UPDATED Friday April 4th: Army denies General Dynamics protest
General Dynamics Land Systems cannot and will not compete for the Army’s largest surviving weapons program, the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle, unless the service changes how it is handling the program, GDLS’s senior spokesman told me yesterday afternoon. A GDLS withdrawal would be yet another embarrassment for the Army’s chronically troubled acquisition system, since it would effectively leave AMPV with a single bidder to replace its aging and vulnerable M113 transports, BAE Systems, which is offering a modified version of its current M2 Bradley.
General Dynamics spokesman Peter Keating told me the Army must either (1) relax its mobility requirements so GDLS’s eight-wheel-drive Stryker could qualify or (2) provide enough technical data on the tracked Bradley that GDLS can come up with its own tracked offering. But while the company filed a protest last month with the Army Materiel Command (which is expected to reply Friday) he said, “we are not optimistic that we’re going to get a successful outcome at this level.” (Emphasis mine). That wording implies that GDLS plans to ask the Government Accountability Office to overrule the Army, though Keating would not confirm it: “We’ll take it one step at a time,” he said.
[UPDATED: After close of business Friday, April 4, I learned the Army had, as expected, denied General Dynamics' protest. Click here to read the Army ruling and responses from both GDLS and BAE.]
“We know how to build vehicles, we want to compete on this, we simply don’t have all the information… so we cannot compete,” Keating said. “We have asked them [the Army] for the data; they have not provided it.” Why not? “You’d have to ask them.”
Army Materiel Command has promised Breaking Defense a response to Keating’s charges, but given the complexity of the issue and the lateness of the hour, they weren’t able to provide it yesterday: We’ll post their answer when we get it. [UPDATED: While Army Materiel Command didn't get back to us directly, its Friday decision said firmly that they had given all interested companies all the data that the law required for a fair competition: "GDLS's assertion of its need for more data in order to submit a proposal is not supported by the facts or the case law."]
My congressional sources so far seem more than a little skeptical of Keating’s case. “Nonsense,” one Hill staffer snorted. “Before GCV [the Ground Combat Vehicle program] died” — a far more lucrative competition — “nobody from GD ever said a single word about the AMPV program, yet all of a sudden it is a travesty?”
“This is 100 percent GD trying to undermine a competitor, under the guise of complaints about competition,” the staffer continued. “GD can compete, but they know they need more time to develop an alternative vehicle to offer, which is why they are lodging all these protests.”
Keating quite openly stated that GD did indeed need more time. Given that the current requirements disqualified the wheeled Stryker and General Dynamics must come up with a tracked vehicle — either reviving its stillborn tracked Stryker or modifying a foreign vehicle — “you need the time and the technical data to propose a solution,” he said. “If they can give us the test data, and give us time to evaluate it, we’ll be happy to consider coming back to them.”
What’s specifically at stake is the “reliability, availability, and maintainability” data for the M2 Bradley that’s currently in the Army inventory. General Dynamics has been asking for that data for 18 months, Keating told me, but the Army has provided too little, too slowly to let GD build a proper proposal for an alternative.
“How could you ever prove to the Army, within six months, that the changes you’ve made on [some] other tracked vehicle meet or exceed the performance data in their tests on the Bradley,” Keating asked, “[if] you don’t have the performance data on the Bradley?”
The Army has actually offered all competitors Bradleys to work with as “Optional Exchange Vehicles,” but Keating argues that providing the vehicle without the data only tips the balance even more in BAE’s favor. If the Army went with a modified Bradley, then you could build more than half the required 2,900 AMPVs out of excess Bradleys the service already has on hand, dramatically lowering the price, a major advantage over alternative vehicles. (The Army also has GDLS Strykers in its inventory, but none to spare, and they aren’t on offer as OEVs). [UPDATED: In its denial of GDLS's protest, Army Materiel Command said there were other ways to use the OEVs, for example by selling them to foreign countries or for scrap -- which still seems a lot less cost-effective than converting them into AMPVs.] Unless and until the Army provides the detailed technical data, Keating said, only BAE has the expertise to rebuild a Bradley.
“That’s the way it is,” said BAE’s manager for armored vehicles, Mark Signorelli. “If I was looking to compete a Stryker-based offering, I would be very severely handicapped,” just as General Dynamics is when it comes to Bradleys. In fact, he said, because the Bradley has been in service in larger numbers for a longer term, the Army has far more Bradley technical data to share with General Dynamics than it would have Stryker data to share with BAE.
[UPDATED: The Army's decision essentially agrees with Signorelli. Yes, BAE has a "natural advantage," but that doesn't mean the Army is being unfair, that's life: "BAE's status as the OEM [original equipment manufacturer] of the Bradley’s [sic] and M113s means it enjoys some natural advantages that the Government is not required to neutralize…. The existence of such an advantage, in and of itself, does not constitute preferential treatment by the Army.”]
And why should the Army restrict itself from using the excess Bradleys it has already bought? “The Army has all of those vehicles [already],” Signorelli said. “If they can find somebody that can use them to lower the cost, then I think that is clearly in the Army’s interests rather than maintaining them in a boneyard somewhere.”
That’s not to say that BAE can simply pop the gun turret off an existing Bradley, patch the hole, and roll it back out the door as an AMPV. Yes, the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle is meant as a support vehicle — as a transport, mobile command post, armored ambulance, or mortar carrier — not a frontline assault vehicle like the Bradley, so it doesn’t need nearly as much firepower. But AMPV’s requirement to survive attack, particularly from roadside bombs, is actually higher than the most heavily upgraded Bradley model in service, the 2008 “BUSK III” model. (That’s short for “Bradley Urban Survivability Kit,” a package of added armor and other enhancements to handle the dangers of Baghdad during the Iraq war “surge”).
Then there’s the critical mobility requirement. The Army wants AMPV to be able to keep up with the Bradley and the M1 Abrams tank as its armored brigades move rapidly cross-country. That’s something tracked vehicles historically excel at, while wheeled vehicles like the Stryker built to move much faster on roads.
But the Army’s own “NATO mobility model” shows that Stryker can traverse 96 percent of the terrain that the current M113 can, Keating said. The missing 4 percent is mostly very soft terrain — rice paddies in Korea, for example — where wheels would sink in but tracks would not. A 2008 Army study said 96 percent was good enough because a commander could usually find ways to go around. The current requirements, however, insist that the AMPV be able to do at least 100 percent of what the M113 can.
“If the mobility criteria is not a go/no-go, we could then consider the Stryker,” Keating told me. In fact, GD has asked Congress to make the Army buy a mixed fleet of Strykers and Bradleys to handle different parts of the AMPV mission. But as the rules of the competition currently stand, that’s not an option — which is why General Dynamics is threatening to withdraw.
Updated Saturday, April 5, with additional details from the Army Materiel Command’s formal denial of General Dynamics’ protest.