the Army so far has rejected these proposals, Detroit’s automotive
giants and the National Automotive Center have continued to fine-tune
the design of the so-called severe off-road vehicles, or SORVs,
which are underwritten by congressional add-on dollars that the
Army never requested.
NAC, which reports to the Army’s Tank-Automotive and Armaments
Command, is a research organization in Dearborn, Mich., which works
closely with the automotive industry to find innovative technologies
that can be adapted for Army vehicles.
The project previously was known as Combatt, for commercially based
tactical trucks. The Combatt name is being phased out, because the
automakers were unable to meet the ambitious performance requirements
at the Army’s desired price tag, noted Hal Almand, team leader
for light trucks at the NAC.
Detroit’s Big 3 — Ford, DaimlerChrysler and GM —
came up with the name SORV. “They felt that maybe we were
going too far with Combatt, which was intended to match the performance
of the Humvee,” Almand said in an interview. “They wanted
to back off of that a little bit. It was getting more expensive
than what they thought the market could bear.”
SORV performs well off road, better than the average four-by-four
pickup, but it’s more durable for military operations, he
said. “They think they can sell the SORV for less than $50,000.”
By comparison, Combatt cost crept to $60,000, and the last Humvee
NAC bought was $63,000, said Almand.
GM and DaimlerChrysler are delivering two Combatt and two SORV
trucks. GM has seven vehicles under contract. One is a quad-steer
truck. Another has a hybrid-electric gasoline engine. DaimlerChrysler
is delivering four vehicles — two Combatt and two SORV, one
of which is hybrid-electric.
Almand said he does not expect the Army to purchase any SORV vehicles
in the foreseeable future, but he predicts that some National Guard
units will acquire a small number of the vehicles for use at military
bases in the United States. National Guard officials have driven
on the SORV course, he said. “The Guard has shown interest
in this kind of vehicle.”
Although the Army has a “pure-fleet” policy for Humvees,
said Almand, it’s possible that as Humvees continue to wear
out in Iraq, the service may replace some Humvees with SORVs for
administrative missions that do not involve combat.
Creature comforts and the reliability of commercial vehicles make
the SORV an attractive option, he added. Diesel powered trucks today
run at least 200,000 miles before major components need to be replaced.
Some companies give 70,000-mile warranties, said Almand.
The dollars for the SORV effort will run out in September, unless
Congress adds funding later this year. The next phase of the program
is to armor the vehicle, he said. “We are delivering one of
those trucks for the Air Force that will be armored.” The
Air Force may become a customer for this vehicle, which would be
used by air-defense units at large bases, where it’s not unusual
for troops to drive 300 miles from one site to another. “Humvees
don’t work for them. They are looking at this vehicle,”
Among the features that could make these vehicles useful in military
settings are convoy lighting, black-all lighting, interior black-all
light that can’t be seen from an airplane at night, heavy
duty front and rear bumpers, high performance suspension, high performance
air cleaning, underbody protection and onboard pneumatic system.
The Army’s program manager for tactical wheeled vehicles,
Col. Robert Groller, said the service does not plan to allocate
funds for commercial trucks, although it may lease some vehicles.
“We are looking at replacing Humvees in the schoolhouse environment
and bases for non-combat use,” he said. But there is no “clear-cut”
requirement for the SORV.