Marine Corps Heavy-Duty Rig Poised for Makeover

By Sandra I. Erwin

The Marine Corps is working to develop a new tactical resupply vehicle, which would replace the Corps' heavy-duty LVS, or logistics vehicle system. Officials currently are working with a team of industry vendors on a "dream" LVS replacement prototype that would be used as a model for a new program.

The timing of this program is critical, officials said, because the new line-haul platform would be competing for funding with one of the Corps' top acquisition programs, the advanced amphibious assault vehicle (AAAV).

The AAAV "will take most of the Marine Corps' procurement dollars when it goes into production in 2006," said Col. William D. Johnson, director of combat support and logistics systems, Marine Corps Systems Command.
Johnson addressed a conference on tactical vehicles in Monterey, Calif., sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association.

A new LVS replacement, Johnson said, needs to be in production by 2005 or 2006, "before the AAAV takes all the procurement money." That means "I can't fool around with a seven-year-long developmental effort to get there."

The Corps would be looking to buy between 2,000 to 3,000 vehicles. There currently are 2,000 LVS, which have been in the Marine truck fleet since 1985.

This month, the Corps was expected to release a "request for information," seeking ideas from potential suppliers on how to go about building a new LVS.

Marines rely on the 16.5-ton LVS to transport everything from fuel to water and ammunition. They want to be able to carry payloads of up to 70 tons.

"These vehicles are needed for sustained operations ashore," said Johnson.

"We need a support vehicle to keep up with the maneuver force. Everything has to be off road."

The current LVS, he said, is too costly to maintain and too cumbersome to transport because it requires add-on hardware such as cranes and forklifts.

Currently, the Marine Corps Combat Development Command is testing a so-called LVSR technology demonstrator. It is a basic LVS chassis equipped with all the bells and whistles that the Corps believes it needs to keep up with 21st century technology. The demonstrator was built at the Nevada Automotive Test Center (NATC) in Carson City, Nev. There, it is being evaluated by representatives from a broad range of automotive industries.

Marine officials, meanwhile, are conducting an analysis of alternatives to determine viable options for acquiring an LVS replacement, or LVSR, said Capt. William D. Shannon, heavy vehicle fleet team leader and project officer.

"This study was funded by us to recommend a material alternative we should pursue in the acquisition program," said Shannon in an interview. "The analysis looks at everything from performance to life-cycle cost."

The following options are being considered:

  • Procure a commercial or military system already in production.
  • Test and replace only those components that fail to satisfy performance and design specifications.
  • Rebuild the existing LVS.
  • Remanufacture the existing LVS by replacing selected parts and inserting advanced components.
  • Re-procure the current LVS as a new vehicle, incorporating the technology from the LVSR demonstrator.
  • Initiate a new truck development effort based on the LVSR demonstrator concepts.

Program Investment
The Marine Corps is investing about $4 million in the LVSR technology demonstration. But, according to Shannon, many of the vendors participating in the project have contributed hardware and labor at no cost to the government.

The demonstration, he said, was designed to spur interest in the program from industry. Marine Corps testers, Shannon added, "will be looking at the technology demonstrator vehicles this summer in an early operational assessment ... That will be the first time we get an independent evaluation from Marines in the field."

The LVSR program could result in "significant business opportunities for industry," said Shannon. "We are looking for state-of-the-art technology."
The NATC's president, Henry Hodges Jr., believes the Marine Corps' approach to developing LVSR is the right way to go.

"By integrating requirements from users, with support from industry, we were able to create a demonstrator and prove a need," Hodges said. The demonstrator is an ideal form of transitioning a vehicle from concept to development because it has "sufficient forgiveness so that when an operator makes a mistake, he will be able to live long enough to learn from it," he said.

At the NATC, engineers created mission scenarios for Marines to simulate operation in different types of terrain-Southwest Asia, the Korean peninsula and Central America, for example.

When Marines need a reality check on new hardware, said Shannon, "we have been successful in bringing users who don't have any 'political love' for anything ... They know exactly what they like and if they think you're screwed up, they'll tell you."

In the LVSR program, he said, half-jokingly, "everything has to pass the 'boot test.' You have to put a boot on it, press, [then] wash it out in salt water."

In early February, Hodges hosted an open-house at his test facility. There, the LVSR was tested on bumpy courses and rough terrain. According to one industry expert who attended the demonstration, the LVSR suspension proved to be superior to the existing LVS. "The vendors were allowed to ride the vehicles off road," said the source, who requested anonymity. "The LVSR could go 25 miles an hour with the cab hardly moving," he said. "The old LVS barely could reach 15 miles an hour without jumping all over the place and the driver fearing that he would be thrown out of the vehicle."

This industry expert predicted that, if LVSR becomes a full-fledged production program, the winning contractor will be the one "with best bottom-line numbers for unit costs plus life-cycle costs," he said. "Oshkosh [Truck Corporation] makes the LVS so they have the inside track. But Freightliner [Corporation] is going to give them a run for their money."

Colin Ashmore, NATC director of engineering, said the current LVSR prototype has the "best components that industry had to offer ... But is not necessarily what the Marine Corps will buy. Once they define the requirement, we will ask the contractors to figure out what the best levels of technology are to meet that requirement."

The LVS, said Shannon, will begin to reach the end of its service life in 2005. "As the system reaches end of service life, corrosion is a factor, maintainability gets harder. More money is needed to keep it running."

In traditional acquisition programs, he said, generally one-third of the cost goes to development and production and two-thirds to life-cycle costs. "In this program, we are trying to shift the balance and maybe spend more up-front in order to reduce that [maintenance] tail."

The Army's LVS-equivalent vehicle is the Heavy Equipment Transporter System, made by Oshkosh. The Marine Corps, however, cannot use the Army system because it doesn't meet the Corps' requirements, said Shannon.

"We are amphibious," he said. That means tactical trucks have to be externally transportable by helicopter so they can be vertically inserted into the battle zone. "We have to go through standing water up to 60 inches deep. The Army requirement is 48 inches."

To save fuel, in the future the Corps may consider using a hybrid diesel-electric drive for the LVSR. But that is not a preferred option today because there is concern that "electric motors have a tough time with corrosion," said Ashmore.

One of the cost-saving technologies being tested in LVSR is a so-called "integrated hydraulic system with a single lubricant." That means only one synthetic lubricant is used for the fuel oil, the diesel oil and the transmission.

"With the synthetic lube, you never have to change the oil in a truck," he said.

"You change filters every 50,000 miles." The LVSR uses Exxon Mobil synthetic lubricant.

NATC engineers are collecting data on the use of a single reservoir and single lubricant through the LVSR program. The center also is working with the axle vendors to install a synthetic lubricant with magnetic pickups in the differential to provide a seal-for-life solution for the axles. The engine in the truck is equipped with electronic sensors for oil level. As the engine oil level drops, the system automatically refills the engine to the proper oil level.

Off-Road Driving Smoother for Marines

The Marine Corps has begun replacing its fleet of aging medium-duty trucks with new vehicles equipped with cutting-edge technology. These modern 8-ton vehicles are touted by the Corps for their ability to carry heavy loads, at high speeds, in rugged terrain conditions.

The new platform, called the medium tactical vehicle replacement, or MTVR, is built by Oshkosh Truck Corporation, based in Wisconsin. The company received a five-year contract for the production of 5,666 MTVRs, up to a total of 8,168, including options. The funding for the program through fiscal 2005 is $1.2 billion. Each truck is priced at about $135,000.

This year, Oshkosh will build 240 trucks. Currently, there are 12 vehicles being tested at military ranges throughout the United States. In December, the Corps is expected to give the contractor the green light for MTVR to enter full-rate production.

Marine Corps officials are anxious to get MTVR to the field because, they assert, this vehicle offers the ruggedness they lack in the current fleet of old 5-ton trucks.

The older trucks were designed to ride on highways 70 percent of the time, noted W. John Stoddart, vice president for military vehicles at Oshkosh. With MTVR, however, the opposite is the case. "This truck is geared to never see the road," he said in an interview. Marines do not want their vehicles to be restricted by the availability of paved roads, he added. They wanted a truck that would perform in rough terrain such as hills, deserts and muddy, bumpy fields. "The strongest commercial vehicle today wouldn't stand more than 30 percent of the time off the road," Stoddart said.

The Corps' requirement was to be able to carry a 7.5-ton load and run in rough terrain, pulling an M198 howitzer, which weighs about 4 tons, said Stoddart. On a highway, the MTVR can carry 15 tons.

"The truck [suspension] was designed to absorb shock before the shock gets to the driver," he explained. "That increases the ruggedness of the vehicle and decreases the amount of energy pushed on the driver ... We channel the energy out so it doesn't get to the driver. That makes for a more comfortable ride."

The MTVR has a fold-down cab, which makes it relatively easy to load on a C-130 transport aircraft, Stoddart said.

Oshkosh worked with the Navy, Marine Corps and Army to develop a corrosion-proof coating that offers 20 years of anti-rust protection. "We used a zinc-rich primer that goes on to the metal. The paint gives you another form of protection," he explained.

"Corrosion prevention is something you have to do on the assembly line," said Henry Hodges Jr., president of the Nevada Automotive Test Center, in Carson City, Nevada. "Once a truck goes to the field, there is nothing that anyone will do to prevent the vehicles from rusting away," he said. Salt water, particularly, makes vehicles "fall apart." The center has a "salt chamber" than can simulate up to 20 years of corrosion.

MTVR began as a technology demonstration in 1993. Stoddart said the technology advances from the past seven years have been incorporated into the truck. A potential modification planned for the future is the use of hybrid diesel-electric propulsion. Another option would include the addition of modular armor to the truck cab.

Topics: Transportation, Logistics, Tactical Wheeled Vehicles

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