Repeated attacks on truck convoys in Iraq have prompted the Army to revisit
its requirements for future logistics vehicles. Notably, the conflict challenged
the traditional notions of trucks as support vehicles that stay out of the line
of fire. Many U.S. casualties in Iraq were drivers or occupants whose vehicles
were struck by rocket-propelled grenades, road mines or other forms of explosive
The fundamental question that Army vehicle developers are trying to answer
is whether the next generation of battlefield trucks will be “just trucks”
hauling supplies in the rear, or whether they should be enhanced with protective
armor, weapons, advanced electronics and communications systems, so they can
serve in combat roles on the front lines.
The next question the Army faces is whether it can afford all these high-tech
features, which would make a truck almost as pricey as a combat vehicle.
The Army finds itself in a bind today, because it has to assign expensive fighting
vehicles, such as Bradleys and Abrams tanks, to protect the trucks and secure
the supply lines from Kuwait into Iraq. The reason is that trucks never were
designed for survivability—they have no ballistic protection (except for
up-armored Humvees), no self-defense weapons and limited situational awareness.
They lack the advanced electronics needed to connect with the combat force,
and become part of an overall command and control network.
“Our trucks can’t handle what they are being asked to do,”
said Nance Halle, who runs an Army program called Future Tactical Truck System.
The FTTS is a five-year $42 million project to develop a replacement for the
current light, medium and heavy trucks.
While fuel efficiency and mobility remain high priorities in the FTTS, survivability
has moved to the top of the list, in light of what’s happening in Iraq,
Halle told an industry conference in Dearborn, Mich., sponsored by the Army
Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command.
“The Army is sucking combat vehicles away from the fight to protect these
convoys,” Halle said. “It’s the reason the Bradleys are going
through tons of track over there. They are running up and down the roads protecting
supply convoys, instead of being in the front lines, like they are supposed
If the Army doesn’t do something soon to make trucks more survivable,
the price will be paid in human lives, she said. “Truck drivers are getting
killed more than the combat force.”
Although the Army is accelerating the production of armor kits for trucks and
up-armored Humvees, in the long term, it will rely on the FTTS program to develop
new technologies that can drastically improve the survivability and overall
performance of the entire fleet.
Further, any vehicles coming out of the FTTS project would have to be compatible
with new vehicles developed under the Future Combat Systems program.
In future brigades, called “units of action,” equipped with FCS
technology, the Army wants the combat vehicles to be able to directly request
supplies from the trucks, which would require that the trucks be part of the
“The truck will be operating with the unit of action, in the thick of
the battle,” Halle said.
Under the FTTS program, the Army is considering developing an 11-ton “maneuver
sustainment” truck that can move ISO containers, and a 2.5-ton to 5-ton
utility truck. The 11-ton vehicle (with payload) has to be transportable by
C-130 cargo aircraft.
According to current plans, each unit of action will have about 300 combat
vehicles, 375 trucks and 30 trailers. The question, said Halle, is “can
we afford it?”
The unit of action is expected to fight for three to seven days without re-supply.
“The combat vehicles can’t carry all those supplies. They admit
it,” Halle said. “They are only giving us so many trucks. So they
have to be capable.”
Future trucks also will have to be more reliable and require less maintenance
than current vehicles, she said. “We only have a fraction of maintainers
in the unit of action, compared to what we had in the brigade.”
Continuing changes to the roles and functions of the FCS, additionally, translate
into new requirements for the FTTS trucks. “There are things that FCS
is tossing over the fence to the combat service-support community—things
they can’t deal with, so we’ll put it on a truck,” Halle said.
One example is mine laying.
But while the FCS program is “tossing over” requirements, “they
are not throwing money” into the FTTS effort, she said.
Most of the funds for the FTTS are in the Army’s budget. But a small
percentage comes from the Defense Department Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration
program. ACTDs typically are intended to accelerate the development of technologies
and get equipment into the hands of soldiers faster, bypassing the normal procurement
cycle. The FTTS, however, will not be like any other ACTD, because the Army
will be developing new technology, rather than just speeding up existing projects.
“The point of the exercise is to help the program office for combat service
support produce vehicles for the units of action,” said Richard E. McClelland,
program director at the Army Tank-Automotive Research, Development and Engineering
Under an earlier FTTS competition that was not part of the ACTD, four companies
(Oshkosh, Stewart & Stevenson, United Defense and GPV) received contracts
to develop concepts, and demonstrate hybrid propulsion, C-130 transportability
and pit-stop maintenance.
The ACTD competition, scheduled to get under way in 2004, will be “full
and open,” independent of the first round of awards, McClelland said.
Companies that did not win in the first competition will be considered with
The winners of the ACTD will be asked to build 5-10 trucks that the program
managers can test and send to the field for soldier feedback.
McClelland noted that the $42 million budget “may go up with congressional
add-ons,” but he seemed skeptical about the prospect of FTTS delivering
a truck with all the bells and whistles the Army wants.
In PowerPoint briefings, he said, “we see fancy trucks with lots of capabilities.”
But if these trucks end up costing half-a-million dollars a piece, the Army
will not be able to afford them, in which case FTTS may end up becoming an upgrade
to a current truck, rather than a new one, McClelland said.
The wish list for the FTTS includes, for example, “intelligent load handling
systems,” so soldiers can move cargo around without having to get out
of the cab. Automated load handling would preclude the need for special K-loader
equipment, used to lift cargo from aircraft ramps. “That eliminates a
C-130 sortie,” Halle noted. A C-130 typically flies in the K-loaders,
then flies a second sortie to bring in the cargo or passengers.
The trucks also would need command-and-control computers, not only to receive
supply requests from the combat force, but also to be able to fire weapons remotely.
“It would be nice to have 700 additional nodes looking out for bad guys,”
said Halle. “That can’t be done with legacy trucks.” In the
FCS unit of action, the trucks “would need more information than normally
a truck driver would get.”
With C2 computers aboard, FTTS vehicles could transport, launch and control
unmanned aircraft or ground robots, she said.
More importantly, the trucks will need to provide water and electric power
for the FCS force. The Army is seeking technologies that can produce water from
air or engine exhaust.
“They want to get rid of all the generators and get power off the truck,”
Halle said. “Energy storage is huge—batteries are everyone’s
Hybrid-electric engines would help with fuel economy, but so far the Army is
not convinced the price of the hybrid drives is worth the fuel savings, she