OPTIONALLY MANNED MOCK-UP: U.S. Army Soldiers sit in a mock-up of the Soldier compartment of a potential design of an Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle during a Soldier touch point at the Detroit (Michigan) Arsenal in February. Soldier touch points allow engineers and designers to validate future requirements for the vehicle. (U.S. Army photo)
The Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle design provides a case study for how the Army can change the way requirements are defined, refined and stabilized in support of acquiring new, complex ground combat weapons systems.
by Dan Heaton
The challenges associated with the processes for establishing stable and achievable requirements in support of past ground combat vehicle acquisition programs are widely documented. Yet, within a process long influenced by administrative compliance and highly localized experience, effective solutions to persistent Army requirements challenges have remained elusive.
The Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle (OMFV), an initial description for the Army’s next generation infantry fighting vehicle, provided Army Futures Command (AFC), Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology (ASA(ALT)), Army Contracting Command and industry an opportunity to explore a new 21st century approach.
The OMFV digital concept design provides a case study for how the Army can change the way requirements are defined, refined and stabilized in support of acquiring new, complex ground-combat weapon systems. In a departure from previous practices, the Army strategy included early formal collaboration with industry to inform and assess requirement feasibility, suitability, and acceptability before soliciting for prototypes, robust analysis to gauge the effectiveness of capabilities and Soldier touch points that allowed the ultimate end user an opportunity to influence the design of the vehicle early in the development process.
The goal is to produce an infantry fighting vehicle that exploits industry innovation and modern design tools today to both address infantry fighting vehicle modernization needs now, and permit upgrading or integrating future new technologies quickly and economically to it into formations as soon as possible.
REQUIREMENTS AND OTHER FANTASIES
In past programs, Army requirements developers produced a very detailed list of specifications that companies would use to develop their proposal. This left little to no room for innovation or refinement as technologies or threats changed over time. In too many cases, requirements would call for implementing new, evolving technology, only to find that technology was not quite ready for use in the field.
In other cases, a proprietary technology procured during the development of the initial vehicle configuration limited the Army’s ability to adapt to new technologies or operational needs years and multiple iterations later. And finally, opportunities to exploit industry innovation and new approaches were missed simply because there was no approved requirement. The system depended upon perfect predictions many years in advance of application by Soldiers. Vehicle requirements became fluid as operating environment conditions changed or new requirements were added late in lengthy development cycles, causing cost projections to skyrocket.
Past efforts to develop a new infantry fighting vehicle to replace the Bradley in our ABCTs did not come to fruition. Those efforts are well-documented elsewhere and do not need to be re-hashed here. What is important to note is that the Army is a learning organization. We learned from our past efforts and modified our approach to developing combat vehicles. With OMFV, the opportunity to change the historical dynamic is available thanks to more flexible and modern program management tools such as the middle tier of acquisition (MTA) pathway and digital engineering.
THE RIGHT BALANCE
Using these tools, the Next-Generation Combat Vehicle Cross-Functional Team, the Project Manager for Mounted Combat Systems and the Ground Vehicle Systems Center crafted an approach to OMFV requirements development and refinement incorporating several key themes:
- Communicating broad design characteristics for industry to focus their design capabilities and innovation on addressing our capability gaps, rather than requiring compliance with overly technical requirements, based on imperfect assumptions or legacy approaches. The Army awarded contracts to five prime vendors to develop digital designs for the specific purpose of informing and maturing initial characteristics into more detailed requirements. The nine “characteristics of need,” in priority order, are: survivability, mobility, growth, lethality, weight, logistics, transportability, manning and training. In each of those nine areas, the Army challenged vendors to provide their best overall solution.
- Collaborative, rather than transactional engagements between government and industry. This approach allows government and industry to come together to a common understanding of what technology is ready and affordable today vs. what is not yet ready for integration at scale and operational implementation. Initially, some vendors were skeptical that the Army was serious about change, but close collaboration and open dialogue produced productive refinement of requirements. Model-based systems engineering and modular open system architecture standards enabled use of competing vendor concepts and digital designs to explore different approaches to the right balance between the needs for mobility, survivability, lethality, and, since this is an infantry fighting vehicle, how many Soldiers can feasibly be delivered safely onto an objective.
- Requirements analysis and definition. Over a period of 12 months with five vendor digital designs, the Army completed 11 distinct analytical efforts – ranging from fuel consumption expectations to survivability against known threats. Through these efforts, the Army provided vendors four revisions of draft performance specifications, received over 2,000 comments from government and industry technical experts, conducted three digital design reviews with each vendor, and had four total months of Soldier touch points providing user feedback on vendor designs.
- Modeling and simulation. Vendor digital designs assessed through government modeling and simulation tools refined the nine broad characteristics of need into 28 detailed and prioritized attributes. We were able to see, question and understand relationships between performance and cost across engineering and operational expectations well before committing to expensive, long lead physical prototypes. By placing Soldiers into virtual OMFVs, the Army was able to determine if the vehicle designs were realistic and feasible. We were able to run extensive simulations to explore the impacts of different decisions and proposals to determine if our requirement prioritization is correct.
- Soldier-centered design. Soldiers from Armored brigade combat teams engaged directly with virtual designs, and later with virtual prototypes and physical models. The Ground Vehicle Systems Center created virtual environments for Soldiers to experience each vendor’s approach. Soldiers directly helped engineers and designers understand how human performance with new capabilities and design requirements influence desired system effectiveness objectives. The value of gaining these Soldier inputs early in the process cannot be overemphasized.
In this refinement phase, we did not attempt to assess which vendor design was best, or which would become the basis for the Army’s requirement. Instead, we used the opportunity to explore different approaches with vendors possessing expertise in the design, development and manufacturing of combat vehicles to better understand the trade-offs and feasibility parameters required to issue a later solicitation with confidence.
The change to the Army’s approach also fundamentally changed the interaction with government and industry, in that the focus was the development of digital designs to inform requirement maturation. Vendors were no longer solely focused on compliance and winning a competition but, rather, focused on aiding the production of a feasible list of requirements that increases the likelihood of a successfully executed OMFV program in the future.
Throughout the concept design phase, the vendors refined their approaches and collaborated with Army users and engineers, refining their design attributes to move closer to informing a feasible and acceptable range of OMFV requirements. Additionally, this phase provided a priceless opportunity for all parties to learn about the realm of the possible. Although the Army would love to have a vehicle with an infinite amount of capability for its Soldiers, it must be mindful that the more capability it adds, the heavier and more expensive the vehicle will be. There are often unintended consequences to every decision and this phased approach allows a community of experts to come together to see the impacts of each requirement decision.
“We acknowledge upfront that the Army doesn’t know everything. We know what a lot of the possibilities are, but we acknowledge that industry may know things upfront that we don’t know. What we didn’t want was to create a requirement that said the vehicle must be able to travel 42 miles per hour and then have Vendor X develop a proposal that exceeds all our expectations, but only goes 41 miles per hour and we automatically have to reject it. We wanted to create that trade space where we truly can create the best possible product and deliver it to the Soldiers in the field,” said Maj. Matthew Burton, OMFV requirements officer for the Next-Generation Combat Vehicles Cross-Functional Team, located at the Detroit Arsenal.
GO AHEAD, BREAK IT
Some six months after the government awarded five separate contracts, the Army took each vendor’s concept design, incorporated them into the Army’s modeling and simulation tools, and brought in a group of infantry Soldiers to test them. Working at the Detroit Arsenal starting in January, the Soldiers spent two weeks interacting with each design, first in a virtual reality setting and then in a full-size mock-up of the crew compartments.
“As important as it was for the vendors to be able to talk to the Soldiers and hear their inputs, I think that was really secondary to that touch point,” said Melissa Morgan, a mechanical engineer who serves as the test and evaluation advisor to the Next-Generation Combat Vehicles Cross-Functional Team. “What really came out of that experience was our ability to validate and stabilize the requirements we will have for developing the actual prototypes in the next phase of the process. These Soldiers interacted with the actual dimensions and capabilities proposed by the vendors, giving everyone at the table confidence in the feasibility of what each vendor proposed.”
With requirements that have now been identified as realistic, stable and feasible, the government is moving into the next phase of the OMFV program and intends to select up to three vendors from a full and open competition to create a detailed design for their OMFV proposal and build physical vehicle prototypes. Once those detailed designs are produced in the third quarter of FY23, the Army will again provide feedback from both engineers and Soldiers from armored brigade combat teams. The process will continue to fine-tune requirements before a contract is awarded to a single vendor to produce the vehicle. The Army intends to field OMFVs to the first unit equipped in the 2029 fiscal year.
“This approach brings a stability of requirements to the process—nobody has to guess what the requirements will be,” said Burton. “It also allows the true end-user, our Soldiers, to have input early in the process rather than waiting until the end when it is too late or too expensive to change things.”
While the OMFV may be one of the most high-profile programs currently using MTA in the Army it is far from the only one. Other projects using the MTA process includes another Next-Generation Combat Vehicle signature program, the Mobile Protected Firepower, as well as the Next Generation Squad Weapons and the Small Multipurpose Equipment Transport programs, among others. Other uniformed services have taken advantage of the MTA authority for multiple programs, ranging from communications and software to missiles and weapon systems, including the major upgrade of an Air Force fighter jet, the F-15EX.
“The way that we are maturing our requirements on OMFV, collaborating with Soldiers, vendors, the acquisition community – it is transforming the way that we acquire combat vehicles. It allows us to not have to make decisions prematurely and ultimately will produce the best possible asset for our Soldiers on the battlefield,” Morgan said.
OMFV requirements-development represents a successful collaboration among AFC, ASA(ALT) and industry to improve confidence and credibility in requirements before soliciting for solutions. However, we are still early in the campaign, so this story is merely a spot report along the way. We understand that success for the Army is measured against delivery of an end product, not intentions or process. We also recognize that the diversity of Army modernization programs precludes any “one-size-fits-all” approach. However, through collaboration, experimentation and open dialogue we can change how the Army modernizes its acquisition processes and outcomes. We share this experience in that spirit.
While Soldier touch-point events principally allow the Army to validate and finalize requirements for a new system, they also have a side benefit, said Sgt. 1st Class Salem Auclair, a master gunner who works on the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle project. Each of the dozen Soldiers who participated in the event returned to their platoons when the touch-point concluded and told their peers what they had experienced.
“They went back and told the others in their unit that not only were they involved in providing input into the vehicles’ design, but that their comments were listened to and made a difference. It may only be a small number of Soldiers, but that’s not insignificant,” Auclair said.
For more information go to https://armyfuturescommand.com.
DAN HEATON is the director of communications for the Next-Generation Combat Vehicles Cross-Functional Team. He joined the team in 2020 after a long career in journalism and as a public information officer for local government. He also serves as an enlisted public affairs specialist in the Michigan Air National Guard and is the author of three books on topics related to military history. He holds a Master’s degree in marketing from Walsh College.