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The Army's GCV fait accompli

The first Ground Combat Vehicle hasn't even been built yet, but its cost per unit has already busted the Army's own original projected limits: Although service officials wanted the GCV to cost no more than about $10 million per copy, their own latest estimate is that it'll wind up being closer to between $11 million and $13 million. The Defense Department's office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation believes it'll be closer to between $16 million and $17 million per vehicle.

As you read earlier, top DoD officials know they need to tread lightly with the cost of this program, which is why incoming Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter urged the Army to do another study about it at the same time he authorized it to proceed.  The hope is that if the Army can only find some alternative elsewhere in the market, it might save the costs and possible heartache of building this big new vehicle.

So the new analysis of alternatives will go forward, but the GCV's program manager, Col. Andrew DiMarco, told reporters on Friday that his team already has more or less decided that nothing else out there has what the Army needs.

"When we looked at the AoA we weren’t finding any vehicle that had the combination of the capabilities we’re looking for," he said. "Some of them are optimized for an under-belly threat, some are optimized for cross-country mobility, or speed on highways, some are optimized against direct large caliber threats. When you look at it from our perspective, we’re trying to get balance on this vehicle, and optimize a number of areas to have a more balanced vehicle for our infantry squads that will give them not only protection, given the threats I talked about earlier, but mobility, off-road mobility, the kind of lethality we need to deal with future threats, as well as being able to carry that entire nine-soldier squad, deliver that unit to where they can effect success on whatever objective and within whatever mission they’re working."

So what, specifically, has the Army already evaluated and rejected? DiMarco said it has looked at "a variety of platforms," including what foreign manufacturers are building these days and the Army's own inventory of M2 Bradleys and MRAPs. Did the Army specifically look at Germany's Puma? Yes, he said, it did.

That answers one question: SAIC, Boeing and German partners Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and Rheinmetall Landsysteme were in the running for GCV until Thursday with a submission based on the Puma, but they did not get a contract to go forward with technology development. That's even though DiMarco said it had been an option all along to pursue up to three teams, even though Big Army or DoD -- he wouldn't specify exactly who -- decided to only opt for BAE Land Systems and General Dynamics Land Systems.

DiMarco said he views the difference between his and the CAPE's cost estimates as just a question of methodology -- he got his number with a "bottom-up" assessment of how much things cost to build and assemble, whereas CAPE does the same thing but also factors in the costs of "similar systems, taking a look at earlier vehicles with similar capabilities." In other words, CAPE may expect the GCV to have the same early development issues as the Bradley.

DiMarco vowed he and his team are going to be ruthless about controlling requirements and costs. He even acknowledged it might be possible that one alternative for the Army could be to not build a GCV, if it determined it was paying too much and getting too small an advance in capability for soldiers. But that would be unlikely, and besides, he reemphasized that the Army needs this -- needs a bigger, better protected vehicle for the whole squad, one that can grow and adapt the way the famed Abrams tank has.

"We wouldn't have kicked this program off if it wasn't important," he said.

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