By Dan Parsons
NORFOLK, Va. — Despite budget challenges and speculation about the Marine Corps' commitment to the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, senior leaders are fully behind the program, officials told an industry conference.
“We are all in,” said Lt. Col. Michael S. Burks, JLTV program manager. “That has been doubted in the [Pentagon]. That has been doubted on Capitol Hill. That has been doubted by the public. But we are all in.”
The Corps intends to buy 5,500 JLTVs, whereas the Army will buy around 50,000. The program is scheduled to enter its engineering and manufacturing phase in late June, but could be pushed to July. EMD will be “aggressive and robust,” Burks said during a briefing to industry hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association.
JLTV is one of the Marine Corps' top modernization efforts, officials said. The vehicle will replace aging Humvee trucks, although thousadns of Humvees still will remain in service through 2030.
The problem with Humvees is that they have been overloaded with more armor weight than the vehicles were designed to tolerate, said Burks. “We’ve crushed it with armor … to the point that it’s not reliable, it’s not safe and it’s largely road-bound. ... We owe it to Marines to do something about it. This is not rocket science, these are trucks.”
The Marine Corps plans to reduce its Humvee fleet from 24,600 to 12,900. Most of the decommissioned vehicles have been damaged or worn out from combat. The service still has 4,000 mine resistant ambush protected vehicles, or MRAPs. That fleet eventually will shrink to 2,666, said Steve Costa, program manager for the MRAP joint program office.
The strain of weight is not limited to trucks. Even the Marine Corps’ heaviest vehicle, the M1A1 Abrams main battle tank, has suffered from continual armor upgrades, said Col. Joseph Schrader, program manager for armor and fire support systems. “When you slap all this armor on a tank, you decrease its mobility,” Shrader said. Suspension upgrades to the 72-ton tank will increase its carrying capacity to 77 tons, he said.
The Corps also is procuring a lighter truck, called internally transportable vehicle, or ITV, which at less than 7,000 pounds can be flown into combat aboard an MV-22 Osprey.
“If anything embodies lightening the [Marine Air Ground Task Force], you’re looking at it,” Burks said of ITV. “The proliferation of ITV lightens the MAGTF dramatically.”
Officials at the conference also assured contractors that the Corps intends to move forward with the procurement of a new amphibious personnel carrier to replace the recently terminated Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. Keith Moore, program manager for Marine Corps advanced amphibious assault, said the new ACV (amphibious combat vehicle) is key to moving Marines from ship to shore. It will need to carry 17 Marines plus a crew of three. The 70,000-pound vehicle should have a range of at least 200 miles. Cost estimates are still too high, said Moore. The currently projected unit cost of $10 million to $12 million “isn’t going to fly,” he said.
The ACV design should congeal within the next calendar year, he said. In the meantime, the Corps plans to upgrade about 400 of its current amphibious assault vehicles so they can remain in service for at least another decade.
Also on the wish list is a new armored personnel carrier. Officials said that, most likely, the Marine Corps will buy an existing vehicle rather than design a new one. It will have to be large enough to transport nine Marines and a crew of three, with a 300-mile range at a unit cost of around $4 million. Plans are to eventually purchase 579 MPCs.