US Department of Defence gives Army approval to spend US$1.35 billion on Ground Combat Vehicle project

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The Pentagon has approved a US Army plan to build a fleet of next-generation Ground Combat Vehicles that could cost up to US$10.5 million each.

The US Army could buy as many as 1 874 of the vehicles to replace its Bradley infantry fighting vehicle, starting from 2017.

The decision came after a Defence Acquisition Board met and supported the Army’s proposal to begin the technology development phase of the Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) project, Bloomberg reports.

Pentagon spokesperson Cheryl Irwin said that Ashton Carter, the Pentagon’s chief equipment buyer, had agreed with the Army’s proposed strategy. She said Carter will soon issue a formal notice to the Army allowing it to begin development.

Once development begins, the Army will issue three contracts for the vehicle. However, 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] program 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.
“Decision makers will have to decide if the Army has made a convincing case for the GCV before allowing it to proceed into the technology development phase,” he added. That process is now complete.

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.

The Army is evaluating proposals submitted by industry bidders in response to a Request for Proposal (RFP), which outlines the need for mature technology and clear cost goals. The RFP was issued in February 2010 but this was cancelled in August so the Army could revise its requirements.

A new RFP was issued on November 30 last year, giving companies until January 21 to respond. The RFP states that the government intends to hit a target unit-manufacturing cost of US$9-10.5 million per vehicle with operational sustainment costs of US$200 per mile.

Earlier this year, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) and BAE Systems-Northrop Grumman submitted proposals for the GCV. A prototype of the vehicle is expected in 2015, and will be fielded in 2017. Current plans call for the eventual construction of 1874 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.

The RFP was for the Technology Development phase of the GCV, which will be followed by the Engineering and Manufacturing Development, and Production and Deployment phases. No more than three contracts will be awarded, in the third quarter of 2011. SAIC and BAE Systems-Northrop Grumman are expected to be the prime contractors.