Officials for the U.S. Army this week took the first step to structure a faster and more-responsive development process they hope that by 2022 will create prototypes for a new generation of combat vehicles to replace today’s aging battlefield vehicles such as the Bradley armored troop carrier and Stryker wheeled armored vehicle.
The Army is optimistic a new, streamlined development structure—administered through its Tank-Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) and the SAE’s recently-inaugurated, not-for-profit Defense-Automotive Technologies Consortium (DATC)—will enable it to more efficiently collaborate with automotive suppliers and other companies to more quickly adopt cutting-edge technologies for the Next-Generation Combat Vehicle Prototype (NGCV-P).
But a concurrent goal for TARDEC’s new Defense Arsenal Automotive (DA2) Other Transactions Agreement, or OTA, is to meaningfully cut the lengthy development times the government traditionally has required to bring wide-ranging new weapons programs to production, said Thomas Vern, TARDEC Chief of Staff, during a briefing to outline development targets for the NGCV-P and parameters for companies and other entities to participate in DA2 process.
Vern said the 30-year-plus design age of the Army’s current fleet of combat vehicles means, “their (replacement) time is coming due,” and that the Army envisions the NGCV-P to be designed as an all-new “platform” that could serve as the foundation for a range of battlefield vehicles using “many of the same things we’ve seen in the automotive industry.”
He added that the Army, through the 7-year, $700-million DA2 initiative, wants to engage the auto sector “in solving some of the problems for which we don’t have solutions.”
According to a variety of defense-sector publications, the last time the Army made its most significant effort to develop replacements for its combat ground vehicles, it spent scores of billions of dollars in a nearly decade-long program that resulted in no product.
Pace with the tech race
Patrick Macheske, TARDEC’s DA2 program manager, said the new program is a result of the Army’s recognition that its historically protracted development and procurement processes are more than ever ill-suited to keep pace with the rapid advance of technical development.
But the new DA2 OTA process also was created, Macheske said, because in the past it has been too expensive and complicated for most private companies to engage with the government, while the government’s Byzantine procurement processes hinder rapid innovation and add costs for all parties. He called the newly-developed DA2 OTA structure a “much more streamlined approach to (government) contracting.”
Areas of technical concentration
For the NGCV-P, the Army identified eight areas of technical scope that align with auto-industry expertise: lightweighting, autonomous and intelligent systems, connectivity, energy storage, propulsion technologies, active suspension, cybersecurity and safety technology (see graphic).
Although there are few vehicle specifics on which to focus, Todd Thomas, TARDEC’s program manager for the NGCV-P, said the new vehicle platform is expected to have a range of capabilities that exceed the Army’s existing combat vehicles, with a propulsion system channeling on the order of 1000 hp and overall efficiency of 90%-plus, plus enhanced onboard electricity production, all in a package that requires less under-armor volume.
Development for the NGCV-P is broadly divided into four performance areas, he said: “move” (propulsion); “survive” (armor and active-protection systems); “shoot” (weaponry) and “mission enablers” that include advanced sensing and operational regimes and autonomy.
Thomas said the Army’s development timeline for the NGCV-P is 2017-19 for concept analysis and development, a build phase in 2020-22 and a test phase in 2023-24.