WASHINGTON – The Army is readying production of a new bridging system used by Armored Brigade Combat Teams after awarding DRS Technologies, Inc., a $400 million production contract to integrate the bridge platform onto an M1 Abrams tank.

DRS was selected at the end of an engineering and manufacturing development phase competition where General Dynamics Land Systems also was competing. DRS and GDLS were both selected to produce the Joint Assault Bridge for the course of the EMD phase in 2012.

The Marines led the technology development effort with BAE Systems prior to the EMD phase, Donna Morgan, the program officer for Army bridging, told Defense News last week.

The JAB system is a track-wheeled vehicle designed to carry and deploy a heavy "scissor" bridge that provides Army Mobility Augmentation Companies supporting ABCTs the ability to cross over wet or dry chasms.

The JAB will replace a couple of older bridging systems – the Armored Vehicle Launch Bridge (AVLB) and the Wolverine – because the older AVLB "doesn't quite keep up to the other vehicles in the brigade combat team formations like the M1 tank or the Bradley," Lt. Col. Jeff Biggans, the product manager for Army bridging, said in the same interview.

The AVLB system is on an M60 chassis, which is not only slower than the rest of the vehicles resident in an ABCT but is also becoming more difficult to maintain and sustain, according to Biggans. "A lot of the parts are becoming obsolete," he said.

The JAB will also replace the Wolverine bridging system which came online in the late 90s and early 2000s with the intention to replace the AVLB, but "we found out it was hard to operate and maintain, and we couldn't afford it at the time," Biggans said.

The Army built over 400 AVLBs for its own inventory and foreign militaries and produced only about 40 Wolverines.

"The JAB is a compromise" between the aging AVLB and the Wolverine that is too expensive and complicated to operate, Biggans said.

DRS has a public-private partnership with Anniston Army Depot in Alabama to manage the chassis assembly and worked with Israel Military Industries Systems (IMI) on the design and engineering of the system, according to a DRS statement.  The Army wanted the winner of the contract to include Anniston Army Depot’s organic industrial base experience in the JAB’s production, Biggans noted.

The new bridging system, which is 18.3 meters long, will improve deployment time with a set-up of three minutes compared to AVLB’s six-minute set-up. The Wolverine – not a "scissor" style bridge – spans 26 meters and takes three to five minutes to deploy. Wolverine was built by GDLS.

Biggans added that the competition and source selection took pages in the procurement book from the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle and the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle when considering best value across the program’s full life cycle. As a result, the Army expects to spend $300 million less than originally anticipated to buy the new JAB systems.

The Army plans to take delivery of the first vehicle in the third quarter of 2017, according to Morgan, and expects to reach low-rate initial production in 2019.

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.

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