US Military Scales Back On Wonder Weapons

October 19th, 2010 - by admin

Spencer Ackerman / WIRED Magazine & Greg Grant / DefenseTech – 2010-10-19 00:58:53

Military Scales Back On Wonder Weapons
Spencer Ackerman / Danger Room, WIRED Magazine

(October 15, 2010) — First Gates’ Pentagon came for the fifth-generation F-22 stealth fighter jet. Then it cut the “Flying Lightsaber” anti-missile laser plane. Now it’s talking about saving $100 billion over five years. The message to defense contractors and the military: Don’t bother trying to sell us on out-there, futuristic weapons.

Well, not totally. The XM-25 intelligent grenade launcher is on its way to Afghanistan, for instance. And the use and expansion of the pilotless drone fleet is routine by now.

But National Defense’s Sandra Erwin surveys the big-ticket items on the defense agenda and finds that a “tech-happy zeitgeist” — in which defense dollars for R&D flowed freely in the expectation of ever-better gear — now “seems long gone.” The Defense Department’s research and engineering chief, Zachary J. Lemnios, told reporters in August that he’s out to connect military commanders with the tech community so the generals and admirals “understand the art of the possible.” In other words, don’t come asking for gear that relies on unproven technology.

The test for what comes next is how to cram service needs into cheaper packages. Among the upcoming items that Erwin identifies: the Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle. That’s the son of the Gates-chopped Future Combat Systems, an ultimately-unfeasible Army priority for a networked fleet of fast, high-firepower tanks. Ground Combat Systems is what the Army wants to buy in its place, to replace its aging Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

Only it’s not going so well. In August, the Army had to cancel its first solicitation for the vehicle after service and Pentagon scrutinizers didn’t think the project sounded cost-effective.

The Army says developing and fielding it within seven years remains the service”s highest acquisition priority. But in a roundtable with reporters late last month, General Peter Chiarelli, the Army’s vice chief of staff, conceded that the service was still ironing out the kinks in the program. And its project manager, Colonel Andrew Dimarco, promised that the Army would “factor life-cycle costs” into the program — that is, how much it will actually cost to keep the thing rolling — to avoid sticker shock.

The price tag remains to be seen. But like its sister services, the Army knows that it’s got to essentially clip coupons for its next generation of tech-enhanced gear in an era of big federal budget deficits.

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Army Abruptly Cancels Ground Combat Vehicle Competition
Greg Grant / DefenseTech

(August 25, 2010) — The Army has canceled the Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) solicitation because the service decided, after an internal and external review, that the current Requests for Proposal (RFP) do not accurately reflect Army requirements and a changing acquisition strategy, sources tell us.

A contract for the new vehicle was very close to being awarded, we’re told. A restart of the GCV competition is expected fairly soon, a new RFP may be out within 60 days, and the Army intends to stay within the original seven year timeline to field a new vehicle.

A contentious debate has taken place among Army officials regarding the new infantry fighting vehicle’s lengthy requirements list, a debate fed by an Army and OSD staffed “Red Team” analysis which scrutinized vehicle proposals and the lethality of modern and future battlefields, as well as disagreement among leadership about the service’s GCV acquisition strategy. The new RFP will reflect the Red Team’s findings as well as the Army’s analysis of alternatives.

The proposed GCV, which is intended to replace the Army’s Bradley fleet, was getting a bit unwieldy, sources say, as builders attempted to meet the many requirements. The Army will issue a formal announcement this afternoon. Lawmakers (the few who are available in late August; more like their secretaries) were notified of the GCV cancellation this morning.

Updated: The GCV competition was cancelled so the Army can “better ensure an achievable, affordable, and timely infantry fighting vehicle,” according to an emailed Army announcement. The cancellation will result in a six month delay of the program, although the service intends to field a vehicle within seven years after a contract is awarded.

“In conjunction with the Red Team recommendations, the Army determined that it must revise the acquisition strategy to rely on mature technologies in order to reduce significant developmental risk over a seven year schedule following the initial contract award. The refined RFP will result in a vehicle that provides soldiers with critical armored protection in the modern combat environment.”

The emailed announcement says details of the specific RFP are still being finalized and the service expects to issue a new solicitation within the next 60 days.

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