ABERDEEN TEST CENTER, Md. — Improved performance, protection and payload: Military officials want all three to be included in its new truck.
Army and Marine Corps officials debuted three prototypes made by three different manufacturers recently. And none of their solutions look anything like the humvees they hope to one day replace.
After about five months of work, BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin and General Tactical Vehicles — a joint venture between General Dynamics and AM General — each delivered a total of seven prototypes, all with different weight classes or configurations, for the JLTV program to test.
None of the vendors is guaranteed that its truck will be chosen for the next phase. Program managers insist that these prototypes will be used merely for collecting data so they can refine requirements for the next stage of development.
Program managers have a long list of needs, many of which were not big concerns when the humvee was in development 30 years ago.
The emergence of the roadside bomb as the weapon of choice for insurgents is driving the need for more protection; and the current climate calling for fiscal restraint in the federal government is demanding that the next generation of light tactical wheeled vehicles be easy to maintain, and have improved fuel efficiency.
These requirements may be at odds. The heavier the vehicle the more fuel it takes to move it. A series of mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles were rushed into the field in response to the improvised explosive device threat. These trucks were intentionally tilted heavily toward the protection part of the equation. The services now want to know if they can have it all: safety for the troops, reliable, rugged parts and the ability to carry added armor, soldiers, marines, and all their equipment.
To further complicate the process, the Army and Marine Corps must balance their desires. The marines want a truck that is easily transportable to fit their expeditionary nature.
Weight is the number one problem his team encountered, said Don E. Howe, senior director of General Tactical Vehicles.
“You can meet the protection levels, the payload requirements. You can meet the performance requirements, in most cases that can be done,” Howe said. But keeping the trucks light enough to be transportable on rotary-wing and fixed-wing aircraft such as the CH-47 Chinook and the C-130, along with the transport ships the Marine Corps use, makes the weight issue complex, he said.
“You have to meet certain weight profiles. That’s where the challenge is. And it will continue to be a challenge on this program as long as these vehicles are in existence,” Howe predicted.
Army Lt. Col. Wolfgang Petermann, JLTV program manager, told National Defense that “we are on track with our weight,” but there will be refinements made on the requirements for the engineering and manufacturing development part of the process, which follows the current technology development phase.
Meanwhile, officials are asking the three vendors to deliver an eighth variation of their prototypes by September, a subvariant of the B models, which are designed to carry payloads of 4,000 to 4,500 pounds.
Dean Johnson, deputy program manager and the Marine Corps’ representative on the program, said the need to balance weight and protection prompted the services to ask for the new vehicle.
“We’re trying to drive that weight down as low as we can,” he said.
Managers must make trade-offs to reach these sometimes conflicting needs. The new prototype will have the same chassis as the six-passenger B model, but to make the weight and protection requirement, will only have seating for four.
The weight will stay the same,” said Johnson. “The functionality will come on to a smaller platform.”
Program engineers are looking at components made of composite materials, and other items that could be lightened in order to hit the weight targets.
Petermann said one pleasant surprise so far has been the fuel efficiency requirement. On average, the JLTV officials are seeing about 20 percent better miles-per-gallon results than what was demanded.
“We’ll see the requirement go up because we can meet it,” he said.
While ballistic trials have been completed, the program has not completed reliability and performance testing. Each vehicle will undergo about 20,000 miles of testing at Aberdeen and at the Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona. The Australian military, a partner in the program, is receiving right-hand drive vehicles in August, which will be tested at its facilities.
Along with the B variant, there are the As, which should carry 3,500 pounds and the Cs, which have a 5,100 pound payload requirement. All three must come with trailers. Category B has heavy guns, TOW missiles and ambulance versions.
In this current phase, officials are looking for reliability rates three times longer than what is found on the humvee. In short, the services want the vehicles to go thousands of miles longer between breakdowns. And when they do need repairs, vendors are being asked for vehicles that are easy to fix and have 85 percent common parts among the variants, Petermann said.
Two items on the list that may be dropped, Petermann said, were road departure warning and collision avoidance systems.
“In a tactical environment, there may not be a road. So is there really a need for it?” Petermann asked.