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 vehicle that’s a step-change in capability versus Bradley or will it end in frustration with billions being wasted? When the plug was pulled on the Program in January 2020, it looked like history was about to repeat itself, but in mid-April, the US Army re-booted the OMFV solicitation. With a revised set of requirements, the competition has been thrown wide open.
02. The Optional Manned Fighting Vehicle (OMFV) Program
03. OMFV’s flash start
04. The Fatal Flaw: the need to carry two OMFVs in a C-17
05. 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. Experience in Vietnam also showed that its aluminium armour was vulnerable to mines and it 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 size, weight, troop-carrying capacity, protection, mobility and firepower 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. It is fair to say that, despite a long and painful with, Bradley has been a great success. It was superior to the Russian BMP and has been a benchmark for all other NATO IFVs. During Operation Desert Storm in 1991, the Bradley performed well accounting for a significant number of Iraqi AFVs destroyed. However, concerns were raised about the level of protection it offered. As an interim measure, the US Army added extra armour, but realised that fully meeting its evolved 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. By this time, the US Army had spent $21.4bn on FCS without a single new IFV being acquired.
The failure of FCS didn’t change the fact that Bradley was approaching obsolescence. 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 securing their objectives. Instead of carrying a crew of 3 plus 6 dismounts, the GCV goal was to carry a crew of 3 plus a full infantry squad of 9. 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 weighed above 60 tonnes. This meant that a C-17A transport aircraft would only be able to carry a single GCV, whereas it could carry two M2 Bradleys. 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 at a cost of $1.5 billion.
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 was 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 the highest priority after Long Range Precision Fires. To ensure that the OMFV Program delivers a viable solution on schedule, a streamlined acquisition process was devised. A stated objective for OMFV was to use “attainable” technology that pushed the envelope, while avoiding unrealistic or unachievable complexity that increased 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 translated 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 44 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.
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 would be expected to provide 14 “bid sample” test vehicles within 14 months. The US Army 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’s false start
Initially, only two firms submitted candidate vehicles.
GDLS offered a new version of its Griffin III demonstrator, presented at the AUSA 2018 Army exhibition. Though similar to GDLSUK’s Ajax reconnaissance vehicle, which is itself based on GDELS’ ASCOD 2 IFV, Griffin is an all-new design with six road wheels not seven. Griffin is expected to have a basic weight of just over 30 tonnes and to utilise add-on armour for additional protection. The appliqué armour panels will be removable for transportation, but, when fitted, will increase overall combat weight to about 38 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.
The second option was Rheinmetall’s 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. 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. KF41’s exclusion meant that by Christmas 2019, OMFV was a one-horse race before any technical performance evaluations had begun.
BAE Systems had been expected to offer its CV90 Mark IV, but it decided not to submit an OMFV bid. This may have had 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.
Hanwha or South Korea could have submitted its AS21 Redback IFV, which, along with the KF41 Lynx, is another new third-generation IFV design, 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.
Finally, A fifth contender could have been Krauss Maffei Wegmann’s Puma IFV, now in service with the Bundeswehr. Within US armor circles, this was widely regarded to be the most surprising omission form the OMFV competition. Puma is the first third-generation IFV to enter service. Germany, which had extensive experience with the Marder IFV, wanted a more compact IFV with a 3+6 configuration and a smaller protected volume that would maximise protection for a given weight. The basic Puma platform weighs circa 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 with excellent mobility. Despite a troubled start, it is widely considered to have set a new IFV standard.
It seems that the iIndustry vendors that decided not to submit vehicles to the OMFV competition (BAE Systems / Hagglunds, Hanwha, and KMW) were concerned 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. The prevailing view was that the US Army’s stringent list of requirements set-up the OMFV program for failure even before it began.
05. The fatal flaw: the need to carry two OMFVs in a C-17
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 seemed to lead to a vehicle that would either have a lesser capacity than Bradley while being better protected, or having increased capacity, but inferior protection.
The question that needed to be addressed was whether the OMFV requirement to carry two IFVs in a C-17 was essential. 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 a 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 is a major step forward.
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 a heavy 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 50 and 30 tonnes respectively and a maximum combat weight of 60 tonnes and 45 tonnes respectively (with mission configurable appliqué armour). New composite armour types and clever packaging are expected to facilitate further weight reduction. Unmanned turrets and smaller crew compartments reduce the total protected volume (with a corresponding reduction in crew numbers) to 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 31 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.
As the re-booted solicitation for OMFV gets underway, it is seems that many of the requirements have been relaxed, vastly reducing the opportunity cost for vendors to compete. It is likely that BAE Systems will now offer the CV90, Hanwha, the AS21, and KMW, the Puma. Being able to evaluate five different IFV designs can only help the US Army to select the best possible option. Far from being a sign of mismanagement, the US Army’s decision to stop, re-set and start OMFV again reflects a mature and confident approach. But will the US Army accept an IFV that isn’t designed in the USA? Why not? For its Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV) requirement, the US Marine Corps were willing to choose an Italian 8×8 produced by BAE Systems in the USA. It could well be that the Bradley replacement is European IFV manufactured in the USA by a suitable partner.
It is also clear that protection has become the most essential requirement for OMFV. Recognising this, Rheinmetall has decided to upgrade its KF41 design, BAE Systems now has its CV90 Mk IV ready, while Hanwha’s AS21 may also be offered.
Australia’s Land 400 Phase 3 programme is proceeding and while the Hanwha and Rheinmetall offerings suggest that the Australian Army wants a larger IFV, the US may decide that it wants a smaller one with better protection. In any scenario, it may be sensible for Australia to wait and see what the US Army does before it commits to a design that it may need to change almost as soon as it enters service.
While full details of the revised OMFV requirement have yet to be made public, we can expect the following features:
- 3 crew + 6 dismounted infantry
- NATO STANAG 4569 Level VI Protection across frontal arc
- NATO STANAG Level IV Protection elsewhere
- Unmanned turret with a 50 x 228 mm cannon + twin ATGM = 7.62 mm machine gun
- 3rd Generation FLIR and advanced sensor package
- Gross vehicle weight of 43-45 tonnes
Any IFV with these characteristics, would certainly be a step forward versus Bradley.