We are about to see the results of the Army’s latest effort to fix its broken acquisition system. The Army currently is evaluating three proposals for its new Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV). Last year, confronting the likelihood of a procurement disaster, the Army withdrew its Request for Proposal (RFP). The revised RFP was different insofar as it had only four “must achieve” performance requirements. It also established a “should cost” threshold for the vehicle and a target for life cycle cost. The Army characterized the new RFP as a challenge to the defense sector to come forward with innovative solutions.
One of the most interesting, potentially revolutionary, offerings in the GCV competition is BAE Systems’ proposal to power its entrant with a hybrid electric drive system. BAE had been developing the hybrid drive as part of its work on the predecessor to the GCV, the Future Combat System. Now it is making hybrid electric drive a centerpiece of its offering for the GCV.
A hybrid electric drive offers a number of tactical advantages. It is easier to get the space to carry a nine man squad because of the smaller power plant and lack of a drive train. Such a drive would be able to power the myriad of sensors, communications systems, computers and electronic devices that now festoon Army vehicles. A hybrid-drive-equipped vehicle could use stored electric energy to power those systems or provide off-board power instead of having to run its engine. Because it would be lighter than conventionally powered vehicles of equal size, a hybrid-powered GCV could attain higher speeds. Or if speed is not required, it could carry additional protection.
A hybrid electric drive could have an even more decisive impact on Army logistics. Right off the bat, such a system would save 20-25 percent in fuel. This would mean fewer tanker trucks, truck convoys and convoy guards. All this would save money and make the Army more agile. It would also mean fewer casualties resulting from attacks on tanker convoys. Reduced fuel use would help burnish the Army’s green credentials. Also, a hybrid drive has 50 percent fewer moving parts than current diesel engines which means fewer breakdowns, easier maintenance, a smaller spare parts stockpile and a reduced complement of repair personnel. At a time of growing cost consciousness for the Army, this seems like a no brainer.
Some in the Army have expressed nervousness about deploying a hybrid electric drive on a military vehicle, characterizing the technology as somehow risky. Today’s car buyers might find the idea that the hybrid electric drive is risky more than a little peculiar. Sales lots are filled with hybrid cars, including large and heavy SUVs. Large hybrid electric drives have been powering hundreds of trains on U.S. railroads for decades. More significant for those in the Army who worry about such things are the thousands of hybrid electric powered buses that are being driven and maintained by transportation systems across the country. This experience enables BAE to provide an estimate of both operating and life-cycle costs for its proposed GCV design.
The Army thinks that it has demonstrated its capacity for innovation by altering the way it wrote the statement of requirements for the revised GCV proposal. A far greater innovation, one that would energize the Army’s vehicle modernization and deliver practical benefits in the field, would be procuring a hybrid electric drive for its armored combat vehicles. Hybrid drive is one opportunity where efficiency and imagination are not in conflict.
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