The Army and Marine Corps are expected to delay an industry competition to design and build a new family of light trucks to replace aging humvees.
Under a project called “joint light tactical vehicle,” both services announced tentative plans to begin evaluating industry bids later this year or early in 2008. Their intent is to have new vehicles in the fleet by 2012. But the program has encountered obstacles — the biggest one being the Defense Department’s decision to buy 6,800 mine-resistant armored vehicles as “interim” replacements to armored humvees.
These interim vehicles are billed as short-term buys to fulfill urgent requests from U.S. military commanders in Iraq. But comments by senior officials and industry experts in recent months suggest that the services will be in no rush to commit to a new vehicle design after having spent billions of dollars on the interim armored vehicles.
The joint light tactical vehicle replacement, or JLTV, also faces major bureaucratic hurdles. The Army and the Marines have yet to agree on the performance and technical specifications of the vehicle, and the Defense Department has added a new twist to the program by requiring that JLTV become a shining example of “acquisition reform,” said Col. Steve Myers, Army project manager for future tactical systems.
“This program has lots of oversight from OSD,” said Myers, referring to the office of the secretary of defense. The directive from the Pentagon is that JLTV will be a test case for a new approach to major weapon acquisitions. This will require the services to articulate their equipment needs with budget implications in mind. For JLTV, the Army and the Marine Corps will determine what vehicles they need, but their wish-list must include “mature” technologies that already exist in the commercial industry, Myers explained in a presentation to a tactical vehicles conference in Monterey, Calif.
“OSD wants mature technologies that have been demonstrated,” he added. “We have to make some trades. We have to be realistic about our requirements.”
The Army already has been scouting the marketplace for existing technologies that could be applied to JLTV, Myers said. Vendors have been asked to send proposals in the form of “white papers” and some companies have been invited to special demonstration events during the past two years. Of 374 technologies submitted, the Army has tested 222, and is considering funding further development for 30 of them, Myers said.
The Office of Naval Research last year awarded $500,000 contracts to five companies — AM General, General Dynamics Land Systems, BAE Systems, Oshkosh Truck Corp., and Textron Systems — to design preliminary JLTV mockups.
Most recently, the Marine Corps asked vendors — not just those five but any interested bidder — to send draft proposals.
Lt. Col. Rubin Ben Garza, Marine Corps product manager for joint light tactical vehicles, said he expected a “final request for proposals” to be published in May 2007.
Many unanswered questions remain, however. One major source of speculation among potential bidders is whether the services will ask for “fixed price” or “cost plus” proposals. By law, the Defense Department is required to seek fixed-price bids for new weapon systems. But the Pentagon traditionally has favored “cost plus” contracts, whereby the government pays for research and development expenses, contractor overhead and a profit allowance.
Military officials have not openly discussed an estimated price tag for JLTV trucks. Industry representatives privately have guesstimated that the trucks could cost upwards of $200,000 each, given the assortment of new technology the services are seeking. Current up-armored humvees cost $150,000.
“Fixed price is preferred but all bidders said they favored ‘cost’ contracts,” Garza said at the conference. “We are subject to legislation that mandates fixed price.” None of the companies that responded to the draft solicitation provided any pricing information, he noted. “Bidders said it was a high risk schedule.”
The Marine Corps already built a JLTV prototype at the Nevada Automotive Test Center to experiment with various technologies, such as advanced suspensions, central tire inflation and lightweight armor.
For Marines, particularly, an adjustable suspension is not a luxury but a key feature because the height of a truck cannot exceed 76 inches to be loaded into transport ships. If a taller vehicle has adjustable suspension, it can be lowered.
The Corps wants to buy 5,600 new trucks by 2018, said Brig. Gen. Thomas L. Conant, director of capabilities at the Marine Corps Combat Development Command.
There could be as many as 23 variants of JLTV, he said. Not only is the height of the vehicle a transportability concern but also its weight. “It’s the nasty little secret of shipbuilding” that cargo vessels tend to be top heavy. “When they are too top heavy, they roll over,” Conant said. The JLTV trucks are likely to be heavier than humvees because they will have built-in armor and an assortment of high-tech devices. While two humvees can be sling loaded on a single heavy-lift helicopter, Marines expect to only be able to airlift one JLTV truck at a time.
As the services continue to sort out desired vehicle features and technical details, they also are acknowledging that the JLTV effort could be slowed down or ultimately derailed.
A major issue is whether the billions of dollars the services will be spending on interim trucks — the mine resistant ambush protected armored vehicles, or MRAP — will eat up procurement funds that would have been directed to the JLTV program.
The Army and the Marine Corps had to react last year to urgent requisitions from commanders in Iraq, who asked for tactical vehicles that provide better protection against roadside bombs than the armored humvees. The MRAP program got on a fast track early this year, and is expected to continue at least as long as U.S. troops are in harm’s way in Iraq.
“MRAP may not match any future strategy. But it’s a lot of money,” Conant said. The Marines so far have selected five contractors to begin producing MRAP vehicles.
The estimated buy of 6,800 vehicles will cost at least $5 billion, and billions more will be needed for logistics support and maintenance. By comparison, the Army’s budget for tactical wheeled vehicles in 2008 is about $10 billion, and that does not include MRAP. Before Iraq, the Army’s truck procurement budget ranged from $1 billion to $2 billion a year. Once the conflict ends, funds for new trucks may dwindle to pre-war levels.
Army and Marine officials persistently have warned that MRAP is not a replacement program for JLTV. But it is obvious that the services at this point don’t have a cogent long-term plan beyond MRAP, noted Bruce Hock, a former staff member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Speaking via video-link to the conference in Monterey, Hock said it is hard to see how MRAP fits into any “overall strategy” for vehicle modernization. The services will need to get MRAPs shipped to Iraq as quickly as possible during the next two to three years, but beyond that, they probably will want to reconsider having a mixed fleet made up of various truck designs and configurations, Hock said. “Eventually we’ll want to consolidate to one vehicle and see an integrated strategy so we don’t end up with AMC [Army Materiel Command] throwing away MRAPs because they don’t fit in the JLTV strategy.”
Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson, the Army’s deputy for acquisition and systems management, suggested that unwanted MRAP vehicles might be turned over to Iraqi forces, possibly after U.S. troops leave Iraq.
Adding further confusion to the future of JLTV are recent assertions by Army officials that they intend to buy as many as 18,000 vehicles that could be a mix of MRAP and JLTV.
Brig. Gen. Charles Anderson, director of Army force modernization, said he hoped the Army would accelerate the procurement of JLTV. Nonetheless, the plan is to start buying MRAP trucks and possibly switch to a JLTV design sometime before the Army acquires all 18,000 vehicles, Anderson told reporters.
Marines, for their part, are not only purchasing MRAP in large numbers but they also intend to acquire a new armored personnel carrier. The so-called Marine personnel carrier, or MPC, is not part of JLTV but rather a stopgap for the troubled Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. The Corps had planned on buying as many as 1,000 EFVs, which are tracked armored vehicles that run on the ground and in the water. But the program may not survive the latest round of cost overruns and performance failures. Marine officials asked to redirect some of its EFV funds to a new personnel carrier. The goal is to buy 600 vehicles between 2012 and 2016, said Conant. The Corps is considering buying an upgraded version of its light armored vehicle or possibly the same Stryker personnel carriers that the Army currently operates.
“We don’t need to buy top-end stuff to survive,” Conant said. The MPC would give Marines a “cheap solution” while the EFV sorts out its troubles. At the same time, it would give the Corps a much needed fast combat vehicle before JLTV arrives, said Conant.
One possible scenario is that JLTV could become a “technology insertion” program. If that is the case, the program would focus on research and development of new technologies to upgrade existing humvees. The Army and Marines collectively own about 150,000 humvees. Industry insiders speculate that even though many of those humvees are aging and battered from war use, a good portion of the fleet will stay in service for many years.
“Someone always has to add another piece of equipment to the humvee,” said Army Lt. Col. Samuel Homsy, product manager for light tactical vehicles.
At his office in Warren, Mich., Homsy is on the receiving end of a steady stream of requests for humvee improvements. Because the humvee by far is the vehicle that most soldiers ride in Iraq, not only did it need to be armored, but commanders also asked for dozens of equipment add-ons, including weapons, sensors and power units, Homsy said at the industry conference.
“Everything has to be integrated. Configuration management is my busiest team,” he said. Most recently, Army engineers had to figure out how to incorporate more auxiliary power units into an already overcrowded cab. The units are key pieces of equipment because they power the electronic jammers that soldiers use to disable roadside bombs.
The weight is a “big issue,” Homsy said. Some vehicles can’t carry jacks to fix flat tires because of the excess weight. The M1114 armored humvee was designed at 12,500 pounds but the ones in Iraq end up weighing 15,600 pounds. “Over a ton and a half over where we planned to be,” Homsy said. “Industry comes in with great ideas for protection, but we need to offset weight.”
The fact remains that the humvee is the only vehicle that is being mass-produced today — between 60 and 80 trucks are manufactured monthly by AM General Corp., said an industry expert. At its Cold War heyday in the 1980s, humvee production was about 96 a month.
If JLTV ever comes to fruition, it would be a surprise to critics who don’t believe the Army and the Marine Corps see eye-to-eye in this program. “This partnership is a shotgun wedding of unwilling partners,” the industry expert observed.
For the foreseeable future, the services will focus on MRAP, especially if JLTV drags out, he added. “We’ll keep buying MRAPs and humvees.”
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