XM30 Ushers in New Era for Fighting Vehicles
Talk of innovative digital engineering solutions for the military services is often accompanied by comments about the “valley of death,” which includes acquisition hurdles for emerging technologies, long lead times and resourcing for current versus future capabilities.
Digital transformation not only faces process barriers, but it also faces skepticism as to whether lines of effort are implementable at speed and scale across the services.
The barriers surrounding digital transformation are very real, as those in the defense industrial base know all too well. However, industry is working hard with the Defense Department, academia and service members to overcome these challenges to deliver innovative solutions to ensure warfighters never enter a fair fight.
The Army’s ongoing endeavor to replace the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, which entered into service in the 1980s, has been both representative of these process barriers and of how the services and industry can work together to overcome them to deliver innovative capabilities that provide a decisive advantage on the battlefield.
If successful, the final product has the potential to be a model for how the services work long-term with innovative, non-traditional defense companies to integrate digital engineering solutions into active platforms at speed and scale.
The Army’s attempts to replace the Bradley date back to 2003. Since then, both the Future Combat Systems Program and the Ground Combat Vehicle Program were established to field replacements for the long-serving infantry vehicle but were subsequently cancelled due to programmatic and cost-associated reasons.
Twenty years after the first attempt to replace the Bradley, this saga seems to be nearing an end. Like the preceding programs tasked with replacing the Bradley, the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle (OMFV) program was also cancelled but was later restarted in 2021.
In June, the Army announced it had awarded two firm-fixed-price contracts for Phase III and IV — detailed design and prototype building and testing phases — of the five-phased OMFV program and redesignated it as the XM30 Mechanized Infantry Combat Vehicle.
Brig. Gen. Geoffrey Norman, director of the next generation combat vehicle cross-functional team at Army Futures Command, said while each contractor is producing unique products, the XM30 will have a hybrid-electric engine and fit up to two crew members and six dismount soldiers, Breaking Defense reported June 26.
The vehicle will also feature a remote turret, the XM913 50-millimeter cannon, anti-tank guided missiles, machine guns and a protection system to shoot down incoming aerial threats. However, these capabilities are not what make the XM30 stand out.
The XM30 is on track to be the Army’s first ground combat vehicle that incorporates cutting-edge digital engineering tools and techniques like cybersecurity capabilities, safe autonomy and advanced threat protection.
It is designed to maintain and improve upon these technological advantages through its Modular Open Systems Approach, or MOSA, platform. In a statement announcing the Phase III and IV contracts, the Army explained that MOSA will “allow new, developing technology to be added to the vehicle as that technology matures, ensuring overmatch against any future adversary.”
MOSA will not only ensure this strategic advantage, but will also help the overall vehicle forestall obsolescence as it is able to continuously evolve by integrating new technologies without having to start from scratch. Program Executive Officer for Ground Combat Systems Maj. Gen. Glenn Dean was quoted in Breaking Defense Aug. 17 saying: “The modular systems architecture and engineering approach … allows us to plan at a macro level for modernization across the lifecycle of the system, not knowing what capabilities we all need for the future.”
MOSA will allow the Army to update and modify the XM30 at a speed of relevancy and hopefully at a reduced cost.
The Army is expected to downselect to one contractor team for low-rate initial production of the estimated $45 billion XM30 program in 2027. The service anticipates equipping the first unit with the XM30 in 2029.
Despite the long, more than 25-year lead time from the beginning of the search for a Bradley replacement to the expected delivery date in 2029, the XM30 has the potential to be an encouraging archetype for non-traditional defense innovation and collaboration between industry and the services.
Specifically, the XM30’s heavy emphasis on digital engineering through MOSA opens the door for innovative, non-traditional defense companies to have the opportunity for long-term and growing participation in the defense industry.
When talking about the XM30, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology Doug Bush in a June 26 Army press release said: “A sign of the success of this strategy is that we are increasing innovation through greater industry competition from those that are not traditional U.S. combat vehicle prime contractors, which is evidence of both the robust capability that exists in worldwide industry and the Army’s willingness to embrace new ideas.”
The XM30 Mechanized Infantry Combat Vehicle will be a transformational capability for the modern battlefield in and of itself, but its successes could have just as profound an impact on how industry and the services work together to field digital engineering solutions for the services of the future, giving us decisive advantages in an era of great power competition. ND
Bridgit Sullivan is a strategy and policy associate at the National Defense Industrial Association.