and acquisition process. The group’s findings led the Army to rescind the original request for proposals in August and release a revised request in November.
In its study, the Red Team considered the urgency of the need for GCV in the next seven years. The report concluded “the funds that have migrated from the [Future Combat Systems] programme were driving the events and activities of the programme, versus a true capabilities gap,” Michael Sullivan from the GAO said. The US$159 billion Future Combat Systems programme was cancelled in 2009 by then-Defence Secretary Robert Gates.
The GCV will be the first combat vehicle designed from the ground-up to operate in an IED-threat environment and General Peter Chiarelli, vice chief of staff of the Army, said “The Ground Combat Vehicle takes into account all of the lessons we have learned over the last ten years of warfare and ensures that we have a combat vehicle that will allow us to fight in a full-spectrum environment”.
The Army has justified the need for the Ground Combat Vehicle by pointing out that they need a vehicle with increased protection and more on-board power, but some question why upgrades to the Bradley Fighting Vehicle would not be sufficient.
Army leaders underscored the need for development of a Ground Combat Vehicle, as an upgraded Bradley does not have the capacity to deliver a nine-man infantry squad into battle a critical requirement, they said, given how the Army conducts operations. The Bradley can carry six fully equipped troops.
Army leaders also stressed that current vehicles cannot accommodate future advances in the areas of armour protection, computing and networking technologies. The size, weight and power considerations impose clear limits on how much current vehicles can be upgraded, they said.