UPDATE — This story has been updated to include that Mettle Ops has submitted a bid and a comment from its founder.
WASHINGTON — The deadline to submit a preliminary design for the Army’s Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle (OMFV) is April 16, but the cutoff marks not the time for industry officials to put pencils down, but rather the time to pick them up.
Among the companies that have announced bid submissions or intentions to compete are prime defense contractors General Dynamics Land Systems, BAE Systems and a Rheinmetall North America-led team to include Raytheon, Textron and L3Harris.
Oshkosh Defense has also submitted a bid as a prime contractor and is partnering with leading South Korean defense company Hanwha, sources familiar with the effort have confirmed to Defense News.
Also according to several other sources, Michigan-based Mettle Ops has submitted a bid. The company “specializes in research, development, reverse engineering, program management, ground vehicle design, test and evaluation experience, system integration capabilities, and facilitates manufacturing and fabrication,” according to its website. It is owned by Katie and Mark Bigelow, a husband and wife team who both served in the Army.
“We are pushing hard toward autonomy, hybrid electric, and robotics. We know we are the underdog, but that’s not going stop us,” Katie Bigelow, Mettle Ops president and founder, told Defense News. The company has one subcontract in autonomy and is in the process of finalizing an award for an autonomous, hybrid electric vehicle design as well, she added.
Other bid announcements could surface as the deadline looms — likely from small and non-traditional businesses.
A year and a half ago, the Army received just one physical bid sample from GDLS by its set deadline in October 2019. Defense News broke the news that the only other entry — the Lynx 41 from a Rheinmetall and Raytheon team — was disqualified because it wasn’t delivered to Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, on time.
But the writing was already on the wall that the OMFV’s development schedule and requirements had doomed the program when BAE Systems, which manufactures the Bradley, bowed out of the competition months before the deadline.
Instead of moving forward with just one option, the Army canceled its OMFV competition, and took a step back to come up with a plan that would better foster a robust competition over a more reasonable timeline.
The Army not only dropped the plan to require a physical bid sample at the outset, it instead mapped out a five-phased effort that begins with an initial design phase then moves into a detailed design phase, followed by prototyping, testing and production.
Those designs will inform the Abbreviated-Concept Development Document (A-CDD) expected to be published in the first quarter of fiscal 2022.
“One of the neat elements of this initial phase of the program is that the Army isn’t asking us for the answer,” Don Kotchman, GDLS’ general manager, told Defense News in an April 15 interview.
“The Army is asking us how are we going to approach developing the answer,” he said.
Whoever is selected, Kotchman added, will be chosen because the Army likes the approach for its “adaptability, flexibility, robustness.”
The service will choose five prime contractor teams to design rough digital prototypes. The Army will then award up to three contracts for a detailed design and prototype phase that will include options for low-rate initial production. The service will select one vendor to go into production.
While it was widely believed BAE Systems would submit a bid, the company waited until April 15 to make it official. The company said in a statement that it would team with Elbit Systems and others. The announcement comes as little surprise since BAE said in October 2020 that it would team with Elbit on combat vehicle technology without stating explicitly that it would team up on OMFV.
General Dynamics is assembling its team and has already brought Silicon Valley-based Applied Intuition and Simi Valley, California-based Aerovironment on board. Applied Intuition is a company focused on autonomy and simulated vehicle development.
“The approach that General Dynamics Land Systems has taken to execute this is to find innovative partners who are really focused on the transformative capabilities that [the Army] is looking for in OMFV,” Kotchman said. “It really deals with the intellectual underpinnings of artificial intelligence, data management, sensor integration kinds of things so that regardless of eventual hardware approach, the ability for our offering to adapt, synthesize and deliver capability is enhanced.”
L3 Technologies is the most recent addition to the team and announced April 14 its teaming agreement with Rheinmetall NA to jointly develop OMFV. L3Harris will provide vehicle mission systems, cybersecurity and its modular open systems approach for the Lynx, a company statement read.
“We have a long history providing similar support to multiple platforms using our [modular open-systems architecture] approach for mission systems and electronic warfare,” James Gear, vice president for L3Harris’ domestic business development, said in the statement. “We look forward to working with American Rheinmetall Vehicles to further expand into the ground defense vehicle market.”
The service plans to spend $4.6 billion from fiscal 2022 through FY26 on OMFV so it is turning to industry input earlier and more than ever.
Following the concept design phase, the Army will move into a detailed design phase that will be executed over the course of FY23 and FY24.
The prototyping phase will begin in FY25 and vehicle testing will begin in FY26 and wrap up the following year 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.
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.