Questions raised as Bradley replacement becomes one-horse race
The US Army’s contest to develop an Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle (OMFV) launched in earnest at the beginning of October but drew only a single industry participant, raising questions about the adequacy of competition in the high-priority, fast-track, project that is estimated to cost tens of billions of dollars to replace the venerable Bradley IFV fleet.
In early 2018, then-Army Secretary Mark Esper directed the service to accelerate the Next Generation Combat Vehicle (NGCV) programme, establishing a two-pronged project to immediately launch a major competition to replace the Bradley fleet with an OMFV, while also establishing an NGCV Robotic Combat Vehicle (RCV) project to mature technologies for future platforms.
To help finance this new 3,800-vehicle programme the army terminated a planned Bradley A5 upgrade programme and harvested the funding to pull forward the initial OMFV fielding date from 2032 to 2026.
The project drew interest from BAE Systems and General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS), and prompted Raytheon to team with one of Germany’s combat vehicle makers, Rheinmetall Defence.
Army leaders directed OMFV’s top priority to be schedule: deliver to the force as soon as the autumn of 2025 a new IFV with room to incorporate future technological improvements to address future requirements.
However, shortly after the army published the final RfP, BAE Systems - that had considered offering a variant of its Swedish CV90 - announced in June it would not compete and would instead focus on the army plans for a robotic vehicle portion of the future infantry fleet.
Then, on 4 October, Defense News reported the Raytheon-Rheinmetall team was unable to meet the October 1 deadline to deliver the OMFV candidate vehicle, the KF41 Lynx, to the Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.
This resulted in GDLS being the only competitor in a phase of the programme where the army had planned to award two development contracts.
With the OMFV programme now in source selection, army officials declined to comment on any aspect of the competition.
‘Assuming everything goes forward, the army will save money,' said retired army LTG Thomas Spohre, whose last job in the Pentagon was to oversee service modernisation plans in the budget. 'The short-term savings of awarding one less OMPV development contract than planned, however, will be offset by the absence of future competition,' he said.
‘It is unfortunate from a cost control and competition point of view,’ said Spohre, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense. ‘You always do better if someone is racing against you. General Dynamics will not have anyone looking over its shoulder.’
Industry officials involved in the programme say army officials have been largely consistent in outlining requirements for OMFV and that fact that two of three potential bidders did not show is not a reflection of the government vacillation.
Still, the optics of running a competition that draws only a single bid is raising eyebrows.
‘People on the Hill and elsewhere are concerned that a programme of this scope is potentially a sole-source contract,’ said one Beltway veteran with close ties to OMFV of concern by professional staff on congressional defence committees.
Another long-time Washington defence analyst, with expertise in the combat vehicle industry, said: ‘A sole vendor in my mind raises question of competition, of pricing, of appearances. I can see other people challenging that, that the army somehow has a preference in for one vendor…Given the army’s track record in the past, there are grounds to call some people form the army up to the Hill and ask ‘What the Hell is going on here?’’
Congress is traditionally loath to interfere with programmes that are in source selection. However, the defence analyst said with two of three potential vendors dropping out of a programme service leader’s say is the number two modernisation priority, an intervention may be in order.
‘This is an anomaly, at least to me; something doesn’t seem quite right here,’ the analyst said.
The army’s next step is to conduct tests of the OMFV bid sample through January 2020 and award a rapid prototyping contract in March 2020 for a 39-month development period.
In the summer of 2022, the army intends to open OMFV to competition again, inviting bids for the low-rate production phase, with a contract award in the spring of 2023 – giving both BAE Systems and Raytheon-Rheinmetall a second chance to compete in the Bradley replacement programme.
The OMFV programme marks the army’s third attempt in 20 years at developing a new IFV after both the Future Combat System and Ground Combat Vehicle efforts were terminated in 2009 and 2014 respectively.
‘They know there is a lot at stake; they’ve got to get this one right,’ said the analyst.
Defense News reported the Rheinmetall vehicle missed the deadline on account of bureaucratic snafus securing proper documentation to transport the weapon system to the US.
A number of US defence experts thought that explanation strained credulity.
‘If they had something they wanted delivered, they would have figured it out,’ Spohre said. ‘Angela Merkel might have given it a piggy back ride to the port if it meant that a German company might get a share of this contract. I’m not buying into the idea that their vehicle didn’t make it here because some bureaucrat in Germany didn’t issue right paperwork.’
‘I just don’t think they had something that qualified that they could have gotten here,’ he said, speculating that German combat vehicle might have difficulty meeting the army’s weight requirement that a C-17 cargo plane must be able to carry two OMFVs.
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