WASHINGTON: Ford Motor Company’s foray into the defense sector could be good for the Pentagon, but questions remain whether the automotive giant can navigate the complex and oft-frustrating acquisition process, according to a defense analysts.
Ford is vying against defense firms General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems to build the next-generation combat truck for the Army and Marine Corps. Ford will be the third commercial-truck maker to throw its hat into the defense industry ring. Navistar and Oshkosh earned their stripes in the defense market by securing deals to build versions of the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle. But Ford is the first of the three big U.S. automakers to make the leap into defense. The last major military contract held by Ford was to build the Willys-Overland Model GPW combat vehicle, better known as the Jeep, in World War II.
Ford’s decision should be “welcome news” to the services and Pentagon, top defense analyst and Breaking Defense contributor Loren Thompson says. Department officials have long argued that increased competition for weapons programs leads to cost savings. And throwing Ford into the JLTV mix will do just that, Thompson argues. “The Army may need more offerors to sustain real competition in the future,” he said. “Having Ford available as a bidder would maintain the Army’s options.” Navistar and Oshkosh’s success on the MRAP should be enough to assuage any doubts on whether the company can make it in the defense world.
Ford could become a major player in the defense field, but its biggest challenge will be adjusting to the cumbersome and red tape-laden military acquisition process. A process that has taken down its fair share of procurement programs. The defense acquisition process, particularly inside the Army, has “proven to be capricious and unrealistic [especially] about pricing,” Thompson said. The procurement process in the commercial world — the world where Ford and others have thrived — is largely devoid of the pitfalls plaguing the Pentagon. That said, DoD must “permit some accommodations in requirements” in the JLTV to allow Ford to compete, David Berteau, an expert in defense management and acquisition, said. He did not go into detail on what typed of changes may be needed. Congress forced the Pentagon and the services to lower their expectations for JLTV requirements to cut costs. But lawmakers are still concerned whether the vehicle is a sound investment.
One advantage Ford does have heading into the JLTV competition is the company’s new chief is well versed in the acquisition wars that go on inside the Pentagon. Ford CEO Alan Mulally was a former high-ranking official at Boeing, defense aviation expert Phil Finnegan pointed out. During his time at Boeing, Mulally was a key player in the company’s campaign to land the Air Force’s aerial tanker contract — one of the most highly scrutinized DoD acquisition program next to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. If there was anyone to lead Ford into the wilds of defense acquisition, there are very few better than Mulally, Finnegan noted