Moving troops safely around a battle theater has been one of the most important objectives of Army combat vehicle design for more than a century. A new family of manned ground vehicles was central to the multi-platform Future Combat Systems (FCS) program begun in 2003 – and a replacement, the Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV), was the first platform announced when Secretary of Defense Robert Gates canceled FCS in 2009.
A Request for Proposal (RFP) to build a demonstrator was issued in April 2010, with Gates terming an Army vehicle modernization program “essential” and “a very big priority.” Only days before an expected September contract award, however, Assistant Secretary of the Army Dr. Malcolm Ross O’Neil pulled the document, announcing a new RFP would be issued incorporating “risk reduction” recommendations from a Red Team review conducted while industry was responding to the first solicitation.
A Department of Defense (DoD) release said the study – a joint effort by the Army and the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (OSD (AT&L)) “as part of a continuing effort to ensure that all Army acquisitions effectively and affordably meet the needs of our Soldiers” – would result in a revised RFP that would “better ensure an achievable, affordable and timely infantry fighting vehicle.”
“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 Pentagon said on Aug. 25, 2010. “The refined RFP will result in a vehicle that provides Soldiers with critical armored protection in the modern combat environment.
“The contract cancellation was made at the earliest stage of the acquisition process, resulting in up to a six-month delay of the program, which will best ensure the long-term success of the Ground Combat Vehicle program by better aligning vehicle capabilities with the anticipated needs of future combat operations.”
The abrupt change marked a continuation of the decision-making process that led to the cancellation of FCS, which Gates had said failed to adequately address lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan. The original GCV RFP, the Red Team concluded, would have continued down the wrong path.
Correcting that and getting GCV back on track and on schedule have, in large part, now fallen to the Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM), with the lead taken by its Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC).
“Our role is to provide an integrated technology force to support the development of an executable program, identify technologies and the trade spaces providing the underpinnings of future decisions,” said Brig. Gen. Harry Greene, RDECOM’s deputy commanding general.
“The challenge is we will have to make tradeoffs today, so our role is to define the art of the possible today, then assist the Army leadership in making decisions and developing technologies for the future so we can move closer to the end state of getting all the Army’s goals for the GCV.”
As part of the overall Brigade Combat Team modernization program that essentially replaced FCS, GCV also will reflect major changes RDECOM is bringing to helping develop a capabilities-based Army.
TARDEC engineer Kevin Mills is the project lead for the Advanced Combat Technology & Vehicle Integration (ACT VI) project. “ACT VI was created as a multifaceted, cross-RDECOM effort to address key future ground combat platforms risk areas from a technology integration perspective, and to look holistically toward the future with what can be done to increase capability and drive down SWAP [size, weight and power] burdens with advanced technology,” Mills said. “The project is resourced across all the component organizations of RDECOM. The ACT VI project will seek to drive down platform risks focusing on the areas of survivability, turret integration – including lethality – vehicle electronic architecture and C4ISR.
“Additionally, the ACT VI project is looking out to the future, projecting where technology will be around FY 2016-17 [when GCV is intended to enter service] to investigate from a systems perspective how developing technology could impact future modernization activities and create technology pathways to achieving objective capability. The point is to predict system level operational performance from individual technology development efforts to estimate what impact it has on the system, as well as provide information back to the requirements and material developers what trend technology is taking to achieve their objective capabilities.”
That would continue the role RDECOM has played from the beginning, working with requirements and material developers to ensure the GCV vehicle requirement thresholds being set could be achieved by FY 12 with technologies ranked as Technology Readiness Level 6. TRL-6 is defined as being able to demonstrate a system/subsystem model or prototype in a relevant operating environment.
“We really want to build on that relationship and continue to look at objective requirements and keep the research community involved with the user community,” Mills said, “while directing our researchers to focus on best technologies and help direct S&T investment toward relevant platform requirements. A key is to create what we call integration packages, which will tie into the risk areas for the combat platform.
“For those, we’re looking to group related technology development efforts into a systems solution and deliver technology from a package perspective as opposed to individual technologies. That is a new concept for RDECOM, and how we execute that is still being developed. But the goal is to line up to the heavy combat PMs’ timelines and give directed technology insertion points as opposed to letting the technology schedule drive the transition.”
That was a central problem for FCS and, to some extent, the first RFP for the Ground Combat Vehicle.
“The previous paradigm put programs in a very serious disadvantage, forcing them to try to mature technology at the same time they were trying to produce and field it. We are now very focused on trying to comply with the WSARA [Weapon System Acquisition Reform Act] mandates and best apply best practices to drive the risk out of development, and transition more mature technologies into the technology base to reduce program risk,” BCT Engineer Benjamin Foresta, in RDECOM’s Programs & Engineering Office, said. “That is a big improvement alongside the fundamental changes we’ve made to break down the walls between each of our separate centers and labs using the [Technology Focus Team/Systems Integration Domain] TFT/SID construct to better link the command into the broader Army, ASAALT and TRADOC.
“Now we are tying to make sure we are at least lined up with, if not ahead of, the learning curve on where the Army really is going in the future. Using a disciplined, rigorous process to make smart investments, document what we do, and contract correctly to obtain the requisite data right and avoid putting unnecessary risks on the program of record. This is a big change to the science and technology community and will have a big impact on programs going forward.”
Even before the Red Team report and RFP changes, GCV represented a significant change from the FCS manned ground vehicle family.
“The GCV is an infantry fighting vehicle specifically designed to accommodate some of the threats seen in the past 10 years in Southwest Asia, from an irregular warfare perspective. The survivability of the platform is increased, and the troop carrying capacity is greater to accommodate a nine-man squad,” Mills said. “Another key driver is to make the GCV a full spectrum vehicle able to support offensive, defensive, stability, and support mission roles.”
“Another is they wanted technology that is currently mature to lower the program risk, where FCS was really a technology push, driving technology through the requirements process. GCV also is really designed for growth, from power to survivability, with hooks in it to increase capability over time. One of the lessons leaned from FCS, as we got into the conflict in Iraq, was some of the threats changed and the platform as designed could not accommodate the growing requirements.”
The initial target for fielding the GCV was 2017. “The schedule – to deliver a production vehicle in seven years – remains a key driver. A major congressional concern is the speed to delivery of the platform. If you look back at FCS, it was much longer, and the more you stretch out a program, the more things tend to be hung on it and the more technology changes. The RDECOM is investigating using modeling, simulation, and advanced design techniques to accelerate the acquisition timeline, much of which is regulated through acquisition law. But streamlining that design process is a goal,” he said.
“From a design perspective, the squad size and survivability requirements are key performance parameters that cannot be traded. Cost, of course, is always a driver. Weight really depends on who you talk to; from a survivability perspective, if you impose a requirement for technology available today along with a high level of protection, it drives you to a heavier platform. So weight really becomes a derived requirement based on all the other requirements in the document.”
An important aspect of how RDECOM is approaching GCV and other elements of BCT modernization is an increased use of modeling and simulation.
Foresta said modeling and simulation have become increasingly important in the Army’s effort to answer key questions and resolve major issues before building anything. GCV is the first major program to utilize those capabilities.
“For example, TARDEC is working closely with their counterparts with TRADOC’s Maneuver Center of Excellence to adjudicate requirements before they are finalized, using modeling and simulation right up front to build a model of what they just asked for. Things depend on each other – speed, range capacity, weight of armor, etc. – so we look at how those relate to each other and what trades may need to be made. That provides an early look at what the product will look like, based on the requirements they provide,”
“In the past, we weren’t able to push back on requirements because by the time we realized there were key performance parameters that when all put together into one system might defy the laws of physics, it was too late. This upfront modeling helps the requirements developers and the Army in general look at the realm of the possible and clearly visualize what their requirements are really telling us to build. That’s what happened in the case of GCV. So while pulling the RFP looks bad, it’s actually a good thing if it avoids the problems of FCS, where we were building something the Army really didn’t want.”
Modeling and simulation, based on requirements before anything is built, address some of the issues set forth in the 2009 Weapons System Acquisition Reform Act, he added. And while the WSARA law was not established specifically for the S&T Community and RDECOM, applying the guidance within RDECOM may have the biggest impact.
“Looking at the spirit of the law, which emphasizes upfront and early planning along with increased emphasis on modeling and simulation, we found the earliest place to apply this guidance was in the requirements development phase. Applying it here has the biggest impact and helps drive some of the risks out of Army acquisitions,” Foresta said. Another area where RDECOM is engaging with TRADOC on requirements is in the area of “system of systems.” “Today requirements are written around each product, not how they work together as a system to support a mission or maneuver.
“So in BCT modernization, we’re looking at using modeling and simulation as well as our domain expertise in each area, like C4ISR, Soldier, efects, to identify where the trade space truly exists within our systems or system of systems to best determine what trades can be made to enable a desired mission capability. All this has far-reaching implications toward becoming a capabilities-based Army. If we continue down this path, it will pay big dividends in terms of what the Soldier gets in the end.”
Greene calls modeling and simulation “absolutely essential” to GCV now and all BCT modernization efforts in the future.
“We want to be more rapid and make decisions with knowledge. To actually build full-up systems takes time and money, so before you do that, you want to know as much as you can. Modeling and simulation are a fairly inexpensive way to rapidly get insights into the risks as you develop these capabilities,” Greene said. “So we have developed, across the command, a robust modeling and simulation capability that is integral to our work on GCV, but also all our other programs.”
Even with the push toward collaboration and a horizontal focus on capabilities, Foresta added, each RDECOM center is championing technology areas specific to them. Using simulation to merge those various models improves the command’s ability to demonstrate to the end user what bringing those together is expected to produce, what trades can be made, the second and third order effects of changes in other areas, etc.
Proponents believe that process also can provide Congress with empirical data on which to make better decisions, considered especially important to a program such as the GCV, given the turmoil and controversy that now surround it.
“The last piece of modeling is to support Army analysis and decision-making. To this end, RDECOM has stood up a modeling and simulation executive agent and a systems engineering executive agent. These agents are working to bring together the technical expertise within the command, to help automate this decision-making process and assist in establishing a repeatable process that utilizes best practices and procedures,” Foresta concluded. “Beyond these technical pieces, we’re looking to fold in financial modeling, which often speaks louder than the technical piece.
“All in all we are trying to bring the full resources of the command to bear for the benefit of the Army as a whole. These are not tangential pieces, but central to making BCT modernization and GCV successful and avoid the problems encountered in FCS.”
This article was first published in U.S. Army Materiel Command: 2010-2011 Edition.