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FEATURE ARTICLE  

In Marine Truck Competition, Smaller and Speedier Is Better 

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by Sandra I. Erwin 

After several years of delays, the Marine Corps is proceeding with plans to purchase light tactical trucks that must be small enough to fit inside the V-22 tilt-rotor cargo area as well as inside heavy-lift helicopters.

These trucks, known as “internally transportable vehicles,” mark a departure from the Corps’ traditional buying practices. The program also underscores the burgeoning role of the Marine Corps Systems Command—based in Quantico, Va.—as a vehicle-buying agency, operating independently from the U.S. Army’s Detroit-based powerhouse, the Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command.

The V-22 transportable vehicles, known at ITVs, comport with the Marine Corps’ war-fighting concept of “ship-to-objective maneuver,” said Col. William D. Johnson, director of combat support and logistics equipment at the Marine Corps Systems Command.

Under that concept, tilt-rotors or helicopters would fly from ship decks and deliver troops and vehicles to land forces ashore, Johnson explained during a briefing to the National Defense Industrial Association’s tactical wheeled vehicles conference, in Monterey, Calif.

The Marine Corps, he said, wants systems that are “smaller, fast, light, energy efficient and flexible.”

Even today’s most popular tactical trucks, such as the Humvee (high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle) and the brand-new MTVR (medium tactical vehicle replacement) will be “too large in 2020,” said Johnson. “I don’t know what the future transportation is for the Marine Corps beyond MTVR and Humvee.”

In December 1999, the Corps began fielding the most advanced Humvee model, the A2. The service has a requirement for nearly 19,000 new light trucks. “How many we will ultimately buy is going to be a trade between the ITV and Humvees,” he said. The current plan is to continue to buy A2s until at least 2010.

To fulfill an immediate need for a light assault truck, the Corps purchased nearly 100 DaimlerChrysler diesel-powered, five-cylinder, four-wheel drive vehicles—a modified Mercedes-Benz ‘Gelandeswagen’ produced in Graz, Austria. “They go on helicopters. We love these things,” said Johnson.

The Benz vehicles beat competitor HSMV Flyer for that buy. The losing bid was a Flyer II vehicle, made by the Flyer Corp., in Los Angeles. The Corps’ decision to go with Benz surprised many insiders, because the Flyer had participated in several Marine urban-combat exercises and, according to one industry source, it appeared to be the front-runner. The Benz truck is sold by a company called Advanced Vehicle Systems (AVS) Inc., based in Washington D.C.

“I’d heard it suggested that the Gelandeswagen had an extremely low price so that they could get their foot in the door for the much bigger Internally Transportable Vehicle procurement that is now ongoing,” said the source, who asked to not be quoted by name.

For the ITV competition, which could involve as many as 2,700 trucks, Flyer and AVS received contracts last October to each test four prototypes. Johnson expects that a winner will be selected in November 2001. Procurement would begin in 2002.

The Flyer team also includes Chenowth Racing Co. (makers of the light strike vehicle) and Marvin Engineering. AVS Inc. is working in partnership with DaimlerChrysler and the consulting firm KPMG.

The winner of this competition also will be supplying the ITV to the U.S. Special Operations Command.

The purchase of the Mercedes-Benz wagons taught the Corps one important lesson: that no matter what vehicle is chosen, it has to be from a manufacturer that can provide parts quickly, anywhere on the globe, said Brig. Gen. James M. Feigley, chief of the Marine Corps Systems Command. Under the terms of the ITV contract, the supplier must “guarantee worldwide service,” Feigley told the Monterey conference. “If a company can get parts to the theater [of operations], we take care of the in-theater distribution.”

In the Marine Corps, said Feigley, “we like to be treated like a commercial buyer in a competitive marketplace.”

There is a sense of urgency in the ITV program, he explained. If the Marines don’t start buying the trucks soon, the ITV dollars could end up migrating to the Corps’ biggest vehicle acquisition program, the advanced amphibious assault platform called the AAAV. “We have to start buying out commodities,” said Feigley, “before the 800-pound gorilla, the AAAV, starts showing up, and we won’t be able to buy anything.”

The Flyer vehicle competing for the ITV award is a modified version of a model currently used by the Singapore military, said Bob Parker, a Flyer Co. representative. The key modification was to reduce the width in order to fit in the V-22, Parker said in an interview. The vehicles can be stacked in aircraft and ship cargo compartments.

The Humvee is 86 inches wide. ITV has to be 62 inches or less, said Parker. The height required is 66 inches, compared to the 72-inch height for the Humvee. Parker would not comment on the vehicle’s cost.

General Dynamics Land Systems, under contract to the Defense Research Projects Agency, built two prototype vehicles that would be V-22 compatible, even though they are not competing in the ITV program.

The GDLS platforms are called reconnaissance, surveillance and targeting vehicles (RSTV). They were made at the company’s facility in Muskegon, Mich.

The reason why the RSTV is not competing has to do with the Marine Corps’ desire to buy off-the-shelf vehicles, said Raymond Shaw, GDLS director of business development for engineering and design.

When the procurement strategy changed last year to “non-developmental items,” that eliminated the RSTV from the competition, said Shaw in an interview. “ITV required an already-developed chassis, which the RSTV was not.”

The RSTV was a research and development program to create a hybrid-electric powered vehicle that would fit in the V-22. GDLP built two demonstrators for the Marine Corps, which funded 40 percent of the work. DARPA covered the remaining 60 percent.

But Shaw still believes there is a future for RSTV in the Marine Corps.

“It can fit inside any helicopter,” he said. GDLS has proposed that the Marine Corps test the RSTV against the two ITV competitors.

RSTV has a folding suspension, Shaw explained. “When you fold the suspension and lower the vehicle to fit inside the V-22, it is the size of the old M151 jeep. When you roll it out and expand the suspension, it is the size of a Humvee and carries the same payload.”

A hybrid-electric drive, he said, creates additional space because it replaces the mechanical drive and put drive motors in the wheels, which frees up room in the vehicle.

“We believe the RSTV should be evaluated against the hybrid-electric Humvee,” said Shaw. (see related story)

GDLS has an exclusive license in North America, from a German firm, for the so-called permanent magnet motor technology in the hybrid-electric drive. These motors provide higher torque at low speeds, he said. “So you can run your engine at a lower speed and reduce your fuel consumption.”

AM General Corp., manufacturer of the Humvee, is not involved in the ITV program, said company spokesman Craig McNabb. “That is a very difficult challenge,” he said. “It is very hard to make a vehicle that will fit inside the V-22.”

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