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Can The Army Convince Congress It’s Learned From FCS? « Breaking Defense

An Army M2 Bradley — designed in the 1970s and first fielded in the 1980s — undergoes an overhaul at BAE’s York, Pennsylvania plant.

CAPITOL HILL: “This is the Army’s third attempt at replacing the Bradley,” the grim-faced chairman of defense appropriations, Rep. Pete Visclosky, warned Army officials last week. “We’ve been told, time and again, that this time it is different…. but the first large acquisition program that has come out of the Army Futures Command has fallen flat. You do need to convince this committee today that our continued support of modernization will eventually be a good investment.”

screenshot from Congressional hearing on YouTube

A frustrated Rep. Pete Visclosky, chairman of the House defense appropriations subcommittee, grilling Army leaders

At three hearings in the last two weeks, members of the House bombarded Army leaders with questions about the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle, the semi-robotic replacement for the Reagan-era M2 Bradley. The Army cancelled its original competition after every vendor either dropped out or failed to meet requirements, then rebooted OMFV on a new, less rushed schedule that began with humbly seeking industry’s input on what was actually possible.

“We learned early on this program [that] there was confusion over the requirements,” the Army Chief of Staff, Gen. James McConville, told appropriators. With the new approach of listening assiduously to industry, he said, “we think we can save time up front and get the vehicle we need…and have requirements that we know industry can meet.”

That was met with some skepticism. “That sounds great, general, but I wonder why we didn’t start this process, you know, a long time ago,” replied the panel’s ranking Republican, Rep. Ken Calvert. “What happened?”

screenshot of Congressional hearing video on YouTube

Rep. Ken Calvert, ranking Republican on the defense appropriations subcommittee, listens skeptically as Army leaders explain the troubled program to replace the M2 Bradley.

“I think what happened, Congressman, is we have learned,” said McConville, not quite answering the question. “We are learning with industry. We’re learning with our acquisition folks who are used to doing it the old way, where we spent [10-14 years] developing requirements [and] a system, and then investing a lot of money in it, and finding out at the end we didn’t get what we wanted. So, we are stopping early and we are redefining the way we do the process to encourage innovation.”

So what’s the new schedule? That’s the question Rep. Paul Mitchell asked, without getting a clear answer, in two different House Armed Services Committee hearings, on March 3rd and March 5th.

“No one has answered what the cost and delays will be, in multiple inquiries. Frankly I’ve got a lot of discussion around it,” lamented Mitchell, whose Michigan district is home to many employees of would-be bidders, on the 5th. “We are increasingly asking the private sector, venture capital, to invest in innovation, technology, development of some of these things. People did that to a fair extent and we abruptly cancelled it.”

Rep. Pete Mitchell

Michigan Congressman Pete Mitchell pushes the Army for answers on OMFV.

“How do we keep saying to our industrial base, ‘okay, that was a screwup, your investment’s not lost; we’re [still] going here’?” asked Rep. Donald Norcross, chairman of the House subcommittee on tactical air and land forces, at the same hearing. “For any company to make those sort of investments, it’s a risk, we understand. They knew going in — but it doesn’t help us our case that this is the new way we’re going to do things and bring industry along.”

“If we were to abandon the effort on OMFV, it would be a wasted effort, it would be a wasted expenditure on the part of the company,” replied Bruce Jette, the Army’s civilian acquisition chief. “I know people reflect back to FCS, and say, ‘oh, you cancelled that vehicle program, you cancelled another vehicle program. You’re going and doing it again.’ That’s not our intent. Our intent is to continue with OMFV. The objective that we were pursuing is unchanged,” he said. “It’s the methodology” that has changed.

screenshot from Congressional hearing on YouTube

Rep. Donald Norcross, chairman of the House subcommittee on land forces, interrogates Army leaders on the Bradley replacement.

By contrast, in the past, the Army often doubled down on a flawed approach, trying to make work, rather than admitting it needed to start over. “On some of our prior efforts,” Jette said, “Comanche [for example], we had problems and we kept going along to see if we could fix them, fix them, and, a few billion dollars later, we ended up cancelling.”

But why, asked Norcross, couldn’t we have seen the problems coming on OMFV and rebooted it much earlier, and at much less expense?

“That’s part of our assessment,” Jette said, which isn’t an answer so much as a pledge to find one. But, he promised, he’s spoken extensively to industry, and at least 11 companies have expressed interest in participating in the new, more open process.

“I think the root of this is trust, the trust going forward,” added Gen. John “Mike” Murray, the four-star chief of Army Futures Command. “This was not a quick or easy decision.”

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