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Army goes back to the future on GCV

Army Secretary John McHugh said Wednesday that service officials will reconsider a vehicle they've already rejected as a potential candidate for their planned Ground Combat Vehicle. Germany's Puma infantry fighting vehicle, a version of which was offered by an SAIC-led industry team but not awarded a development contract earlier this year, will be among the potential GCV prospects after all, McHugh said.

He mentioned it in passing in response to a reporter's question as an example of how the Army would do whatever it takes to save money and be as efficient as possible in its acquisitions going forward. Buzz asked McHugh to repeat it just to make sure we hadn't misheard -- so what does the acknowledgement of the Puma mean for the protest SAIC has lodged over this year's GCV development contract awards?

"I'm not going to sit here and adjudicate the SAIC protest," he said, other than to reaffirm that the Army will spend the next two years looking at this thing from vichyssoise to pistachios in an effort to get the best deal possible.

"You have to make smart decisions," McHugh said -- and if that means a [consumer, off-the-shelf] vehicle, "we will do that."

The GCV effort today is frozen by SAIC's protest. If McHugh's concession can open peace talks between the Army and SAIC, the company might eventually abandon its dispute and free the Army program officials now encased in carbonite. We've asked SAIC to comment and we'll update as we hear more.

The Army's GCV efforts are on two parallel tracks: In one, service officials are doing their latest in the never-ending rounds of due diligence about looking at all options for a large, well protected new fighting vehicle for the whole nine-soldier squad. We've heard service officials say they'll look at Strykers, Bradleys -- anything and everything -- over about the next two years. That's how they'll get the vehicle cost down and get it into the fleet within the goal of seven years.

But the other track is the one that appears to represent the Army's true desire. That's the one that led the service to issue roughly $900 million in development contracts to General Dynamics and BAE Systems back in August for those two companies to go forward with developing their contestants for GCV. SAIC did not get one of those development deals, even though it was part of a longstanding GCV troika, and the Army's unspoken message was clear: We don't want a "stretched" or "upgraded" off-the-shelf vehicle -- we want the new hotness.

Since then, we've heard McHugh and other top leaders sing a different tune publicly, but how much does the Army's true green heart ever change? The service would no doubt pursue a compromise GCV if it had no other choice, and McHugh's concession about the Puma is a nod in that direction. Still, if it can have its 'druthers, the Army has already put its money where its mouth is.

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