MPF acquisition costs fall, but schedule risks grow

By Ethan Sterenfeld / June 8, 2021 at 1:03 PM

The Mobile Protected Firepower program was able to reduce its planned costs by roughly $40 million over the past year through competition and efficient program management, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

The business case for the Army's new light tank otherwise remains the same as last year, although testing delays have reduced its margin for error as it seeks to choose a single producer and enter production by June 2022, according to GAO's annual weapon systems assessment, released today.

Testing schedules for prototypes from the two contractors competing to build the tank have been shortened due to pandemic-related production delays. Prototype deliveries were scheduled to start in the second quarter of fiscal year 2020, but the contractor with more delays, BAE Systems, did not deliver its first prototype until March 2021.

"While the program has a plan in place to mitigate these delivery delays, further delays to testing will increase the risk that the program's planned completion date will not be achieved," the GAO report states.

Risk to the program comes from the program's acquisition practices, which do not meet GAO's standards for "acquiring knowledge prior to beginning production," according to the report.

"The program will not demonstrate critical processes on a pilot production line and plans to enter production before manufacturing process[es] are determined to be stable, adequately controlled, and capable," the report states. "This could increase the risk that the program may not be able to meet its cost, schedule, and quality targets."

Technology integration and software development pose additional risks to system development, the report found. Most of the technology in the MPF prototypes is mature or nearing maturity --much of it is adapted from existing combat vehicles -- but the officials managing the program identified system integration as a continuing risk.

Both contractors have provided software updates, and there will be some software and cybersecurity testing during the MPF competition, according to the report. But some necessary hardware and cybersecurity components might not be ready until after the Army has chosen a vendor.

"Some network components that the program will rely on are still under development, and full cybersecurity testing in an operational environment will not occur until after the program transitions to the major capability acquisition pathway," the report states.

Funding for the MPF would move to the procurement budget under the Biden administration's FY-22 budget request. The service seeks to include funding for 23 vehicles in the FY-22 budget, with an eventual acquisition objective of 504 vehicles.