Though it appeared doomed just months ago, the Army and Marine Corps’ plan to replace aging Humvees with a new off-road vehicle may have regained its footing at least for another year.
The Joint Light Tactical Vehicle program office intends to award up to three engineering, manufacturing and development contracts in the spring. Officials recently put out a draft request for proposals and were still refining requirements as of early January.
It is a welcome sign to potential bidders, considering that lawmakers recently were poised to cut all or some of the program. They ultimately did cut some of it, but still left $154 million for this fiscal year.
The engineering, manufacturing and development contracts will come after a technology development phase that found both the military and its industry suppliers struggling to strike a balance between protection, weight and cost.
Teams led by Lockheed Martin Corp., BAE Systems and an AM General-General Dynamics Land Systems consortium called General Tactical Vehicles built prototypes for the technology development portion of the program. But Army officials said they were between a few hundred and 1,000 pounds too heavy.
Compounding the weight issue was the decision to require the JLTV to provide the same level of protection against improvised explosive devices as the all-terrain variant (M-ATV) of the Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicle (MRAP). Concerns were raised that contractors would have to resort to expensive, exotic materials to protect JLTV from roadside bombs, and that would make the cost of each vehicle skyrocket.
The Army and Marine Corps seemed headed in different directions after the technology development phase. The Army appeared more concerned with protection while the Marines worried that too much armor would prevent the vehicles from being carried by helicopter.
Marine Corps officials said that if a truck costs more than $300,000, they couldn’t afford it. And that if it weighed too much, they wouldn’t buy it.
Army and Marine Corps officials said earlier this year that while they had gathered a lot of relevant data from the three technology development contractors, there were still significant challenges in meeting performance and weight requirements. The overall cost of the program, too, had to be addressed.
But after lawmakers recommended cutting the program altogether, the Army and Marine Corps put their heads together in an effort to save JLTV.
“What has been most impressive about the last few months was that the Marine Corps and Army stood shoulder to shoulder in going forward to [the defense secretary] and Congress to outline and revise this new program,” said Glenn Lamartin, vice president of JLTV capture at BAE Systems. “They squared the box by defining very aggressive goals for average unit manufacturing costs.”
The goal now is to spend $230,000 on each vehicle, $270,000 at the most. That is down from an estimate earlier this year of about $320,000 and a sizeable reduction from the $418,000 predicted at the beginning of the technology development phase.
Officials also have decided to shorten the anticipated length of the next phase by a year to reduce program costs. They also took a hard look at requirements, relaxing some of them and allowing the vehicles to gain back some of their weight. This has helped companies focus their designs, executives said.
“What a difference a year makes,” Lamartin said.
That is especially the case for Oshkosh, which failed in its bid for a contract during the initial phase. The company is trying to position itself for the next opportunity and has built the Light Combat Tactical All-Terrain Vehicle, or L-ATV, in anticipation. This vehicle meets JLTV requirements and includes an independent suspension system that benefits off-road performance, company officials said.
The TAK-4i suspension provides 20 inches of independent wheel travel, adjustable ride height for transport and greater speeds over tough terrain, officials said.
“The technology is there right now to meet the government’s expectations,” said Ken Juergens, vice president of joint programs at Oshkosh.
The company has adapted its modular M-ATV armor design for the lighter vehicle. The scalable concept allows additional armor or other enhancements to be installed in theater as missions and threats change. If better materials come along, pieces and parts can be combined as opposed to “throwing out the whole vehicle,” said Rob Messina, vice president of engineering at Oshkosh.
“We have a lot of experience in this field,” Juergens said. “We have gone from different weight classes and this is just another weight class down. It’s easier to go from heavy to light . . . We’ve been very good at achieving weight targets.”
He noted the company’s recent success with the M-ATV. During that competition, contractors actually weighed their vehicles in like contenders before a prizefight.
A prototype of the L-ATV completed the Baja 1000, an off-road race in Mexico. Typically, only about half the participating vehicles finish the race, which winds through more 1,000 miles of rugged desert. Regardless of what happens with JLTV, Oshkosh will still offer the L-ATV to any interested customer, officials said.
BAE’s demonstrators have been put through blast and off-road testing in Aberdeen, Md; Yuma, Ariz; and Australia. The trucks ran up the miles in strenuous conditions and on rocky trails like those found in Afghanistan, Lamartin said.
“People talk about miles, but not all miles are the same,” BAE’s Lamartin said. “We think we’ve had the benefit of that realistic test.”
BAE is partnering with Navistar for JLTV. The two companies have produced nine MRAP variants between them. Their offering for JLTV, called the Valanx, was first unveiled in 2008 and has been going through changes along with the program. Aside from being part of BAE’s team, Navistar Defense this past fall introduced a light truck called the International Saratoga that can be outfitted with metallic or composite add-on armor. The Saratoga is not intended for JLTV, Navistar officials have said. They have described it as a ready-to-go vehicle that could fill the gaps they see between that program and the effort to recapitalize existing Humvees.
The JLTV is being developed as a replacement for some of the 11 different types of Humvees. The military currently has 160,000 Humvees, some of which have been around since 1985. Given that there already is a program on the books to upgrade portions of the Humvee fleet and because the protection levels for JLTV mirror those of M-ATV, some insiders have warned about redundancies.
The Government Accountability Office noted that “the introduction of MRAP, M-ATV and JLTV programs creates a potential risk of unplanned overlap in capabilities; a risk that needs to be managed.” Experts have said that these programs share as many as 250 requirements. Pentagon officials, though, point out that there are hundreds of other requirements for the JLTV program that MRAP and M-ATV cannot meet.
Despite the program’s public struggles for survival, the technology development phase served its purpose, Army officials said.
“It gave the Army and [Marine Corps] exactly the kind of information we needed to make really well informed decisions about what JLTV can be and what it should cost,” said Army Col. David Bassett, project manager of tactical vehicles at Program Executive Office Combat Support and Combat Service Support.
“Our aim is to give industry greater latitude to demonstrate what’s achievable on a light platform,” Bassett said. “Our competitive strategy is intended to deliver the best vehicle possible at the price that the program can afford.”
The Army has done enough modeling, simulation and testing to ensure that the beefed-up protection requirements are low-risk, he said.
“The idea is to get a vehicle that can be incrementally improved on over time,” Bassett said.
Lockheed, although not traditionally a tactical vehicle manufacturer, believes it has a strong chance.
“You really can’t make optimization decisions on specific components without looking at it from the perspective of not only cost but what the impact is to weight, manufacturability and your overall reliability,” said Kathryn Hasse, JLTV program director at Lockheed. “There has not been anything that has not been looked at. And the decisions that we have made were those that yielded the most benefit in terms of cost and weight without compromising our maturity, our reliability and our performance.”
Lockheed’s JLTV weighs about 40 percent less than other all-terrain models deployed in theater, company officials said. It recently successfully completed blast tests in which it defended against explosions commonly used in experiments against mine-resistant vehicles. The company credits its updated V-shaped hull design. Previous Army and Marine Corps tests showed that the JLTV could also be transported by CH-47 and CH-53 helicopters.
Weight and cost have been two of the biggest sticking points throughout the program. As the EMD phase nears, companies have been tweaking their designs, looking for ways to shave costs and keep weight down without resorting to the use of titanium and other advanced materials. They are costly and simply unaffordable for a fleet of 50,000 to 60,000 tactical vehicles, Lamartin said.
The program’s many twists and turns may continue. As it stands, the Army would like to buy 20,000 JLTVs and the Marine Corps 5,500.
A spokesperson with General Tactical Vehicles declined to comment for this story, citing the Army and Marine Corps’ continuing refinement of the program and a lack of a final budget plan. A recent Congressional Research Service report stated that even a less expensive $230,000 JLTV “might prove to be difficult to justify.”
Because the program has been so fluid, teams that went through the technology development phase believe they have an edge over companies such as Oshkosh that have been preparing their designs from the outside looking in.
“The schedule assumes that those who are in place in the EMD phase bring mature designs, designs ready to move quickly” from assembly to prototypes to testing, Lamartin said. “Those who come from the outside and don’t have the [technology development] experience will find it more difficult to bring forward a solution within that box.”
Because some of the details are classified, and also to avoid tipping off the competition, company representatives are being tightlipped about specifics of their designs and their approaches to the protection requirements.
“We are working very hard to achieve the government’s cost target,” Hasse said. “Beyond that, we all have to make sure we have a program that we can actually bid to.”
The technology is already out there, Messina said. There is no reason the program can’t go forward, he added.