Race to replace Bradley transmissions stirs up defense industrial base issues

By Ashley Tressel / June 22, 2018

Senate lawmakers, afraid the Army might award a foreign company a sole-source contract to replace transmissions for the entire fleet of Bradley fighting vehicles, have taken steps to insulate U.S. manufacturers by proposing legislation requiring a full and open competition, Inside Defense has learned.

The Senate on June 19 passed the fiscal year 2019 defense authorization bill, which included a provision requiring the Army secretary to submit a competitive procurement strategy for a new transmission for the Bradley family of vehicles, as well as for the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle and Paladin Integrated Management system. The measure would fence funding for potential replacements until 30 days after the strategy is submitted.

An amendment to the bill, co-authored by Sens. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) and Todd Young (R-IN), explicitly states the Army is "to use full and open competition . . . based on the Federal Acquisition Regulation rather than to the maximum extent practicable."

The bill is expected to be taken up by a House and Senate conference committee next week.

In addition to the amendment, Young sent a letter to the Army secretary April 26 asking for a briefing within two weeks on the transmission replacement process. The letter cites a July 21, 2017, executive order regarding the importance of a healthy U.S. defense industrial base, as well as a concern in the National Defense Strategy about reliance on "foreign supply chains."

"The Army's apparent plans seem particularly concerning given the fact that the U.S. combat vehicle transmission industrial base now consists of only two major manufacturers. The fact that these U.S. manufacturers and their American-based suppliers can produce world-class transmission, capable of competing with any foreign supplier, only increases my concern with the Army's actions," Young wrote.

Donnelly's and Young's concerns stem from worries about the U.S. industrial base, specifically Allison Transmission, the manufacturer of the Abrams tank transmission headquartered in their home state, according to a congressional source.

The other domestic vendor of Army transmissions is L3 Technologies, headquartered in New York, which provides the current transmissions on the Bradley, AMPV and PIM.

Senior Army officials have said it is likely the company chosen to replace the existing Bradley transmission would also do for the AMPV and PIM fleets, meaning that a future contract could quickly become lucrative.

But the U.S. manufacturers have lost ground recently to SAPA Transmission, a Spanish company chosen to provide an experimental prototype transmission to the Army's Tank Automotive Research and Development Center. The lawmakers and U.S. manufacturers worry the experimental transmission could lead to a replacement on the Bradley and other vehicles, the congressional source said.

The Army initially held a competition in 2015 for a transmission that TARDEC could begin testing to replace the current system made by L3, and SAPA won the contract through an other transaction agreement. The Army then solicited and awarded a second contract in FY-18 for the transmission prototype, which SAPA also won through an OTA.

But Allison's vice president of defense programs, Dana Pittard, told Inside Defense in an interview the competitions were unfair, citing Army requirements that "omitted durability, cost and other critical factors, while heavily emphasizing efficiency."

For the initial bid in 2015, Pittard said, "the request for proposal contained an underlying theme emphasizing a singular 32-speed technology only developed by SAPA Transmission of Spain and Ker-Train Research of Canada." Then, for the bid earlier this fiscal year, "an additional stipulation for the transmission to be without a torque converter likely eliminated Allison to the advantage of SAPA," he said, as all of Allison's transmissions use the torque converter.

SAPA did not return a request for comment by press time.

Meanwhile, Lt. Gen. Paul Ostrowski, military deputy to the Army acquisition executive, told Inside Defense in April the service was exploring the idea of replacing the Bradley's transmission. He said that would eventually mean a replacement for the AMPV and the PIM, to keep commonality between the systems.

Ashley John, spokeswoman for the program executive office for ground combat systems, said in an email June 12 the Army seeks to leverage TARDEC's current science and technology investments "to provide the best combat transmission to the Bradley Family of Vehicles."

"These investments, through the Advanced Combat Transmission program, will inform decisions on future high efficiency transmissions for our combat vehicle fleet," she said.

The transmission experimentation effort began after the Army completed in November 2017 developmental testing of the Bradley A4 upgrade, which determined the current transmission met the performance threshold, but not the reliability threshold, according to John.

"As a result [of the test outcome], the Army considered looking at an alternate transmission through a partnership with TARDEC," she said.

The alternate transmission is made by SAPA.

John said if the Army decides to move forward with a replacement transmission for the Bradley, the Army would have sufficient funding from money that was allotted for procurement of the current transmission.

In the near term, the Army has awarded a $348 million contract to BAE Systems for the Bradley A4 upgrade, to produce 473 vehicles, using FY-17 and FY-18 other procurement funds, according to a June 14 Defense Department announcement. The contract term runs through June 14, 2019.