Ross Wilkers

ARMY

SAIC stays dedicated to vehicle integration business

In many conversations about its military ground vehicle business, Science Applications International Corp. executives like to point out that the company works on those platforms today outside of its pursuits of other programs as a prime contractor.

SAIC has installed technologies onto the Army’s fleet of Humvee vehicles and is also putting new communications systems on that program’s successor, the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, both made by Oshkosh’s defense segment.

It is also worth pointing out that SAIC does have one ground vehicle contract in tow as a prime. SAIC is leading a six-company team on an eight-year, $237 million contract awarded two years ago to work on experimental prototypes of future vehicles and with particular focus on quicker adoption of commercial automotive technologies.

Hence, a pair of losses in the past two years in separate Army and Marine Corps competitions is far from deterring SAIC in its push to win a ground vehicle program of record as the prime integrator with a manufacturer as partner.

In September, SAIC with its manufacturing partner Polaris was chosen as one of three final competitors against General Motors and an Oshkosh-Flyer Defense team for the Army’s Infantry Squad Vehicle competition to build a lighter-weight mobile truck.

“While we can develop technology on our own, in many cases what we bring that adds value to the government is that we partner with companies that have innovative solutions,” SAIC’s defense systems group strategy vice president Gabe Camarillo told me Tuesday at the Association for the U.S. Army’s conference in Washington, D.C. “In this particular offering for ISV, Polaris had designed a base vehicle for this requirement, but they require SAIC’s engineering expertise, program management and our ability to work with the Army.”

Part of that ability Camarillo cited includes working on contracts based on the Federal Acquisition Regulation -- the standard rulebook which companies like SAIC go by in pursuing opportunities to work for federal agencies.

So for this particular contract, it is fair to say that Polaris feels like it has the vehicle that will meet the Army’s needs. What Polaris wanted was a partner to help navigate that FAR process and get the company in front of the Army.

Enter SAIC, one of many integrators that have embraced that role as a bridge between companies like Polaris and agencies like the Army.

“It truly is a partnership and an overlap of complementary skills and capabilities,” Camarillo said.

When I asked Camarillo about lessons learned from the past two losses, he pointed out that the company is not necessarily fixated on its status for a particular program as either a prime or subcontractor. Rather, SAIC has a flexible approach in looking for integration opportunities.

“We can find different ways to provide that same capability to the Army and other (Defense Department) customers,” Camarillo said. “Where we can, we will prime as we have in ISV and we’ll submit a bid as a prime for a program of record. In other cases on the services side, we can provide the same integration expertise and deliver the same kind of capability to the warfighters.”

All three teams chasing the ISV program will subject their prototype vehicles for testing through the rest of this year and the beginning of 2020. An award is anticipated sometime in the first quarter of next calendar year.

One main angle in SAIC’s goal to become a ground vehicle integrator of choice is its focus on a more open architecture: or in essence providing a platform that can house systems and subsystems made by anyone. Those technologies can be swapped out and upgraded in line with innovation and on an as-needed basis.

In SAIC’s prior two pursuits, the Army and Marine Corps chose longtime vehicle stalwart BAE Systems Inc. in keeping with the traditional approach of tapping original equipment manufacturers with intellectual property.

But the Army is slowly shifting in another direction regarding IP thanks to a new policy enacted earlier this year to try and develop tailored strategies for each program and negotiate terms early on in the acquisition process.

The idea is to shift toward more open and modular systems given how long weapons and other platforms stay in the field.

“In the past, they usually defaulted to two approaches. One was don’t think about it, don’t buy anything, or ask for everything and all intellectual property by an OEM,” Camarillo said. “What they’re now recognizing is… specify and negotiate upfront what purposes (they’re) going to need the IP for.”

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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