Combat by Design

The Army aims to develop a versatile ground vehicle that integrates the best features from its current fleet.

Three industry teams are vying for a lucrative Army contract to build the next ground combat vehicle, which the top brass expects will merge the best traits from the service's current fleet into one flexible and lethal platform.

Longtime Army vehicle makers BAE Systems and General Dynamics Corp. have submitted bids for the contract in recent months, as did SAIC, which has teamed up with Boeing Co., and the German firms Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and Rheinmetall AG.

The program, which replaces the manned ground vehicle portion of the now-defunct Future Combat Systems program, is likely the biggest-ticket item in the Army's acquisition budget for the foreseeable future. The Pentagon requested $934.4 million for ground vehicle research and development in its fiscal 2011 budget request, but that figure is expected to grow considerably as they mature from concept to production.

The Army wants to buy 1,450 vehicles and estimates the price tag for the program will total about $40 billion, including development and production costs.

After studying the requirements for the vehicle following the cancellation of FCS, Army officials said they want the new model to be as lethal as the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, while also being as survivable as the mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle fielded in Iraq and Afghanistan and as mobile as the Army's wheeled Stryker series.

General Dynamics builds the Stryker, while BAE Systems is the maker of the Bradley. Both firms had been tapped to build different versions of the FCS vehicles, the total price tag for which was estimated at $87 billion.

Service officials plan to award up to three technology development contracts in September, meaning all three bidders could continue to vie for the program. By January 2013, the Army will choose either one or two teams to build prototypes.

The Army plans to have the first ground combat vehicles ready for service in 2017.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. told lawmakers this spring that officials had considered buying an existing vehicle to avoid a long-term development program, but nothing met their requirements.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, however, wants the services to "carve some time off of that seven years" for development.

Speaking in May at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., Gates pointed to the rapid procurement of the MRAP as an example of an acquisition success story. But the Defense secretary, who is not shy about ending programs he does not support, backed the ground combat vehicle effort. "I remain committed to the Army's ground vehicle modernization program-but it has to be done in a way that reflects the lessons that we've learned the last few years about war in the 21st century," he said.

Retired Lt. Gen. Theodore G. Stroup, vice president of education at of the Association of the United States Army, said any decision to speed the development timeline has to come with money-but not with any internal Amy budget offsets.

Stroup also stressed the Army cannot sacrifice the vehicle's requirements to get it to the field faster. "Everything was vetted and cross-checked and sanitized," he said.

Megan Scully is the defense reporter for CongressDaily.

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