The US Army’s Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle (OMFV) Program 

 In Land, Uncategorized, Forces & Capabilities

By Nicholas Drummond

It took the US Army almost two decades to devel­op its M2 Bradley IFV, which was final­ly brought into ser­vice in 1981. Realising that it had insuf­fi­cient pro­tec­tion, the Army has wanted to replace it since 1999. After two failed pro­grams, FCS and GCV, the US Army has now embarked on a new pro­gram, OMFV. Will it be a case of third-time lucky and result in a vehi­cle that’s a step-change in capa­bil­i­ty versus Bradley or will it end in frus­tra­tion with bil­lions being wasted? When the plug  was pulled on the Program in January 2020, it looked like his­to­ry was about to repeat itself, but in mid-April, the US Army re-booted the OMFV solic­i­ta­tion. With a revised set of require­ments, the com­pe­ti­tion has been thrown wide open. 

bradley_0Bradley M2A3 IFV


01.  Introduction
02.  The Optional Manned Fighting Vehicle (OMFV) Program
03.  OMFV’s flash start
04.  The Fatal Flaw: the need to carry two OMFVs in a C‑17
05.   An alter­na­tive future IFV require­ment
06.  Summary

01. Introduction – Bradley’s long birth and slow death

In 1967, the Soviet Union intro­duced the BMP‑1 Infantry Fighting Vehicle. Armed with a 73 mm gun, AT‑3 Sagger ATGMs and with firing ports through which the infantry squad it car­ried could fire their AKM assault rifles, it was much more than a box on tracks. At a stroke, the BMP‑1 ren­dered the US Army’s M113 Armoured Personnel Carrier obso­lete. The latter only had a 12.7 mm Heavy Machine Gun. Experience in Vietnam also showed that its alu­mini­um armour was vul­ner­a­ble to mines and it burned easily when hit. 

BMP-1_IFV_in_Russian_serviceRussian BMP‑1

At this time, the US Army had already begun devel­op­ment of its own Mechanised Infantry Combat Vehicle (MICV), but con­stant dis­agree­ments about opti­mal size, weight, troop-car­ry­ing capac­i­ty, pro­tec­tion, mobil­i­ty and fire­pow­er delayed its intro­duc­tion into ser­vice. It was not until 1981 that the US Army final­ly field­ed the M2 Bradley IFV. Since then, around 4,600 have been pro­duced.  It is fair to say that, despite a long and painful with, Bradley has been a great suc­cess. It was supe­ri­or to the Russian BMP and has been a bench­mark for all other NATO IFVs. During Operation Desert Storm in 1991, the Bradley per­formed well account­ing for a sig­nif­i­cant number of Iraqi AFVs destroyed. However, con­cerns were raised about the level of pro­tec­tion it offered. As an inter­im mea­sure, the US Army added extra armour, but realised that fully meet­ing its evolved IFV require­ments would need Bradley to be replaced. 

With the Cold War wind­ing down, it was not until 1999 that the US Army was able to make a case for mod­erni­sa­tion and a new IFV as part of its Future Combat System (FCS) pro­gram. This was an ambi­tious attempt to replace not just the Bradley but the Army’s entire fleet of combat vehi­cles with a family of fully net­worked, manned and unmanned plat­forms. It was part of an emerg­ing doc­trine that empha­sised rapid global deploy­a­bil­i­ty and a reduced logis­ti­cal foot­print. FCS would main­tain exist­ing high levels of lethal­i­ty needed to defeat near-peer ene­mies, but would be com­prised of lighter, less well-pro­tect­ed vehi­cles designed around a single chas­sis that would be more agile. With a second deploy­ment to the Gulf and Afghanistan from 2002, the impor­tance of vehi­cle pro­tec­tion against both blast and kinet­ic threats became para­mount. By 2009, the US Army acknowl­edged that FCS would have dif­fi­cul­ties sur­viv­ing asym­met­ric threats let alone those posed by near-peer adver­saries, so the project was can­celled. By this time, the US Army had spent $21.4bn on FCS with­out a single new IFV being acquired.

The fail­ure of FCS didn’t change the fact that Bradley was approach­ing obso­les­cence. In 2009, a second ini­tia­tive com­menced, the Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) pro­gram. As before, the inten­tion was to create a vehi­cle capa­ble of pro­vid­ing infantry with pro­tect­ed mobil­i­ty around the bat­tle­field and direct fire sup­port to aid them in secur­ing their objec­tives. Instead of car­ry­ing a crew of 3 plus 6 dis­mounts, the GCV goal was to carry a crew of 3 plus a full infantry squad of 9. The result­ing vehi­cle would require a larger pro­tect­ed volume increas­ing size and mass. When the pro­tec­tion require­ments were added the basic con­fig­u­ra­tion it result­ed in a vehi­cle that weighed above 60 tonnes. This meant that a C‑17A trans­port air­craft would only be able to carry a single GCV, where­as it could carry two M2 Bradleys. With an increas­ing focus on expe­di­tionary deploy­ments, GCV seemed out of syn­chro­ni­sa­tion with the type of oper­a­tions the US Army expect­ed to con­duct in the future. Consequently, in 2014, this pro­gram was also can­celled, again with­out a single Bradley being replaced, and at a cost of $1.5 bil­lion.

zkufamcutdocb72xlzooBAE Systems GCV pro­pos­al (Image: BAE Systems)

02.  The Optionally manned Fighting Vehicle (OMFV) Program

In June 2018, the US Army announced a third attempt to field a new IFV, the Next Generation Combat Vehicle (NGCV) pro­gram. Like FCS this was a multi-vehi­cle pro­gram intend­ed to deliv­er five core plat­forms:

  1. Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle (OMFV) – M2 Bradley IFV replace­ment
  2. Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV) – M113 APC replace­ment 
  3. Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) – Light tank for Infantry Brigade Combat Teams (ICBTs)
  4. Robotic Combat Vehicles (RCVs) – Three sep­a­rate remote­ly-oper­at­ed vehi­cles: Light, Medium and Heavy
  5. Decisive Lethality Platform (DLP) – M1 Abrams MBT replace­ment

The Bradley replace­ment com­po­nent of NGCV is called the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle (OMFV). Brigadier General Ross Coffman, Program Director for the NGCV effort, was report­ed as saying that replac­ing the Bradley was the high­est pri­or­i­ty after Long Range Precision Fires. To ensure that the OMFV Program deliv­ers a viable solu­tion on sched­ule, a stream­lined acqui­si­tion process was devised. A stated objec­tive for OMFV was to use “attain­able” tech­nol­o­gy that pushed the enve­lope, while avoid­ing unre­al­is­tic or unachiev­able com­plex­i­ty that increased the risk, time and cost to field a reli­able system. Even so, the draft RFP was ambi­tious in scope, with a hun­dred manda­to­ry require­ments and only six flex­i­ble ones.

fullsizeoutput_3681Conceptual illus­tra­tion of OMFV (Image: US Army)

What was dif­fer­ent about the OMFV approach is that the Army released a draft RFP first, allow­ing indus­try to com­ment and sug­gest amend­ments to the require­ment. When the final RFP was released on 29 March 2019, Coffman admit­ted: “We went to school on our past fail­ures as a ser­vice.” The OMF’s high-level objec­tive is to acquire a vehi­cle that is supe­ri­or to the Bradley in terms of deliv­er­ing dis­mount­ed infantry to their objec­tive and pro­vid­ing fire sup­port that helps them achieve it. This trans­lat­ed into the fol­low­ing require­ments: 

  • Optionally manned – OMFV must have the abil­i­ty to con­duct remote­ly con­trolled oper­a­tions while the crew is off-plat­form, so will need to incor­po­rate some form of remote con­trol oper­a­tion. 
  • Capacity – It should even­tu­al­ly oper­ate with no more than two crew­men and carry a squad of at least six infantry sol­diers. 
  • Transportability – Two OMFVs should be trans­portable by one C‑17 and be ready for combat within 15 min­utes – this implies a max­i­mum vehi­cle weight of 38.5 tons, given the C‑17’s pay­load capac­i­ty.
  • Dense urban ter­rain oper­a­tions and mobil­i­ty  The plat­form should pos­sess the abil­i­ty to super ele­vate weapons and simul­ta­ne­ous­ly engage threats using main gun and an inde­pen­dent weapons system.
  • Survivability – OMFV must pos­sess suf­fi­cient pro­tec­tion to pre­vail on con­tem­po­rary and future bat­tle­fields. (The pro­tec­tion require­ment is likely to be equiv­a­lent to NATO STANAG 4569 Level 6 KE across the frontal arc, as any­thing above this would result in a vehi­cle with a basic weight well above 44 tonnes). 
  • Growth poten­tial – OMFV should pos­sess suf­fi­cient size, weight, archi­tec­ture, power, and cool­ing for auto­mo­tive and elec­tri­cal pur­pos­es to meet all plat­form needs and allow for pre-planned prod­uct improve­ments over its life­cy­cle.
  • Lethality – OMFV should apply imme­di­ate, pre­cise, and deci­sive­ly lethal extend­ed range medium-cal­iber, direct­ed energy, and mis­sile fires in day/ night/ all-weath­er con­di­tions, while moving and/ or sta­tion­ary against moving and/ or sta­tion­ary tar­gets. The plat­form should allow for mount­ed, dis­mount, and unmanned system target han­dover.
  • Embedded plat­form train­ing – It should have embed­ded train­ing sys­tems that have inter­op­er­abil­i­ty with the Synthetic Training Environment.
  • Sustainability – Industry should demon­strate inno­va­tions that achieve break­throughs in power gen­er­a­tion and man­age­ment to obtain increased oper­a­tional range and fuel effi­cien­cy, increased silent watch, part and com­po­nent reli­a­bil­i­ty, and sig­nif­i­cant­ly reduced sus­tain­ment burden.

For Lethality, the thresh­old require­ment is a 30mm cannon and the objec­tive require­ment is 50mm cannon. Northrop Grumman’s 30mm Bushmaster XM813 cannon is a step-up from the 25mm M242 present­ly used in the M2 Bradley and is already in ser­vice with the Stryker Dragoon. Meanwhile, devel­op­ment of a new 50mm Bushmaster XM913 cannon is pro­ceed­ing well and since it uses many of the same com­po­nents as the 30mm system, the upgrade path is expect­ed to be straight­for­ward. 

Griffin3GDLS Griffin III with 50 mm cannon.

For sen­sors, the thresh­old require­ment is a 2nd gen­er­a­tion Forward-Looking Infra-Red (FLIR) ther­mal image / image inten­si­fi­er and the objec­tive require­ment is a 3rd gen­er­a­tion FLIR with increased range and abil­i­ty to iden­ti­fy and engage the enemy before they see the OMFV.

Additional require­ments are expect­ed to include the capac­i­ty to accom­mo­date appliqué and reac­tive armor panels, an Active Protection System (APS), arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, direct­ed-energy weapons and advanced ISTAR sen­sors.

Proposals were due by 1 October 2019 and the US Army said it would down-select two can­di­date vehi­cles for test­ing and eval­u­a­tion. Vendors would be expect­ed to pro­vide 14 “bid sample” test vehi­cles within 14 months. The US Army request­ed US$378 mil­lion for fiscal year 2020 to cover the cost of the com­pet­i­tive eval­u­a­tion. 

The US Army wants to buy 3,590 OMFVs and is moving as fast as it can to field the first oper­a­tional units by 2026. Industry observers famil­iar with OMFV require­ments and the cost and fea­si­bil­i­ty issues that led to pre­vi­ous pro­gram can­cel­la­tions are con­cerned that the acqui­si­tion process may not have been sim­pli­fied enough to ensure suc­cess. In par­tic­u­lar, they view the C‑17 trans­port require­ment, which reduces plat­form weight, as being incom­pat­i­ble with the need to ensure a future growth path. However, the US Army is con­fi­dent about the require­ments it has set and believes the acqui­si­tion process is sim­pler and more agile than pre­vi­ous efforts.

03. OMFV’s false start 

Initially, only two firms sub­mit­ted can­di­date vehi­cles.

GDLS offered a new ver­sion of its Griffin III demon­stra­tor, pre­sent­ed at the AUSA 2018 Army exhi­bi­tion. Though sim­i­lar to GDLSUK’s Ajax recon­nais­sance vehi­cle, which is itself based on GDELS’ ASCOD 2 IFV, Griffin is an all-new design with six road wheels not seven. Griffin is expect­ed to have a basic weight of just over 30 tonnes and to utilise add-on armour for addi­tion­al pro­tec­tion. The appliqué armour panels will be remov­able for trans­porta­tion, but, when fitted, will increase over­all combat weight to about 38 tonnes. This plat­form appears to be sim­i­lar to the one being devel­oped for the US Army’s Mobile Protected Fires plat­form. Commonality would sim­pli­fy acqui­si­tion and reduce through-life sup­port and train­ing costs. 

Screenshot 2020-05-08 at 21.15.24GDLS Griffin III OMFV pro­to­type. This uses Ajax parts, but is a new design. It is equipped with a new 50 mm cannon. (Image: GDLS)

The second option was Rheinmetall’s KF41 Lynx, which would have been offered through a part­ner­ship with Raytheon and Textron. Developed for the Australian Land 400 Phase 3 IFV com­pe­ti­tion, the Lynx has a higher basic weight (around 35 tonnes) than legacy IFVs, because it is a bigger vehi­cle with a larger pro­tect­ed volume. This enables it to carry a crew of 3 plus a full squad of 9 infantry sol­diers. With add-on armour, gross vehi­cle weight is likely to be 45 tonnes. Even so, the extra capa­bil­i­ty Lynx offers would have made it the stand-out con­tender. Unfortunately, it was announced on 4 October 2019 that the KF41 Lynx has been exclud­ed from the OMFV com­pe­ti­tion. According to US pub­li­ca­tion Defense News, the reason for this is that Rheinmetall did not deliv­er a fully-oper­a­tional bid-sample vehi­cle by the 1 October dead­line. Rheinmetall’s attempts to ship the vehi­cle were appar­ent­ly delayed by unfore­seen red tape relat­ed to secur­ing export per­mits. Attempts by Rheinmetall to seek an exten­sion for deliv­ery were denied. It offered for the US Army to take deliv­ery of the vehi­cle under “lock and bond” in Germany and to make its own ship­ping arrange­ments (which Rheinmetall would have paid for) but this too was refused. KF41’s exclu­sion meant that by Christmas 2019, OMFV was a one-horse race before any tech­ni­cal per­for­mance eval­u­a­tions had begun.

Lynx-KF41_01-800x445Rheinmetall KF41 Lynx IFV with 35 mm cannon in a Lance 2.5 turret (Image: Rheinmetall)

BAE Systems had been expect­ed to offer its CV90 Mark IV, but it decid­ed not to submit an OMFV bid. This may have had some­thing to do with its involve­ment in the US Army’s Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV) require­ment, a con­cur­rent tender process aimed to replace the M113 APC family. 

CV90-2BAE Systems / Hagglunds CV90 Mk IV with Kongsberg MCT-30 turret (Image: BAE Systems) 

Hanwha or South Korea could have sub­mit­ted its AS21 Redback IFV, which, along with the KF41 Lynx, is anoth­er new third-gen­er­a­tion IFV design, also recent­ly select­ed to take part in Australia’s Land 400 Phase 3 trials. Like Lynx, the Redback is a larger vehi­cle with accom­mo­da­tion for 3 crew plus 9 dis­mounts. 

EA4IsYHWkAAS0JOHanwha AS21 Redback IFV with 30 mm EOS turret (Image: Hanwha)

Finally, A fifth con­tender could have been Krauss Maffei Wegmann’s Puma IFV, now in ser­vice with the Bundeswehr. Within US armor cir­cles, this was widely regard­ed to be the most sur­pris­ing omis­sion form the OMFV com­pe­ti­tion. Puma is the first third-gen­er­a­tion IFV to enter ser­vice. Germany, which had exten­sive expe­ri­ence with the Marder IFV, wanted  a more com­pact IFV with a 3+6 con­fig­u­ra­tion and a small­er pro­tect­ed volume that would max­imise pro­tec­tion for a given weight. The basic Puma plat­form weighs circa  31 tonnes, but can be up-armoured with remov­able appliqué armour for a total weight of 43 tonnes. The low roof of the crew com­part­ment makes it some­what cramped inside, but it is an impres­sive vehi­cle with excel­lent mobil­i­ty. Despite a trou­bled start, it is widely con­sid­ered to have set a new IFV stan­dard. 

Puma.003KMW Puma IFV. In ser­vice with the German Army, this mounts a 30 mm cannon in an unmanned turret. Note appliqué armour. (Image: Krauss Maffei Wegmann)

It seems that the iIndustry ven­dors that decid­ed not to submit vehi­cles to the OMFV com­pe­ti­tion (BAE Systems / Hagglunds, Hanwha, and KMW) were con­cerned about the chal­lenges asso­ci­at­ed with meet­ing a hun­dred manda­to­ry OMFV require­ments over a 15-month period using non-devel­op­men­tal vehi­cles. In con­trast, Australia’s Land 400 Phase 3 com­pe­ti­tion has only five manda­to­ry require­ments and will use devel­op­men­tal pro­to­types over a 24-month period. The pre­vail­ing view was that the US Army’s strin­gent list of require­ments set-up the OMFV pro­gram for fail­ure even before it began.

05.  The fatal flaw: the need to carry two OMFVs in a C‑17

When the US Army issued its draft OMFV RFP, indus­try feed­back was uni­ver­sal in stat­ing that the need to carry two OMFVs in a C‑17 would result in a small­er, lighter vehi­cle with com­pro­mised sur­viv­abil­i­ty and a lim­it­ed pay­load capac­i­ty. The US Army accept­ed that a lighter, less-pro­tect­ed base vehi­cle with mis­sion con­fig­urable add-on armour pack­ages was the way to go. But the weight restric­tion unavoid­ably seemed to lead to a vehi­cle that would either have a lesser capac­i­ty than Bradley while being better pro­tect­ed, or having increased capac­i­ty, but infe­ri­or pro­tec­tion.

M2-Bradley-Fighting-Vehicle-C-17-unloadBradley M2 IFV inside a C‑17 (Image: US Army)

The ques­tion that needed to be addressed was whether the OMFV require­ment to carry two IFVs in a C‑17 was essen­tial.  The USAF pos­sess­es about 150 active C‑17 air­craft while an Armored Brigade Combat Team (ABCT) has approx­i­mate­ly 500 vehi­cles, includ­ing 90 M1A2 MBTs, 90 M1A3 Bradley IFVs and 36 artillery plat­forms. Transporting an entire ABCT 3,000 miles by air is likely to take five or six days, which is about the same amount of time needed for a roll-on, roll-off (RORO) ferry to cover the same dis­tance by sea. Consequently, it may be sim­pler, easier and equal­ly fast (as well as less costly) to trans­port a brigade by ship. If this is cor­rect, then the C‑17 trans­port require­ment may under­mine the US Army’s abil­i­ty to acquire a rad­i­cal OMFV design that is a major step for­ward.

Potential adver­saries’ IFVs are increas­ing­ly fitted with larger cal­i­bre weapons, includ­ing 30mm, 57mm and 100mm can­nons. IFVs with any­thing less than Level 6 pro­tec­tion will be vul­ner­a­ble. Based on its recent expe­ri­ence, the Israeli Army has adopt­ed a heavy IFV, the Namer, which offers the same level of pro­tec­tion as its Merkava MBT. Its view is partly shaped by a belief that infantry deserve the same degree of pro­tec­tion as tank crews. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Army view is Russia’s heavy reliance on ATGM and artillery has made pro­tect­ed mobil­i­ty a uni­ver­sal require­ment, not just for infantry fight­ing vehi­cles and tanks, but for all sup­port vehi­cles that enter the direct fire zone. 

NamerIsraeli Namer IFV

In addi­tion to cor­re­spond­ing levels of sur­viv­abil­i­ty, Merkava and Namer share a common dri­v­e­line which reduces through-life sup­port costs, main­te­nance, spare parts and train­ing require­ments. The prob­lem is that Namer weighs 68 – 70 tonnes, the same as the Merkava MBT. Combat vehi­cles that weigh this much depend on Heavy Equipment Transporters (HETs) to deploy, are much less agile, and their mobil­i­ty can easily be com­prised by bridge weight clas­si­fi­ca­tions. 

Next gen­er­a­tion combat vehi­cles, both MBTs and IFVs, are likely to see a reduc­tion in mass to a basic weight of around 50 and 30 tonnes respec­tive­ly and a max­i­mum combat weight of 60 tonnes and 45 tonnes respec­tive­ly (with mis­sion con­fig­urable appliqué armour). New com­pos­ite armour types and clever pack­ag­ing are expect­ed to facil­i­tate fur­ther weight reduc­tion. Unmanned tur­rets and small­er crew com­part­ments reduce the total pro­tect­ed volume (with a cor­re­spond­ing reduc­tion in crew num­bers) to trim gross vehi­cle weight by around 10 tonnes with­out com­pro­mis­ing sur­viv­abil­i­ty. 

With Griffin, GDLS has opted for a 2+6 design that is sim­i­lar to Puma and the GDLSUK ASCOD / Ajax IFV. These plat­forms have a basic weight of around 31 tonnes while add-on armour increas­es GVW to 43 tonnes. 

With KF41 Lynx and AS21 Redback, Rheinmetall and Hanwha respec­tive­ly have opted for a new 3+9 design. IF OMFV restricts their weight budget to 38 tonnes, the same as Griffin, then these vehi­cles will have reduced levels of pro­tec­tion because they have a larger pro­tect­ed volume. If they were allowed to have a basic weight of 40-tonnes plus an add-on armour budget of 10 tonnes, max­i­mum weight would be 50 tonnes cre­at­ing a vehi­cle that would com­bine capac­i­ty and pro­tec­tion within a man­age­able GVW.

So which approach is better? Griffin with a GVW of 43 tonnes, or Lynx with a GVW of 50 tonnes? At 43 tonnes, you won’t get two Griffins in a C‑17 and you will only have 6 dis­mounts per vehi­cle. With Lynx, you won’t get two in a C‑17 either, but you will have a full squad of 9 dis­mounts. 

For these rea­sons, there is much to rec­om­mend increas­ing the min­i­mum weight require­ment for OMFV. As things stand, not only will OMFV fail to max­imise infantry mass deliv­ered where needed, it will also mean a lim­it­ed future growth path.

07.  Summary

As the re-booted solic­i­ta­tion for OMFV gets under­way, it is seems that many of the require­ments have been relaxed, vastly reduc­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ty cost for ven­dors to com­pete. It is likely that BAE Systems will now offer the CV90, Hanwha, the AS21, and KMW, the Puma. Being able to eval­u­ate five dif­fer­ent IFV designs can only help the US Army to select the best pos­si­ble option. Far from being a sign of mis­man­age­ment, the US Army’s deci­sion to stop, re-set and start OMFV again reflects a mature and con­fi­dent approach. But will the US Army accept an IFV that isn’t designed in the USA? Why not? For its Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV) require­ment, the US Marine Corps were will­ing to choose an Italian 8×8 pro­duced by BAE Systems in the USA. It could well be that the Bradley replace­ment is European IFV man­u­fac­tured in the USA by a suit­able part­ner.

It is also clear that pro­tec­tion has become the most essen­tial require­ment for OMFV. Recognising this, Rheinmetall has decid­ed to upgrade its KF41 design, BAE Systems now has its CV90 Mk IV ready, while Hanwha’s AS21 may also be offered.

Australia’s Land 400 Phase 3 pro­gramme is pro­ceed­ing and while the Hanwha and Rheinmetall offer­ings sug­gest that the Australian Army wants a larger IFV, the US may decide that it wants a small­er one with better pro­tec­tion. In any sce­nario, it may be sen­si­ble for Australia to wait and see what the US Army does before it com­mits to a design that it may need to change almost as soon as it enters ser­vice.

While full details of the revised OMFV require­ment have yet to be made public, we can expect the fol­low­ing fea­tures:

  • 3 crew + 6 dis­mount­ed infantry
  • NATO STANAG 4569 Level VI Protection across frontal arc
  • NATO STANAG Level IV Protection else­where
  • Unmanned turret with a 50 x 228 mm cannon + twin ATGM = 7.62 mm machine gun
  • 3rd Generation FLIR and advanced sensor pack­age
  • Gross vehi­cle weight of 43 – 45 tonnes

Any IFV with these char­ac­ter­is­tics, would cer­tain­ly be a step for­ward versus Bradley. 

MERKAVA copyIsraeli Merkava MBT

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