The U.S. Army can’t seem to catch a break. Its new Chief of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, was barely in the job a month before President Obama nominated him to be the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Retired Army General, Malcolm O’Neil, currently that service’s reform-minded Assistant Secretary for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, suddenly announced his retirement for personal reasons after only a year in office. Then there was last year’s fiasco involving General Stanley McChrystal. The only good news is that General Raymond Odierno, the outgoing head of the disestablished Joint Forces Command, has been nominated to take Dempsey’s place as Chief of Staff.
The same may be said about Army acquisition programs. In recent years the Army has suffered from one failed acquisition program after another. There was the cancellation of the Comanche helicopter program followed by the collapse of its replacement, the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter. Defense Secretary Robert Gates pulled the plug on the Rumsfeld-era, system-of-systems, network-centric Future Combat System (FCS) back in April, 2009. Most recently, the Army decided to cancel virtually all the spin out technologies from the FCS when it was determined in field testing that they performed poorly. The M-ATV program specifically designed for conditions in Afghanistan may not be providing adequate protection absent additional armor that compromises vehicle performance.
As a result, the credibility of the Army’s entire acquisition enterprise rests on a single program, the Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV). It is intended as a replacement for the venerable Bradley infantry fighting vehicle with the ability to carry a full squad of nine soldiers plus crew and sufficient power generation to handle all the modern electronics festooning Army vehicles. The singular nature of the GCV program to the Army is reinforced by the fact that this is the second time the Army issued a request for proposals (RFP) to design such a vehicle. The second RFP is supposed to be a demonstration of the Army’s new approach to major acquisitions. It drastically reduced the number of key performance parameters and specified a cost ceiling for the vehicle and a target for operating costs. By the way, it was Assistant Secretary of the Army O’Neill who was responsible for the withdrawal of the first GCV proposal and the design of the second.
Now stories are circulating that the GCV may be in deep trouble. The Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) office has been raising concerns regarding the program’s cost and schedule. Initially, the CAPE raised doubts about the program’s ability to meet a design-to price of around $10 million a copy. More recently, the CAPE began questioning the requirement that production of the new vehicle begin in seven years, believing ten is a more reasonable goal. According to some, relations between the program office and CAPE officials have turned testy.
If the GCV program cannot meet its target for cost and schedule it is almost certainly doomed to follow the FCS into oblivion. This would be too bad for a number of reasons. GCV contenders have proposed a number of very significant innovations including a range of electronics enhancements, a variety of cost-lowering maintenance and support techniques and, in the case of BAE Systems, a hybrid electric drive that would improve vehicle performance and lower fuel costs.
Part of the problem may be analytical. The CAPE uses historical data to project likely cost and schedules. This does not allow for any improvements in the way programs are managed, systems are built or work forces trained. But if the proposing companies or the program office want to argue that they have broken with history it is up to them to explain how this feat is going to be accomplished.
Unfortunately, the argument over GCV’s cost and schedule has already delayed the awarding of initial development contracts. The companies that bid are paying the month-to-month costs of keeping their teams together waiting for an award. If outstanding issues cannot be resolved soon, the future of the program could be seriously compromised.
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