In November, the Army-Marine Corps’ Joint Light Tactical Vehicle program will be seven years old.
Time flies when a major military acquisition program is involved.
The deliberate pace of the program — which is not anticipated to deliver a next-generation replacement for the Humvee until 2015 — is in stark contrast to the rapid fielding of the Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles that manufacturers produced in a period counted in months, rather than years.
Responding to the scourge of roadside bombs in Iraq, then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates asked industry in 2007 to design, develop and manufacture a new class of vehicles. Skipping traditional acquisition practices, truck makers responded and delivered the life-saving MRAPs within 27 months.
Critics of the way the Pentagon acquires hardware have asked why the MRAP process can’t be repeated. Meanwhile, in two other high-profile programs, the Armed Aerial Scout helicopter and the Special Operations Forces Ground Mobility Vehicle, vendors are building prototypes they believe will fit all the requirements and bringing them ready made to the customers. All this is being done with the companies’ own dollars, while using off-the-shelf components.
When asked if they could build a JLTV in the same amount of time that it took to produce the MRAP — in a similar scenario where the military needed them urgently — executives from three truck manufacturers said unequivocally, “yes.”
“Our vehicle is absolutely ready to go into production right now,” John Bryant, vice president and general manager of joint programs for Oshkosh Defense, said confidently.
Oshkosh is one of three vendors — along with a Lockheed Martin-BAE Systems team and Humvee manufacturer AM General — that are participating in an engineering, manufacturing and development phase that will demand that they produce 22 JLTV prototypes in a year.
Bryant said he could not speak for the other competitors, but insisted that Oshkosh could skip the rest of the 27-month EMD phase and flip the switch on the assembly line today.
“I will defer to our warfighting customer on why he built the strategy the way he did, but the strategy for the JLTV program is a very low-risk [one],” he said.
From November 2006, when the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s Joint Requirements Oversight Council green-lighted the program to low-rate initial production in 2015 is about nine years. During the first few years, the program hit snags that had nothing to do with the maturity of the technology. Disagreements between the Marine Corps and Army and with their Defense Department overseers centering on requirements and costs caused some delays, along with protests from vendors who lost out on the first phase of development. All along, manufacturers were increasing their knowledge of how to build bomb-protected trucks.
Kathryn Hasse, director of the Lockheed Martin JLTV team, said that the first year of the 27-month EMD phase essentially mimics a rapid acquisition program.
“We are delivering 22 prototype vehicles 12 months after the receipt of the order … There is no time to do development work,” she said in an interview the same day as parts for the prototypes began to stack up in the company’s Fort Worth, Texas, plant.
Bob Walsh, vice president and general manager for Navistar Defense, was surprised by the question.
“If they said tomorrow, we urgently need to get this out there, industry would step up and get that out there,” he said. Navistar is not participating in the JLTV program, but was one of the manufacturers that produced MRAPs in a tight time frame. Even though the company did not make the cut for the EMD phase, Navistar officials believe there is a worldwide market for lighter tactical wheeled vehicles that have the same amount of protection as the heavier MRAPs. The company continues to invest in the technology.
“That urgent tag would come up with some type of tradeoffs,” he added. The Army and Marine Corps may not get every requirement it wants.
One reason for the confidence is that there are few new components in the trucks. They have either come from the commercial truck sector or, in the case of military unique parts, have been extensively tested, Bryant and Hasse said.
The executives had a hard time naming anything that could be considered developmental. In fact, one of the criteria the joint program insisted on is that nothing be “cutting edge” or unproven.
“Truthfully, there are very few what I consider to be pure developmental items on the vehicle,” Hasse said.
The JLTV will be evolutionary, not revolutionary. The bigger leaps in technology have already happened, she said.
The Lockheed Martin-BAE blast hull was developmental, as was its armor and the shape of the cab. But those new approaches happened over the past decade. “They have all been subjected to extensive testing,” she said.
She stopped short of calling the Lockheed Martin-BAE Systems entrant a COTS vehicle. “We have to meet very specific and very strenuous requirements that frankly, other light military vehicles had not had to meet,” she said.
Bryant also declined to call Oshkosh’s Light All-Terrain Vehicle an “off-the-shelf” solution, even though he said production on it could begin immediately. The company’s Medium All-Terrain Vehicles, M-ATV, is the closest truck to a JLTV being fielded today, he said. The chassis and most of the basic parts such as the engine, drive-train, transmission, brakes and other components have “millions of miles” on them. Every part of the vehicle down to the nuts and bolts have been factored into the survivability equation and blast tested, he added.
“Everything in the vehicle is a proven technology now,” he said.
The main technological requirement the three vendors participating in the EMD phase will have to prove they have solved is survivability. The military wants something as blast-protected as the heavy MRAPs, but shrunk down to the size of a light vehicle.
The other factor, which has more to do with manufacturing processes, material and design, is affordability. Program officials want to pay no more than $250,000 for a base vehicle.
Both of these goals will benefit from the knowledge the industry has gained meeting the challenge of fighting improvised explosive devices since the invasion of Iraq.
“What seemed impossible many, many years ago is practical today,” Walsh said.
“Taking those technologies and merging them in with off-the-shelf types of vehicles is something that you can do,” he added.
There were skeptics prior to the MRAP program who said the commercially based components would not survive military missions. They were proven wrong, he said.
“I don’t think you can just take a commercial truck off the end of an assembly line, play with it a little to make one of these tactical vehicles, but I do see taking commercial-off-the-shelf components and pulling them together and making an affordable platform,” Walsh said.
Navistar took the rolling chassis from its commercial truck business and adapted them for use in its MaxxPro MRAP.
“We have been given the opportunity to show a COTS vehicle in the most austere environments in the world, and the platform performed. … Commercial platforms and commercial components can survive in the military world,” he said.
“That is a fact. That is history. How do you take that history and move it forward?” he asked.
Bryant said the knowledge Oshkosh gained building the M-ATV has been greatly leveraged for its JLTV entrant. Six generations of vehicle technology are going into its entrant.
“We take the protection technology particularly, from the M-ATV to the next level ... at a much lighter weight,” he said.
Prior to awarding the EMD phase contract, there was “a whole lot of discussion” in the military truck community on whether the services should just skip ahead and buy an off-the-shelf truck in its entirety, Hasse said.
It was at about that time that Ford Motor Co. — absent from the military truck market for decades — inserted itself into the debate and said it could produce a JLTV cheaper than the traditional Defense Department contractors. The Army ultimately decided that it was too late in the game for Ford to jump in.
While there has been a great deal of attention on the survivability of the JLTV, the ability to handle rugged missions is less talked about, Hasse said.
The new vehicle will have to endure two to three times the force that a commercial truck traveling on sealed roads experiences. The mission profile calls for a greater than 60 percent severe off-road use, she said, not to mention the ability to withstand a low-velocity airdrop.
“There aren’t many commercial trucks that will survive that,” she said.
Hasse added that it is not just components that are making the transition to the military. The Lockheed Martin team has brought in outside experts from the commercial truck manufacturing sector, who have improved the traditional military vendors’ design, develop, build and test processes.
“It does take additional cost out because it allowed us to further identify areas where we could perhaps simplify the design, and in some cases substitute a commercial-off-the-shelf part,” she said.
Lockheed Martin-BAE delivered vehicles for the Army and Marine Corps to inspect in the earlier two-year-long technology development phase. The two services paid vendors to deliver prototypes to show what the art of the possible was and to help them inform their requirements.
That was when Lockheed Martin-BAE introduced new technologies such as the integrated starter generator that can provide up to 75 kilowatts of onboard and exportable power. Overall, it discovered that its design was not affordable, Hasse said. Between the technology development and EMD phases, the team drove out expensive, exotic materials. The Army made it clear that it wanted the EMD contractors to be able to order all the components on day one, Hasse said.
“They recognized they don’t need everything on every vehicle,” she said. They need something that is modular — that can changed for various missions, and can be easily upgraded.
Bryant also said JLTV, with its requirements, will be a unique vehicle, and couldn’t be considered “off the shelf.” Nevertheless, the preponderance of proven components, and the low-risk strategy the Army has undertaken, makes it a can’t-miss program.
“This is a program, unlike many others, where there is essentially no risk of it failing,” he added.
For more on tactical vehicles, please see the articles below:
Amphibious Combat Vehicle Stalled Amidst Budget, Requirements Uncertainty
Smaller Trucks Seen as Lucrative Business in U.S. and Abroad
Marine Humvee Upgrade Seen as Inevitable
The MRAP: Reuse, Recycle, Reduce
Photo Credit: Jon Rawlinson