With US defense budgets dropping and new program starts dwindling, what work remains is engendering more furious competition than ever before.
Take the US Army’s Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle, or AMPV program.
After a decade of heavy investment in wheeled vehicles, the Army wants to bolster its tracked force. While wheeled vehicles can be less expensive to operate, tracked vehicles offer greater mobility over rough terrain. The Army’s tracked Abrams tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and updated M109 self-propelled howitzers can operate together at high speed. Meanwhile, the service wants to replace its vast fleet of aging M113 personnel carriers.
Ideally, the service wants the AMPV contractor to make use of the thousands of Bradleys in the Army’s inventory, vehicles that were built by FMC, which eventually became part of BAE Systems.
General Dynamics, the maker of the M1 Abrams tank as well as the wheeled Stryker vehicle, had planned to compete for the contract, but pulled its bid in late May and began instead to lobby Congress to get the Army to change its requirements. Unless the requirements change, GD says, it won’t bid.
So far, three of four key congressional committees have sided with the Army. The last committee to weigh in is Senate appropriations. According to experts, if one of the committees embraces legislation, the issue stays alive through markup.
The Army, however, says it has a tiny window to launch the program before the Ryan-Murray budget deal expires. Army officials also say a delay would draw funds away from tank, Bradley and Stryker upgrade programs. Indeed, by fighting so hard to shape AMPV, GD could lose sales from a planned fourth brigade’s worth of double-V-hull Strykers.
Congress is within its prerogative to debate the Army’s plans and whether it should fund them. But it shouldn’t be in the business of micromanaging military requirements. If Congress doesn’t like what the Army is doing, then it should debate the service’s equipping strategy. But it should not do so at the 11th hour. ■