UPDATE This story has been updated to reflect the current acquisition path as of July 2020.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army still plans to release of its request for proposals in December to replace the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle, and it wants industry to prioritize an open architecture in its designs.

“The network is almost more important in some ways than building the combat vehicles,” Maj. Gen. Brian Cummings, program executive officer of ground combat systems, told Defense News in an interview ahead of the Association of the U.S. Army’s virtual conference.

The future optionally manned fighting vehicle will need the flexibility to be networked with other capabilities across the battlefield, and designed such that capabilities can plug into the vehicle at the forward edge. This realization was highlighted during the Army’s Project Convergence exercise at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, which wrapped up last month and during which an OMFV surrogate played a part.

The Army will focus on the effort to develop OMFV with an open architecture and, “to be blunt, a lot of things ... that we originally asked for, we may actually look to take out because it’s not as powerful as the ability to get that inside what we want in the next combat vehicle,” Cummings said.

The Army released a draft RFP in July and backed off one plan in that proposal to submit its own bid, which was met with scrutiny as industry officials questioned whether the service could play the game after Army leaders had already seen industry’s cards during an earlier iteration of the competition. The move, many in industry thought, would have easily teed up protests.

This is the second attempt to hold a competition for OMFV after the service’s first try ended up with just one bid because the Army’s requirements proved too onerous to industry and included a requirement to deliver a working prototype to the Army by October 2019.

The Army canceled that solicitation in January and issued a new market survey in February that asked industry to weigh in on what affected their decisions to participate, or not, in the previous OMFV competitive effort and how the Army might better engage with industry this time.

Instead of a laundry list of requirements that, when paired together, became unachievable in the timeline, the Army laid out nine characteristics to help shape designs.

The Army plans to request whitepapers and then choose five prime contractor teams to design rough digital prototypes. The service will then award up to three contracts for a detailed design and prototype phase that will include options for low-rate initial production. One vendor will be selected to go into production.

In response to the draft RFP, the Army got “hundreds of comments from industry,” Brig. Gen. Ross Coffman, who is in charge of next-generation combat vehicle development, said in the same Oct. 8 interview. “Industry, writ large, is communicating with us. We are listening and we’re able to take that. It’s helping us inform the final RFP.”

Cummings said the hope of sticking with digital designs for the first few phases of the competition opens up more opportunity for innovation “so we’re not locked in right from the beginning that the government has this grand design of what we want to have built in the end.”

But that also means there’s a constant battle of maintaining clarity over what the Army needs in the design and leaving room for creativity.

The Army is now working through what must be set in stone now, according to Cummings, and whether that is crew size or other possible requirements. “Maybe we don’t want to have them fixated within that yet,” he said.

With the draft RFP, it became clear, for example, that the service was “asking for a lot in this phase of the program,” Cummings said, and so the Army is evaluating what really needs to be in the RFP and what can wait to avoid detracting from key attributes like an open architecture.

Other industry feedback, he said, included concerns “about ensuring that foreign competition is there.”

It appears likely that American firm Raytheon and German company Rheinmetall will team up again to submit a design, as well as General Dynamics Land Systems, which was the only company to submit a physical bid sample in the previous competitive effort. BAE Systems has not publicly said whether it plans to compete this time, but the company chose months before bid samples were due that it wouldn’t compete during the previous effort.

Five contracts will be awarded in June 2021. A production decision is expected in 2027, with a subsequent fielding goal of 2028. The previous competition had a fielding goal of 2026.

“The Army shall succeed at moving forward with OMFV,” Bruce Jette, the Army’s acquisition chief, told Defense News in an interview earlier this month, implying that the service has no choice but to get a Bradley replacement right this time if it’s to appropriately modernize.

“We have a current schedule,” he said. “It is based upon our current objectives and funding profile. If, at any time, the senior leaders of the Army determine that modifications to that will provide greater flexibility or design development, they can make those decisions, but we are on plan and currently moving forward with the end date of 2028.”

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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