JLTV Touted As Success, But Military Not Rushing to Buy
A new armored truck designed to replace the Humvee is being praised as a model of procurement, but industry analysts and military officials say that the Army and Marine Corps are not buying joint light tactical vehicles fast enough to keep up with the services’ needs.
“If there is any issue with the JLTV program currently, it’s that the Army and Marine Corps are buying the trucks too slowly,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Spoehr, who directs the Center for National Defense at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
The program so far has progressed smoothly as the vehicles undergo testing to meet stringent troop protection and off-road mobility requirements, according to Army officials. But the service plans to stretch JLTV procurement over decades, which Spoehr called “an inordinate amount of time.”
“Given the fiscal environment and the success of the vehicle so far, the services could buy more at a faster rate and cut the program’s timeline down even further,” he said. “Typically when you buy things faster, you get a better price.”
Army leaders have blamed a budget crunch for slowing down acquisitions of new vehicles like JLTV, and even if Congress agreed to boost Army funding as requested by the Trump administration, the top priority now is combat readiness. That means new programs can expect delays.
Service officials have said they would like to see vehicles purchased more quickly. Marine Corps Assistant Commandant Gen. Glenn Walters told the House Armed Services Committee at a hearing in February that the service is replacing its equipment too slowly.
“For eight or 10 years, we have modernization programs in place to replace our old equipment, but they’re delivering over a 30-year timeframe. And we’re buying them at a minimum level,” he said.
“I have all kinds of needs for light tactical vehicles. They’ve been around for 20 years. … We’re buying the joint light tactical vehicle at a very shallow rate,” he added. “It will take us 20 years to get there.”
The Army-led program to replace the high mobility multi-wheeled vehicle, or the Humvee, is on a trajectory to remain on budget and on schedule, said Army Col. Shane Fullmer, project manager for the joint program office under PEO combat support and combat service support.
The Army plans to acquire about 55,000 trucks by the mid-2030s that would replace both services’ active-duty and reserve Humvee fleets. Two variants are planned: the four-seat combat tactical vehicle, which will support general purpose, heavy gun carrier and close-combat weapon carrier missions; and the two-seat combat support vehicle, supporting the utility/shelter carrier mission.
The JLTV is being manufactured by Oshkosh Defense and is in the low-rate initial production (LRIP) testing phase for the current contract to deliver about 5,000 vehicles, according to Fullmer. The $6.7 billion contract calls for just under 17,000 trucks, along with test support and fielding and maintenance services, with three years of LRIP production and five years of full-rate production, he said.
The Army plans to conduct another full and open competition around fiscal year 2023 to develop the next phase of vehicles, Fullmer added. The Defense Department’s Competition in Contracting Act encourages the services to conduct competitions “whenever possible,” and department acquisition and regulatory guidance recommends limiting competitions to a certain amount of time, he noted.
And in the medium tactical vehicle space, “the government owns the technical data,” he added. That allows the service to potentially award the contract to a new bidder while maintaining the JLTV design.
“We own the data required in order to own that competition,” he said.
The trucks are being delivered to at least four different test sites: Yuma Proving Ground and the Electronics Proving Ground at Fort Huachuca, both in Arizona; Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland; and the Cold Regions Test Center at Fort Greely, Alaska.
Over 30 vehicles have been delivered since October, but “the number increases every day, more or less,” Fullmer said. About 100 production vehicles are expected to be provided to the Army and Marine Corps for testing during fiscal year 2017, at a rate of about 10 per month, according to the Army.
The trucks are undergoing reliability, transportability and network testing, which is expected to continue through the first quarter of fiscal year 2019, Fullmer said. Full-rate production should begin in November or December of 2019 ahead of fielding, and initial operating capability is expected for early to mid-2020, he added.
There is not much to distinguish between an Army version and a Marine Corps version, but there are small differences in communications and tactical needs, Fullmer said.
“The strategy is to produce a base vehicle and add kits as necessary to support individual units or needs,” he said.
The Army has also considered using the joint light tactical vehicle as an interim platform for its upcoming light reconnaissance vehicle program instead of procuring a new system. Scout formations are currently using Humvees for that mission, and “we should replace those vehicles,” Fullmer said. The Army is currently finalizing the acquisition strategy for those vehicles, but a number of the JLTV’s carrier variants being built under the current contract will replace some scout Humvees, he added.
Jennifer Christiansen, Oshkosh vice president of global strategy and marketing, said the firepower and command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance equipment required for the LRV program will easily integrate into the platform.
“Oshkosh designed the JLTV to seamlessly integrate a full range of mission packages to serve both current and future needs — recognizing that our Army and Marine Corps customers must plan for future operations with many unknowns,” she said in an email to National Defense.
The Air Force is reportedly considering acquiring joint light tactical vehicles for its security forces that protect missile launch facilities. Officials were not made available for interviews, but Christiansen said should the Air Force choose the vehicle, Oshkosh is “confident that the JLTV platform provides superior performance, off-road mobility and protection for all services, including the Air Force.”
The program has thus far avoided being plagued by significant budget increases or schedule delays.
The joint light tactical vehicle’s unit cost estimate has decreased since the contract with Oshkosh was established in 2015, according to Army documents. The service’s procurement justification book for fiscal year 2017 put the unit cost for the truck and associated training, equipment and test and evaluation costs at just over $321,000, down from about $491,000 in fiscal year 2015.
The JLTV’s overall program cost estimate decreased by over 19 percent, or about $5.9 billion, from about $30 billion to under $25 billion according to the Defense Department’s 2016 selected acquisition report. The truck’s average procurement unit cost decreased by nearly 17 percent since the original cost projection in 2012, from about $399,000 to $333,000. The decrease was due to revised estimates of vehicle unit costs and installation kits, among other program efficiencies, the report said.
Fullmer said the office was able to save on those lifecycle costs “by keeping requirements stable and focusing on affordability.” Those projected savings have led to the Army’s current estimate to finish fielding the vehicles by the mid-2030s, rather than the original target of 2040, he said.
The only major hiccup was a six-month delay in initial operating capability due to program disruption resulting from a 2015 bid protest by Lockheed Martin, according to a Congressional Research Service report.
As far as numbers, it is always possible that the Army could be forced to cut the number of trucks it purchases due to funding cuts or increased unit prices, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here, said James Hasik, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
“Of course it’s possible, but I do think it’s unlikely,” he said, adding that the JLTV is “as close to being a beloved program as possible.”
The platform is one of two important Army ground vehicle programs — the other being the armored multi-purpose vehicle program to replace the M113 armored personnel carrier and family of vehicles, he noted.
“There are only two programs really that the Army has running right now that you can point and say … they’re doing something substantial in recapitalizing their fleet on the ground,” he said.
The need for the JLTV “really comes down to how the character of the conflict changed over the last several years,” Fullmer said.
The Humvee, which first entered service in 1985, was once well suited to the U.S. military’s understanding of combat, Spoehr said.
“The combat changed … there are no frontlines; everywhere is a frontline,” he said. Improvised explosive devices “kept going off and Humvees were relatively poor protection against IEDs.
“All of the assumptions about the kinds of vehicles we needed were wrong,” he added.
Spoehr, who worked on Army modernization and equipping programs while on active duty, said the service developed fragmentary protection kits to bolt armor onto the Humvees.
“We went through nine versions of those, [and] even the final version couldn’t overcome some of the limitations of the Humvee,” he said.
The JLTV program began in 2005, and that lengthy engineering and development timeline is what enabled contractors to develop the vehicle the Army had been looking for, Hasik said.
“It really did take them six years in engineering work to figure out how to do that,” he said.
In the meantime, the services procured a variant of the mine- resistant ambush protected all-terrain vehicle called the M-ATV, also made by Oshkosh. It was procured under an emergency program, because the Army in particular needed smaller, lighter vehicles, Hasik said, noting that the M-ATV program was started after the joint light tactical vehicle program was already underway.
“That’s kind of why the M-ATV wasn’t procured in larger quantities, it was really meant to be a gap filler until JLTV was ready,” he said.
The Army opted to continue to develop the joint light tactical vehicle because the MRAP fleet in general still lacked the needed off-road mobility because of its size and weight, and was less transportable than the new vehicle would be, Fullmer said.
“The JLTV was always developed to balance those options, so you could provide very mobile, protected transportation while still giving operational commanders the ability to drive over any terrain needed,” he said.
Another hint at the program’s stability is the Army’s willingness to dispose of its surplus Humvees as excess defense articles, Hasik said. “They have been sending thousands in lots of places like Egypt and Iraq and Afghanistan, so they seem to be quite enthused about the JLTV as a Humvee replacement.”
An armored Humvee is capable of protecting against small arms fire, artillery fragments and roadside bombs, but not landmines underneath the vehicle, Hasik said. Although its protective capabilities are now insufficient for the U.S. military, it could still suit the needs of many countries, he noted.
Spoehr said he was not worried about the JLTV’s unit cost rising to a prohibitive cost for the Army.
“I think Oshkosh is very happy to get this contract given how competitive the bid process was, so I believe costs will stay reasonable,” he said.