ABERDEEN TEST CENTER, Md. -- Program managers for the $60 million joint Army-Marine Corps program to build a new vehicle to replace the aging humvee rolled out three new prototypes here recently and put them through the paces on a hilly test track in the Maryland woods.
But it was more than a debut for the hopeful joint light tactical vehicle vendors. The trucks were high-profile examples of the competitive prototyping movement, a congressionally mandated method of acquiring technology that proponents say will reduce cost overruns and lessen the risk of failure for military hardware development programs.
It could be another five years before the JLTV vehicles begin to be produced in large quantities, and competitive prototyping--at least for trucks--is proven to be a success or not. Observers are wondering if this is truly a solution to the Defense Department's well-known acquisition woes, or if it's just a flavor of the month. There are also concerns that the per-unit cost of the trucks will be too high.
Meanwhile, JLTV program managers said the new strategy is working well so far. They are aware that the process for the way the trucks are being developed is being watched as closely as the vehicles themselves.
"I think this is kind of the poster child" for competitive prototyping, said Dean Johnson, the JLTV deputy program manager and the Marine Corps' representative on the program. "Competition is a wonderful thing. It is the American way."
Three vendors are providing a series of prototype vehicles--BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin and General Tactical Vehicles, which is a consortium of AM General and General Dynamics Land Systems.
Army and Marine Corps officials will run tests on the 21 variations of vehicles they have received, collect performance, protection and payload data, and then use what they learn to refine their requirements.
After that process is finished, there will be an open competition to select participants in the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase. Two vendors will be selected for that contract. They may or may not be one of the three who provided the prototype vehicles.
"As we get those results from that testing, we'll feed that back into our requirements and say, 'OK, did we get it right? Or did we ask for a bridge too far in the requirements?'" said Army Lt. Col. Wolfgang Petermann, JLTV program manager.
"Contractors are helping us inform our requirements and then anybody can compete," he added.
"Competitive prototyping is working," Petermann told National Defense. All three manufacturers delivered their vehicles on time and on budget. "And we're meeting our performance requirements."
In one example, all three vehicles are exceeding the miles-per-gallon expectations. During the next phase, the program can raise the bar as far as fuel efficiency, Petermann said.
In a typical technology development phase, acquisition managers would be running tests on individual components. It has skipped ahead, and the program is now putting the vehicles through the paces as a system, he noted.
The buzzwords are "gaining knowledge" and "reducing risk."
The theory is that program managers are learning how much of the so-called iron triangle--performance, protection and payload--they can get out of the trucks. Forcing the manufacturers to use, reliable, proven technologies reduces the risk that new and untested components might insert into the program.
"Our requirement is mature technology," Petermann said. "What technology industry decides to bring, that is up to them. As long as you can meet all of our requirements, we won't direct them to a specific" component.
Whether the acquisition community and contractors believe that competitive prototyping is the future is currently not up for debate. It's the law of the land.
The Weapons System Acquisition Reform Act passed in 2009 requires that prototypes be produced for major weapons acquisition programs prior to Milestone B, which is the point where independent review boards must give a thumbs up or thumbs down to a program before it can proceed to the engineering and manufacturing development phase. The law allows the services to request waivers for some...