By PAUL McLEARY
WASHINGTON — The US Army wants to delay the start of one of its most prized vehicle modernization programs by one year and raise its development costs by several hundred million dollars in its quest to replace thousands of Vietnam-era M113 infantry carriers by the early 2020s.
On Tuesday, the Army released a new draft request for proposals for the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV) program, following a previous draft request issued in March.
The Army wants to buy 2,097 AMPVs over 13 years costing roughly $1.8 million apiece. The latest document does not include an average unit manufacturing cost, unlike the March draft.
The new document says the Army plans to award a five-year engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) contract in May 2014 to one contractor, which will manufacture 29 vehicles for government testing, followed by a three-year low-rate initial production (LRIP) contract starting in 2020.
In the March draft document, the Army estimated that the EMD phase would run four years, from fiscal years 2014 to 2017, and cost $388 million. But the latest document has it running for five years, from fiscal 2015 to 2019 at a cost of $458 million to build the 29 prototypes.
Likewise, the previous estimate for an LRIP order of 289 vehicles between 2018 and 2020 was estimated at $1.08 billion, but the Oct. 1 draft includes a chart that lists three options for the LRIP years pegged at $244 million, $479 million, and $505 million respectively, which comes to $1.2 billion, giving the program a $1.68 billion budget before full-rate production begins.
That’s about $200 million more than the overall $1.46 billion cost that the March request for proposals estimated. The Army requested $116 million in its fiscal 2014 budget for development activities for the AMPV, which Congress approved.
Two main competitors have lined up for the competition. BAE Systems is offering a variant of its turretless Bradley, while General Dynamics is offering either its wheeled double V-hull Stryker, or a newer tracked version of the Stryker.
The price increases and schedule slippages outlined in the latest document might all be water under the bridge if the Army decides to put its Ground Combat Vehicle program on ice and replace it with the AMPV however, as some recent reports have suggested.
While the AMPV would cost more than $5 billion to procure, the Government Accountability Office has estimated the GCV’s overall cost at about $37 billion. What’s more, a highly critical April report from the Congressional Budget Officesaid the AMPV might actually be a better buy than the GCV for the Army.
The GCV “would replace only a fraction of the Army’s combat equipment. And some analysts assert that the vehicles slated for replacement are not those that should be first in line. Specifically, according to the Army’s current plan, the GCVs will replace the 61 Bradley vehicles that are configured as [infantry fighting vehicles] in each of the Army’s armored combat brigades. Those vehicles represent only a small portion — 18 percent — of the 346 armored combat vehicles in each armored combat brigade,” the government report said.
A Sept. 24 Congressional Research Service report suggested that, given the coming budgetary constraints facing the Army, “the GCV might be unrealistic,” and that “one potential discussion could focus on a decision by the Army to replace the GCV with the AMPV as the Army’s number one ground combat vehicle acquisition priority.”
Whatever road the Army chooses, it will have a major effect on the ground vehicle industrial base for whichever contractor wins the award, as well as their critical supply chain.