WASHINGTON — The request for proposals from industry for the U.S. Army’s optionally manned fighting vehicle, or OMFV, intended to replace the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle, has hit the street and allows for greater flexibility for foreign companies to compete.
In the service’s second stab at holding a competition for OMFV, the Army is driving as much flexibility as it can across the board, from avoiding stringent requirements in favor of loose characteristics and creating a phase for industry to design concepts without much company investment that will form requirements along the way.
The Army’s previous attempt required the delivery of physical bid samples, which hamstrung foreign competitor Rheinmetall of Germany and drove Bradley-maker BAE Systems to avoid the competition. Ultimately, the service received just one bid sample from General Dynamics Land Systems, which forced the Army to rethink the effort and come back with a new approach.
The OMFV competition has foreign industry jumping to join in with new and modernized platforms, and the Army appears to be ditching much of the restrictions that would typically keep them out.
Rheinmetall has already partnered with American firms Raytheon and Textron to solidify its participation in the competition, but many other companies are poised to submit bids to design concepts.
The pool needs to be deep because the Army anticipates awarding up to five contracts to design platforms.
“The challenges we’ve typically had in getting foreign participation is we often have a lot of classified material that we release up front, and we have some detailed specification that has very detailed performance requirements that’s classified,” Brig. Gen. Glenn Dean, the new Army program executive officer for ground combat systems, said in a Dec. 18 press briefing.
Foreign competitors “have to have clearances in place to be able to take that information,” Dean said. This means foreign companies must either be partnered with a prime contractor in the United States, have a subsidiary stateside, or have other clearances that take time to get through the approval process in order to exchange the classified information.
Working through consortiums, which the Army regularly does, also makes it hard for foreign contractors to come through the door, Dean said.
This time, the Army isn’t working with a consortium and is using a more traditional federal acquisition regulation-based contract, according to Dean. Furthermore, he said, classified reports will not be required in order to submit a bid or receive an initial design contract award.
“We’ve eliminated the limitation on primes and, because we don’t have classified information we are providing at the front end, that allows us to share more broadly and gives those companies time if they’re going to continue to play as lead, to establish their facilities, clearances and have the necessary structures in place to receive classified information when we get to that point,” he said.
Dean expects more classified requirements to kick in toward the end of the concept design phase where requirements begin to take shape, which translates to specifications. “Obviously, every company is going to make their own determination about what strengths and partners may bring to the table, whether they want to come in as a sub, whether they want to be prime with a bunch of U.S. subs,” Dean said, “but the response has been very promising.”
He also said there is strong interest from abroad. “I would say that we at least heard from or have participation … from all the major companies in the West capable of doing a full combat vehicle. Companies from Israel, South Korea, Singapore, Germany, in addition to companies both you’re familiar with in the U.S. who’ve [supplied] combat vehicles, but also some companies that operate in the defense space but haven’t traditionally been combat vehicle suppliers,” he said. “We will see how many of them ultimately decide they want to throw their hat in the ring and participate. I think we’ve done what we need to do to make it as open at an initial point.”
Sources following the competition are expecting to see participation from South Korea’s Hanwha, which is in a head-to-head competition in Australia with Rheinmetall to produce a new infantry fighting vehicle.
Germany-based Krauss-Maffei Wegmann has also touted an infantry fighting vehicle option, most recently at the last in-person Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference in Washington, D.C., in 2019.
Belgium’s CMI Defense is also rumored to be forging a partnership with a U.S. prime to participate in the competition.
Now that the solicitation has been posted to Beta.Sam.Gov, companies have until April 16, 2021, to submit a conceptual bid. The Army will award contracts in July, according to Dean, which will kick off 15 months of funded work.
During the phase, industry will work on designs without bending metal that will inform an abbreviated capabilities development document — or an initial set of requirements. Once the design phase ends, the Army will take a pause and then open the competition back up for a more detailed design effort ahead of prototyping, where up to three bids will be selected to proceed. The detailed design phase will be executed over the course of fiscal 2023 and fiscal 2024.
The prototyping phase will begin in FY25, according to slides presented at the OMFV industry day. Vehicle testing will begin in FY26 and wrap up in FY27, with a production decision planned for the fourth quarter of FY27. Full-rate production is expected to begin in the second quarter of FY30.
In parallel to the concept design phase, the Army will develop an open architecture for OMFV. An open architecture has risen to the top of the OMFV planner’s list of required capability, particularly after seeing the need to be networked with other capabilities across the battlefield and at the forward edge at Project Convergence at Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona, over the summer. The Army will establish a voluntary consortium beginning in January 2021 that will represent industry, government and academia in order to develop such an open architecture, according to the statement.
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.