The darling of the infantry, the 25-year-old humvee, increasingly is being relegated to sitting in motor pools inside forward operating bases because its flat-bottom crew compartment is vulnerable to roadside bombs.
But with a replacement truck still years away, Army and Marine Corps officials are planning to upgrade the humvee fleet — particularly its armor protection — so it can stay in service for another 20 years.
The ground services have tens of thousands of humvees that do not meet new survivability standards. The joint light tactical vehicle is intended to replace those trucks. But the JLTV development is still in its infancy.
“It will take quite a bit of time to replace all of the humvees, so you’re going to have humvees around for 20 years,” says Dennis Haag, product manager for light tactical vehicles in the Army’s combat support and combat service support program executive office. “What you have to do is take care of that fleet through the sustainment side to make sure it remains a viable piece of equipment for soldiers.”
One option is to upgrade the humvee with the latest blast-resistant technologies. Officials have been unhappy with bolt-on armor kits because they weigh down the trucks. Alternatives to bolt-on armor have been developed. The Marine Corps has honed in on a V-shaped hull capsule concept that is being evaluated at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.
The Army owns 150,000 humvees made by AM General, headquartered in South Bend, Ind. About a third are newer up-armored trucks. Another third are unarmored utility vehicles that already have been through a recapitalization program at the Army’s depots. The final third are vehicles that have surpassed the 15-year “economic useful life” threshold.
The service by 2011 will cease to buy new humvees, says Haag. The Army instead is gearing up for a competitive recapitalization program to fix 60,000 war-torn vehicles.
Officials earlier this year asked for industry input about systems that could improve the humvee’s protection, mobility and payload. Haag says his office has been receiving so many responses that the deadline was extended to give the Army time to provide feedback and to continue collecting information.
The service intends to release a formal request for proposals this spring. “We are looking to award the first of what will be two awards for prototyping prior to the end of this fiscal year,” Army Col. David Bassett, project manager for tactical vehicles in the service’s combat support and combat service support program executive office, tells National Defense.
The winning bidders will provide prototypes for blast testing and other evaluations. “Spending some money on some prototypes and really understanding what can be done is a great way to burn down that risk on what will inevitably be billion-dollar decisions,” he says.
Officials would like to see bidders leverage government depots for the recap and propose ways to lighten the vehicles.
“Reduced weight in and of itself will reduce energy consumption,” says Bassett in response to a question about whether energy will play a role in the requirements.
Haag adds, “We would obviously look for any type of energy improvements that could be rolled into it.”
The winning prototype must be capable of quickly transitioning into production.
Bassett says the goal is to offer the Army alternatives — recapping humvees to an enhanced configuration, continuing to recap in the current configuration, or possibly shifting the investment toward JLTV.
In the fiscal year 2011 contingency operations budget, the Army has requested $989 million for a humvee recapitalization.
“We do not anticipate that a competitive contract can be awarded in time to use those FY11 dollars,” says Bassett. The contracts to be awarded in the near term would be for much smaller amounts, he adds.
A January Defense Department inspector general report recommended that the Army consider one specific humvee configuration, the XM1166, in its recap efforts.
“I think this competitive recap is absolutely consistent with those recommendations,” says Bassett. The program will include the live-fire testing recommended by the IG, and it will allow the Army to consider systems including the 1166 and any other capable solutions.
Companies that currently produce the mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles are expected to bid for the humvee upgrade program, officials say. The V-shaped monocoque hulls on those trucks are designed to withstand roadside bomb blasts and deflect shrapnel away from vehicle occupants.
“We’re hoping that those same vendors and others take those lessons learned and make them part of their proposals on this recap effort,” says Bassett.
Granite Tactical Vehicles based in Mount Airy, N.C., has developed a small combat tactical vehicle capsule concept for the humvee.
“We’ve basically taken the MRAP survivability concepts down to the humvee level,” says Granite’s president, Chris Berman, a retired Navy SEAL.
The V-shaped capsule places a strong emphasis on underbelly protection, says Berman. He says the capsule reduces the threat of fire inside the cabin by isolating the fuel cell from the crew compartment through an armored driveline tunnel. A protective shield below that prevents contact with the fuel tank in the event of a blast. The capsule also contains a fire suppression system.
Unlike the aluminum body of current humvees, the welded steel monocoque capsule will not be crushed in a rollover, Berman says. Batteries have been removed completely from the crew compartment and placed into the vehicle’s rear exterior. Engineers also created pliers-accessible release points on the hull to allow for easier crew extraction during emergency evacuations.
Compared to the cost of a new M1151 up-armored humvee with a fragmentation kit, the capsule is lower in price, he says.
Armoring existing humvees requires many parts and a labor-intensive process to integrate them. On the capsule, however, the parts are welded into a single shell and the design utilizes many existing humvee components, including gas and brake pedals, gear shifters and motors.
Granite teamed with Textron Marine and Land Systems to bid on the humvee upgrade program. The company has delivered three hulls to the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory for testing.
The lab last month commenced trials on a tilt-table and driving the hulls on a variety of tracks at U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center, says Marine Corps Maj. Scot Jaworski, branch head of the ground combat element at the lab’s technology division. Because the capsule incorporates a lift into its design, lab officials are paying close attention to the handling.
“We’re fairly confident it’s not going to affect its drivability much because the added underbelly armor actually brings down the center of gravity slightly,” says Jaworski. “We’re pretty sure it’s going to handle similarly to an [expanded-capacity] humvee, but time on the track is really going to tell us that,” he says in an interview at Quantico, Va.
Officials also are keeping a close watch on the drive train temperature because it is enclosed within the capsule and could overheat. “It would be bad if the vehicle drives great, protects great, but blows out differentials because of overheating 20 miles into it. We would like that not to happen,” Jaworski says.
The lab previously ran experiments with another V-shaped underbody, and it didn’t work out well at all, he adds.
“This vehicle, if successful, will be a leaps-and-bounds improvement to the current humvee,” says Jaworski. Last fall, it successfully completed blasting trials at Aberdeen.
Col. Bob Danko, director of the logistics integration division within Marine Corps Combat Development Command’s capabilities development directorate, says it is premature to draw any conclusions. “We want to see the test results and develop a path forward if everything turns out to be positive.”
The lab’s final report is expected by the end of the month.
“We would love this thing to be a solution to our light fleet problem, and we would love it to be a bridge capability to JLTV,” says Danko. The Marine Corps has a requirement for 25,000 humvees through 2020, and like the Army, it must sustain that fleet for an additional 10 to 15 years until JLTV comes online and supplants the truck. While the Marine Corps remains committed to purchasing 5,500 JLTVs, top officials have expressed dissatisfaction with the replacement truck’s weight and cost estimates.
Danko compares the capsule effort to one that the Marine Corps accomplished while improving the mobility of MRAPs for Afghanistan. The MRAP vehicle was not fit for the rough terrain in Southwest Asia. Industry developed an all-terrain variant, but Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway chose to buy upgraded suspensions for the MRAPs that they already had.
“It was a heck of a lot cheaper to put new suspensions on a lot of our MRAPs than it was to buy a bunch more of the M-ATVs at $430,000 a pop,” says Danko.
The capsule concept could follow suit.
“We’re looking at this potential solution as costing less than $100,000 a copy. We think that might be a good deal,” says Danko.
The capsule concept retains the physical characteristics of the current humvee. “The transportability issue is huge for us. To be able to have about the same weight of a humvee and to have this capsule on there would be awesome,” says Danko.
“If I’ve got 30 humvees on an amphibious ship, I can probably get 30 of these on an amphib too,” says Jaworski.
If the test results are positive, the earliest the Marine Corps could put money behind a recap effort would be in fiscal year 2014, says Danko. But if commanders in Afghanistan demanded faster results, the Corps could potentially speed up the process and have initial vehicles driving off the production line as early as next year, he adds.
Though the capsule has been tested on a number of humvee frames, the Corps would probably have to place it on the newer expanded-capacity vehicles because they already have the upgraded suspensions, transmissions and other advanced components. “We would want the capsule to be on our most capable vehicles,” says Danko.
The Army is keeping tabs on the trials. “We think that the work that the Marine Corps has done with the capsule concept is absolutely consistent with where we intend to take the competitive recap program,” says Bassett, the Army’s tactical vehicles project manager. “We’re encouraged by those kind of developments because it helps inform our understanding of what’s possible on these vehicles.”
Danko says, “Hopefully at the end of the day, both the Army and Marine Corps will go down the same line for a potential solution.”