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News | July 9, 2018

How America maintains battlefield superiority

By Thomas Perry DCMA Public Affairs

Editors note: Maintaining Battlefield Superiority originally appeared in the 2018 DCMA INSIGHT magazine. INSIGHT provides an annual snapshot of the agency's work and in-depth articles illustrating the importance of the agency's role in delivering the very best equipment and systems to our nation's warfighters.

Military strategy forever changed when horses first galloped onto the battlefield. These saddled combatants revolutionized a soldier’s maneuverability, lethality and versatility. After a long stretch as war’s predominant mobilization instrument, the horse was sent out to pasture by the development of combat vehicles. Strategists quickly learned to never bring a horse to a mechanized fight.

World War II rolled out the Sherman, the Hellcat and the Pershing. America’s Cold War efforts fired up the M60 Patton, the Sheridan, the M103 and many more vehicles that advanced battlefield capability. Driven by a pursuit of technological predominance, the global evolution of combat vehicles found America, its friends and its foes searching for motorized superiority.

The U.S., in partnership with its defense industrial base, maintains an advantage within the post-Cold War environment, but other countries have continued to develop challengers. America’s current standing within the world’s military hierarchy was defined within an August 2017 report to Congress on the restructuring of the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics:

“The weapon systems and capabilities that the Department (of Defense) delivers to the warfighter today are, in many respects, the envy of other nations’ fighting forces. However, the current pace at which we develop advanced warfighting capability is being eclipsed by those nations that pose the greatest threat to our security. Additionally, the increasing cost of our major weapon systems has placed at risk our ability to acquire and sustain these systems at sufficient levels.”

Has the shine of superiority begun to fade? Can the polish of upgrades to existing designs ensure America’s rolling warriors maintain dominance? The answer lies within engineering change proposals. ECPs can extend a program’s life cycle, increase its lethality and maintain its battlefield superiority through upgrading, replacing and recapitalizing efforts.

According to an April 2016 Congressional Research Service report, in order to keep the M-1 Abrams Tank, the M-2/M-3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle and the M-1126 Stryker Combat Vehicle operational and effective over a prolonged period, a variety of activities have been undertaken over the lives of these vehicles. The most common terms used to describe these activities are modernization, recapitalization and reset.

Per the report, modernizations involve upgrades, replacements, refurbishments and technology insertions to existing weapon systems. Recapitalizations involve either completely overhauling and rebuilding an item (such as a tank or truck) so that it is returned to an “as-new” condition; or upgrading a system to include substantial improvements. Resets are designed to reverse the effects of combat stress on equipment through several activities to include replacing equipment lost in theater or deemed irreparable on its return, and repairing systems to bring them back to full mission capability.

As an example, Defense Contract Management Agency Detroit’s current main battle tank ECP, known as Abrams M1A2 SEPv3 (Power), addresses power and data management systems to support inbound technology and the DoD’s network requirements. It also includes protection improvements like armor upgrades and counter radio-controlled improvised explosive device electronic jammers.

DCMA’s acquisition professionals have and will continue to play a key role in the implementation and success of these changes, which will characterize the U.S. combat vehicle programs for more than a decade.

The congressional report also described the Abrams, Bradley and Stryker as the centerpieces of the Army’s Armored Brigade Combat Teams and Stryker Brigade Combat Teams, known as ABCT and SBCT respectively. Under current Army modernization plans, the Army envisions all three vehicles in service with active and National Guard forces beyond fiscal year 2028. The ECPs are designed to address Congress’ concern regarding these vehicles’ long-term effectiveness.

“The health of the ABCTs and SBCTs are vital to the lethality and effectiveness of the U.S. armed forces because threats to the Army’s ground combat vehicles are increasing quickly,” said Army Col. Tommie Lucius, DCMA Detroit commander. “Numerous countries, some not so friendly, are modernizing their armored formations with the intent of nearing or surpassing parity with the platforms in our formations. So our ‘health’ efforts must be to upgrade, via engineering change proposals, our ABCTs and SBCTs to protect the warfighter against these threats while delivering precision lethality.”

Prior to a vehicle’s final delivery and acceptance, DCMA professionals work with DoD program offices and their industry counterparts to ensure each vehicle meets contract requirements and returns to the warfighter a better product.

“DCMA Detroit plays a vital role in the modernization and production of Armored and Stryker Brigade Combat Team vehicles, but it’s a collaborative effort, and Detroit is just one cog in upgrading and producing ground combat vehicles,” said Lucius. “Our ECP efforts for Abrams, Bradley and Stryker set the stage for production at numerous facilities throughout the DoD enterprise with DCMA leading the charge. My point is that acquisition is a team sport with one goal, deliver the best equipment to the warfighter.”

Joint Services Manufacturing Center Lima, Ohio, DCMA New Cumberland, Pennsylvania, and DCMA Huntsville, Alabama, all play pivotal roles within combat vehicle production. Combined with program office personnel, a multi-tiered supply chain and industry staff, the ECP effort involves an army of subject matter experts driving vehicle upgrades to the finish line.

Crossing that line a second time can provide unique challenges to DCMA professionals who often focus on the development and sustainability of new programs once a contract is awarded.

“The biggest differences of working on modernization of current vehicles vice the development and support of new programs is being constrained to the parameters of the current vehicle design and systems,” said Carlos Lago, the Abrams’ modernization program integrator at DCMA Detroit. “With ECPs not every technology in the vehicle is being replaced, so you have size, weight, power, cooling and cost, or SWAP-CC, considerations with the insertion of new technologies. Additionally, if part of the ECP effort is introducing a whole new technology you have to ensure that there is a space claim for it, as well as the power generation requirements to power the new system.”

For the DoD’s contracting agency, delivery is paramount and delays and cost overruns can play a villain’s role. So inserting new technology into older systems to enhance effectiveness is counter balanced by schedule and budget requirements. It is at times an expertly designed juggling act, which ultimately ends with a delivered product and a happy warfighter.

“The interface isn’t always as simple as intended, so the plug-and-play approach varies with each piece of new technology modernization,” said Michael Batarseh, Detroit’s Engineering and Manufacturing director. “Engineers are constantly challenged. During design or testing, it’s often discovered that there is a technical challenge, which increases the scope of work leading to increase in cost and schedule delays.”

Batarseh explained that new programs undergo analysis and design planning prior to production, which can mitigate unforeseen challenges that often occur with modernization efforts. He estimated 50 percent of Detroit’s current command focus is on ECP, modernization and re-delivery efforts.

It is a massive undertaking when considering thousands of vehicles will eventually undergo the rejuvenation process. A prime example is the Abrams. The Army accepted the first vehicles with the current upgrades in late 2017.

“The Abrams M1A2 SEPv3 is the first in a series of new or significantly improved vehicles that we will be delivering to the Army’s ABCTs,” said Maj. Gen. David Bassett, the former program executive officer for Ground Combat Systems. “It is a great step forward in reliability, sustainability, protection and on-board power, which positions the Abrams tank and our ABCTs for the future. Even in a fiscal environment that has greatly hampered our ability to move towards entirely new vehicles, the Abrams M1A2 SEPv3 shows we can still deliver meaningful and operationally relevant improvements.”

As the M1 Abrams first rolled off the production line in 1984, such successes within a 34-year-old program continue to cement ECP viability and reinforce fiscal responsibility to the American taxpayer.

“Producing a new combat vehicle is expensive and lengthy,” said Lucius. “ECPs allow the Army to upgrade ground combat vehicles at key and strategic points throughout the tanks life cycle. It has continually upgraded the Abrams with reduced risk and cost, while taking advantage of the current technologies that each ECP offered to increased mobility, protection and lethality.”

These changes along with the pursuit of future technologies are designed to provide America’s service members an advantage when conception becomes reality on the battlefield. It is a perpetual race run by the world’s military strategists, engineers, scientists, technicians and quality assurance specialists. It is a race where success means victory and failure means much worse. It is a race DCMA and its team members strive to win each day.

“I’m proud of our program support teams supporting both production and ECPs,” said Lucius. “It’s hard work, and our folks are fully vested in ensuring these efforts are successful. Our PST members, regardless of their functional area, know the end state is the warfighter having the best equipment, at the place and time of their choosing.”

Considering that time and place must afford an anywhere-in-the-world zip code, comprehensive communication is paramount. Batarseh credited leadership’s balanced approach to communication as a key factor in the offices warfighter support mission — externally with the program executive office and program managers, and internally with its agency partners to perpetuate best practices.

“Leadership from Lima, New Cumberland, Huntsville and other locations come together face-to-face to discuss quality of reports, adequacy and quality of support, future support requirements, and to recognize personnel for their outstanding support to DCMA Detroit programs,” said Batarseh. “The outcome of these engagements moves us forward in the collaboration of information resulting in the CMO being better postured to provide insight that informs acquisition decisions.”

One of those key decisions has already been reached. In late 2017, the Abrams Modernization Team received the Abrams SEPv4 ECP contract, which will upgrade the M1A2 SEPv3 to M1A2 SEPv4 Abrams tank.

“The SEPv4 will be designed to be more lethal, faster, lighter, better protected and equipped with new sensors,” said Lago. “The lethality effort will include development and integration of new laser rangefinder technology, a color day camera, integrated on-board networks, new slip-rings, advanced meteorological sensors, ammunition data links, laser warning receivers and other enhancements to ensure the warfighter will continue to have the most advanced, lethal and combat proven main battle tank in the world.”

For now, at least. The race goes on, and everyone is trying to find the fastest horse.