WASHINGTON — At the Association of the US Army's annual convention last week, the Army affirmed its commitment to several nearer-term vehicle procurement efforts and buying a future helicopter in the 2030s.

But while much of industry stressed the service could be moving faster on many of these programs, Army leaders lamented that budget uncertainty is slowing the process.

The Army unveiled its combat vehicle modernization strategy at AUSA, which aligns with its operating concept released at the same show last year. The plan, in the near term, is to acquire a new lightweight vehicle for infantry brigade combat teams and increase the lethality of its Stryker fighting vehicles

Further down the road, the vehicles will have robust mobile protected firepower capability and formations could see mostly unmanned, autonomous systems carry out security and reconnaissance missions.

Within the strategy, the Army would begin procuring a ground mobility vehicle (GMV) in fiscal 2017 for its infantry brigade combat teams, Scott Davis, the head of Combat Support & Combat Service Support, told Defense News at the show.

Several companies prominently displayed offerings for the GMV competition at AUSA. General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems brought its family of Flyer vehicles and Polaris brought another group of vehicles that include DAGOR and MRZR along with an all-terrain vehicle, all of which are fielded with special operations, according to Mark McCormick, the company's business development director.

The Army, a year ago, was talking about reaching initial operational capability of a vehicle for an infantry brigade combat team vehicle in fiscal 2016, "if they were to have gone down a path of more or less rapid acquisition, taking advantage of commercially available product," McCormick said.

"I think what it looks like is that the ability to do and take advantage of acquisition reform and commercially available product, particularly in a vehicle world, is a very long, long ambitious challenge for the Army. I don't think they are easily able to do that," he said.

Davis acknowledged that some in industry believe the procurement could move a lot faster, but said, "we can't start an acquisition without requirements and dollars, and what we are trying to do is compress that whole requirements cycle to be all done when the dollars appear."

The acquisition plan for GMV is "sort of straddling the line ... It's sort of in-between. It's really following the normal program-of-record process but in as fast a time as we can," Davis said.

That also means the Army doesn't plan to do any development work in the program, based on what it's seen from industry in demonstrations and through several market surveys, according to Lt. Col. Garth Winterle, the provisional product manager for GMV. This allows the service to enter the program directly at the production and deployment phase.

Davis said procuring a light reconnaissance vehicle, which the Army's strategy also highlights as a near-term need, will happen further down the road.

Northrop Grumman, in the first hour of the show, unveiled its six-passenger Hellhound vehicle, designed from the ground up as a light reconnaissance vehicle.

And BAE Systems displayed a mobile protected firepower (MPF) capability that combines an expeditionary, air-droppable, light tank based on technologies from the CV90 family of infantry fighting vehicles and the Bradley as well as the M8 Armored Gun System.

The Army has put out a request for information for MPF, BAE's director of New & Amphibious Vehicles, Deepak Bazaz, told Defense News. and "The first thing the Army is going to do is look at what is available and we are responding to that with what we can do with the M8 vehicle."

General Dynamics Land Systems told Defense News at the show that it is pressing ahead with fast-track efforts to mount a medium-caliber cannon on a portion of the fleet, amid fears that Army units with Strykers in Europe are outgunned. The plan is to equip 81 vehicles with a 30mm gun and turret.

The Army plans to field the larger gun in Europe by 2018. Because the GDLS-led procurement is evaluating existing cannons and involves replacing the vehicle's suspension with suspensions already in the Army's inventory, the process is expected to move quickly, GDLS' business development manager, Timothy Reese, said.

On the helicopter front, the Bell Helicopter V280 Valor tiltrotor demonstrator, along with a flight simulator, stirred up some excitement on the showroom floor. Sikorsky brought one of its flyable S97 Raider coaxial helicopters. Raider is considered the "little brother" to Boeing and Sikorsky's Defiant.

Defiant and Valor will both start flying in 2017 as part of the Army's Joint Multi-Role (JMR) demonstrator program that will gauge the art of the possible for the Future Vertical Lift program that will kick off in 2019 with the goal of reaching a low-rate capability in the early 2030s.

However, John Garrison, president and CEO of Bell Helicopter, told Defense News that Team Valor "absolutely believes it does not need to take until 2035 to bring this capability to the war fighter. The war fighter should be demanding this capability a lot quicker, 10 years sooner, so we are working to lay out a plan, a credible plan, so this [initial operating capability] could occur in the 2025-type time frame versus a 2035-type time frame."

The Army's program executive officer for its new Improved Turbine Engine and Future Vertical Lift program office, Richard Kretzschmar, has asked the companies involved in JMR to discuss schedule possibilities and has said he believes it's possible to enter low-rate initial production earlier than 2030.

But the talk of expediting procurement schedules was dampened by the repeated warnings from Army leaders at AUSA that more budget uncertainty, such as like extended continuing resolutions, sequestration or potential government shutdowns, would throw a wrench into forward progress.

Outgoing Army Secretary John McHugh's swan song depicted an Army tilting on the "ragged edge" of being unable to successfully confront challenges ahead, seen or unseen.

The service faces two potential scenarios, he said. One of those is an Army of power and readiness where enemies respect its capabilities and are deterred by its strength or destroyed by its lethality. The other is "much darker and much more dangerous, one based on ill-conceived notions of the nature of war, one based on growing discussions in this town that question the very need for our Army," McHugh said.

And new Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley used AUSA to voice his priorities going forward.

"We can't say we are strong to be strong, we must constantly recommit to readiness and must never ever lull into a false sense of complacency and wake up to find ourselves unready for combat," Milley said, repeating his frequent message: "Readiness is our No. 1 priority and there is no other No. 1."

The chief said one way to tackle the challenge is to focus on more and tougher training to ensure readiness, calling for added training days and increased Combined Arms Center rotations.

Army leaders also laid out on the table what would be at stake if Congress is unable to get a budget deal and authorizes a yearlong continuing resolution. Such a move, they said, would spell major cuts to big programs like helicopters and vehicles.

"I think my biggest fear is a lot of critical major programs, we really are going to buy a lot less quantity," said Heidi Shyu, the Army's acquisition chief. said, and This would mean buying half of the AH-64E Apache attack helicopters the Army is planning to buy in 2016 and half of its new-build CH-47F Chinook cargo helicopters.

The Army would also be unable to begin 75 of its new-start science and technology programs, Shyu said.

Timelines would also stretch out. Shyu noted the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV) design effort was supposed to ramp up in fiscal 16 with more funding, but "we won't be able to under CR."

Overall, a yearlong CR would affect more than 400 programs worth $6.1 billion, she said.

Gen. Dennis Via, commander of Army Materiel Command, added that a CR would affect readiness.

"We have systems that if we don't refurbish, aviation, helicopters, Abrams tanks, Bradleys, Strykers going down in reset ... it will stretch out those programs."

Brig. Gen. David Bassett, the program executive officer for Ground Combat Systems, said that in addition to AMPV, "the biggest obvious challenge" is going to be upgrading Stryker combat vehicles with more lethality, which is "entirely contingent upon the approval of the FY16 budget."

Email: jjudson@defensenews.com

Twitter: @jenjudson

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.

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