WASHINGTON — When the U.S. Army set out to replace its Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle with an optionally manned fighting vehicle, the pool of vehicles in the competition looked relatively deep. But some companies like BAE Systems saw the Army’s request for proposals and decided against competing. And sources confirmed to Defense News that South Korean defense company Hanwha seriously considered bidding.
Defense News broke the news earlier this month that one of the most anticipated contenders had been disqualified on a technicality. A team made up of Raytheon and Rheinmetall was unable to get the right permission at the right time to get the Lynx 41 infantry fighting vehicle out of Germany in time to deliver its physical bid sample to Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland — one of the requirements for participating in the competition.
It turns out only one company submitted a bid a sample — General Dynamics Land Systems — and the Army has found itself in a tough spot as its competition is essentially no longer a competition. And it has a budget that covers the cost of two awards, under which each winner would build 14 prototypes.
The inflexibility to accommodate Raytheon and Rheinmetall’s request for a 90-day extension to bring its bid sample to the United States, according to industry sources, highlights the flaws in the relationship between the Army acquisition community and the new Army Futures Command. According to several sources, the acquisition side of the house wanted to grant an extension just to keep the program competitive, but the command was dead set on keeping to its schedule.
Because the Army is in a sensitive source-selection evaluation process, the service could not legally discuss the details of the competition, including whether it really did receive only one bid and what will happen next.
“Over the coming months the source selection evaluation board will conduct its review in accordance with the evaluation criteria stated in the RFP,” said an Army statement issued to Defense News on Oct. 7. ““The Army intends to award up to two contracts for the [optionally manned fighting vehicle] OMFV [middle-tier acquisition (rapid prototyping)] effort phase in the spring of 2020.”
It’s possible the Army could reverse course before reaching the point where it would award a contract to build prototypes. Alternatively, it might proceed as planned and award GDLS a contract to proceed with building 14 prototypes.
But there could still be an opportunity for companies to join the competition, albeit without the major advantage of funding from the Army to build a series of prototypes. According to the Army statement, after the MTA-RP phase is completed, the Army plans to release a second “full and open competitive solicitation for Low-Rate Initial Production (LRIP).”
The Army plans to transition OMFV to a major program of record when it awards a production contract in fiscal 2023, which sticks to the schedule on which the service has been unbending.
The sole bidder
Meanwhile, GDLS is confident its design for OMFV will be the best infantry fighting vehicle in the world once it has moved through the Army’s prototyping program.
If GDLS remains the sole bidder, it wouldn’t be the first time the Army has proceeded with one bidder in what was meant to be a competition. Recently, the service had one bidder — BAE Systems — for the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle program. The Army did not publicly acknowledge the company was the only one in the mix until the service awarded a production contract.
GDLS said it’s offering a clean-sheet design, although the vehicle submission is required to be a non-developmental solution and not based on anything already in the company’s inventory.
GDLS had brought a Griffin III demonstrator to the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference in 2018, but that is not what the company is offering the Army, according to Keith Barclay, the company’s director of global strategy and growth.
“This was designed specifically with the requirements of the solicitation in mind,” of which there are 100 mandatory requirements and six negotiable features, Barclay said in an interview with Defense News roughly a week after the bid proposal was due to the Army.
The company was focused on lethality, protection and capability growth when designing the vehicle, Barclay said, and the platform will include a 50mm cannon, which is an objective requirement.
The vehicle will also incorporate active protection systems, he added, meaning the vehicle has a specific type of electronic architecture and design to facilitate the system. The vehicle is also built to accommodate a third-generation forward-looking infrared sensor.
Another requirement is that two of the vehicles can be transported together on a C-17 aircraft. GDLS’ offering is designed to accommodate that. According to industry sources, this is a tough ask for non-developmental vehicles, as most developers would have to take away some level of survivability to lessen the weight so two vehicles can simultaneously and safely ride aboard a C-17.
While the design is new, the company is using “a lot of very mature technologies,” Barclay said. Design of the vehicle began before the Army decided the OMFV program would be a path to replace the Bradley. It took anticipation and prediction on the part of GDLS to be ahead of the curve and ready for such a competition.
“We really started about three years ago in close, close dialogue, close teaming with the Army,” Barclay said. “So we understood that those requirements for a Bradley were going to exist, and there are plenty of technologies, whether it’s transmission and engines, and we put it all together in a package that requires a design to fit it all together and meet those requirements.”
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 in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts from Kenyon College.