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US Armored Vehicle Battle Intensifies

Jun. 29, 2014 - 03:45AM   |  
By PAUL McLEARY   |   Comments
The US Army wants to replace its M113 armored vehicles with the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle program.
The US Army wants to replace its M113 armored vehicles with the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle program. (Staff)
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WASHINGTON — The US Army is threatening to slash modernization funding for Stryker, Abrams and Bradley vehicles if the service is forced to halt a $10 billion program to replace thousands of M113 infantry carriers.

The possibility of a pause to the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV) program was raised last week, when news surfaced that language might be included in a Senate defense appropriations bill that would force the Army to rewrite its requirements.

In what is shaping up as a struggle between defense industry heavyweights, their lobbyists and members of Congress with their own parochial interests, the AMPV program is becoming a bellwether for how much influence Congress can wield over the requirements process during a defense drawdown, and what implications that might have for the future.

A key US Senate budget committee will consider the language when it marks up its version of the 2015 defense appropriations bill on July 17.

The proposed language expected to be offered at the Senate Appropriations Defense subcom­mittee markup — chaired by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. — targets one of the five planned AMPV variants by prohibiting the service “from spending Research, Development, Test and Evaluation funding on a medical evacuation variant in the AMPV program.”

The effect of breaking off part of the program to compete it separately would, according to one Army official who asked not to be named, not only require the service to write a new request for proposals, but also come up with a brand new acquisition strategy, independent cost estimate, and acquisition decision memorandum.

Overall, it would cost tens of millions of dollars and delay the program “by at least two years and would undermine the efforts to support the industrial base with AMPV,” the Army official said.

The language, first reported by Inside Defense, is careful to not call the entire program into question, affirming that “the committee supports the AMPV program because the Army urgently needs to replace” the M113.

The question is: Replace it with what?

In the two years since the Army released its requirements for the program, BAE Systems has readied a version of its tracked Bradley fighting vehicle, while General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS) touted its wheeled Stryker vehicle.

But the Stryker has met only 96 percent of the program’s requirements for off-road maneuverability — the Army wants the same mobility as Bradleys and Abrams in the armored brigades — leading the company to finally pull it from the competition on May 28, the day bids were due.

But thanks to an intensive lobbying effort by GDLS in both the House and Senate, two House committees have included language instructing the Army to submit reports outlining why a wheeled vehicle couldn’t meet some of the Army’s needs, while Durbin’s proposed language would block the Army from going forward with its plan.

In a potential blow to GDLS, the Army official told Defense News on June 27 that the extra funding needed to meet the proposed new requirements for a mixed fleet would likely be drawn from accounts aimed at modernizing the Bradley, as well as the GDLS-made Abrams and Stryker modernization programs. It would also come out of funds intended to buy a fourth brigade worth of Double V Hull Strykers.

Overall, the official estimated that any increase in research and development efforts would cost the service about $95 million, along with “additional costs to support the second vendor.”

A spokeswoman for committee chairman Durbin said on June 27 that “no final decision had been made” on the language to be offered in the markup.

The Senate defense appropriations subcommittee won’t be the last word from Congress on the 2015 defense budget, however. After its mark, a conference committee from both chambers will meet to hammer out a final bill, but as the chair of his committee, Durbin will have an influential seat at that table.

The language that has been circulating on Capitol Hill says that the Army “may waste time and scarce modernization funding by developing a new medical evacuation variant in the AMPV program. The committee notes that the Army already has developed a medical evacuation vehicle based on a wheeled combat vehicle and that this vehicle has successfully deployed in combat with armored brigade combat teams.”

In Iraq, the Army deployed the Stryker medical evacuation vehicles with some heavy brigades.

The AMPV language is the latest salvo in a competition that once appeared relatively noncontroversial compared with the Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle program, which was being run concurrently. Once that program was zeroed out in March, the AMPV became the last big prize up for grabs for US ground vehicle manufacturers until the service starts a new infantry carrier contest near the end of the decade.

The language tracks closely with the argument that GDLS has been making on the Hill for months, focusing on charges that the Army wrote requirements that favor the tracked Bradley-based design put forth by BAE Systems.

One defense analyst, who didn’t want to speak for attribution due to the intense nature of the feud, said that since GDLS has “lost three out of the four” congressional committees it has lobbied, “this is their last bite at the apple, but if they were to do this it would blow up the entire program.”

General Dynamics and BAE Systems have each been lobbying hard for the past several months to keep lawmakers apprised of their arguments — with BAE arguing that the Army has held firm to the same requirements for two years.

In a statement, a GDLS spokesperson wrote that the House appropriations language “clearly indicates they have questions about the Army’s current strategy for the AMPV program. They have asked for further evaluation by the Department of Defense, particularly on existing wheeled and tracked combat vehicles used for medical purposes.”

But there has been some pushback from other Republican Senators. On June 20, Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, John Cornyn of Texas and John Boozman of Arkansas urged the Senate committee to allow “the Army to proceed with its competitive solicitation without further delay.”

The same letter was sent to Senate appropriations leaders last week by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Mark Pryor, R-Ark.

BAE Systems runs its electronics business out of Ayotte’s and Shaheen’s state of New Hampshire, and the Red River Army Depot — which does a lot of work on Bradleys — is in Cornyn’s state of Texas but is close to the Arkansas border, from which it draws some of its workforce.

While GD has contributed about $23,000 to Durbin’s campaign so far this year, the company remains far behind others such as Northrop Grumman, Navistar, Boeing and United Technologies in political donations to the senator.

Durbin’s spokeswoman, Christina Mulka, emailed on June 26 that “on AMPV, Senator Durbin has been assessing the Army’s plan and other proposals. His final position will be made public at the mark-up.” ■

Email: pmcleary@defensenews.com.

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