The U.S. Army's Feb. 25 release of a formal Request for Proposal, or RFP, to industry marks a significant step forward in the effort to build a first-of-its-kind, highly versatile Ground Combat Vehicle - a nine-man squad Infantry Carrier that can protect against IEDs and other threats, move in urban and off-road terrain and accommodate emerging technologies such as lightweight armor composites and electronics as they become available, service leaders said.

The Army -- in close cooperation with its industry partners who have 60 days to respond to the RFP -- aims to produce competitive prototypes by 2015 and production vehicles within seven years by 2017.

"It is important to note that within the RFP you are not going to see a weight requirement. What you will see and what we are emphasizing is the Ground Combat Vehicle has to be a versatile vehicle. This will probably be one of the most versatile vehicles that the Army has ever designed. If you look at survivability or armor protection, we are going to have a modular design, meaning we can have scalable armor kits so the commander can decide how protected that vehicle needs to be for the mission," said Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli. "We are giving commanders the capability to tailor survivability for a given situation."

The Army Acquisition Executive, Dean G. Popps, credited the Under Secretary of Defense for ATL, the DoD's Defense Acquisition Executive (DAE), and his team for their assistance in getting the Army to the RFP release date as planned. "Dr. Ash Carter, his staff and OSD key players provided critical insights, guidance, and strategies during the Material Development Decision Defense Acquisition Board (MDD-DAB) process and during RFP peer review. Their efforts and oversight were exceptional," said Popps.

"We have learned from the Future Combat System program -- over 40 technologies -- and we have incorporated that inside of a Ground Combat Vehicle construct. FCS -- plus what we know today from eight years of war --- has resulted in the release of an RFP for Ground Combat Vehicle. We could not have done this without industry; this is a partnership between our Army and industry to make sure we do the right things to make sure we put this capability in the hands of the warfighter," said Lt. Gen. Bill Phillips, military deputy to the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology (ASA ALT).

Industry proposals will work with the Army to examine potential material solutions for the vehicle's requirements which seek to manufacture an unprecedented blend of protection, mobility and emerging technologies in a single, highly-survivable infantry carrier.

The initial phase of the Ground Combat Vehicle Program is being executed by the Program Executive Office for Integration, primarily because of the residual expertise inherent in that PEO from the Manned Ground Vehicle research and development era. At an appropriate time, in the coming 12-14 months, the current plan calls for the program to move to PEO-Ground Combat Systems in Warren, Mich. All of the Army's PEOs report to the Army Acquisition Executive (AAE).

The Army plans to award up to three Technology Development contracts by the fourth quarter of this year, marking a roughly 27-month period in which to test and mature sub-components and other material elements of the designs prior to the prototyping phase, in 2015, Army officials said.

"The (Ground Combat Vehicle) will address capability gaps we have identified from eight years of war --- such as mobility for our soldiers both inside and outside cities, improved information sharing for both mounted and dismounted soldiers while on-the-move. The Ground Combat Vehicle will be required to carry an entire infantry squad in one vehicle and protect it with sufficient space and electric power to accept network and other improvements as they occur," said Lt. Gen. Michael Vane, director of Army Capabilities Integration Center, Fort Monroe, Va.

Approaching the vehicle's development in an incremental fashion -- thus allowing for it to adjust to and incorporate technological change -- will increase the Army's ability to innovate and respond to the fast pace of change anticipated on the battlefields of today and tomorrow, Vane said.

Alongside formally releasing the RFP, the Army is also concurrently conducting an Analysis of Alternatives (AOA) in order to ensure that its plans for the Ground Combat Vehicle represent the best solution for the future, Mehney added.

"We are making sure that the (Ground Combat Vehicle) is the right material fit for the requirements we have been given. The Analysis of Alternatives is taking place at the same time as the RFP. It is our intent to complete the AOA by late summer 2010," he said. "This will precede the contract award, so if the analysis of alternatives says you need to do something differently than have a new vehicle program, we can respond to that prior to the contract award."