WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army and BAE Systems are working together to identify ways to accelerate production of the new Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle, which would let the service more quickly replace aging M113 armored troop carriers.
The Pentagon has sent some M113s to Ukraine; in total the department has committed 200 of the vehicles since Russia invaded its neighbor in February.
“I’ve seen them on the internet and they seem to be doing pretty well by Ukraine, and the Ukrainians are using them in their intended role — a battle taxi, not a fighting vehicle,” Maj. Gen. Glenn Dean, program executive officer for ground combat systems, told Defense News ahead of the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference.
Congress has provided some funding to replace M113s with AMPVs, Dean said, “so for the National Guard, [which] gave up vehicles, we already have the money in hand to buy back some of [their] vehicles.”
The Army is “working with BAE to build their production rate up higher,” Dean added. “It’ll take them a while to get to the rate that we need to be able to replace those M113s in an expedited fashion, but that is the plan. We have additional, significant increase in production money actually already in hand. It’ll be combined with [fiscal] 2023 monies for the full-rate production decision, and then we will expect to see that continue to FY24.”
The move to quicken production may come as a surprise, given the Army originally planned to slow the rate of AMPV purchases across its five-year plan, from FY23 through FY27. That initial approach was meant to help the Army pay for other priorities, despite the expectation that the service will reach a full-rate production decision on the AMPV in early 2023.
The new pace, described in the most recent FY23 budget plan, would extend procurement for AMPV out to 2035. The Army went from a plan to buy vehicles at around a rate of 190 per year to buying 131 a year.
In FY23 alone, the Army cut 177 vehicles from its previous budget plan for FY22.
“The original plan had us ramping up to a brigade set a year in [low-rate initial production],” Bill Sheehy, BAE’s AMPV program director, told Defense News. “Then we were going to drop down substantially as we began full rate ... but with issues going on in Eastern Europe, the United States supplying the Ukrainians M113s, we have been approached by the [U.S.] Army to start to develop courses of action that would allow us to ramp up our production rates in order to divest of 113s faster.”
BAE is now in the planning process to figure out how to meet the demand, Sheehy said, adding that the effort is an acceleration of the current plan to divest M113s faster and does not increase the total objective quantity of AMPVs the Army plans to acquire.
For now, BAE is preparing to submit its full-rate production proposal to the Army ahead of the service’s upcoming decision.
Because of lingering effects the coronavirus pandemic had on the supply chain, coupled with some suppliers wanting to avoid getting locked into longer-term contracts due to uncertainty over costs, BAE has structured its first full-rate production contract proposal as a two-year deal with a plan to pursue another two-year contract down the road.
Sheehy noted the Army is onboard and understands the business situation.
AMPV also completed its major initial operational test and evaluation earlier this year. While Dean warned to take his initial assessment with a grain of salt since he hasn’t seen all the reports, “based on at least what I’ve gotten from every test and evaluation command [report], it is as good a test outcome as I have ever seen in my career: effective, suitable, survivable.”
The Army is on “track to start actual fielding to the first brigade in January,” Dean added.
The AMPV program had a bumpy start, with delayed completion of vehicles due to tooling and assembly line challenges at BAE Systems’ York, Pennsylvania, production line. The Army test community also identified deficiencies with the vehicle that required correction before low-rate initial production, further delaying the program.
Then pandemic complications contributed to additional delays in building vehicles.
But Sheehy said the issues are behind BAE thanks to “advanced manufacturing techniques and the robotic welding that we’re using in there. We’ve been able to maintain schedule, and part of that schedule is ramping up to the full-rate production numbers … and we’ve been able to do that and maintain consistent delivery for over a year now.”
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.