Over the next several years, more than a few big-ticket items in the Army’s annual budget will reach a significant milestone— transitioning from new-build production to long-term sustainment accounts. Overall, 37 Army systems will make that switch, moving Army dollars away from the production line to the often more complicated—and very expensive—world of spare parts, upgrades and reset contracts.
The list is being led by some assembly line stalwarts like the Bradley, Stryker, Abrams tank and Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles (FMTV), which all reach the end of their production schedules over the next two years. “We’re going to really have some tough times ahead in U.S. manufacturing related to medium vehicles,” the Army’s Ground Combat Systems chief, Scott Davis, said last week at the AUSA conference in Florida.
In order to try to keep those vehicle production lines warm, the Army and industry are pushing for international sales of the Bradley, Abrams and Stryker, and have received “a fair amount of interest” for them from a variety of unnamed potential clients, Davis added. To expedite those potential sales as much as possible “would really help us address some of the gaps we see in front of us in the manufacturing base.”
Heidi Shyu, the Army’s principal deputy assistant secretary for acquisition, logistics and technology, told reporters that her office is actively working on “identifying where the critical industrial base is located, especially among tier-two and -three suppliers,” which provide subsystem components and can often ill afford the dropoff in new builds. These smaller suppliers are “actually even a bigger concern” for the Pentagon, she said, since if they go out of business, rebuilding that deep base will be difficult when it comes to future programs.
Shyu hit on one of the recurring themes at AUSA this year—the idea of the “intellectual industrial base”—which Davis considers “probably the most sensitive and one that is critical to maintain” as new builds slow to just a few systems.
“Most of what we need to maintain is the intellectual know-how” to design new vehicles, “so when you next time need to buy, it’s still there,” said Kevin Fahey, head of combat support and combat service support for the Army.
“We have large fleets and will have large fleets in the future,” Fahey added, “so when you’re not in production one of our main challenges is spare and repair parts that come from second- and third-tier suppliers.” Following Shyu’s lead, Fahey says that his office’s primary focus is identifying critical capabilities that need to be maintained, and figuring out a way to maintain them.
As the budgets tighten and the Army continues to invest in new builds like the Ground Combat Vehicle and Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, and modernizing its communications networks, “we’re trying hard to ensure that there is sufficient sustainment dollars to sustain those big systems,” Davis said. Part of the problem, however, is that some of the newest vehicles like the A3 Bradley and the Abrams SEP II tank will be among the most expensive to sustain, given their sensitive new electronics and sensor content, which Davis warns will “add pressure to the funding claims for operational needs.”