WASHINGTON ― Under a proposed defense policy bill, the U.S. Army would have to brief Congress on plans to upgrade weapons for the Stryker combat vehicle amid the service’s efforts to reassure industry the competition to equip them with a 30mm cannon is “healthy.”
The House Armed Services Committee is expected to use the 2021 defense policy bill to order a briefing on any Army plans for Stryker weapons-station commonality between the developing air defense system and separate cannon upgrade. The news Monday comes in the wake of at least two of six competitors dropping out of the competition to design the Medium Caliber Weapon System, or MCWS.
In a conference call with reporters Monday, HASC aides said the language reflected concerns from industry about the openness of the competition for the MCWS.
“This is one of those situations where there is some question about whether the competition will consider the range of options that might be available out there in industry to meet the Army’s requirement,” one aide said.
Earlier this month, the Army awarded General Dynamics Land Systems a $2.48 billion contract to produce an upgraded version of its double-V hulled Stryker armored infantry carrier vehicle.
The Michigan-based contractor, under the seven-year contract, would provide 331 double-V hull A1 (DVHA1) vehicles to the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, which is based at Fort Carson, Colorado. The Army is converting it into a Stryker brigade along with the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division out of Fort Bliss, Texas.
Developmental testing of the Army’s Interim Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense, or IM-SHORAD, system for the Stryker — initially due to wrap up this month — has been delayed by challenges linked to the coronavirus pandemic and the software development process.
Under development by Leonardo DRS, the IM-SHORAD equipment package includes Raytheon’s Stinger vehicle missile launcher.
The Army is also upgrading more of its DVHA1 vehicles from an exposed 12.7mm machine gun to the turret-mounted 30mm MCWS. The service awarded $150,000 to six companies for design contracts ahead of a program of record, but two have since exited.
In a call with reporters June 16, Col. Bill Venable, the project manager for Stryker brigade combat teams, fielded questions about the health of the MCWS competition, but declined to identify at this sensitive stage which companies dropped out. He said he is satisfied the Army will have options when it begins the next phase of the MCWS competition on Aug. 10.
“I will say this a healthy competition,” Venable said. “We’re going to present a variety of choices to the source-selection authority to evaluate.”
“I know that one of the vendors chose to drop out because it wasn’t on a good technical glide path to achieve the requirements of the solicitation ― and the other one was affordability,” Venable added. “They didn’t think the investment required was going to result in a good chance to win.”
Leonardo DRS, the developer of the IM-SHORAD system, is among the original competitors for MCWS, along with General Dynamics Land Systems, Kollsman Inc., Raytheon, Pratt & Miller Engineering, and Fabrication Inc. The competitors were each given a Stryker and an XM813 cannon, but they must provide their own turret and fire control system.
The next stage for MCWS involves a series of tests, including a live-fire test and an armor test, with results due to an evaluation board in January.
The legislative language in the House expresses support for the weapons upgrades and noted both the IM-SHORAD and MCWS systems “would be based upon an unmanned but accessible turreted vehicle weapons station.” It’s included in the Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee’s portion of the bill, which the subpanel is expected to approve Tuesday.
“In this regard, the committee is interested to know what advantages, if any, the Army could gain by developing as much commonality as possible between both systems with turret hardware and fire control software,” the bill text read. “Commonality has the potential to reduce the overall acquisition and life cycle management costs of both weapons systems.”
Furthermore, the Army secretary would have to brief the House Armed Services Committee by Feb. 1 “on the potential and plans, if any, for achieving commonality of the MCWS and IM-SHORAD weapons stations.”
One HASC aide said the language was deferential to the Army, would have no impact on its current strategies, and that it was aimed at ensuring a free, fair and open competition. “The Army can come back to us and just indicate there really aren’t any plans because it’s not feasible or it’s not justified,” the aide said.
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.