By Nicholas Drummond
It took the US Army almost two decades to develop its M2 Bradley IFV, which was finally brought into service in 1981. Realising that it had insufficient protection, the Army has wanted to replace it since 1999. After two failed programs, FCS and GCV, the US Army has now embarked on a new program, OMFV. Will it be a case of third-time lucky and result in a new vehicle that’s a step-change in capability versus Bradley or will it end with billions being wasted? With recent news that Rheinmetall has now been disqualified from participating in the OMFV competition, it seems that history is about to repeat itself.
02. The Optional Manned Fighting Vehicle (OMFV) Program
03. OMFV contenders
04. Is OMFV starting to unravel?
05. Is the need to carry two OMFVs in a C-17 a fatal flaw?
06. An alternative future IFV requirement
01. Introduction – Bradley’s long birth and slow death
In 1967, the Soviet Union introduced the BMP-1 Infantry Fighting Vehicle. Armed with a 73 mm gun, AT-3 Sagger ATGMs and with firing ports through which the infantry squad it carried could fire their AKM assault rifles, it was much more than a box on tracks. At a stroke, the BMP-1 rendered the US Army’s M113 Armoured Personnel Carrier obsolete. The latter only had a 12.7 mm Heavy Machine Gun while experience in Vietnam showed it was vulnerable to mines with aluminium armour that burned easily when hit.
At this time, the US Army had already begun development of its own Mechanised Infantry Combat Vehicle (MICV), but constant disagreements about optimal vehicle size, weight, troop-carrying capacity, protection, mobility and armament delayed its introduction into service. It was not until 1981 that the US Army finally fielded the M2 Bradley IFV. Since then, around 4,600 have been produced. During Operation Desert Storm in 1991, the Bradley performed well accounting for a significant number of Iraqi AFVs destroyed. However, concerns were expressed about the level of protection it offered. As an interim measure, the US Army added extra armour, but realised that fully meeting its IFV requirements would need Bradley to be replaced.
With the Cold War winding down, it was not until 1999 that the US Army was able to make a case for modernisation and a new IFV as part of its Future Combat System (FCS) program. This was an ambitious attempt to replace not just the Bradley but the Army’s entire fleet of combat vehicles with a family of fully networked, manned and unmanned platforms. It was part of an emerging doctrine that emphasised rapid global deployability and a reduced logistical footprint. FCS would maintain existing high levels of lethality needed to defeat near-peer enemies, but would be comprised of lighter, less well-protected vehicles designed around a single chassis that would be more agile. With a second deployment to the Gulf and Afghanistan from 2002, the importance of vehicle protection against both blast and kinetic threats became paramount. By 2009, the US Army acknowledged that FCS would have difficulties surviving asymmetric threats let alone those posed by near-peer adversaries, so the project was cancelled. The US Army spent $21.4bn on FCS development without a single new IFV being acquired.
The failure of FCS didn’t change the fact that Bradley still needed to be replaced. So, in 2009, a second initiative commenced, the Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) program. As before, the intention was to create a vehicle capable of providing infantry with protected mobility around the battlefield and direct fire support to aid them in the achievement of their objectives. Instead of only carrying a crew of 3 plus 6 dismounts, the GCV goal was to carry a crew of 3 and a full squad of 9 infantrymen. The resulting vehicle would require a larger protected volume increasing size and mass. When the protection requirements were added the basic configuration it resulted in a vehicle that would weigh close to 65 tonnes. This meant that a C-17A transport aircraft would only be able to carry a single GCV instead of two Bradleys, substantially increasing the time and cost to deploy armoured formations by air. With an increasing focus on expeditionary deployments, GCV seemed out of synchronisation with the type of operations the US Army expected to conduct in the future. Consequently, in 2014, this program was also cancelled, again without a single Bradley being replaced, and after $1.5 billion had been spent.
02. The Optionally manned Fighting Vehicle (OMFV) Program
In June 2018, the US Army announced a third attempt to field a new IFV, the Next Generation Combat Vehicle (NGCV) program. Like FCS this is a multi-vehicle program intended to deliver five core platforms:
- Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle (OMFV) – M2 Bradley IFV replacement
- Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV) – M113 APC replacement
- Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) – Light tank for Infantry Brigade Combat Teams (ICBTs)
- Robotic Combat Vehicles (RCVs) – Three separate remotely-operated vehicles: Light, Medium and Heavy
- Decisive Lethality Platform (DLP) – M1 Abrams MBT replacement
The Bradley replacement component of NGCV is called the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle (OMFV). Brigadier General Ross Coffman, Program Director for the NGCV effort, was reported as saying that replacing the Bradley was his highest priority. To ensure that the Program delivers a viable solution on schedule, a streamlined acquisition process has been devised. A stated objective for OMFV is to use “attainable” technology that pushes the envelope, while avoiding unrealistic or unachievable complexity that increases the risk, time and cost to field a reliable system. Even so, the draft RFP was ambitious in scope, with a hundred mandatory requirements and only six flexible ones.
What was different about the OMFV approach is that the Army released a draft RFP first, allowing industry to comment and suggest amendments to the requirement. When the final RFP was released on 29 March 2019, Coffman admitted: “We went to school on our past failures as a service.” The OMF’s high-level objective is to acquire a vehicle that is superior to the Bradley in terms of delivering dismounted infantry to their objective and providing fire support that helps them achieve it. This translates into the following requirements:
- Optionally manned – OMFV must have the ability to conduct remotely controlled operations while the crew is off-platform, so will need to incorporate some form of remote control operation.
- Capacity – It should eventually operate with no more than two crewmen and carry a squad of at least six infantry soldiers.
- Transportability – Two OMFVs should be transportable by one C-17 and be ready for combat within 15 minutes – this implies a maximum vehicle weight of 38.5 tons, given the C-17’s payload capacity.
- Dense urban terrain operations and mobility – The platform should possess the ability to super elevate weapons and simultaneously engage threats using main gun and an independent weapons system.
- Survivability – OMFV must possess sufficient protection to prevail on contemporary and future battlefields. (The protection requirement is likely to be equivalent to NATO STANAG 4569 Level 6 KE across the frontal arc, as anything above this would result in a vehicle with a basic weight well above 40 tonnes).
- Growth potential – OMFV should possess sufficient size, weight, architecture, power, and cooling for automotive and electrical purposes to meet all platform needs and allow for pre-planned product improvements over its lifecycle.
- Lethality – OMFV should apply immediate, precise, and decisively lethal extended range medium-caliber, directed energy, and missile fires in day/night/all-weather conditions, while moving and/or stationary against moving and/or stationary targets. The platform should allow for mounted, dismount, and unmanned system target handover.
- Embedded platform training – It should have embedded training systems that have interoperability with the Synthetic Training Environment.
- Sustainability – Industry should demonstrate innovations that achieve breakthroughs in power generation and management to obtain increased operational range and fuel efficiency, increased silent watch, part and component reliability, and significantly reduced sustainment burden.
For Lethality, the threshold requirement is a 30mm cannon and the objective requirement is 50mm cannon. Northrop Grumman’s 30mm Bushmaster XM813 cannon is a step-up from the 25mm M242 presently used in the M2 Bradley and is already in service with the Stryker Dragoon. Meanwhile, development of a new 50mm Bushmaster XM913 cannon is proceeding well and since it uses many of the same components as the 30mm system, the upgrade path is expected to be straightforward and trouble-free.
For sensors, the threshold requirement is a 2nd generation Forward-Looking Infra-Red (FLIR) thermal image / image intensifier and the objective requirement is a 3rd generation FLIR with increased range and ability to identify and engage the enemy before they see the OMFV.
Additional requirements are expected to include the capacity to accommodate appliqué and reactive armor panels, an Active Protection System (APS), artificial intelligence, directed-energy weapons and advanced ISTAR sensors.
Proposals were due by 1 October 2019 and the US Army said it would down-select two candidate vehicles for testing and evaluation. Vendors are to provide 14 “bid sample” test vehicles within 14 months. The US Army has requested US$378 million for fiscal year 2020 to cover the cost of the competitive evaluation.
The US Army wants to buy 3,590 OMFVs and is moving as fast as it can to field the first operational units by 2026. Industry observers familiar with OMFV requirements and the cost and feasibility issues that led to previous program cancellations are concerned that the acquisition process may not have been simplified enough to ensure success. In particular, they view the C-17 transport requirement, which reduces platform weight, as being incompatible with the need to ensure a future growth path. However, the US Army is confident about the requirements it has set and believes the acquisition process is simpler and more agile than previous efforts.
03. OMFV contenders
GDLS will offer a new version fo the Griffin III demonstrator it presented at the AUSA 2018 Army exhibition. Though similar to GDLSUK’s Ajax reconnaissance vehicle, which is itself based on GDELS’ ASCOD 2 IFV, it will be an all-new design with six road wheels not seven. The Griffin is expected to have a basic weight of just over 30 tonnes and to utilise an add-on armour package for additional protection. The appliqué armour panels will be removable for transportation, but, when fitted, will increase overall combat weight to above 40 tonnes. This platform appears to be similar to the one being developed for the US Army’s Mobile Protected Fires platform. Commonality would simplify acquisition and reduce through-life support and training costs.
A second option was the Rheinmetall KF41 Lynx, which would have been offered through a partnership with Raytheon and Textron. Developed for the Australian Land 400 Phase 3 IFV competition, the Lynx has a higher basic weight (around 35 tonnes) than legacy IFVs, because it is a bigger vehicle, with a larger protected volume. This enables it to carry a crew of 3 plus a full squad of 9 infantry soldiers. With add-on armour, gross vehicle weight is likely to be 45 tonnes, which means appliqué armour would need to be carried separately. Even so, the extra capability Lynx offers would have made it the stand-out contender. Unfortunately, it was announced on 4 October 2019 that the KF41 Lynx has been excluded from the OMFV competition. According to US publication Defense News, the reason for this is that Rheinmetall did not deliver a fully-operational bid-sample vehicle by the 1 October deadline. Rheinmetall’s attempts to ship the vehicle were apparently delayed by unforeseen red tape related to securing export permits. Attempts by Rheinmetall to seek an extension for delivery were denied. It offered for the US Army to take delivery of the vehicle under “lock and bond” in Germany and to make its own shipping arrangements (which Rheinmetall would have paid for) but this too was refused. So it seems like the end of the road for Lynx as far as OMFV is concerned. At least for now.
BAE Systems was expected to offer its CV90 Mark IV, but for unknown reasons it has decided not to submit an OMFV bid. This may have something to do with its involvement in the US Army’s Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV) requirement, a concurrent tender process aimed to replace the M113 APC family.
A fourth contender could have been Krauss Maffei Wegmann’s Puma IFV, now in service with the Bundeswehr. Like Griffin, this has a smaller protected volume than Lynx, enabling it to provide higher levels of protection at an equivalent weight. It has a basic weight of around 31 tonnes, but can be up-armoured with removable appliqué armour for a total weight of 43 tonnes. The low roof of the crew compartment makes it somewhat cramped inside, but it is an impressive vehicle that seems to be close to the OFMV requirement.
Finally, Hanwha or South Korea could have submitted its AS21 Redback IFV, which, along with the KF41 Lynx, is a brand new third-generation IFV design and was also recently selected to take part in Australia’s Land 400 Phase 3 trials. Like Lynx, the Redback is a larger vehicle with accommodation for 3 crew plus 9 dismounts.
04. Is OMFV starting to unravel?
According to the Defense News article quoted above, the reason for Lynx’s elimination from the the competition, and confirmed by multiple sources, is differences between what the US Army’s acquisition community and Army Futures Command (AFC) wanted to do. While the acquisition team was willing to agree to an extension, the AFC insisted that the schedule be adhered to.
It seems strange to exclude Raytheon / Rheinmetall on a technicality when it means there will be only one other bidder, GDLS. More important, those who have seen KF41 Lynx up close and personal have been unequivocal in their praise for it. Lynx has fundamentally changed the IFV category by delivering an increased troop carrying capacity as well as high levels of protection and mobility. A longtime US Army goal has been to acquire an IFV capable of carrying a full squad of 9 soldiers. With Lynx potentially closer to meeting the previous GCV requirement than any other vehicle so far developed, denying it the chance to compete seems ludicrous. Why would the AFC do this?
Industry vendors who decided not to submit vehicles to the OMFV competition have expressed concern about the challenges associated with meeting a hundred mandatory OMFV requirements over a 15-month period using non-developmental vehicles. In contrast, Australia’s Land 400 Phase 3 competition has only five mandatory requirements and will use developmental prototypes over a 24 month period. A prevailing view is that the US Army’s stringent list of requirements have set-up the OMFV program for failure even before it starts.
Brigadier General Ross Coffman, the NGCV Director, said at a Defense News Conference in September 2019 that he was confident the requirements set for OMFV remain appropriate and there are no plans to change them. Paradoxically, could the opposite be true? Is the US Army is having second thoughts about the requirements it has set and sees Rheinmetall’s inability to deliver a bid-sample as an opportunity to cancel and then re-set OMFV requirements? If so, why would it do this now?
For the moment, OMFV has become a one-horse race with GDLS in pole position. Griffin’s compact chassis with a smaller protected volume seems more closely aligned with the US Army’s original OMFV requirement, which specified accommodation for a crew of 2 plus 6 dismounts, whereas as Lynx is a much larger platform. Based on the vehicles exhibited at AUSA 2018, Griffin and Lynx are fundamentally different designs that may not be not directly comparable. The real difference between the two vehicles is that when Rheinmetall designed Lynx exclusively for the Australian Land 400 Phase 3 requirement, it had much greater freedom to do what it thought was right. Unhindered by a raft of prescriptive stipulations, it may have inadvertently out-flanked its rival, GDLS’ Griffin, before the competition even starts.
While the Army Futures Command has made no official comment about the reasons behind its decision to exclude Lynx, deeper analysis of the OMFV program suggests that the US Army may have specified an IFV that could be quickly superseded by those of other nations, specifically Australia. If this is the case, stepping-back and re-setting OMFV may be a smart move.
05. Is the need to carry two OMFVs in a C-17 a fatal flaw?
When the US Army issued its draft OMFV RFP, industry feedback was universal in stating that the need to carry two OMFVs in a C-17 would result in a smaller, lighter vehicle with compromised survivability and a limited payload capacity. The US Army accepted that a lighter, less-protected base vehicle with mission configurable add-on armour packages was the way to go. But the weight restriction unavoidably seems to lead to a vehicle that will either have a lesser capacity than Bradley while being better protected, or one with increased capacity but inferior protection.
The question that needs to be asked is whether the OMFV requirement to carry two IFVs in a C-17 is as essential as the US Army believes? The USAF possesses about 150 active C-17 aircraft while an Armored Brigade Combat Team (ABCT) has approximately 500 vehicles, including 90 M1A2 MBTs, 90 M1A3 Bradley IFVs and 36 artillery platforms. Transporting an entire ABCT 3,000 miles by air is likely to take five or six days, which is about the same amount of time needed for a roll-on, roll-off (RORO) ferry to cover the same distance by sea. Consequently, it may be simpler, easier and equally fast (as well as less costly) to transport the brigade by ship. If this is correct, then the C-17 transport requirement may undermine the US Army’s ability to acquire a radical OMFV design that strays far from the evolutionary formula of CV90, ASCOD2 and Puma. Griffin could still provide a replacement IFV that is superior to Bradley via an acquisition process could make history for being the first to deliver an IFV on time, on budget, and on brief.
On the other hand, the US Army could have decided that its original GCV vision was actually right and the brief given to GDLS for a 2+6 platform was wrong. Therefore, if it wants a step-change in capability, it needs to specify a platform with a higher weight budget and cancel the requirement to carry two in a C-17. This would require GDLS to go back to the drawing board and develop a new version of Griffin that is similar to Lynx or the Hanwha AS21 Redback.
06. An alternative future IFV requirement
A Russian made Kornet ATGM will easily neutralise an M1A2 Abrams MBT, M2A3 Bradley IFV, Stryker ICV or Hummer or JLTV. If even the best protected AFVs are not invulnerable, one school of thought is that the US Army should stop investing in heavily armoured platforms, and simply revert to the FCS plan of acquiring lighter combat vehicles across the board, accepting that casualties are inevitable regardless of the level of protection a vehicle has.
This issue, however, is not just about ATGMs. Potential adversaries’ IFVs are increasingly fitted with larger calibre weapons, including 30mm, 57mm and 100mm cannons. IFVs with anything less than Level 6 protection will be vulnerable. Based on its recent experience, the Israeli Army has adopted an IFV, the Namer, which offers the same level of protection as its Merkava MBT. Its view is partly shaped by a belief that infantry deserve the same degree of protection as tank crews. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Army view is Russia’s heavy reliance on ATGM and artillery has made protected mobility a universal requirement, not just for infantry fighting vehicles and tanks, but for all support vehicles that enter the direct fire zone.
In addition to corresponding levels of survivability, Merkava and Namer share a common driveline which reduces through-life support costs, maintenance, spare parts and training requirements. The problem is that Namer weighs 68-70 tonnes, the same as the Merkava MBT. Combat vehicles that weigh this much depend on Heavy Equipment Transporters (HETs) to deploy, are much less agile, and their mobility can easily be comprised by bridge weight classifications.
Next generation combat vehicles, both MBTs and IFVs, are likely to see a reduction in mass to a basic weight of around 40 tonnes and a maximum combat weight of 50 tonnes (thanks to mission configurable appliqué armour). New composite armour types and clever packaging are expected to facilitate weight reduction. Remote turrets and smaller crew compartments reduce the total protected volume (with a corresponding reduction in crew numbers) can trim gross vehicle weight by around 10 tonnes without compromising survivability.
With Griffin, GDLS has opted for a 2+6 design that is similar to Puma and the GDLSUK ASCOD / Ajax IFV. These platforms have a basic weight of around 33 tonnes while add-on armour increases GVW to 43 tonnes.
With KF41 Lynx and AS21 Redback, Rheinmetall and Hanwha respectively have opted for a new 3+9 design. IF OMFV restricts their weight budget to 38 tonnes, the same as Griffin, then these vehicles will have reduced levels of protection because they have a larger protected volume. If they were allowed to have a basic weight of 40-tonnes plus an add-on armour budget of 10 tonnes, maximum weight would be 50 tonnes creating a vehicle that would combine capacity and protection within a manageable GVW.
So which approach is better? Griffin with a GVW of 43 tonnes, or Lynx with a GVW of 50 tonnes? At 43 tonnes, you won’t get two Griffins in a C-17 and you will only have 6 dismounts per vehicle. With Lynx, you won’t get two in a C-17 either, but you will have a full squad of 9 dismounts.
For these reasons, there is much to recommend increasing the minimum weight requirement for OMFV. As things stand, not only will OMFV fail to maximise infantry mass delivered where needed, it will also mean a limited future growth path.
In conclusion, Australia’s Land 400 Phase 3 programme has the potential to deliver a better IFV than the US Army’s OMFV, because it is not bound by any weight restrictions that compromise its carrying capacity or survivability. At the very least, the US Army might wish to see how Australia’s Risk Mitigation Activity (RMA) works out before proceeding further with OMFV. If it charges ahead with a programme based on flawed requirements, it may get an IFV on-time, only to be faced with the need to replace it within a decade of the vehicle entering service.