When enemies began blowing up bombs hidden along convoy routes in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military responded by beefing up trucks with unprecedented amounts of armor.
The Humvee gained weight, the 16-ton mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicle was rushed to the battlefield and “survivability” became the biggest buzz word on the tactical vehicle front.
The methodology of combating improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, with heavy armor even spread to Special Operations Command, whose original “ground mobility vehicle” weighed less than a Humvee and could fit inside an MH-47 Chinook helicopter. That no longer is the case, thanks to added armor and equipment.
But off-the-shelf vehicles being pitched for the next version of the GMV seek to reverse this trend and indicate that special operators have much more to worry about than roadside bombs.
In early April, industry was anxiously awaiting a request for bids for GMV 1.1, a program that finds SOCOM looking to replace more than 1,000 modified Humvees it has been using with stealthier, more mobile vehicles. Armor isn’t even an initial requirement. The main concerns are that it be fast and modular, and that it again fit inside a Chinook. When the helicopter lands, operators need to be able to roll off and immediately start their mission.
SOCOM has expressed concern about the main Army-led effort to replace Humvees with the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle. Officials have said that the designs were too heavy for the needs of special forces. SOCOM wants trucks that weigh less than 10,000 pounds.
“The emphasis is on the design of the vehicle for mobility, stealth and agility,” says John Bryant, Oshkosh vice president and general manager of joint and Marine Corps programs. “Protection can be gained through mobility and stealth.”
In an initial solicitation document, SOCOM says it will take a two-phase approach to the program. The first would require written proposals and test data with an award of up to two contracts for further evaluations. The second would include the purchase of two prototypes from each vendor for engineering and operational testing. A single vendor then would be chosen for a production contract, which could lead to the procurement of 200 vehicles annually over the course of five years.
Oshkosh, which developed the Special Operations version of the MRAP all-terrain vehicle, is one of the many companies that have expressed an interest in the new GMV program. Others include JEEP, Lockheed Martin, Navistar Defense and General Dynamics. Lesser known companies also are gearing up for the competition.
Utah-based BC Customs is one of the lower-profile candidates. The company has a family of search-and-rescue tactical vehicles (SRTV) geared toward special operators, including the Warthog, which is being offered for the GMV program. Vice President of Sales and Design Brandon Johnson says the company’s products are inspired by the racing industry.
“Racing is the backbone of vehicle innovation,” he says. “The SRTV was derived from off-road racing vehicles of many genres. The designers of the SRTV have been building, designing and racing off-road race vehicles for 15 years.”
The Warthog can go from zero to 60 mph in less than eight seconds, and it is routinely tested at speeds up to 90 mph on secondary dirt roads. The vehicle’s design emphasizes occupant safety during high-speed maneuvers and easy repairs, Johnson says. A complete engine could be swapped out of one of the vehicles in three hours, he says.
The company also has an SRTV variant that can fit inside a V-22 Osprey, which harkens back to a previous requirement that has been much more difficult to achieve.
BC Customs specializes in the type of mobility sought by special forces, Johnson says. The SRTV aligns with SOCOM’s need for vehicles that can penetrate areas not normally accessible by ground assets be it for reconnaissance, tactical advantage or evasion, he says.
“It is our belief that the best tactical vehicle is one that combines superior situational awareness with superior defense fire power and the ability to decrease exposure time to potential threats,” Johnson says.
Though SOCOM declined a request for an interview, officials have spoken in general about the need for a lighter, more mobile and more lethal GMV. And the vehicles being pitched all come ready to handle a variety of weapons. BC Customs has made some recent changes to the Warthog to feature a range of weapons mounts — including 360-degree standing or sitting turrets — for everything from M240 to .50 caliber machine guns. Bryant says Oshkosh’s vehicle would also be able to accommodate an automatic grenade launcher.
Oshkosh’s truck, which does not have a name yet, takes into account the many missions special operators would perform, Bryant says. That includes long-range surveillance and carrying combat-ready troops on lengthy operations “that don’t involve driving on paved roads,” he says. An operation profile put out by SOCOM says that the vehicles will be spending about 70 percent of their time navigating secondary roads and trails.
General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems, which has teamed with Flyer Defense, has tested their GMV vehicle at multiple locations from the Himalayas to desert environments. The General Dynamics team is touting its vehicle’s ability to transform depending on the situation.
“We’ve taken Flyer in every configuration, from rescue variant to command-and-control to fast-attack vehicle,” says Sean Ridley, deputy program manager for tactical vehicles. Troops will be able to make these changes quickly in the field, he says. “To put that vehicle in the back of a helicopter with all your gear and payload provides a tremendous benefit for the user . . . They can land, conduct one mission, reconfigure the vehicle and take off for the next mission.”
Two Flyer vehicles can fit in a Chinook. Like the SRTV, there is a Flyer variant that also can be transported inside the Osprey.
MRAP-manufacturer Navistar Defense announced in February that it would team with Indigen Armor and SAIC for the program. Navistar and Indigen will combine their automotive and special operations expertise with SAIC’s skill in logistics support and technology, a press release says. A Navistar spokesperson declined a request for an interview, saying that planning was in the early stages.
Other companies have fringe vehicles that are designed for special forces but may not be an archetypal fit for the program. Oregon’s RP Advanced Mobile Solutions, for example, hasn’t decided yet if it will submit a proposal for GMV 1.1.
The company’s Strike Razor is smaller than the other vehicles and only goes about 60 mph, explains Chief Technical Officer Terry Wilmeth. The vehicle may only have an outside chance at being picked from the lot, he says.
The other companies are building trucks. “I’m building a sand buggy. If it flips, two guys can get out and push it back over,” he says. “I’m not even sure we’d seriously be considered.”
Most of the GMV candidates have open cabs and use armor only strategically to protect critical systems. But the Strike Razor is even more open and can be put on an Osprey without using tools. “Most aircraft will only be able to carry one GMV 1.1,” Wilmeth says. “They’d be able to carry two or three of ours.”
The little 1,600-pound vehicle developed with Polaris Defense may still be able to fulfill a lot of SOCOM’s tactical needs. Promotional videos show troops speeding across a field, stopping on a dime, jumping out to fire their guns and then speeding away.
“We get good feedback from the war fighters,” Wilmeth says. “We have a stand-off lethal capability to do a combination of surveillance and strike. These guys will be able to sit in the vehicle and see what’s going on from an aerial standpoint and be able to strike without ever having to leave the vehicle.”
The Strike Razor can be outfitted with a stuff muffler to reduce noise for covert operations. The company goes beyond the requirements in some areas, especially with its 12-ply tires featuring wrapped tread. It is looking into using tan, rubber polymers to camouflage them.
“That would take those two big black round targets away from the enemy,” Wilmeth says.