Editor's Notebook

Competition and reward

Whether you’re trying to get better grades from a child or encouraging more sales from the marketing group, creating a sense of competition can be an effective way to get what you want. The government uses that tool to advance the state-of-the-art for war materiel, helping drive technology that will ensure troops are safe, efficient and successful.

Through request for proposals (RfP), the military encourages product development on a scale and a pace that’s rarely seen on the civilian side. In so doing, components and technology are created that may soon be seen on a construction site or farm field near you.

In 1940, a government request resulted in one of the most enduring and recognizable machines of World War II. Compared to what is required of military equipment today, the U.S. Ordnance Technical committee’s request sounds dangerously simple. It wanted a four-wheel-drive utility vehicle that could carry a 600-lb. payload and weigh 1,300 lbs. or less. Of the more than 175 firms that were invited to submit the proposal, only two thought they could deliver an entirely new machine in the required 75 days.

On deadline day, there was only one: American Bantam Car Co., an automaker in Butler, PA, that built tiny, attractive cars. The prototype Bantam Reconnaissance Car became the vehicle known during World War II as the “jeep,” and thousands would be built by Willys-Overland and Ford.

Outfitted with rifles or stretchers, made amphibious or dropped from a plane, the vehicle became the universal runabout of the Allied nations, and has been called one of the most effective weapons of the war. In its many configurations after World War II, the Jeep would find work on everything from beach resorts to airport runways. The Jeep was the genesis for a popular type of automobile that exists to this day. Other technology created during the war still benefits society, as well.

Times have changed. The military version of the Jeep is no longer an appropriate solution for warfare. And today’s safety laws and other regulations mean that the original civilian Jeep, the late 1940’s Willys CJ-2A, could not legally be sold new in 2010.

RfPs still drive product development, pushing cutting edge technology that must be reliable in extremely difficult and dangerous conditions. The latest opportunity comes from the U.S. Army, in an RfP for a Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV), a next-generation combat troop carrier. In September, the Army plans to award up to three contracts for the GCV’s 27-month technology development phase.

According to the RfP, the vehicle needed to be designed to take on more armor, power and cooling as required in the future. It needed to be more survivable in a blast than an MRAP, as mobile as an Abrams tank, and more lethal than a Bradley fighting vehicle.

One of the finalists is a partnership of BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman. Utilizing an electric hybrid system, its proposed vehicle will have an integrated electronic network capability and embedded intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets to connect the warfighters. The open architecture electronics will also be adaptable to future network upgrades as new technologies mature.