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FEATURE ARTICLE  

Push for ‘Commonality’ Propels Heavy Tactical Truck Program 

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by Sandra I. Erwin 

The U.S. Army is expected to move forward with a series of improvement programs for its fleet of heavy logistics trucks, used to haul ammunition and other supplies. The upgrades are needed, officials said, to expedite the deliveries of supplies to soldiers in combat zones, and also to make the fleet less costly to maintain.

The vehicle upgrades will follow two separate tracks, these officials said. One project, known as recapitalization, will overhaul older trucks at an Army depot. Separately, the Army also plans to award a so-called family of heavy tactical vehicles contract for the purchase of new and remanufactured units from Wisconsin-based Oshkosh Truck Corporation.

Three types of vehicles today form the mainstay of the Army’s heavy truck fleet. One is the 10-ton, heavy expanded mobility tactical truck (HEMTT). There are 13,000 in the Army. The palletized loading system (PLS) is a newer, larger vehicle with a load-handling system that can haul 16.5 tons. The Army has fielded about 3,000 PLS. The third system is the heavy equipment transporter system (HETS), which can haul a 70-ton Abrams tank. The Army has nearly 2,000 HETS. All three vehicles are manufactured by Oshkosh.

The heavy vehicle inventory also includes 1,800 trailers and 16,000 flat-racks, as well as 2,100 tactical bridges. Battlefield supplies are loaded on the flat-racks, which are removable 8x20-foot cargo beds. HEMTT variants include a fuel tanker, a wrecker and a cargo truck. The newest version, called the HEMTT-LHS (load handling system) is a HEMTT chassis with the same cargo handling arm as the PLS.

In fiscal year 2001, the Army allocated $258 million for procurement of heavy tactical wheeled vehicles.

At press time, the Army’s program office for heavy tactical vehicles, headed by James Sutton, was in the midst of negotiations with Oshkosh. A contract is expected to be signed in January 2001. It will be a sole-source, five-year contract, Sutton said in an interview. The plan is to buy a combination of new and remanufactured HEMTT, PLS and HETS vehicles.

Sutton declined to provide specific numbers on the contract, pending a final agreement with Oshkosh. The company’s vice president for defense programs, John Stoddart, also was unable to provide details. But he told National Defense that he expects that 60 percent of the work will be on new trucks and 40 percent on remanufactured ones.

The contract is sole-source, Sutton explained, because the Army decided that there were no viable competitors that could meet its requirements, other than Oshkosh. “We went through a process of industry briefings, market surveys, discussions with industry,” he said. “We obtained authorization from the Army in April to proceed with a sole-source award.”

It will be a fixed-price contract, Sutton said, but it will have incentives for Oshkosh to help the Army reduce support costs by making the trucks, for example, more fuel efficient and by lowering the demands for maintenance.

The HEMTT, introduced in the mid-1980s, and the PLS—which first joined the fleet in the early 1990s—are workhorses in the Army, said Sutton. These vehicles also will be part of the Army’s new combat units, called the interim brigade combat teams (IBCTs).

The IBCTs, eight of which are scheduled to be fielded during the next five to 10 years, will use HEMTT trucks, specifically the fuel tanker, the wrecker and the HEMTT-LHS, which has the same load handling system as the PLS. It allows the truck driver to load and unload cargo without any additional material handling equipment, so he or she does not have to leave the cab.

The HEMTTs and PLS vehicles also are desirable to the medium brigades, he said, because they are transportable on C-130 aircraft, which is a requirement for any platform that these units will use.

The PLS is one example of a vehicle that was conceived for a single purpose—to carry ammunition to the front lines—but has expanded into other uses, explained Sutton. Initially, he said, PLS was fielded to artillery battalions. Now, “we are using it to carry other things,” to take advantage of the truck’s mobility and payload capacity. A so-called “forward repair module,” which contains tools needed to repair combat vehicles, is now being transported by PLS or by HEMTT-LHS, said Sutton, because they make it easier for soldiers to reach the site of a tank that needs maintenance.

Similarly, he said, “engineer modules” that contain concrete mixers and tar spreaders for engineers increasingly are being hauled by HEMTT and PLS.

The Army’s 4th Infantry Division, which is being equipped with new computerized tanks as part of the service’s “digitization” program, recently received a forward-support battalion with 44 new HEMTT-LHS trucks, said Sutton. These vehicles also suit the Army’s demands for smaller inventories in the theater of combat, said Sutton. That means units increasingly must rely on the “transportation system” to receive supplies on short notice, rather than have large stockpiles on site. “Getting these trucks fits as part of the distribution based logistics concept,” Sutton said.

Routine repairs and maintenance for these vehicles is performed by Army mechanics within their units, so there is no depot-level work. However, the Army plans to start, in 2001, an overhaul program for the HEMTTs, called recapitalization, at the Red River Army Depot, in Texarkana, Texas. The arrangement is a 50-50 partnership between the depot and Oshkosh.

“Red River will make some models, Oshkosh will make others, and provide technical assistance and parts to the depot on an as-needed basis,” said Stoddart. The first batch of remanufactured vehicles will be split: 24 will be made by Red River, and 24 by Oshkosh. It is not clear how many vehicles ultimately will go through depot-level overhaul. Unlike new vehicle programs, the recapitalization effort is not funded with acquisition dollars, but with operations and maintenance accounts.

The depot work will focus on the HEMTT fleet, which averages 13 years of age. There are yet no plans for a PLS recapitalization program because the vehicles are not old enough.

The HEMTT overhaul will replace major components, such as engines and transmissions. The goal is to upgrade the older trucks to the current configuration, so they are similar to the new HEMTTs, said Sutton. Remanufactured trucks are priced at nearly half the cost of a new vehicle, he explained. “We are getting the remanufactured for about 60 percent of the cost of a new truck.” Depending on features and add-ons, each HEMTT truck ranges in price from $20,000 to $280,000.

The trucks that Oshkosh plans to remanufacture under the “family of heavy tactical vehicles” contract will bring them down to “zero hours, zero miles,” said Stoddart. The program will attempt to make the HEMTT, PLS and HETS fleets as similar as possible, by installing common parts. “We would take three major trucks and make them common to the maximum extent, over a period of five years,” Stoddart said.

“Of course, the PLS will never be a HEMTT or vice versa. But, by maximizing the amount of common parts, that can save the Army millions of dollars,” he added. Just because each vehicle hauls different types of cargo, for example, “doesn’t mean you can’t use the same starter, the same alternator, the same glass door handles.”

Oshkosh plans to take advantage of the incentives the Army will offer to cut operations and maintenance costs, said Stoddart. That will be achieved, he said, through “synergies in manufacturing and commonality of parts.” The company will benefit from having another warm production line, for the Marine Corps’ 8-ton, medium tactical vehicle replacement (MTVR), many of whose features will be added to Army heavy vehicles, he said. Examples are on-board diagnostics and interactive electronic technical manuals.

Another technology that is being tested for heavy trucks is hybrid diesel-electric engines, said Stoddart. “We predict a significant savings in cost of fuel.”

The Army’s National Automotive Center, noted Sutton, is working on hybrid propulsion systems for the heavy tactical truck fleet. Moving this program forward is the desire to reduce the amount of fuel needed in the battlefield. Fuel makes up about two-thirds of the bulk tonnage needed to sustain a military force. That equates to about 600,000 gallons a day.

Marine Corps Vehicle
The Marine Corps has a vehicle that is similar to the HEMTT, called the logistics vehicle system (LVS). “It has some commonality,” said Sutton. “The Marine Corps is trying to make a decision on what they want to do with the LVS.” Last year, the Corps tested a demonstrator vehicle, called LVS-Replacement, or LVSR, that officials claimed is more capable than the PLS or HEMTT.

Oshkosh is “following that program,” said Fred C. Fielding, the company’s vice president of government operations. The problem right now, he said, is that the project is not funded. The firm also would be interested in competing for a possible LVS remanufacture program, if the Corps decides to move forward with it.

A Marine Corps source said that, so far, no decision has been made on an LVS remanufacture or service life extension program (SLEP). The source said the Corps is conducting a “business case analysis” and a SLEP program would not be funded, at the earliest, until fiscal 2003.

The current manufacturer of the Army’s family of medium tactical vehicles (FMTV), meanwhile, is working on a prototype of a medium-sized logistics vehicle that could become a competitor to the HEMTT in the future, said officials from Stewart & Stevenson Tactical Vehicle Systems, LP, based in Sealy, Texas. The firm is under contract to build an FMTV-LHS prototype,

“It’s an accompanying contract to our FMTV production contract,” said Hartwell Champagne, program manager of engineering and sales. The first phase of the contract involved the design of the LHS system. The second phase is the further development and integration of the system into the FMTV chassis, said Champagne. During the third phase, the prototype will be tested, in order to demonstrate that it can meet FMTV requirements.

“In principle, the FMTV LHS will do the same as the PLS,” he said. But will carry less payload and weight. Its capacity is 8.8 tons.

“The requirement for an FMTV LHS in the Army is driven by the medical community,” said Champagne. “They transport mobile hospital units (20-foot ISO containers or ISO shelters). They assemble the hospital by putting a number of shelters together.” The shelters’ maximum payload is equivalent to the capacity of the FMTV LHS, he explained. In addition to medical applications, he added, “We are looking for more requirements.”

William C. Chadbourne, the company’s vice president for government affairs, said there had been no discussions with the Marine Corps about the FMTV LHS. “There are other requirements within the Army [that] we are working right now.”

The FMTV currently features 2.5-ton and 5-ton trucks. Stewart & Stevenson is working on a 10-ton FMTV prototype, even though there is no Army requirement for such a vehicle, he said. “Although they have indicated some interest in a vehicle that can carry that payload and would have the commonality with FMTV fleet.” Additionally, “we have some foreign requirements for a higher payload.”

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