The Army and Marine Corps may decide as early as May 2007 to begin searching for a new vehicle that would replace the ubiquitous Humvee.
But even though both services have indicated their intent and desire to buy a new light tactical truck, they are nowhere close to agreeing on exactly what kind of vehicle they want.
During the next 12 months, Army and Marine officials will evaluate industry “white papers” and several prototype vehicles in an attempt to paint a realistic picture of what the industry has to offer, and ultimately settle on what to buy.
Overseeing this effort is Army Col. John Myers, program manager for future tactical systems. His office was created last October specifically to help define performance specs for the new vehicle, and determine whether the services will be ready to solicit bids from manufacturers by May 2007.
“Between now and the milestone decision in May 2007, we are going to create a joint program office to deal with the joint light tactical vehicle,” Myers says in a recent interview. “At this point, it is a discussion for the Army and the Marines to look at what technologies are out there and, if we were to establish a new program for a future truck, what it’s going to have in it,” says Myers.
Ultimately it will be up to the Army’s top leadership to establish “at what point you stop funding current trucks and start funding a new truck,” he adds. “We need a requirements document before we get money. It’s too premature at this point to assume we’ll get production money. We are in a concept phase.”
A “request for information” published by the Marine Corps in January offers a glimpse of the services’ wish-lists and points to the difficulties they will face in trying to accommodate divergent Army and Marine requirements into a single vehicle.
The most likely scenario is that both services will buy different variants, even though they will be part of the same family of vehicles. “The Marines want a variant that is more combat oriented … The Army wants some other vehicles for utility missions, to carry shelters,” says Myers. “How many variants we end up with depends on the requirements. We don’t know yet.”
The request for information asks manufacturers to propose ideas on how to build a “joint light tactical vehicle” with multiple configurations: a six-passenger combat truck, a command and control vehicle, a light weapons platform, an ambulance, a utility truck, a reconnaissance and a combat engineer support vehicle.
Trucks will require two levels of protection: basic standard armor and add-on kits.
Other desired features include electronic jammers, run flat tires, instant fire suppression in the engine and cabin, and fording capability. Built-in communications systems also will be sought in new trucks, including tracking devices, satellite radios and command-and-control terminals.
Officials from the Marine Corps Combat Development Command and the Army Training and Doctrine Command are sorting through a number of white papers that were sent by contractors in recent weeks.
Also feeding into the decision-making process is an ongoing Army competition for which truck makers are building prototype trucks and equipping them with advanced technologies. The competition, known as the “future tactical truck system,” or FTTS, will culminate in early 2007 with a drive-off at the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Md., and a “user evaluation” by Army Stryker units at Fort Lewis, Wash.
The FTTS includes a heavy 13-ton truck prototype, made by Stewart & Stevenson, and two light utility trucks — one designed by International Truck and Engine Co., and another by Lockheed Martin Corp. The outcome of the technology demonstration in FTTS may influence the requirements of the joint Army-Marine Humvee replacement program, officials say.
The FTTS light truck prototypes are being mischaracterized as Humvee replacements, which has spread confusion among suppliers, says Jeff Carie, Army project manager for the FTTS light vehicle. “There is nothing in production today that meets the Army’s requirements,” Carie says. “We have lots of components and technologies. We are kluging it.”
The manufacturers of the competing FTTS vehicles that will be evaluated later this year hope to eventually be in the running to build the future Humvee. “If we didn’t see that, we wouldn’t be playing at all,” says Chris Buttelle, from International Truck.
Lockheed, whose truck design was acquired via the takeover of a U.K. firm, also recognizes that winning FTTS offers no guarantees of any future production work. The program is helping the Army and the Marine Corps fine-tune their requirements, says Kathryn Hasse, director of tactical wheeled vehicles at Lockheed.
Other companies also plan to participate in any future competition. General Dynamics Land Systems Canada is producing an armored patrol vehicle for the Danish Army that it plans to propose to the U.S. military. The vehicle, called the Duro, is a “Humvee on steroids,” says Gary Third, GDLS business development manager.
The manufacturer of the Humvee, AM General, expects to capitalize on its incumbent status and convince the Army that the latest version of the Humvee is far more capable than any potential challenger. In any future competition for a replacement, “we’ll be there,” says Craig MacNab, spokesman for AM General. He says the company has, over time, upgraded the Humvee to the point that the latest variants are “dramatically different” from the two-decades-old vehicles that still dominate the Army’s light-truck fleet.
Lt. Gen. David F. Melcher, Army deputy chief of staff, says the average age of the Humvee is about 14 years. The Army’s fleet of approximately 137,000 light trucks includes 70,000 of the oldest models, which, in many cases, are unable to accept add-on armor and lack adequate power, Melcher tells an industry conference.
In the 2007-2011 budget, the Army requested nearly $4 billion for new armored Humvees. The assumption is that any new vehicle production would not start until at last 2012.
Industry sources speculate that one of the obstacles ahead for Army and Marine truck buyers may be sticker shock. In recent months, these sources say, the message conveyed to contractors is that the Army will not set a price ceiling on proposed new trucks. Military officials also continually refer to trucks as “combat vehicles,” which implies that trucks may have moved up to a higher price bracket. Current trucks generally cost anywhere from $50,000 to $150,000.
“In Iraq we are finding that our logistics vehicles are as important or more important than combat systems,” says Lt. Gen. William E. Mortensen, deputy chief of the Army Materiel Command, who spoke with National Defense at the Association of the U.S. Army symposium, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
That does not mean that trucks should cost a million dollars, he cautions. “The complexity needs to be managed,” says Mortensen. The Army will have to prioritize its wish list, but technologies such as tracking devices will not be skimped on, he says. “Money is well spent to ensure we know where every vehicle is.”
Contractors, for their part, worry that if trucks end up being too expensive, production will end as soon as the military services begin withdrawing from Iraq. “We have short minds in the Army,” says one industry expert. “When we start getting out of Iraq in three to four years, the mindset will shift.” He recalls that, after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, one of the Army’s “lessons learned” reports recommended that the Army buy armored Humvees. But those lessons were filed away, and only a handful of armored Humvees were built in the late 1990s. When the Army realized in 2003 that it needed armored Humvees to fight the insurgency in Iraq, it had less than 200 vehicles on hand, but needed 11,000.