WIESBADEN, Germany ― The door is open for foreign companies to join the multibillion-dollar race to build a new combat vehicle for the U.S. Army, according to new service Secretary Mark Esper.

“Many of our NATO allies have very capable tanks,” he said Monday during a briefing with reporters at U.S. Army Europe headquarters. “As I think about a next-generation combat vehicle, we should look at our allies, and look at their designs, and look at how they’ve built combat vehicles and combat systems, and think about adopting some of those.”

Service leaders believe time is of the essence when it comes to closing a gap in tank development caused by several failed attempts to field new technology over the past 10 years or so.

While there have been previous attempts by European armored-vehicle companies to enter the U.S. military market, domestic manufacturers like General Dynamics or BAE Systems have traditionally retained their hold on the large land programs.

“We should look to our partners and allies for good ideas,” Esper said. “We have to think about the NGCV, and we can’t afford to wait 10, 15, 20 years to do that.”

The service awarded a $237 million contract last fall to produce two prototype vehicles by fiscal 2022. The deal went to a U.S. industry team, lead by SAIC, consisting of Lockheed Martin, Moog Inc., GS Engineering, Hodges Transportation, Inc. and Roush Industries, Defense News previously reported.

Esper repeated the old military acquisition mantra of wanting to avoid costly and time-consuming solutions that are perfect in favor of readily available hardware that is good enough for a given task. Such proclamations had little effect in earlier Army attempts to field new vehicles, and it remains to be seen whether they will this time.

Interested foreign companies may get their best shot of entering their designs when partnering with U.S. firms rather than going it alone, Esper said.

“Of course, we have great capabilities in our own defense industrial base as well, to either go white sheet ― a brand-new design ― or look to others,” he said. “We want to buy best of breed, but I have to be conscious of the U.S. defense industrial base as well.”

Army officials have said they want to field a next-generation combat vehicle in 2035.

Sebastian Sprenger is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News. He is based in Cologne, Germany.

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