WASHINGTON — The five companies competing to design the replacement for the U.S. Army’s Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle recently finished an initial concept review, and the service has conducted a detailed assessment of those early digital designs, according to an official overseeing the program.
“That information is now feeding into both our simulation activity and to the [Next Generation Combat Vehicle Cross-Functional Team] for requirements refinement,” Brig. Gen. Glenn Dean, the service’s program executive officer for ground combat systems, told Defense News before the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference.. “As you might expect, everybody’s taking a little bit different approach.”
The five teams selected to compete for the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle, or OMFV, are Point Blank Enterprises, Oshkosh Defense, BAE Systems, General Dynamics Land Systems and American Rheinmetall Vehicles.
Two years ago, the Army, in its first attempt to hold a competition to replace the Bradley, received just one physical bid sample — from GDLS — by the October 2019 deadline.
Instead of moving forward with one bidder, the Army canceled the competition and took a step back, producing a new plan meant to generate robust competition over a more reasonable timeline. That plan laid out a five-phase effort.
The first phase, now in full swing, is for an initial design. That will be followed by a full and open competition for a detailed design phase that will be executed over fiscal 2023 and fiscal 2024. Awards for up to three contractors are expected in the second quarter of FY23.
The prototyping phase will begin in FY25, and the Army is expected to select in the fourth quarter of FY27 one company to build low-rate production vehicles. Full-rate production is expected to begin in FY30.
A few of the competitors, including BAE, are showcasing at AUSA preliminary concepts for what the vehicle will look like and how it would be designed and built. While BAE has been tight-lipped about its plans, it says it is bringing a “prototype rolling lab vehicle” — the RV-301 — to the conference. That vehicle was developed to study concepts that could be incorporated into the company’s ultimate offering for OMFV, according to Jim Miller, BAE’s senior director of business development for combat mission systems.
The vehicle at the show looks like an Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle, but it is a unique structure that is larger than an AMPV, Miller said. He noted it’s not the company’s OMFV design.
The RV-301 will feature Elbit Systems’ MT30 turret, which reflects BAE’s partnership with the Israeli company on OMFV, while also demonstrating survivability increases, sensors that provide 360-degree situational awareness to soldiers in the vehicle as well as active protection systems and automation software, Miller said.
Underpinning it is a modular, open-system architecture, or MOSA, which is at the top of the Army’s list of desired OMFV capabilities because that approach keeps a new vehicle capable of accommodating growth.
BAE has teamed with Curtiss-Wright to provide the MOSA element, Miller said. The architecture “is not something that’s new to us,” Miller said, “but it is getting it right that is absolutely critical to the success of the program and to the success of the vehicle.”
General Dynamics Land Systems is unveiling at AUSA a fifth-generation electronic architecture, according to Bob Lennox, the company’s vice president for strategy and global growth. The open architecture system, dubbed Katalyst, will be on a demonstrator vehicle at the show, he told Defense News.
“We think this is the heart of OMFV in the future,” Lennox added.
GDLS is displaying the technology contributions of its partners AeroVironment and Silicon Valley-based Applied Intuition. AeroVironment’s Switchblade loitering munition will be displayed with the OMFV demonstrator technology. Applied Intuition, which has experience in modeling and simulating autonomy for the automobile industry, is helping GDLS bring that capability into the tougher environments combat vehicles encounter, said Don Kotchman, vice president and general manager of GDLS in the U.S.
GDLS is also working with GD Mission Systems, which has incorporated networks, radio gear and cyber capabilities into the concept, Kotchman added.
For now, he said, GDLS doesn’t want to get locked into too many partnerships because “you begin to artificially narrow the realm of your trade possibilities to support the Army’s requirement development for its performance spec.”
“As that performance spec evolves, we will determine who to specifically partner with,” Kotchman said.
Point Blank and Oshkosh were unavailable to detail their plans in advance of the show, while American Rheinmetall didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The Army is expected to provide the teams with a first look at its performance specification during the initial design phase, and industry will have a chance to comment. The service is expected to shape and change that specification over the 15-month digital design phase as it builds up to a system functional review in FY23, both industry and Army officials have said.
Most competitors haven’t yet finalized a vehicle design because the Army hasn’t called for that level of detail, but is instead asking how the competitors would approach developing that design.
Looking at the initial concepts, Dean said most of the teams have been “relatively conservative because everybody wants to get in detail about what we want, and our initial characteristics were very broad.”
The Army laid out nine broad characteristics, rather than a laundry list of requirements, when it solicited proposals for the first phase of the competition. “From my view, there was, surprisingly, more about vehicle design characteristics than the MOSA architecture approach,” Dean said, regarding what he saw during the initial concept review.
“I think that is in part because they’ve seen the dialogues we’ve been having on the [MOSA] architecture standards with industry and know that the updated document is very shortly to be released,” Dean said, noting it is expected this month.
The Army’s plan is to continue communicating with industry not selected for the initial design phase to prepare them for the detailed design phase that will open into another competition, Maj. Gen. Ross Coffman, who is in charge of the Army’s combat vehicle modernization, said in the same interview as Dean.
Coffman said it’s critical to share information with competitors and maintain an open dialogue with companies not participating in the first phase of the program to ensure the next phase sees robust competition. Dean stressed the importance of continuing to broadly share the open-systems architecture approach.
The Army will release several draft requests for proposal for the detailed design phase, much like it did for the first round. “It’s not going to be held in secrecy and then sprung on unsuspecting industry in May,” Dean said.
“The rest of industry will begin to see the direction that we’re shaping that competition, and they’ll see the performance specifications, etc.,” he added. “They don’t quite have the inside track that the five that are on contract are in getting that in-depth, back-and-forth dialogue on their concepts, but if they are following along, they will be ready to pick up and compete.”
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.