WASHINGTON — A competition to procure a Ground Mobility Vehicle to add much-needed tactical mobility for the U.S. Army's infantry brigade combat team is delayed by several years, even as vendors with commercial off-the-shelf solutions are ready now.
The reason for the delay is unclear and the Army did not directly answer the question of why its schedule to hold a competition for the GMV in 2017 had been pushed back.
The Army launched its new-start GMV program in 2017 as planned, and, according to the fiscal 2017 budget request, the service intended to find a commercial off-the-shelf or non-developmental vehicle as the solution.
The service said it wanted a vehicle that could carry a nine-person squad with their equipment that could be air-droppable and sling-loaded on a UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopter.
The Army planned to issue a request for proposal for the GMV in 2017 and make a contract award by the end of the fiscal year, according the FY17 request. Production qualification testing would take place from the second quarter of FY18 through the second quarter of FY19 and a full-rate production decision was scheduled for the third quarter of FY19.
Now the Army has split its GMV procurement plans into two phases, according to the FY18 budget request released last month.
In the first phase, the Army will procure GMVs for five airborne infantry brigade combat teams, or AIBCT, through the U.S. Special Operations Command's GMV 1.1 contract. This means the Army is buying Flyer 72 vehicles from General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems.
"The Army needs to quickly fill a tactical mobility capability gap for infantry squads in five [AIBCTs]. Ensuring that our infantry squads have the capability that they need to be successful on the battlefield is our number one priority," Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Monica Womack told Defense News in a statement Tuesday.
"We are making a limited buy of 295 GMV 1.1 vehicles from an existing, competitively awarded Special Operations Command contract. This is the quickest way to field an interim capability," she said, adding that the Army further benefits from purchasing vehicles under the SOCOM contract because the vehicle has gone through testing, has a conditional material release and shares the same repair parts system with SOCOM, "all of which save time in the fielding process."
In the second phase of the program, the Army will procure 1,700 GMVs through a full-and-open competition, "once the requirement is refined, which should reduce cost," Womack said.
Procuring the GMV 1.1 vehicles under the SOCOM contract raises the unit cost of the vehicle higher than the unit cost of a vehicle procured through competition, according to the FY18 budget documents.
"We are expediting delivery of a needed capability into the hands of our soldiers AIBCT consistent with Congress' intent that we find ways to do so," Womack said.
But procurement of the interim solution still doesn’t get vehicles in the hands of soldiers immediately. The delivery of the vehicles will take place over the course of several years, the budget documents show. A total of 100 vehicles will be procured in FY18, 145 in FY19 and another 150 in FY20.
The FY17 request shows the Army had planned to reach full-rate production in the third quarter of 2019, had a competition kicked off as planned.
The Army plans to spend $194.8 million for 718 vehicles from FY18 to FY22, according to the FY18 request.
According the FY18 budget document, which, unlike the FY17 version, does not have a chart showing projected milestones, the Army will fund the competition starting in the FY-19-23 program objective memorandum "with an expectation" that a contract award would be made in FY20.
The decision to delay the competition and field an interim solution leaves many in industry scratching their heads, as the Army has spent years demonstrating and evaluating a variety of commercial off-the-shelf offerings.
The Army’s ultralight combat vehicle demonstration at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in 2014 included commercial and modified commercial vehicles: GD’s Flyer; the Boeing-MSI Defense Phantom Badger; Polaris Defense’s air-transportable off-road combat vehicle DAGOR; Hendrick Dynamics' Commando Jeep; Vyper Adamas’ Viper; and Lockheed Martin’s High Versatility Tactical Vehicle, which is a version of the British Army’s HMT-400 Jackal.
The service has continuously evaluated vehicles for GMV since then.
And GD's Flyer is not the only vehicle that fits in the GMV footprint already fielded by the U.S. military. The Army’s 82nd Airborne Division has 70 Polaris DAGORs with which it is has deployed, including last year’s Anakonda exercise in Poland. It is also fielded with U.S. special operations forces.
DAGOR, according to Polaris, can fit nine soldiers, is UH-60 sling-load certified and can fit in a CH-47 Chinook cargo helicopter. It is also air-drop certified.
According to the SOCOM specifications for the GMV 1.1 vehicle in use by special operators now, the vehicle can fit six operators, but seven with a secondary seating kit. The General Dynamics’ site states the vehicle can accommodate a crew of up to nine, and, according to a company spokeswoman, the Army's GMV requirement is a seated nine-man crew with rollover protection
The vehicle is capable of being air-dropped and sling-loaded as well as internally transported in the CH-47 helicopter, the spokeswoman added.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.