By David VergunDecember 9, 2016
WASHINGTON (Army News Service) -- The first armored multipurpose Vehicle, or AMPV, is scheduled to be handed over to the Army Thursday for testing.
The AMPV demonstrator will roll out of the BAE Systems plant in York, Pennsylvania, to begin a 52-month engineering and manufacturing development phase for the vehicle. At least 29 of the vehicles will be manufactured for this phase of the procurement process, officials said.
If the low-rate production option for the AMPV is approved, procurement officials said several hundred of the vehicles will be manufactured for testing over the next four years.
The AMPV will replace the armored brigade combat team's M113 family of vehicles. The AMPV addresses the M113's shortcomings in survivability and force protection, and size, weight, power, and cooling, known as SWAP-C, officials said. It is also designed to incorporate future technologies and the Army's network.
The AMPV has a brand new hull, but it maintains some of the Bradley legacy design, allowing for some compatibility efficiencies, according to Maj. Gen. David G. Bassett, program executive officer for Ground Combat Systems. In fact, about 60 to 70 percent of the parts are common with existing ground combat vehicles, Bassett said during a press conference in October.
The AMPV also has space inside to allow for the addition of new systems in the future, and it comes with an improved power train. The hull is stronger from a force protection perspective, too, he said.
Meanwhile, many Bradleys are still in service, "so we're building new capabilities in an incremental way over time," he added.
"I'd love to have replacement programs today for Abrams and Bradleys," Bassett said. "We could get those plans [for replacements], but it just doesn't fit into this portfolio and budget requirement. Instead we're looking at, do you want to do an ECP-3 [engineering change proposal] on a Bradley or do you want to bridge to a new platform? We're making informed decisions."
UPDATING CURRENT COMBAT PLATFORMS
The M-109 Paladin, the M1 Abrams tank and the M-2 Bradley have been around for decades, but their capabilities today are nothing like they were when they originally rolled out of the factory.
The vehicles have been updated periodically with various upgrades as new technologies evolved, making them far more capable than their original design, noted Bassett, who is the program executive officer for Ground Combat Systems.
"At the end of the day, a combat vehicle is about a box," he said. "[Inside, are the latest] mobility system, lethality system, communications system and some other things. If you can take all those and put them on an existing vehicle, then maybe you don't have to build a whole new vehicle from scratch, along with the risks associated with that kind of development."
The box concept does have its limitations, though, he added. For instance, the size of the power train on a Bradley is constrained by the size of the engine cavity, which means that simply plopping in a larger one isn't possible. But still, even if the hull has to be replaced, some elements of the existing vehicle could be retained.
With its brand new hull and many Bradley legacy designs, the AMPV, is "a great example of that [versatility]," he pointed out.
Besides using existing platforms in ways that designers never anticipated, Bassett said, the Army has been saving money in other ways.
"Across the board, the way we're affording all the things we're affording is by producing things at really low rates, which gives us an operational flexibility to ramp up when dollars are available," he said, adding "that [strategy] creates fairly slow modernization across our formation."
For instance, production rates on the Stryker for the engineering change proposal could be as low as one brigade every three years, "because you're just not getting at the level of resources to create an efficient production rate," he explained.
As to the modernization rates of Abrams and Bradleys, they will certainly be lower than one brigade a year, he said. "Those are all symptoms of that budget environment."
A new suite of mobile protected firepower (MPF) vehicles is also being conceptualized. The MPF is meant to fill the need among infantry brigade combat teams for something like a light tank, Bassett said. The Abrams is too heavy to be air dropped and, once it's on the ground, it can't maneuver in constricted areas like narrow mountain roads or alleyways.
In August, when industry representatives were invited to the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Georgia, the technical requirements for the MPF were purposely kept to a minimum, he said, because "we're trying to be open-minded."
For instance, a maximum weight of 32 tons was one requirement, which would allow it to be air dropped, he said.
Also among the requirements: the cannon must be capable of destroying a minimum number of targets and must provide a certain level of protection. The cannon could be 57-millimeter, 105-millimeter or 120-millimeter -- a cost-saving measure; those cannons are already in the Army's inventory, he explained.
Like a tank, the new vehicle should be tracked so that it can scale over rubble from destroyed buildings and other obstructions like burned-out cars, said Col. Jim Schirmer, project manager for armored fighting vehicles.
Of course, the MPF vehicle would need certain levels of mobility, protection and firepower, he said, but the advantages of the tradeoffs between such capabilities must be considered. For example, a light vehicle that offers greater mobility would also have less protection and firepower than an Abrams.
The MPF suite of vehicles will include ground mobility vehicles, light reconnaissance vehicles as well as the tracked vehicle just described, Schirmer said.
As to the timeline, the Army is initiating prototyping to develop the MPF while pursuing short-term, non-developmental alternatives, Bassett said.
The Army is preparing now to issue an "analysis of alternatives" for the MPF in early 2017. A competitive request for proposal may also be released next year.
"We're not willing to go through a lengthy bottom-up design process," Bassett said. "We're willing to give you time on your own to get a design ready to compete, and then we'll evaluate that fairly rapidly in the engineering, manufacturing, development phase, not unlike what the Marine Corps did."
He added, "We can learn a lot from the Marine Corps and programs like JLTV [Joint Light Tactical Vehicle], where we benefited greatly from the competition of more than one vendor."
(ARNEWS Editor Gary Sheftick contributed to this article. You can follow them on Twitter: @vergunARNEWS and sheftickARNEWS.)