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Given the trouble the US has been having developing armored vehicles, with cancellation of the Army's Future Combat Systems program and Marine Corps' Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, it might raise an eyebrow or two to see that DARPA is looking for someone to develop an advanced infantry fighting vehicle ... who need not have the experience, expertise or infrastructure to design, build and test such a beast.That's because DARPA's Future, Adaptable Next-Generation Ground Vehicle (FANG) program aims to emulate the IT industry by using open-source-software-style crowdsourcing to design an IFV and microchip-manufacture-inspired programmable foundries to build the vehicle. Concept: DARPAIn a draft of the broad agency announcement that will seek a contractor to run the program, DARPA says: "In theory, the program should culminate in the design, fabrication and verification of the FANG IFV without the contracted performer doing any of the design, fabrication or testing."FANG will draw on other programs under the agency's overall Adaptive Vehicle Make initiative: META, which is developing model-based tools for the design, integration and "virtual" verification of complex systems; vehicleforge.mil, a online design collaboration environment; and iFAB, a distributed, programmable manufacturing capability.According to the draft BAA, design of the FANG IFV will be "accomplished through crowdsourcing; fabrication done by the iFAB network; and the need for verification obviated through formal model-based verification in the course of design." Anticipating 'imperfections' in this process, DARPA says the FANG contractor will have to "monitor, supervise, augment and ensure the smooth integration of each step in the end-to-end 'make' process for the FANG IFV." Well that's a relief...To add to the wackiness of this program, the IFV is to be designed through a series of prize-based competitions organized by the FANG prime contractor. This will allow the new design tools and fabrication processes to be applied to an increasing complex set of challenges. The three FANG challenges are intended to produce first a mobility/drive-train rig for full-scale dynamometer testing in mid-FY2013; then a complete hull and crew compartment for structural testing and a bolt-on modular armor package for survivability testing in early FY2104; and finally a full vehicle for operational test and evaluation in FY2105.DARPA's goal is to prove that model-based system engineering, crowdsourced design and foundry-style manufacturing can produce a better product, quicker and cheaper, than traditional industry methods. The "ground truth" is to be provided by the Marine Corps Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV) program, as the FANG IFV will be designed to meet the same requirements. (FANG was originally targeted at the Army's Ground Combat Vehicle program -- looks like DARPA was not able to interest the Army.)FANG IFV will be designed to the same requirements as ACV, the planned replace for the cancelled EFV (above - photo: US Marine Corps)FANG raises a lot of questions, some of which are best addressed by reading the BAA, which goes into considerable detail on the philosophy, the processes, the challenges and the hoped-for results. On the subject of how you guarantee security and prevent malicious interference with a crowdsourced design process, DARPA says the vehicleforge.mil site "is planned to incorporate a novel reputation-based credentialing scheme for users, component models and design fragments." There goes my chance to participate...
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