Ross Wilkers

COMPANIES

SAIC using integrator skills to chase next-gen armored vehicle opportunities

Science Applications International Corp.’s entry into an Army next-generation armored vehicle competition is the latest example of the company’s push to become a hardware platform integrator of choice for the military.

SAIC’s pursuit of Mobile Protected Firepower program is an extension of what the company views as its domain expertise in systems engineering, readiness and sustainment portfolio, said Jim Scanlon, SAIC’s defense systems group senior vice president and general manager.

That approach is meant to complement SAIC’s work on government IT which includes systems integration in cloud, cyber and other areas. Scanlon told Washington Technology that the MPF pursuit seeks to add new knowledge and experience on top of SAIC’s work for other Marine Corps programs such as the Amphibious Combat Vehicle competition and updates to the Amphibious Assault Vehicle.

“The MPF program is the next step of that evolution with lessons learned,” Scanlon told WT.

For Mobile Protected Firepower, the Army is seeking a lighter tank that can function in urban operations and has other digital attributes such as cyber resiliency. SAIC has brought together a team that includes chassis maker ST Kinetics and turret provider CMI Defense to develop the vehicle.

ST Kinetics is also SAIC’s primary partner for the Marine Corps’ Amphibious Combat Vehicle competition.

SAIC is facing off against armored vehicle giants BAE Systems and General Dynamics. Deltek data indicates a solicitation could come in December with an award in December 2018.

SAIC views itself as an alternative to the more traditional original equipment manufacturers because it can be in a better position for incremental upgrades to the platform which is based on an open architecture, Scanlon said.

He said that business model for SAIC helped it identify ST Kinetics as the “newest available chassis out there.” The company’s position as a platform integrator lets it quickly find “emerging technologies to meet soldier requirements.”

“We don’t have that capital intensive infrastructure (or) financial business case for making those (research and development) investments to get a return on that,” Scanlon said. “We do have that flexibility to provide the Army what we think is a best solution to meet emerging requirements. “

SAIC has a major test coming to its platform integration strategy when the Marine Corps makes a decision on the ACV program. SAIC is in a head-to-head showdown with BAE. The Amphibious Combat Vehicle is intended as the eventual replacement for the almost four-decade-old Amphibious Assault Vehicle that transports Marines from sea to shore.

A downselect for low-rate initial production is scheduled for the summer of 2018, Scanlon said. SAIC and BAE were picked as finalists in November 2015 with respective $121.5 million and $103.8 million awards. Both companies are contracted to build 16 prototypes ahead of that down select.

SAIC is offering a customized variation of ST Kinetics’ TERREX vehicle used by Singapore’s military for the ACV competition. Scanlon said the company has delivered 14 out of 16 prototype vehicles so far with two in production.

“All 16 vehicles will be used for their land, mobility testing, swim testing and human factors testing,” Scanlon said. “That will continue for the remainder of the year.”

SAIC’s push to be the government’s primary choice as a large platform integrator will extend beyond this year, Scanlon said.

“With our customer affinity we are a viable alternative in this space,” Scanlon said. “We’re committed to that from the CEO on down.”

Evidence of that can be seen in SAIC’s last two quarterly earnings reports, where the company has disclosed a series of additional investments into the vehicle programs. In addition to Amphibious Combat Vehicle, SAIC is also conducting a series of survivability upgrades for Amphibious Assault Vehicle platforms.

Those investments have put some pressures on margins but were intended to get ahead of the Marine Corps’ testing schedules, SAIC told investors on several earnings calls this year.

Even with those challenges, SAIC has seen some signals recently that its vehicle platform integration strategy is working. A team led by SAIC was awarded a potential eight-year, $237 million contract in September to build a next-generation combat vehicle prototype for the Army.

Teammates for that program include Lockheed Martin, GS Engineering, Moog, the Nevada Test Automotive Center and Roush Industries.

About the Author

Ross Wilkers is a senior staff writer for Washington Technology. He can be reached at rwilkers@washingtontechnology.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rosswilkers. Also find and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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