The Defense Department is having to make choices between programs in an effort to cut back on spending, and leaders have made their intentions known when it comes to a light tactical vehicle fleet dominated by Humvees.
They are throwing their support behind the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle as a replacement for the trucks, some of which have been in service since the 1980s. But even if the Army and Marine Corps can pull off JLTV in the current fiscal environment, there are thousands of Humvees that will have to be updated or scrapped. The Army’s fleet numbers about 160,000, and the Marines’ more than 20,000.
But the Army recently announced the termination of a program to recapitalize a portion of the Humvee fleet that would have covered about 6,000 trucks. Despite being killed as part of a five-year plan to reduce defense spending, the Modernized Expanded Capacity Vehicle effort remains a goal of Army leaders.
The service’s Combined Arms Support Command continues to push for a dedicated program for Humvee recapitalization.
Since 2005, the Humvee’s chassis has undergone many modifications. These include enhancements to brakes and the steering package as well as improvements to cooling and engine performance. However, issues remain, officials said at a recent industry day for the MECV. They noted a series of problems relayed to them by troops: added weight was causing engine parts to break; the vehicle was moving slower and making wider turns; it would sometimes stall out going uphill.
“The vehicle’s acceleration is much worse and the brakes are not holding up,” officials quoted one soldier as saying. “The vehicle is too heavy and needs upgraded brakes.”
The MECV was aimed at providing “protective armor below the cab, enhancements of the vehicle’s ability to respond to demands for speed and braking, improvement of the vehicle operator’s ability to control the vehicle, and the incorporation of safety enhancements to reduce the intrusion of thermal fires from fuel as well as directed enemy fire in the form of projectiles from entering the crew compartment,” according to Army Training and Doctrine Command documents.
By early 2011, more than 46,000 Humvees had already been converted to improved configurations at Army depots in Pennsylvania and Texas. The predominant gaps when it comes to tactical wheeled vehicles remain protection and survivability, and the MECV program was aimed at improving those traits for light trucks, said Maj. Gen. James L. Hodge, commander of CASCOM’s sustainment center of excellence.
Critics, meanwhile, have said that there were far too many overlaps between up-armored Humvees, JLTV and an off-road variant of the mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle called M-ATV.
At the National Defense Industrial Association’s annual truck conference in Moneterey, Calif., Army officials said that they more or less are sticking to a tactical wheeled vehicle strategy they put out a year ago. That document stated that the Army wanted to sustain portions of the Humvee fleet not being replaced by JLTV for another 20 to 30 years through recapitalization and depot-level repairs.
“We’re going to continue to sustain the Humvee,” said Christopher Lowman, assistant deputy chief of staff and director of maintenance policy and programs for the Department of the Army. “We’re going to continue to have a requirement for recapitalization. We’re going to continue to have a requirement for Humvee parts and the supply chain that goes along with that.”
The recapitalization part would be best handled by the MECV or a similar program, Hodge said.
“The MECV will tell us what’s in the art of the possible with regard to modernizing the up-armored Humvee,” he said just days after the cancellation was announced. But given the uncertainty associated with future budgets, “I think we need a fall-back position for recapping the up-armored Humvee with some modernization.”
Hodge recommended that industry and government officials team up on a “more traditional” recap program for the Humvee that focuses solely on improving underbelly protection and performance.
“We’ve stretched this vehicle about as far as it can go,” he said. “But we must continue to look at ways to improve this vehicle to support our soldiers who may end up fighting in an up-armored Humvee again.”
The Marine Corps had been keeping a close eye on the Army’s MECV program and had even toyed with the idea of joining the effort. But now Marines have their own strategy for its Humvee fleet.
The service is taking a dual approach. Some vehicles are being inspected and repaired only as necessary, and some are being divested. The Marine Corps also is pursuing a strategy it calls “Humvee modification,” which entails a six-phase process that just recently kicked off. Initial analysis for the effort will take place at the Nevada Automotive Test Center.
But come 2013 or 2014, the Marines envision opening up a competitive process to industry for “very discrete targeted” improvements to Humvees, said Dave Branham, a spokesman for Program Executive Office Land Systems.
“It’s not like we’re rebuilding the thing. We’re not going to do that,” he said. Modifications will focus on mobility, safety and performance.
“We actually have a plan,” Branham said.