The U.S. Army has officially rebooted its effort to replace its Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle, six months after pulling the plug on a previous $45 billion attempt that only produced one competitor.
Late last week Army officials issued a draft request for proposals for a preliminary design for its Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle (OMFV), the service's fourth attempt to replace the Bradley since 2009. The previous effort, abandoned in January, failed after the field was reduced to a single General Dynamics (NYSE:GD) entry.
Expect General Dynamics to be back this time around, along with potential bids from British defense giant BAE Systems (OTC:BAES.Y) and Germany's Rheinmetall (OTC:RNMBY). Last time around Rheinmetall partnered with Raytheon, which has since merged to become part of Raytheon Technologies (NYSE:RTX), and the Germans will likely either need to find another partner or work with Raytheon again.
The request is preliminary by design, describing the Army's vision for the vehicle and broad performance specifications and characteristics, but it leaves a lot open to the companies' imaginations. That's a change from last time around, and could impact future development efforts.
This is bigger than just one vehicle
The competition was rebooted in large part because the Army was unable to get enough participants the last time around. The OMFV battle is one of the first large programs run out of the Army Futures Command, an effort started in 2018 to modernize the service.
The Pentagon is committed to the Futures Command, but it's fair to say that its initial efforts have been underwhelming. A number of potential OMFV bidders dropped out the first time around because either the requirements were too strict, or the schedule was too tight.
For example, the Rheinmetall/Raytheon team was disqualified last year just days after the deadline at least in part because they were unable to transport their prototype from Germany to the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland in time.
The Army is trying to avoid a similar fate this time around, noting in the request for proposal that it has "avoided quantifying or prescribing critical levels of performance wherever possible."
Maj. Gen. Brian Cummings, the Army's program executive officer for Ground Combat Systems, emphasized the point in a statement announcing the new competition.
"We do not want to box industry into a solution," Cummings said. "We want to incentivize industry as they lean forward and think creatively to bring the Army innovative technologies and solutions necessary to achieve our vision -- both in terms of the ability to integrate newer technology we are seeing today and leaving space for future growth on the OMFV platform."
Procurement is evolving, and the OMFV to date is a reminder that change can be turbulent. But with the Army committed to revitalizing itself through the Futures Command in the years to come, all defense contractors will be watching closely to see how this effort plays out.
A long fight ahead
The Army's plan from here is to keep the request open for 40 days to gather industry feedback, with a goal of awarding up to five design contracts next June ahead of an eventual bakeoff. That means the Army is still years away from replacing the Bradley.
It's hard to handicap the competition without knowing who will be in it. General Dynamics figures to compete, but its prior experience is unlikely to be a significant advantage: If the Army was pleased with what the company had offered the last time around, there's a decent chance we wouldn't have a reboot.
I'd expect BAE to reenter the fray, or to at least be heavily involved in the planning process before making a final decision. Rheinmetall will likely also want to try again at winning a key U.S. contract, though now that Raytheon is part of a larger and more diverse aerospace conglomerate the company might decide to put its resources elsewhere.
A number of mid-tier companies, including L3 Harris (NYSE:LHX), Science Applications International (NYSE:SAIC) or even Leidos Holdings (NYSE:LDOS), could be interested in teaming up with Rheinmetall if the German company needs a partner.
General Dynamics and BAE are also battling in the separate Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) light tank competition, but large Army ground vehicle awards don't come up often. There will likely be a lot of companies at least considering throwing their hats in the ring for the OMFV.