The Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle will replace the US Army's M113 armored personnel carrier. (US Army)
WASHINGTON — The first week of April will be a critical one for what has been a relatively drama-free armored vehicle program for the US Army.
The Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV), which formally kicked off as a program in 2012, is slated to replace the Army’s M113 infantry carrier, which service leaders have said can no longer meet the protection or power-generation needs of the modern armored brigade combat team on the battlefield.
For much of the past two years, BAE Systems and General Dynamics Land Systems have worked with the Army to refine requirements for the non-developmental program, which would produce about 3,000 vehicles over a 13-year period at about $1.8 million apiece.
But on Feb. 14, General Dynamics filed a protest with Army Materiel Command to complain that the program’s requirements had been written in a way that favors BAE Systems’ Bradley tracked fighting vehicle, and makes it harder for GD’s wheeled Stryker — or other foreign designs — to compete for the program.
While the Army issued its formal request for proposals in November, GD charges that the Army’s plan to use excess Bradleys as “optional exchange vehicles” on which to fit new communications and protection packages makes it hard for anyone not offering a Bradley to compete.
The Army also is making it difficult for competitors to obtain all of the testing data on Bradley components that would allow non-BAE bidders to determine if they can make use of the vehicles or not, the company charges.
“We’ve got no performance data” on the Bradley tracks and other key components, GD spokesman Peter Keating said. “It’s kind of hard to compete” without that full range of data available, he said.
General Dynamics also has charged that the mobility requirement in the request for proposals all but excludes wheeled vehicles, since “no wheeled vehicle can get 100 percent” of the off-road mobility that the tracked M113 possesses.
“We put in our legal filing that we want to have a dialogue with the Army, and they would not do that, so we expect to get a detailed explanation of their decision” by the April 4 deadline, Keating added. “If we get that, we can go back and consider our options if we want to go to the” Government Accountability Office (GAO) to file a formal protest that would stop all work on the program.
Army Materiel Command has until April 4 to rule on the protest, and GD then has 10 calendar days in which to go to the GAO.
As of March 28, Army officials had not responded to requests for comment about the Bradley and M113 data transfers to industry.
Questioning GD's Move
Unsurprisingly, BAE Systems sees the AMPV program in a different light.
The Army has “been very transparent about the requirements” from the start of the program in 2012, said Mark Signorelli, general manager of Combat Vehicles at BAE Systems Land and Armaments. “The acquisition strategy hasn’t changed over the past two years.
“What has changed is the Army opening up the requirement set and making accommodations to make allowance for more offerers and offerings for the programs,” he said.
Signorelli cited the added performance requirements, such as the changes the Army made in the new vehicle’s turning radius requirement.
“Originally, the service was calling for a zero turning radius, but they added a larger turning radius” that would accommodate a wheeled vehicle, “while retaining the real key characteristics as to why there’s an AMPV program — which is the ability to operate and survive in the Army’s armored brigade combat team.
“Not only do [the requirements] not specify a Bradley-based solution, a pure Bradley-based solution would not meet the requirements. ... This was not a slam dunk” for a Bradley-based solution, he added.
“GD files its protest and says that BAE has an unfair advantage — how do they define unfair advantage?” asked Dean Lockwood, an analyst with Forecast International. “I couldn’t find anywhere in the [Army request for proposal where they actually specified tracked or wheeled.”
That said, Lockwood envisions a future — if the program survives the return of full federal budget sequestration in 2016 — in which the Army buys a mix of modified Strykers and Bradleys to fulfill the AMPV requirement, since “they’re both adaptable vehicles,” he said.
But that’s a kind of best-case scenario. Just as likely is that the Army “reaches the point where they have to delay and outright cut almost everything that’s not already in the system,” due to budget cuts, Lockwood said. “What money they have will have to go into maintenance of existing vehicles. Modernizing it is a lot cheaper than buying a whole new vehicle.”
Throwing another wrinkle into the program, vehicle-maker Navistar has been talking to the Army in an effort to get the service to consider its MaxxPro mine-resistant vehicle to fill at least part of the AMPV requirement immediately, to get the M113s out of the fleet until the AMPV can be fielded.
Meg Kulungowski, Navistar’s director of government relations, said MaxxPro could be used “as a bridging option to get the M113s out the door,” in anticipation of the AMPV’s fielding in 2020 and beyond.
The shift to the MaxxPro also would allow the Army to save on sustainment costs, she claimed, since many of the mine-resistant vehicles are already reset from their service in Iraq and Afghanistan and are awaiting a mission.
The Army has said it plans to retain 8,585 mine-resistant vehicles out of the 25,000 the Pentagon has purchased since 2007. Of that number, 5,000 will be stored in prepositioned stocks all over the world, with the remainder being spread among the active force.
According to internal service documents, the Army will keep 5,651 Oshkosh-produced mine-resistant all-terrain vehicles out of the 8,700 DoD has bought since 2009, along with 2,633 Navistar-built MaxxPro Dash vehicles and 301 MaxxPro ambulances.
Plans for the AMPV call for the award of a five-year engineering, manufacturing and development (EMD) contract in May to one contractor who will build 29 prototypes for government testing, followed by a three-year low-rate initial production contract beginning in 2020. The EMD phase will run from fiscal 2015 to fiscal 2019 and cost $436 million.
The Army has requested $92 million in research and development funds for the program in its fiscal 2015 request to fund the EMD stage of the program. ■