The USA’s T-AK and T-AKR classes of Maritime Prepositioning Ships serve as vast, floating stocks of equipment, ammunition, and supplies that can be sailed into friendly ports to meet up with flown-in Marines. This critical but often-unrecognized force includes a combination of U.S. government-owned ships and chartered U.S.-flagged ships, and can also include ships activated from the Maritime Administration’s Ready Reserve Force. They are not crewed by US Navy personnel, but use U.S. civilian mariners (“CIVMARs”), who work for ship operating companies under contract to the federal government. As of January 2009, there were 15 active MP Ships under MSC’s command.
A number of the chartered ships have long-term period charters that include an option to purchase the ship once that set of chartered periods is complete. The US Navy’s Maritime Sealift Command recently exercised its options for 3 of its T-AK container-carrying “roll-on, roll-off” ships, all of which are named after exceptional people who earned the USA’s Congressional Medal of Honor for extreme valor…
The lessons of Objective Peach, the pivotal Thunder Run, and the Second Battle of Fallujah in Iraq proved that modern tanks still have a key role to play as the battlefield’s mobile behemoths – vehicles that can take surprise punches, and dish them out, too. After the dust of the classic armored thrusts dies down, however, tanks spend a lot of time in a very different role. Their protection levels are still valued on the treacherous urban battlefield, but their advanced array of sensors that can scan for long distances through darkness, rain, or worse are equally valuable. Instead of performing classic cavalry roles, modern tanks spend a lot of time sitting in position and performing armed overwatch.
There’s only one small problem with that role, and it’s spelled “MPG”. A tank’s advanced sensors require a lot of power to run. That kind of consistent power means keeping the engine running, just as it would in your car. With 2 problematic results: (1) forget about providing silent or unobtrusive overwatch; and (2) tanks aren’t exactly fuel-efficient, and fuel supply lines are a prime target for guerrillas or terrorists with IED land mines. This makes the tanks’ fuel much more costly to provide on the front lines, while expanding the number of targets presented to the enemy.
The USA’s M1 Abrams tank is unusual, in that it’s equipped with a jet-like turbine instead of a diesel engine. The good news, the 70-ton tanks can move fast enough to risk speeding tickets, were they on America’s highways instead of a battlefield. The bad news is that their fuel consumption is terrible, even by the low standards of main battle tanks.
This may help to explain why early January 2009 saw Walker Power Systems, Inc. in Phoenix, AZ win a $6.6 million fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite quantity contract to deliver upgraded external auxiliary power units (APUs) for the US Marines’ M1A1 tank fleet. The APU is like an independent generator, providing quieter power for multiple systems while the tank’s main engine remains off. The contract also contains 3 one-year options, which could boost its value to a maximum of $17.3 million. Work will be performed in Phoenix, AZ and work is expected to be complete in December 2009. This contract was competitively procured through full and open competition via the Navy Electronic Commerce Office, with 4 offers received by the US Marine Corps System Command in Quantico, VA (M67854-09-D-6005).
Latest updates[?]: Denmark is buying Swiss Piranha V 8x8 armored personnel carriers. The new APCs will replace the fleet of legacy M113s, with the Danes planning on buying at least 206 new Piranhas. The Piranha beat off competition from the VBCI and three other competitors, including the BAE Systems CV-90. The Danish MoD previously ordered 45 of the CV-90 IFVs.
For most of the Cold War, peacekeeping deployments were generally seen as second-string efforts that could get by with less protection. That has begun to change. These days, international deployments have become a spur for many countries to invest in better equipment, from mine-resistant vehicles and armored personnel carriers to main battle tanks.
Gentex Corp. in Carbondale, PA received a maximum $67.3 million firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract from the Defense Supply Center Philadelphia (DSCP) in Philadelphia, PA. for Advanced Combat Helmets. At current prices, that will buy more than 160,000 helmets, though the ACH also comes with a number of accessories. They will be made available to the US Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, all of whom have personnel serving as ground troops. The date of performance completion is Nov 21/10. This proposal was originally Dibbs solicited with 3 responses, and contract funds will expire at the end of FY 2009 (SPM1C1-09-D-0003).
The ACH replaces the old PASGT helmet in the Army, and offers a number of improvements including exposed ears to improve hearing, a set mount for night vision gear, better protection against bullets in covered areas, and a system of internal pads that improve protection against blasts and their accompanying potential for brain trauma. That padding has been a source of controversy, as the US Marines’ Light Weight Helmets (LWH) have been criticized for lacking this feature. Gentex manufactures a variety of American military helmets including the ACH, and in January 2008 they received a $95 million contract for the USAF’s Modular Aircrew Common Helmets (MACH) worn by pilots. MSA North American is another ACH manufacturer, who almost certainly competed for this current contract.
UPDATE: The US Army recalls over 34,000 of Gentex’s helmets, and the matter finds itself entangled in the affairs of Gentex’s lobbying firm, which closed in March 2009 after an FBI investigation into illegal campaign contributions. Read “PMA Group: A Look Inside the Earmark Game” for more.
Nov 17/08: Nammo Talley Defense, Inc. in Mesa, AZ received a $15.5 million firm-fixed-price contract for 7,750 LAW M72A7 portable rockets from Marine Corps Systems Command in Quantico, VA, in order to replenish stockpiles. Work will be performed in Mesa, AZ (70%); Camden, MS (16%); and Davidsville, PA (14%), and is expected to be complete by April 2011. Since Nammo Talley is the only LAW manufacturer, this contract was not competitively procured, but was sole source announced via the US Navy’s Electronic Commerce Office (M67854-09-C-1003).
“Israel: LAW on Order” explains the tactical tradeoffs involved in carrying LAW rockets vs. other portable anti-armor weapons. The M72A7 is well adapted to firing on enemy buildings and strongpoints, and has become the standard LAW order in the modern age. LAW rockets are also offered in M72A4 enhanced penetration and M72A5 penetration warheads, but the M72A7 has an insensitive warhead for greater safety, and an enhanced blast effect that makes it especially useful once it penetrates a building. This redesigned version of the LAW rocket has restarted production and returned to American military service in the last couple of years.
FLIR Systems Inc. in Wilsonville, OR received a $125.3 million firm-fixed-price, indefinite delivery contract for its AN/AAQ-22E BRITE STAR Block II sensor and targeting turret. The initial delivery order from the Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division in Crane, IN is for $67.3 million. The complete contract for the USMC and Navy involves 116 NTIS AN/AAQ-22E BRITE STAR II turrets, 25 upgrades of AAQ-22D turrets to the AAQ-E configuration, non-warranty repairs of AAQ-22 C-E BRITE STAR turrets, and associated data and training.
Work will be performed in Wilsonville, OR and deliveries for the initial $67.3 million order are expected to run from early 2009 – early 2011; the entire contract is expected to be complete by October 2013. Contract funds in the amount of $9.3 million expired at the end of FY 2008 (Sept 30/08). This contract was not competitively procured, as the BRITE STAR II has already been selected for the platforms that use it (N00164-08-D-JQ40). See also FLIR Systems release.
UH-1N w. BRITE STAR DP
The AN/AAQ-22E BRITE STAR II surveillance and targeting turret combines color optical imagery and an Improved Navigational Thermal Imaging System (NTIS) with magnification up to 97x, providing longer range day and night surveillance. It also packs a Nd:YAG designation and targeting laser with a range of up to 10 km/ 6 miles. In the United States, has been selected for the Army’s new ARH-70 Arapaho scout helicopter and the joint Army/Navy MQ-8B Fire Scout helicopter UAV. The Marines are fielding BRITE STAR turrets on their UH-1N Hueys, and their successor the UH-1Y Venom scout and utility helicopter will use BRITE STAR II turrets as standard equipment.
Douglas E. Barnhart, Inc. in San Diego, CA won a $23 million firm-fixed-price task order under a multiple award construction contract to design and build a 100-room Wounded Warrior Bachelor Enlisted Quarters (BEQ) at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. The facility will include modified sleeping rooms with private bathrooms, specifically modified for its Wounded Warrior Battalion – West occupants. Community and service areas are also placed within the quarters in order to provide one-stop services to the extent that this is possible, and this task order contains an option that could raise the contract’s value to $24 million. Work will be performed in Oceanside, CA and is expected to be complete by March 2010. The Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Southwest in San Diego, CA received 4 proposals for this task order (N62473-06-D-1059, #0003).
Other task orders under this contract have not involved the USMC Wounded Warrior Regiment, which stood up in April 2007 (see video). During their own treatment and recoveries, 24th MEU Lt. Colonel Tim Maxwell and Master Sgt. Ken Barnes realized that a place where wounded could recover together and help each other heal was a missing element in the traditional treatment approach. A support group grew into a barracks, which was renamed “Maxwell Hall” in November 2005. As the program expanded, it evolved into the current regiment, with an established battalion on the east coast and a newer battalion on the West Coast at Camp Pendleton. The goal is a comprehensive program that tracks and supports ill or injured Marines/Sailors, providing assistance to them and their families until they have been returned to duty, or have been medically discharged and have successfully reestablished in civilian life. Efforts include cutting edge medical treatments and rehabilitation, to personal and family counseling, to assistance with the military bureaucracy. Master Sgt. Barnes:
“It allows them to share ideas about healing… he’s not alone, he’s not the only guy in the world that this is happening to… We’re not just saying, ‘We helped you up to this point.’ We’re not leaving it at that. Once a Marine, always a Marine. Always a Marine.”
In 2005, the US military and NASA announced the kickoff of the Army-led Joint Heavy Lift program, with the award of 5 contracts for the Concept Design and Analysis (CDA) of a Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) Joint Heavy Lift (JHL) rotorcraft. This is a futuristic aircraft that’s imagined as having the C-130 Hercules aircraft’s 20 ton cargo capacity, but with the ability to take off and land like a helicopter. No current US military helicopter platform even comes close to that vision, and so the competitors are deploying some radical and different technologies in their attempts to meet these goals.
CH-53E Super Stallion
At the same time, the US Marine Corps’ vital medium-heavy lift CH-53E Super Sea Stallion helicopters are beginning to to wear out their airframes. Hence the HLR Heavy Lift Replacement (HLR) program, aimed at fielding new-build CH-53K aircraft beginning in 2013-2015. The US Air Force, meanwhile, has its AJACS program, which aims to produce a C-130 replacement beginning around 2020.
All 3 programs may face a rough ride ahead. Runaway cost growth on numerous US defense programs, operational demands, and a looming demographic crisis in social programs all work to create budget squeezes, and hence pressures for program consolidation. The USMC’s affordable CH-53X track upgrade was very nearly sidetracked via a merger with he R&D heavy, schedule-uncertain, JHL, and may not be in the clear yet. The USAF’s AJACS program to replace the C-130 Hercules with a modern 20+ ton transport is also facing scrutiny of this sort, and those pressures, too may increase. Conversely, it is also possible that the JHL program could find itself edged out by a pair of more conventional helicopter and aircraft solutions from the USMC and USAF. DID notes the technologies, the politics, and progress to date.
Recent news includes a report that shows just how far away the US military is from a viable competition and winning design.
Hawker Beechcraft Corp. in Wichita, KS received an estimated $48.8 million firm-fixed-price contract from the US Navy for 6 C-12 replacement aircraft. Work will be performed in Wichita, KS and is expected to be completed in February 2011. This contract was competitively procured via electronic request for proposal by the Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, MD manages the contract (N00019-08-C-0057). The aircraft are actually destined for the US Marines, as the replacement contract for a UC-12 fleet that’s more than 25 years old. See also NAVAIR release.
The old C-12/UC-12 is also known as the Huron, and was derivative of the civilian Beechcraft King Air 200. It can land on airfields under 3,000 feet in length, and is used for VIP and light transport duties. These short-field capabilities, coupled with the small size of many urgent needs on the front lines, have pressed many of these aircraft into service in theater. Hawker Beechcraft has confirmed that the Marines’ new light utility aircraft will be variants of the new King Air 350C, however, a slightly larger aircraft with 23.5% more engine power, improved speed and rate of climb, and slightly more load-carrying capacity. The Australian RAAF and the Iraqi Air Force have also bought the new King Air 350; Iraq ordered it for light transport duties, and as a specialized intelligence & surveillance platform.
The new King Air 350Cs do not yet have a formal military designation, but NAVAIR assures DID that they will come with built-in protective systems. In contrast, American UC-12s have often had their in-theater flights limited or at risk due to their their lack of protection against shoulder fired ground-air missiles like the SA-7. Fortunately, Iraqi flights have become much less dangerous these days. Tribal revolts against al-Qaeda, the corollary improvements in local intelligence, and a strategy of targeting Iranian operatives in theater, have combined to put a strong crimp in key sources of missiles and trained manpower that contributed to this threat.
On May 30/08, the Pentagon announced a pair of MRAP-related multiple-award small business contracts worth almost half a billion dollars if all options are exercised. Working through the Navy Electronic Commerce Office, the US Marine Corps Systems Command in Quantico, VA is buying 360 Degree Lighting Kits for the US military’s MRAP blast-resistant vehicles, using an indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract.
IBIS TEK in Butler, PA received a ceiling amount $158.1 million contract with options that would bring the cumulative ceiling value to $474.2 million. Work will be performed in Butler, PA, and is expected to be complete by May 2011 (M67854-08-D-5046).
LOM in Chicago, IL received a ceiling amount $149.7 million contract with options that could bring the cumulative ceiling value to $449.2 million. Work will be performed in Suwanee, GA and is expected to be complete by May 2011 (M67854-08-D-5010).
Both winners will be using the same $475 million or so pool of funds, and official responses to DID indicate that up to 10,000 kits will be ordered. Thanks to US Marine Corps Systems Command, a picture of a preliminary IBIS TEK install can be seen above. Based on these figures, however, the cost of these lighting systems appears to be about $45,000 per vehicle.