Time was, not long ago, that the only vision for a new Army combat vehicle was the Army's. The service would develop a requirement detailing, down to thread size, the precise design and parts that should go into the vehicle. Industry had a choice: Take it or leave it. Invest and engage in building the vehicle, or don't.
In his 14 years at General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS), "I saw requirements that were so specific that if you had three people with that requirements document in front of them and they built three vehicles, all three vehicles looked exactly alike," said Mike Peck, GDLS' director of business development. Thus, "you have just eliminated any innovation that they could possibly think of."
Not so with the way the Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC) is executing the Army's combat vehicle modernization strategy. Combat vehicles need to provide Soldiers with speed, protection, lethality and the ability to wage a multidomain battle, working in concert with other ground forces to overwhelm the enemy with multiple simultaneous challenges.
A 'TOTALLY NEW' VEHICLE
The Army particularly needs the as-yet nonexistent Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) vehicle to support infantry brigade combat teams--a lightweight vehicle that can be airlifted into battle and maneuver, dispersed if necessary, in close-quarters urban terrain, but with lethal long-range firepower to take out enemy armored vehicles. The idea is to defeat enemy positions and destroy their light armored vehicles pre-emptively to provide U.S. forces with greater freedom of movement. MPF is now the Army's highest mid-term priority in combat vehicle modernization.
"We're going to need a totally new combat vehicle, and we don't even know what it looks like," said Lt. Col. Andy Sanchez, chief of ARCIC's Maneuver, Aviation and Soldier Division. "There's a huge effort to begin to look at offensive capabilities that can attack an enemy even before, ideally, the first kinetic or lethal munition has been fired. Ideally, you render an enemy at least degraded, making him fight degraded, before he's even put boots on the ground. And when you can get into an adversary's decision cycle with those types of capabilities, it makes them think differently about certain courses of action."
Five to 10 years ago, "industry was pretty much nonproactive" in building new platforms, Peck said, "almost a slave to waiting for that RFI [request for information], RFP [request for proposals], sources-sought kind of announcement." By contrast, in 2013, the Army started asking industry what it could do about MPF.
"We started talking about the potential for using old and new vehicles, what was in the possible range," said Jim Miller, director of business development at BAE Systems. "It's been several years of talking. A lot of the up-front discussions have proven to be very beneficial," including those with ARCIC and the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center.
EARLY SIGNS OF SUCCESS
ARCIC disseminated its draft MPF requirements document to industry and held an MPF industry day in early August 2016 at Fort Benning, Georgia, that was hosted by the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence. The resulting discussions have included the timeline and costs for developing MPF. "The process … has been pretty successful so far," said Miller, who noted that major corporate investments are riding on certain key decisions the Army makes up front on a combat vehicle, including its size, weight, survivability, crew size and the kind of aircraft that will transport it.
Miller said a big problem in requirements development of the past has been late-breaking decisions or revisions of key performance parameters. The process of developing requirements needs to settle these major decisions up front, he said. "And then you get to the smaller things that the Army wants, all the way to the widgets. It helps us decide how we want to spend our money."
The lines of communication between ARCIC and industry on what the Army wants in the MPF have been open enough that GDLS was able to put together a technology demonstrator in five months for the Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting & Exposition in October 2016 in Washington. It wasn't just "come up with a solution [and] hope for the best," as in past years, Peck said.
GDLS' tech demonstrator--called the Griffin, and not a prototype but at least "a conversation piece that is much more than a PowerPoint," as Patricia Sellers, GDLS business development manager, put it--got underway even before the industry day, incorporating characteristics that the company thought the Army might want, such as in the turret and gun. "And the Army looked at [the Griffin] and touched it and got inside it. … It created that dialogue between Army and industry that is essential for doing anything quickly, for informing Army requirements or helping the Army refine those requirements, by providing that conversation piece," Sellers said.
The Army's combat vehicle modernization strategy as a whole envisions both new vehicles and incremental technological improvements, informed by a continuous assessment, adaptation and innovation of capabilities, including commercial off-the-shelf solutions. Power generation, gun design, transportability and autonomous technologies will be just a few big pieces of the bigger picture, and they're not likely to come together all at once, but in iterative stages of modernization that require detailed discussion, just as the double-V hull was introduced to the Stryker platform in 2011 to improve survivability. Given what the Army is looking to achieve with the MPF, it might just have to be magical. Or science fiction. But today's science fiction is often tomorrow's science fact.
ARCIC wants industry to know that "we're not just thinking about tomorrow's war, we're thinking out toward, you know, 2035. We've projected the future in terms of near-, mid- and far-term periods, near-term being now until about 2021, mid-term from 2022 to 2031, and 2031 and beyond is considered far-term," said Sanchez. "It helps them better see things through the reality of funding that we have to work in. So when they're delivering, they're delivering to something in those time periods."
At the same time, Sanchez acknowledged, our known and potential enemies are developing similar capabilities. "So it's just a matter of who gets to the better platforms first and who develops the better techniques first."
With its combat vehicle modernization strategy, which the Army can revise as needed, "we have a living document," Sanchez said, that will enable the Army to avoid the mistakes of the doomed Ground Combat Vehicle, canceled in 2010 after the requirements got out of control and the vehicle was deemed unaffordable. The increasingly collaborative and iterative process of requirements development gives the Army an opportunity to discover immediately useful technology and spin it out into capabilities the Soldier can use on the battlefield right now. For things that are conceivable but not yet possible, it gives the Army a much better idea of what needs to be parked for now and what can be driven today.
This article was originally published in the January -- March 2017 issue of Army AL&T Magazine.
U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center
USAASC Flickr January - March 2017 issue of Army AL&T Magazine