Oshkosh’s Latest Bid To Grow Its Military Vehicle Footprint Could Change The Industry

The U.S. Army’s competition to develop a successor for its venerable Bradley infantry fighting vehicle has attracted a formidable array of contenders, both foreign and domestic.

BAE Systems, the sprawling British defense contractor that builds Bradley and most of the Army’s other armored vehicles, has teamed with Israeli powerhouse Elbit.

General Dynamics

GD
, renowned for its Abrams tank and Stryker troop carrier, is a strong contender. So is the German firm Rheinmetall, teamed with L3Harris, Raytheon and Textron

TXT
.

And then there is the Oshkosh team.

Oshkosh Corporation

OSK
has joined with South Korean industrial conglomerate Hanwha to offer an advanced version of the latter company’s K21 troop carrier.

The Oshkosh team looks like it faces an uphill battle to win the final down-select for what is known as the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle—the Bradley successor—when the Army selects a winner in 2027.

For starters, Oshkosh has never built a tracked combat vehicle. The other teams are led by companies that are famous for their tracked systems. And how often does the U.S. military favor purchasing a weapon system developed by an Asian country over homegrown alternatives?

Approximately never.

However, Oshkosh and Hanwha could be the sleeper in the OMFV competition that ultimately prevails. To understand why, take a look at Oshkosh’s track record as the most innovative truck producer in the Western Hemisphere.

The Wisconsin-based company is ubiquitous in the heavy transport market, building everything from fire engines to cement mixers to ambulances. But its success in the military market is simply stunning.

In 1976, Oshkosh won its first truck contract from the Army, and today, 45 years later, it builds all of the medium and heavy trucks for both the Army and the Marine Corps.

During the height of the Afghanistan war, Oshkosh bested several other companies (including BAE and GD) to deliver “mine-resistant, ambush-protected” armored trucks that could withstand attacks by terrorists using improvised explosive devices. The Oshkosh entry was deemed to be the most survivable entry, and Oshkosh was assessed to have the most suitable manufacturing capabilities.

Its design also costs less to produce than most of the other entries.

In 2015, Oshkosh beat Lockheed Martin

LMT
and AM General (maker of the Humvee) for a contract to produce thousands of Joint Light Tactical Vehicles, light trucks that are the closest thing the Army and Marine Corps will have in the years ahead to the jeep.

The Army determined that the Oshkosh offering was nearly six times more reliable than the next-closest competitor. The company likes to say that its JLTV combines the protection of a light tank with the off-road speed of a Baja racer, but what is equally noteworthy is that it consistently delivers the vehicle on-time and under budget.

The 10,000th JLTV was delivered early this year, and although the Army plans to recompete the program to see if others might build the vehicle for even less money, nobody has talked about changing the design. It’s a winner.

Against that backdrop of unsurpassed performance and pricing, Oshkosh and Hanwha have to be taken seriously as contenders to build the Bradley successor.

I should mention that companies on all four of the aforementioned teams have contributed to my think tank, so you could say I have too many dogs in this fight.

There’s no doubt each team brings valuable competencies to the competition. But the Oshkosh-Hanwha alliance is the most unusual combination in the search, and its offering is highly likely to surmount hurdles leading to the final down-select.

The basic strategy of Oshkosh-Hanwha is to offer an advanced variant of the Korean company’s K21 infantry fighting vehicle that can carry nine soldiers plus a crew of three. The K21 is so heavily armored that it can withstand the fragments of artillery shells exploding only ten meters away, and its various sensors can track targets up to 6,000 meters distant.

The K21’s 40mm cannon can shoot 300 rounds per minute, each of which is capable of penetrating over 16 centimeters of armor.

With these features as a baseline, Hanwha is already competing its evolved Redback version of the K21 in Australia. It calls Redback the most advanced infantry fighting vehicle in the world. The South Korean company has delivered thousands of armored combat vehicles, including to countries such as India, Norway, Poland and Turkey.

In order to be competitive as the Bradley’s replacement, Redback must be survivable against direct fire, indirect fire and blasts from sources such as land mines. It must be highly mobile with minimal thermal, visual and acoustic “signatures” to foil enemy tracking. The design must be modular and the architecture must be open.

One aspect of the Oshkosh-Hanwha offering that will undoubtedly impact competitive evaluations is it will be built entirely in the United States using U.S. workers.

This could be a critical discriminator for the Army, because Oshkosh is so highly regarded for its technical and manufacturing capability. Oshkosh Defense almost never runs late or over budget on a military contract, even in the midst of a global pandemic.

Does that mean Oshkosh and Hanwha are likely to win the competition to build the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle? It’s way too soon to say. Every one of the competitors will likely show up with a world-class solution to the Army’s needs.

But anyone who thinks Oshkosh will be handicapped by its lack of experience in building tracked combat vehicles could be in for a rude awakening. The company has routinely excelled at producing systems it never built before on budget and on schedule, in the process driving competitors from the marketplace.

So Oshkosh’s presence in the race could signal a sea change ahead in the combat vehicle market.

As noted above, my think tank receives funding from several companies with a stake in the OMFV competition, including BAE Systems, General Dynamics, Oshkosh, Raytheon and Textron.