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New Army optimism on GCV


All that talk from back in August about the Ground Combat Vehicle costing as much as $13 million per vehicle? (Or much more?) Forget it -- two top Army acquisitions officials told Congress on Wednesday that "new" approaches mean the GCV's costs might come very close to the Army's original ceiling of $10 million.

Lt. Gen. Bill Phillips told a House Armed Services Committee panel that the Army now estimates it can get GCV, still within seven years, for between $9 and $10.5 million per copy. One apparent reason is service officials' apparent seriousness about considering existing vehicles as well as a new one. In August, when the Army awarded development contracts to BAE Systems and General Dynamics Land Systems, the GCV program manager all but ruled out the prospect for using an "off-the-shelf" vehicle.

In fact,  the service put its money where its mouth was -- or, rather, didn't -- in not awarding a contract to a team of SAIC, Boeing and German partners Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and Rheinmetall Landsysteme. Those firms wanted to sell the Army a version of Germany's Puma, but the Army's message at the time was clear: We want a brand-new showpiece, not last year's model.

SAIC has since protested that decision, so the process is held up for the moment. Phillips' testimony Wednesday might even help the company's case: He told lawmakers the Army will not only review existing foreign-built vehicles, but even a "stretched" version of its own M2 Bradley, likely beefed up to handle the full nine-soldier squad that is the raison d'être for the GCV. Over the next 24 months, soldiers down at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. will play with Bradleys, Strykers and other vehicles and help the Army decide where it goes next, Phillips said.

Reality kept intruding into Wednesday's hearing, though. Belva Martin, an acquisition analysis expert with the Government Accountability Office, told lawmakers GAO remains skeptical about almost everything involved with GCV: How urgently the Army actually needs it; its no-kidding affordability down the road; and the overall plausibility of getting a production vehicle in seven years.

And Phillips all but undercut his own case for optimism about an off-the-shelf GCV by throwing the Bradley under the bus: Even though the Army will look at an enhanced Bradley for GCV, "Bradley is our most attrited vehicle," he said. "We haven’t had them in combat since 2007 or 2008, when they were getting heavily attrited because of combat losses. We need a vehicle that withstand the rigor of combat full spectrum -- GCV, we think is that vehicle."

In other words: Yeah, we'll see if we can make this sow's ear into a silk purse, but don't hold your breath. For all the optimism of Phillips and his colleague, Lt. Gen. Bob Lennox, it was clear they've kept same basic goal at heart: A brand new vehicle built from the ground up. And it was also clear they realize that strategy may be the riskiest way to go, as evidenced by Lennox's response to a lawmaker's question.

"Sir, you asked about if we’re concerned about funding and clearly the answer is yes," he said. “There’s a lot of unknowns ahead for all of us.”


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