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Home News Archive What is Going-On with the Army’s NextGen Ground Combat Vehicle?

What is Going-On with the Army’s NextGen Ground Combat Vehicle?

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On August 25, 2010, the U.S. Army cancelled the competition for its multi-billion dollar next-generation Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV). According to this Reuters article, the Army intends to issue a new RFP within 60 days, “delaying a contract award for up to six months.” The GCV program was intended to replace the ground vehicle portion of the troubled Future Combat System (FCS) program, which was terminated in the early days of the Obama Administration.

The GCV program has been a beset by delay after delay, as this Wikipedia article documents. This latest delay is another blow to the hopes of the competing teams. As Reuters reported—

The unexpected change to the Ground Combat Vehicle … program threatens jobs as well as revenue for the competing teams of companies and marks another setback for the Army's effort to develop new infantry vehicles. The prime contractors bidding for the program are: Science Applications International, Britain's BAE Systems, and General Dynamics Corp, and their subcontractors include many of the largest U.S. defense contractors, such as Lockheed Martin Corp, Boeing Co, and Raytheon Co. The Army is studying the impact on its fiscal 2011 budget request, which called for $934 million to start development of prototype new vehicles.

The Army’s rationale for cancelling the competition was (and remains) vague. The Reuters article noted that “a review done with Pentagon acquisition officials showed risks in proceeding as planned.” This article at the Army Times explored what went wrong. It concluded that the Army “overreached” and was overly ambitious in its plans to integrate developing technology into the program. As the article reported—

The new RFP will reflect changes to the program’s efforts to minimize technology integration risk and to ensure that we have a viable acquisition strategy to deliver the vehicle within seven years of the contract award,’ GCV program spokesman Paul Mehney said.

The article continued---

According to industry sources familiar with the first RFP, the requirements placed on industry were stringent and demanded an enormous level of armor to protect soldiers, the vehicle and its sensors. This led to heavy and costly solutions.


A disconnect emerged between what the Army required in its RFP and what the service expected to get, an industry source said. A light went on after industry responded to the Army’s questions about the June bids. The Army got a ‘resounding’ response from industry of ‘you asked for it, you got it,’ the source said.

Apparently, the Army realized that it was headed down the wrong path. A more cynical view wondered whether it ever intended to execute the program of record at all. The Army Times article reported—

One source who attended an Army industry day last fall said he wondered whether GCV was a ‘conceptual Kabuki dance’ meant to placate Gates until he retires, and then allow the Army to take a ‘deep and informed breath’ and figure out what it really needed.

But while the Army replans its GCV program to address technology readiness and armor requirements, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is planning quantum leaps in the technology it will apply to GCV vehicle production. In mid-August, DARPA issued several draft “Broad Agency Announcements” (BAAs) looking for massive innovation in the design and production of various “complex cyber-electro-mechanical systems such as defense and aerospace vehicles.” One aspect of DARPA’s vision is vehicleforge.mil, which it described as “an open source hosting site for the collaborative development” of such systems.

Another aspect of the vision is iFAB. What is iFAB? In the words of the draft BAA—

The principal objective of iFAB … is to enable substantial compression of the time required to go from idea to product through a shift in the product value chain for defense systems from ‘little m’ manufacturing (i.e., fabrication) to the other elements of ‘big M’ Manufacturing (i.e., design, customization, after-market support, etc.). Such a shift requires significant de-coupling of production from the other phases and facets of ‘big M’ Manufacturing so as to enable its commoditization. One might term this the ‘foundry-style’ model of manufacturing. This model is an anathema to the current defense industry trend of tightly coupling design and prototyping through multiple design-build-test-redesign iterations. In fact, the iFAB vision is to move away from wrapping a capital-intensive manufacturing facility around a single defense product, and toward the creation of a flexible, programmable, potentially distributed production capability capable of accommodating a wide range of systems and system variants with extremely rapid reconfiguration timescales.

iFAB will be based on “a foundry-style manufacturing capability … capable of rapid reconfiguration to accommodate a wide range of design variability and specifically targeted at the fabrication of military ground vehicles.” Note the emphasis on fabrication of military ground vehicles—i.e., the GCV program. .

To emphasize the connection, we note DARPA’s Fast Adaptive Next-Generation Ground Combat Vehicle (FANG) program. Details are sketchy, but we found several links between FANG and iFAB. This article states—

The specific goals of the iFAB program are to rapidly design and configure manufacturing capabilities to support the fabrication of a wide array of infantry fighting vehicle models and variants. Parallel efforts titled vehicleforge.mil and Fast Adaptable Next-Generation Ground Combat Vehicle (FANG) seek to develop the infrastructure for and conduct a series of design challenges (termed Adaptive Make Challenges) intended to precipitate open source design for a prototype of the Army's Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV).

The iFAB end vision--to be developed in the second phase of the program which will be solicited under a separate BAA at the conclusion of the present effort--is that of a facility which can fabricate and assemble the winning FANG designs, verified and supplied in a comprehensive metalanguage representation with META/META-II tools.

In other words, DARPA is looking to apply wildly advanced technology to the program that is being delayed because of concerns related to (among other things) technological maturity.

We dig the irony.



 

Newsflash

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