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Defense contractors set sights on supplying special ops vehicle

At least five defense contractors with Southeast Michigan operations are vying for a $318 million contract to supply a special ops truck with weapons and off-road capability that can be deployed from military helicopters.

Engineers and designers at the Madison Heights office of Navistar Defense coordinated that company's development of the Special Operations Tactical Vehicle, Navistar's proposal for the pending Ground Mobility Vehicle 1.1 program under consideration at the U.S. Special Operations Command.

A business unit of Warrenville, Ill.-based Navistar International Corp. (NYSE: NAV), Navistar Defense collaborated with Science Applications International Corp. of McLean, Va., and South Carolina-based Indigen Armor on that proposal, which builds upon the design of Indigen's own Non-Standard Tactical Truck.

"It's a more overt version. Where the (Indigen Armor) truck is covert and designed to look more like a conventional pickup that blends in, this is more oriented to resemble a military vehicle," said communications manager Elissa Koc of Navistar Defense. "(The military) has asked for an unarmored variant, (but) even our variant has a certain limited amount of armor."

SOCOM, a unified military command of the U.S. Department of Defense in Tampa, Fla., coordinates clandestine operations and oversees more than 50,000 special operations personnel in the various armed services. It received business proposals in mid-June and expects to award a seven-year contract on the GMV 1.1 by January.

The contract will involve two years of integration and prototype testing followed by five years of fixed-price production. At least 1,300 new trucks are expected to be produced by 2020.

The new fleet is expected to feature several upgrades to SOCOM's current ground mobility vehicle, which is a variant of the High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicle, or Humvee, developed by AM General LLC. It is also designed to allow teams of up to seven special ops soldiers to rapidly deploy from the cargo holds of Army CH-47 Chinook or Marine Corps MH-47 helicopters.

AM General, which has a military vehicle engineering and product development center in Livonia, also submitted a bid on the GMV 1.1, as did Sterling Heights-based General Dynamics Land Systems.

New Hudson-based Pratt & Miller Engineering Inc. and BAE Systems Inc., which houses its Heavy Brigade Combat Team business unit in Sterling Heights, are project collaborators with Northrop Grumman Corp. on that company's Medium Assault Vehicle - Light proposal for the GMV 1.1 program.

Oshkosh Defense, a division of Wisconsin-based Oshkosh Corp. (NYSE: OSK), an engineering center in Warren, also submitted a bid on GMV 1.1 but did not furnish details about its proposal to Crain's.

Northrop and Navistar confirmed their proposed vehicles include a retractable mounted machine gun. Ken McGraw, deputy public affairs officer for SOCOM, said the new vehicle fleet is expected to be transportable via Chinook and have an off-road capability to "previously denied terrain" for special operations.

George Ash, partner and chairman of the regulated industries practice team at Foley & Lardner LLP in Detroit, said local defense contractors are showing increased interest in smaller-scale military projects.

A January contract decision date, Ash said, could be a sign that a vehicle program remains subject to $110 billion in automatic federal spending cuts that kick in Jan. 2 unless Congress works out other means of reducing the federal budget. But McGraw said the award date is not related to sequestration.

"If you have a contract in place, and you have budget money obligated on the contract, you're probably in good shape if sequestration happens," Ash said.

"But to the extent you have an award coming after the November-December timeframe, the program could be more tenuous. Congress may not address this issue until after the Nov. 7 election, and there's certainly a lack of clarity on which direction the budget will take."