As the Army drives toward its goal of modernizing the nation’s ground combat force, it must strike a balance between defining achievable near-term objectives and defining aggressive stretch goals for future increments. It is imperative that the Army, at all levels, leverage the vast expertise within DOD to define reasonable near-term goals, while at the same time defining the objectives that lie beyond that which current technology can achieve.
Inherent to both lines of effort is a simple, yet often overlooked, principle: teamwork. The following discussion explains how the Next Generation Combat Vehicle Cross-Functional Team (NGCV-CFT) worked with agencies both on Detroit Arsenal, Michigan, and across DOD to transition the light- and medium-robotic combat vehicle concepts into modified off-the-shelf surrogates in less than 18 months. While our approach was certainly not perfect, future permutations could share certain foundational principles; namely, building a talented team with people from different agencies to develop solutions for a capability gap as quickly as possible.
In simple terms, our approach communicated requirements—derived through aggressive teamwork across many organizations—clearly and frequently to industry. Bound by a common vision and purpose, our team enabled the contracting command to craft proposal requests, negotiate terms, execute procurement instruments and enter agreements with two different firms (Textron, with major partner Howe and Howe Technologies Inc.; and QinetiQ North America, with major partner Pratt Miller Defense), which are both on pace to deliver platforms with technological maturity we did not expect to see until 2023.
Many residents of the Detroit Arsenal joined the NGCV-CFT in their project: the Program Executive Office (PEO) for Ground Combat Systems, the PEO for Combat Support and Combat Service Support, Army Contracting Command – Detroit Arsenal and the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Ground Vehicle Systems Center. The transition of Light and Medium Robotic Combat Vehicle concepts into their surrogates was not a sprint—it was a relay, one in which each participating office would lead with their expertise as needed.
PUT ME IN, COACH
Given the developmental nature of both robotic combat vehicle variants, the Ground Vehicle Systems Center acted as the relay team’s coach, devising the general strategy and directing when the baton transitioned to a different runner.
The first athlete out of the starting blocks was the requirement owner—in this case, the NGCV-CFT, which began an aggressive assessment of existing mature technologies relevant for the vehicle variants by meeting with different industry vendors. The team met with both well-known vendors, who routinely manage multibillion-dollar defense contracts, as well as small startups from Silicon Valley. Eventually, the number of meetings outpaced the team’s ability to travel to them, and they developed an initiative called Modernization in the Motor City, which invited technology companies from across the world to travel to Detroit Arsenal and pitch their solutions to the government.
These efforts to engage with industry helped the NGCV-CFT understand what industry could deliver if the government asked it to produce a vehicle today, or what was within the “realm of the possible.” The team used this knowledge to establish the vehicle’s minimum, “must meet” requirements. Because the NGCV-CFT is building vehicles for the future, not the present, the team met with actual Soldiers and asked them to define their capability wish list, devoid of any cost, physics or other logical constraints.
The NGCV-CFT wrote down every comment Soldiers provided, being careful not to dismiss a single idea. Many ideas failed to manifest themselves within vehicle requirements; however, allowing Soldiers this type of sky-is-the-limit input was invaluable for defining the program’s future objectives.
Often, and through no fault of their own, requirement authors have not recently been inside an armored vehicle roasting under the Middle Eastern sun, nor have they carried an 80-pound rucksack across the mountains of Afghanistan at night. Additionally, requirement authors often prioritize industry’s feedback about what it can produce today, giving less consideration to a Soldier’s definition of a combat platform that has the potential to maintain its relevancy in the future. Having Soldiers provide direct and frequent feedback during every phase of development is the ideal way to define the capabilities necessary to make platforms relevant decades after their initial fielding.
After defining theoretical robotic combat vehicle requirements, the team had to evaluate these capabilities in a relevant environment. We knew it had to demonstrate these capabilities to Soldiers to receive their feedback and to inform future iterations. Unfortunately, conducting multiple live experiments with surrogates or prototypes each year is not financially feasible. Therefore, the NGCV-CFT passed the baton to the Ground Vehicle Systems Center’s Soldier Experimental Gaming Analysis team to construct virtual experiments to assist with demonstrating the capabilities in a virtual and relevant environment.
The Soldier Experimental Gaming Analysis team created virtual prototypes equipped with the capabilities and attributes defined during the NGCV-CFT’s market research efforts. Before this effort began, the Ground Vehicle Systems Center hosted numerous Soldier Innovation Workshops, during which Soldiers provided feedback about desired capabilities. This feedback enabled them to construct the virtual prototypes and served as critical jumping-off points for these virtual experiments.
Soldiers from across the Army traveled to Detroit to fight virtual wars and provided feedback to the Ground Vehicle Systems Center on what technology was helpful, as well as ideas for new robotic combat vehicle operating and employment techniques. Their feedback was overwhelmingly positive, indicating that the vehicle and its current capability suite were useful, thus enabling the Ground Vehicle Systems Center to pass this analysis to the NGCV-CFT, which helped to establish a priority list of desired capabilities, ranking in order each capability and associated performance levels. It also helped to better define the program’s possible capability trades for later phases of the procurement process.
The team then needed feedback from those who would physically construct the vehicles. Accordingly, the team provided industry with its draft requirements for review and comment. This approach not only served as a reality check for the achievability of the Army’s desired requirements, it also enabled our industry partners to build their own teams, conduct their own market research and contemplate how they might design their virtual prototypes before receiving an official set of requirements, in an effort to move toward proposal development.
The Ground Vehicle Systems Center continued to carry the baton, analyzing the schedule and requirements, and identifying the expertise required to expand the internal team for the final sprint toward solicitation release. It was now time for the contracting experts to join the ongoing race.
BRINGING INDUSTRY IN
To do so, the team released the draft requirements for both the light- and medium-robotic combat vehicle variants for final review and comment in May 2019. The team considered all feedback received and finalized the requirements in June 2019, when it initiated the first stage of the other-transaction agreement solicitation process, which was a request for white papers. Industry then had one month to provide a white paper addressing an overview and technical approach of their proposed robotic combat vehicle platform, addressing such factors as schedule, vendor capability, safety and vehicle performance. After an initial read, the team provided the offerors with specific feedback and requests for further information. The offerors then had one week to update their white papers.
In July 2019, our team scheduled oral reviews for every vendor who submitted a white paper. During this time, offerors had an opportunity to present their proposed concept, clarify their technical approach and address questions to the government panel of experts. Offerors had one week to finalize their white paper before resubmitting it to the government for evaluation using pre-established criteria.
The team then invited the most highly qualified offerors from the white paper phase to participate in the second phase of the evaluation— the request for prototype proposal. Similar to the first round, industry had an opportunity to update their proposals after an initial feedback round, before locking them for the final submission. The government team reviewed all final submissions before recommending the best proposal from this reduced pool to the selecting official in August 2019.
The team provided industry with a list of equipment furnished by the government, to decrease schedule risk. This equipment, such as lethality systems and autonomy systems, had previously undergone testing at the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Center and could minimize both the time and risk associated with government safety certification. The robotic combat vehicle’s radio was the most critical component of this equipment list. In a separate endeavor, our teammates at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command C5ISR Center conducted a thorough, hands-on market research initiative resulting in the selection of a specific radio for use during the robotic combat vehicle experiments, based on the demonstrated performance of 10 different radio solutions. This approach helped stabilize the potential price disparity between vendors’ proposed vehicles by holding this capability constant among all offerors.
Currently, industry is running with the baton. Looking back on the miles behind us, we can see that in less than 18 months, the Robotic Combat Vehicle team found the best technology that enabled industry to provide platforms that are, in essence, purpose-built, as opposed to the off-the-shelf modified surrogates we anticipated receiving. These platforms, which will be used for the next live experiment, exceeded our expectations. Our contracting teammates managed to take a spreadsheet of desired requirements and transform them into signed agreements within eight months.
The race is far from over and more competitions will occur in the future; but regardless of new challenges, both known and unknown, our team will continue to pass the baton back and forth until it crosses the finish line—which is providing the American Soldier with the best equipment as quickly as possible.
COREY RICHARDS works as an acquisition analyst and contracting adviser to Brig. Gen. Ross Coffman, director of NGCV-CFT. She provides guidance on requirements development, regulatory compliance and competition strategies to ensure that stakeholder decisions are synchronized with Army modernization priorities and objectives. She holds an MBA from Walsh College and a B.S. in general management from Oakland University. Additionally, she is Level III certified in contracting and is finalizing her Level III certification for program management.
MAJ. CORY WALLACE is the Robotic Combat Vehicle requirements lead for the NGCV-CFT in Warren, Michigan. He earned an M.A. in English language and literature from the University of Washington and an M.S. in supply chain management and logistics from the University of Kansas. He commissioned as an Armor second lieutenant after graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 2004.
Read the full article in the Summer 2020 issue of Army AL&T magazine.
Subscribe to Army AL&T News – the premier online news source for the Army Acquisition Workforce.