The Army has laid out its “Age of Austerity” acquisition priorities pretty clearly: First, it wants to solidify its communications network; second, it wants to buy thousands of new-build Ground Combat Vehicles (GCV) to—in part—replace the aging fleet of Bradleys; and the third is fielding the smaller, lighter, Joint Light Tactical Vehicle which will help replace the Humvee.
Those two top priorities are going to meet head-on in the West Texas desert this spring when the GCV office rolls several non-developmental vehicles down to Ft. Bliss to take part in the Army’s biannual Network Integration Evaluation (NIE).
The evaluation is part of a non-developmental assessment that the Army has been working on since September, but is not part of the analysis of alternatives mandated by the Pentagon when it awarded two Technology Development phase contracts last August. A spokesperson for the GCV office emails that “the data gathered by studying Non Developmental Vehicles will be used to validate existing capabilities against the capabilities of the Ground Combat Vehicle.” The information gathered “will be used to inform potential design trade offs” as the program moves toward Milestone B, or the Engineering and Manufacturing Design phase.
The vehicles will be assigned to the soldiers of the Army Evaluation Task Force—the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division—as they take to the field during the NIE in May and June. They’ll be connected to the communications network that lies at the heart of the NIE process, Army spokesman Paul Mehney says, though the network tests are only one of a number of evaluations that they’ll be undergoing. It’s “a very cost effective way to do business,” Mehney says, since “you’ve already got a brigade deployed, so you can double tap that evaluation” in order to both run the NIE gear through its paces, while seeing how the non-developmental GCV equipment fares.
No word yet on what the vehicles will be, but we’ve already seen some not-so-subtle hints from Army leadership. In November, Secretary of the Army John McHugh told reporters that “one of the things we’re going to do is look at programs like the Puma, the Israeli Namer and other similarly already developed programs to see if they’ll do the job.” The Puma is made by a joint venture of between Krauss-Maffei Wegmann GmbH and Rheinmetall AG of Germany, and Israel’s Namer is made by General Dynamics. (The Puma was also offered to the Army by a team led by SAIC for the Ground Combat Vehicle program, but was rejected last summer.)
The GCV program appears back on track after suffering though some unpleasantness over the last couple of years, including questions over competing cost estimates between the Army and the Pentagon, pulling a request for proposals off the street and then issuing a new one, and having SAIC issue a protest over not being one of the two competitors selected for further development. The program was eventually released from that protest-induced hiatus in December, only to suffer a $1.7 billion reduction in its budget and having its schedule pushed back a year, due to that SAIC protest.