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Army Wants Tough GCV Battle

Col. Bryan McVeigh, the Army’s program manager for the new Ground Combat Vehicle infantry fighting vehicle says the GCV request for proposal was held up by the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer Ashton Carter to make sure that the Army would ensure vigorous competition among several contractors.

The GCV acquisition program “is focused on competition,” and the Army wants companies other than armored vehicle builders BAE and General Dynamics to pitch proposals, McVeigh said. The Army hasn’t kept two builders going head-to-head through the technology development phase since the Abrams main battle tank program, McVeigh said.

“We want to be able to look at other American companies to allow them to break into this niche market. This isn’t just MGV warmed over. I just don’t want one or two companies that were deep in MGV have a competitive advantage in this,” he said.

OSD did not make any major changes to the Army’s plans, McVeigh said. Industry proposals are due in late April, then the source selection process begins, culminating in September with a “Milestone A” decision from Carter’s office, allowing the Army to award the actual production contract.

The Army is trying to build on six years of development work on the FCS Manned Ground Vehicle, and months ago it gave industry that development “body of knowledge,” which laid out the preliminary design, to incorporate into their proposals for the GCV.

Where the Army’s plans for GCV differ most significantly from the ill-starred FCS program is they don’t want “revolutionary” technologies this time around. FCS was all about pushing the technological envelope in everything from high-tech armors to automotive components to sensors, which resulted in a lot of time and money spent with very little to show for it. It's all about program risk avoidance this time around, all GCV technologies must be at technology readiness level 6, which means they’ve proven to work in a simulated operational environment.

“Our goal is to make sure we get something out to the soldiers within seven years… if we wait for the perfect solution we’re never going to get it into the hands of soldiers,” McVeigh said. We need their feedback to continue and improve the design.

The biggest changes over the original FCS vehicle design is in the armor package and other “survivability” fixes. The GCV will be significantly heavier than the FCS MGV, which started out at 20 tons and ultimately grew to around 34 tons before it was cancelled. McVeigh wouldn’t specify the vehicle’s weight exactly, because he wants to give industry bit of latitude. This is the first vehicle, at least since the Abrams tank, that from the beginning is built to be readily upgradeable, McVeigh said, which means the ability to add more armor.

It will come with a base level, “Level 0,” armor protection for irregular fights of the kind found in Iraq where the big threat is IEDs, explosively formed penetrators and mostly small-arms up to heavy machine guns. While the MRAP is a great vehicle for specific battlefields, he said, it doesn’t have needed cross-country mobility. “Based off the lessons we’ve learned in theater, survivability doesn’t just come from armor, it doesn’t just come from active-protection systems, it comes from not allowing the enemy to channel you into one area.”

The GCV must have mobility equivalent to an Abrams tank. Although McVeigh refused to say so, cross-country mobility, especially on any kind of soft ground or snow, only comes from tracks. In urban areas, tracked vehicles have the advantage of being able to pivot steer, which is a huge advantage over wheeled vehicles.

The “Level 1” armor package, will add appliqué armor that also protects up to auto-cannon, along the lines of the current Bradley. An active-protection (APS) system will be included on the vehicle to provide 360 degree protection against RPGs, which is the threshold requirement; the objective requirements, are an APS that can defeat heavier anti-tank guided missiles and sabot rounds. But McVeigh says builders must demonstrate how they’ll improve on the existing APS architecture the ability to defeat those heavier threats down the road as technology improves. “I don’t want two different computers running it. I don’t want two different radar systems running it.”

The Army is developing an improved version of Raytheon’s Quick Kill APS system. The Army is continuing to develop its APS, contractors can bid any system they want, McVeigh said, as long as they meet the GCV holistic requirements.

The FCS vehicles were designed to fit inside a C-130. That is not the case with the GCV. Transportability requirements are that it must be C-17 and C-5 transportable. “It allows us the weight flexibility,” he said. Trying to keep the FCS vehicles inside that C-130 box forced designers to dump too much armor protection and other important components.

The GCV must carry a 12 man team, a 9 man rifle squad and a three man crew. Cooling the interior of the GCV will be a big challenge, because the vehicle will carry many more computers and video panels than any other vehicles. Built into the design will be a 30 percent margin for growth in cooling and at least a 20 percent growth in propulsion.

I asked McVeigh how the GCV would match up against the current Bradley, which it is intended to replace:

“It will have significantly better mine and IED protection, it will have greater lethality, it will have a bigger cannon. It will allow us to carry more men... a complete squad. It will have about the same mobility of the Bradley but the ability to carry significantly enhanced communications and electronics so I don’t have to divert power from the propulsion system for cooling. It will have significantly improved reliability than the Bradley. It will have integrated non-lethal capabilities, which none of our vehicles have today.”

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