Army sees new rules for combat vehicles soon

WASHINGTON Fri Oct 22, 2010 5:25pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Army plans to release new rules soon for a more affordable ground combat vehicle after abruptly canceling the multibillion dollar competition in late August, a top Army general said on Friday.

"We're trying to get it out as fast as we can," said Lieutenant General Michael Vane, who heads the Army Capabilities Integration Center.

The Army announced on August 25 that it would issue a new request for proposals (RFP) within 60 days, but it may miss that target date.

Vane declined to forecast exactly when the new competition terms would be released, but he did not believe the bidders wasted their time with earlier proposals.

A draft capability development document released earlier this month had not changed significantly, Vane said in a telephone interview.

"Where we are eventually headed is in many ways very similar," he said.

The prime contractors bidding for the program are Science Applications International Corp, Britain's BAE Systems Plc and General Dynamics Corp. Their subcontractors include many of the largest U.S. defense contractors, such as Lockheed Martin Corp, Boeing Co and Raytheon Co.

Linda Hudson, chief executive of the U.S. unit of BAE Systems, said last week she was frustrated with the Army's handling of the competition, noting that dozens of BAE employees had spent months preparing a proposal at a cost of tens of millions of dollars.

Vane said the work done by BAE and other companies would still be relevant for the new competition.

He declined to give any specific details on the new request, but said the Army was narrowing the options it was looking for, while still trying to give industry leeway to offers solutions within that range.

He said the work being done on the program would make the new infantry vehicle more affordable, allow it to move into testing faster and should provide much better insight into costs. The new approach could well serve as a model for other Army and Pentagon programs, he said.

Vane said the Army was trying to be responsive to a push by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to cut $100 billion from the Pentagon budget in overhead and low priority programs.

He said one way to save money might be to "buy fewer things more often," noting that shorter contracts would help make the Army more agile in responding to rapidly evolving threats and allow better integration of new technology.

He acknowledged that acquisition officials were often focused on long-range planning to ensure economic order quantities that could help drive prices down, but providing consistent funding would still offer benefits to industry.

"We're not that successful in long-range programs in getting them out quickly," Vane said, noting there was growing recognition now of the need to adopt more agile and flexible procurement processes.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; editing by Andre Grenon)

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