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Sharp Focus on Vehicle Sustainment Challenges TACOM

Oct. 31, 2012 - 07:46AM   |  
By PAUL McLEARY   |   Comments
Four M-1 Abrams tanks are in various stages of upgrade on the reassembly line at Anniston Army Depot Combat Vehicle Facility.
Four M-1 Abrams tanks are in various stages of upgrade on the reassembly line at Anniston Army Depot Combat Vehicle Facility. (Department of Defense)
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One concept became abundantly clear during last week’s Association of the United States Army (AUSA) conference in Washington: There is little appetite for expensive and uncertain new-start programs among Army leadership.

With multiple new vehicles, such as the mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicle, the MRAP All-Terrain Vehicle (M-ATV), the Stryker and up-armored Humvees coming online over the past decade of conflict, the service is more interested in consolidating its gains and upgrading what it already has.

And that’s where the Army’s Tank-Automotive & Armaments Command’s Life Cycle Management Command (TACOM LCMC) comes in. The command acts as the broker among the Army, industry and academic labs to evaluate and integrate everything from new armor solutions and engine technologies to robotics and new or updated munitions technologies for program managers looking to keep costs down while extending the life of the platforms under their supervision.

While the Department of Defense is planning to absorb $497 billion worth of cuts over the coming decade, with the shadow of another $500 billion in cuts coming if Congress fails to reach a sequestration deal, the business of sustaining existing systems is more critical than ever.

But even with these large budget cuts — both real and potential — Army sustainment dollars and contracts will hardly stop flowing to industry in coming years, though they will do so at a distinctly slower pace than witnessed over the past decade of war-related rapid acquisition. And that makes TACOM’s mission more critical to the future of the service.

On the show floor at AUSA and in panels stacked with Army program managers, one point was hammered home and showed off: Existing platforms are actually in pretty good shape, but everyone has his own set of tweaks to make them better.

“The average age of the [Abrams] tank and the Bradley are probably the youngest they’ve ever been,” said Scott Davis, program executive officer for the Army’s Ground Combat Systems office, which partners closely with TACOM LCMC to design requirement and sustainment plans for the service. Thanks to years of rapid modernization to meet the needs of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, both platforms went through several rounds of upgrades, he said, and the Bradley will continue to do so until 2014, when the new build schedule ends.

Davis said the Army has also been able to stock up on its supply of spare parts over the past several years, which might reduce the two programs’ exposure to budget cuts, but which also means second- and third-tier suppliers will be squeezed even further, since there won’t be as much work for them.

Dispute Over Abrams

One of the big sticking points between Congress and the Army concerns sustainment and modernization of the M1A2 Abrams tank. The Army wants to temporarily shutter the General Dynamics-run Abrams plant in Lima, Ohio, from 2014 until it begins the next round of upgrades in 2017, but Congress continues to add funding in each year’s defense bill to keep the plant humming.

TACOM is playing a part in the saga, and on Sept. 27, TACOM’s Contracting Command awarded General Dynamics Land Systems an eight-year, $395 million contract for research, development and testing in preparation for an Engineering Change Proposal 1 production, set to begin in 2017. The effort seeks to bundle a range of upgrades, improvements and modernization initiatives into one engineering-development effort.

The Pentagon said it can save about $3 billion by freezing work on the Abrams for three years, while Army analysis says it would cost $600 million to $800 million to reopen the production line in 2017.

In addition to the General Dynamics-led study, the service has hired consulting firm AT Kearney to study the ground vehicle industrial base to find out which companies are most at risk from the coming reductions in available work.

“What we owe to the country, to our industry and to the Army is to really analyze inside our systems where we think we have vulnerabilities,” Davis said. The Army is undertaking the study “to understand where [industry’s] challenges are and what it would take for them to make a decision to leave the military vehicle sector.”

Kevin Fahey, the program executive officer for Combat Support & Combat Service Support (CS&CSS) at TACOM, said his office is putting the finishing touches on yet another study, to be briefed to the Army’s vice chief of staff in December, that will offer guidelines for sustaining the 20,000-strong MRAP fleet over the long haul.

CS&CSS is actually working on two MRAP-related studies, one concerning the size of the fleet moving forward and one “to make a decision on what’s the future of MRAPs,” Fahey said. Once those studies are complete, the service will then be able to better plan for the long-term sustainment of the fleet.

On Sept. 19, TACOM LCMC signed a $282 million contract with Navistar Defense to provide more than 2,300 survivability upgrade retrofit kits for the MaxxPro Dash MRAP, which is expected to be the primary heavy MRAP the Army will use in its prepositioned stocks in the future.

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