It takes time to change a culture that has persisted for decades. At least that’s one explanation for the current state of things for the Army’s plan to replace the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle.
On the one hand, history could have predicted that the acquisition of an optionally manned fighting vehicle would have some hiccups. The approach, which included a rapid prototyping effort meant to truncate two to three years of technology maturation and risk reduction, flew in the face of the Army’s past efforts in vehicle procurement. Consider what came before: the cancellation of its Future Combat System, the failed Ground Combat Vehicle program.
But as inspirational as OMFV may have seemed at the start, it was also encouraging. The Army was going beyond talk and changing process. It was more than just bold marketing of a new Futures Command, located in a city that prides itself on staying “weird,” that welcomes ideas and innovation beyond the traditional defense innovation hubs and big defense firms. It was tangible change.
And really, why couldn’t it work? And why couldn’t it work fast?
There’s not enough information to say yet that it won’t. But the latest news on the OMGV project doesn’t exactly fall neatly within that inspirational vision.
The Army disqualification of Raytheon and Rheinmetall’s bid leaves just General Dynamics Land Systems – and only vehicle to choose from. As Jen Judson reported, no other company submitted. Hanwha, a South Korean defense company, was interested in competing but chose not to participate. And apparently several companies who wanted to compete or submitted bids asked for extensions — roughly 90 days in the case of Rheinmetall. That particular request was based in circumstances tied to being an international provider: getting approvals from the local municipal government to transport the vehicle by tractor trailer or rail and then via air to Aberdeen.
The irony here is that the acquisition office said ok, but Futures Command didn’t. The command created to shakeup the system and enable rapid acquisition wouldn’t budge on schedule.
Now, I could go into detail here about how the decision about Rheinmetall also continues another hypocrisy: that international players aligned with a U.S. defense company will have a fair shot at Department of Defense programs. But that’s a whole other editorial that I’ve actually written before.
More important is to consider why the Army is choosing to be rigid. Does an extension – or extensions – fly in the face of the commitment to rapid prototyping? There’s an argument to be made that companies should work within parameters – particularly if they don’t voice objections in the first place. There is a long history of programs going off the skids when they cater too closely to the needs or wants of industry or when services mold requirements to best serve the platforms being bid by top competitors.
But that’s not what’s happening here. These were not requests for technical allowances (though there were claims that the technical requirements combined with the timeline were not possible).
These were requests for consideration of some circumstances. And maybe it’s not in the Army’s nature – the DoD’s nature – to provide such allowances. But that’s the entire point.
Maybe it should be.
Does this spell disaster for the Bradley replacement? No, not necessarily. If all remains the same, the Army could still get a great platform. If the lack of competition causes the Army to shift approach even modestly, it could get multiple options for great platforms. And maybe it will learn something for next time.
Like I said, it takes time to change a culture that has persisted for decades. But old habits do die hard sometimes.
Jill Aitoro was editor of Defense News. She was also executive editor of Sightline Media's Business-to-Government group, including Defense News, C4ISRNET, Federal Times and Fifth Domain. She brought over 15 years’ experience in editing and reporting on defense and federal programs, policy, procurement, and technology.