WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army has received praise for its innovative approach to modernizing the force through its new four-star command, which reached full operational capability earlier this year. But with the recent failure to launch its Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle replacement effort, lawmakers are calling into question the Army’s new process for developing and acquiring future capabilities.
The service faced a barrage of questions from House lawmakers during fiscal 2021 budget hearings over its decision to walk back initial plans to hold a competition to replace the Bradley and start over with a new approach.
Army leadership took pains during testimony on Capitol Hill to stress that major acquisition mistakes are a thing of the past, citing the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle program as an example of improvement.
The Army attempted to hold the optionally manned fighting vehicle, or OMFV, competition to replace Bradley through an effort that required industry to provide physical bid samples to the service by October last year. But when only one bidder — General Dynamics Land Systems — was able to produce an actual vehicle by the deadline, it revealed flaws in the service’s acquisition process as well as a disconnect between Army Futures Command, which is in charge of modernization, and the acquisition community.
As a result, Congress cut the Army’s OMFV FY20 budget request nearly in half before the service decided to turn its back on its previous path.
House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., said in his opening remarks at the Army’s FY21 budget hearing March 10 that he believes the OMFV schedule is now delayed by two years, and that the funding Congress did appropriate toward the program “could have been used to continue supporting one of the fiscal 2020 year programs that were reduced or eliminated.”
“This gives us great pause when evaluating the request before us," he added. "We have been told time and again that this time it is different, yet the Army has a long history of canceling high-profile programs after significant investment of taxpayer dollars due to the incomplete requirements process.”
The panel, Visclosky said, supports Army Futures Command, “but the first large acquisition program that has come out of Army Futures Command has fallen flat. You do need to convince this committee today that our continued support of modernization will eventually be a good investment.”
Subcommittee ranking member Ken Calvert, R-Calif., targeted both the Army’s restart of the OMFV program and the deferred selection of an enduring solution for the service’s indirect fires protection capability system. “These decisions have produced significant concern in Congress obviously from both sides of the aisle and industry regarding the Army’s modernization process,” he said.
Calvert asked Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville and Secretary Ryan McCarthy why the service didn’t stop the OMFV program before taking bid samples when it knew months ahead of the October deadline hat BAE Systems decided not to participate. And a Raytheon-Rheinmetall team reportedly went back-and-forth about whether it could submit its bid — the Lynx 41. Ultimately it was unable to deliver its bid from Germany in time.
“Why should we have confidence that this time you will get it right, especially when it seems you are returning to the normal acquisition process?” Calvert asked.
McCarthy said the Army had a company that “could bend the metal,” but the service learned that the sample fell short of requirements laid out in the request for proposals.
The secretary added that the Army decided to take a step back rather than continue down a path that would have resulted in spending hundreds of millions of dollars on systems that might not have panned out — something the service has done before.
“I think we learned earlier on this program,” McConville stressed. “What we learned was there was confusion over the requirements.”
The Army was “used to doing it the old way where we spent a lot of time — five to seven years — developing requirements and five to seven years developing a system and then investing a lot of money in it and finding out we didn’t get what we wanted,” McConville added.
Responded Calvert: “Well, that sounds great, general, but I wonder why we didn’t start this process a long time ago. … What happened?”
The Army is “redefining the way we do the process to encourage innovation,” McConville said, noting the service is not trying to define requirements as part of the program at this juncture, and it won’t do so until there are prototypes that inform requirements. Instead, he added, the Army is laying out simple characteristics for industry to consider when coming up with designs.
Calvert warned that now was the time for the Army to “get a plan and stick with it” because changes can cost the government money and time, “and you don’t have either one.”
Members of the House Armed Services Committee’s Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee shared similar concerns during its March 5 hearing on ground modernization efforts.
The chair of the subcommittee, Rep. Donald Norcross, D-N.J., said he is worried about the industrial base committing to efforts like OMFV with big investments up front, and what canceling and restarting a program like that would do to industry’s appetite for investing in Army modernization.
“How do we keep saying to our industrial base: ‘OK, that was a screwup, your investment’s not lost,’ ” Norcross asked. “I mean, for any company to make those sort of investments, it’s a risk, we understand, they knew that it was going in, but it doesn’t help our case that this is a new way that we’re going to do things and bringing industry along.”
Bruce Jette, the Army’s acquisition chief, noted that the OMFV effort is not considered a canceled program; the effort was redirected down a different path. That program and other modernization efforts have seen “an unprecedented interaction with industry” to get things correct early, Jette said.
Norcross asked why the Army didn’t realize earlier in the process, using industry feedback, that it didn’t get requirements right before reaching the phase where industry had to submit a physical bid sample.
Jette didn’t address why the Army failed to reassess the program earlier, but he did say explain how the Army will now take whitepapers and then select five teams to design an OMFV.
“We are not going to be bending metal at this point because that was one of the things that I think was part of the issue with the first one in trying to go so fast we asked for vehicle deliveries of prototypes at the very beginning,” Jette said. “Instead, what we need to do is we need to keep, we need to lower the bar.”
The new plan would allow more companies to participate because there would be less investment up front, Jette explained.
The Army now plans to analyze digital designs before even getting to a point where it would select teams to build prototypes, and the service is expected to involve soldiers who would use the vehicles immediately for feedback and input.
“The digital design phase isn’t a stagnant design,” Jette said. “They don’t just give it to us and then that’s it. Each one of these vendors are going to continue to have an interactive discussion,” he said, and that will involve “soldier touch points” similar to how the Army developed its Integrated Visual Augmentation System, which has so far been deemed a success for Army Futures Command.
To those who have already invested a great deal in the OMFV effort, Jette said: “I understand that it’s a sting.
“I also understand that some of the things that they’ve done are still viable and useful in the next phase.”
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.