LAND FORCES

Military Services Ponder Future of Their War-Worn Trucks

4/1/2009
By Stew Magnuson
MONTEREY, Calif. — Six years after the invasion of Iraq changed the way the military looked at tactical wheeled vehicles, the Army and Marine Corps are still trying to find the right balance between protection and performance.

How much armor belongs on how many vehicles is still being studied. And new devices are being added to the fleet as operational requirements change.

Up-to-date radios, sniper detectors, improvised explosive device jammers are but a few items added in reaction to the surge in violence. New mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles — MRAPs — were hurried into the field as well. No one is sure yet what will happen to them once they’re no longer needed in great numbers.

Furthermore, ground forces must decide which vehicles are “reset” — brought back to a depot and returned to a “like new” condition. Or which ones should be “recapitalized” — stripped down to their frames and rebuilt with the latest technology.

And the so-called Afghan surge may throw new realities for the Army’s Tank, Automotive and Armaments Command to consider.

All this makes for an increasingly confusing mix of vehicles and an uncertain future for the military’s fleet of tactical wheeled vehicles.

As the Army and Marine Corps contemplate future vehicle designs, they face a challenge that TACOM leaders refer to the “three Ps” —payload, performance and protection — also known as the “iron triangle.”

That has been out of balance for a number of years, said Army Lt. Col. Sam Homsy, humvee product manager. Protection now dominates this equation — and rightly so, he said.
“We’re skewed heavily towards protection and that’s understandable,” he said at the National Defense Industrial Association tactical wheeled vehicles conference.

As the military undertakes the slow and methodical process to replace the humvee with the joint light tactical-wheeled vehicle, there will be more than just the three “Ps” to consider, said Lt. Gen. Stephen M. Speakes, Army chief of staff. The tactical-wheeled vehicles of the future will have to serve as sensor platforms, they should be lethal and have the means to extend the network, Speakes said.

So much extra equipment and armor has been added to the humvee, for example, that it is bumping against weight limits. Its replacement, the JLTV, is being designed with far more sophisticated technology and improved armor, but it may end up being too expensive — estimates range from $400,000 to $500,000 per truck — for the Army to be able to afford in large numbers. A fully loaded humvee costs about $125,000.

 “We’re going to have to begin to weigh very carefully how much we can afford,” Speakes said. “At the same time, we are asking for more capability.”

“Every time you add a little widget to the truck, you’re adding price, you’re adding cost, and it continues to go up,” said Army Lt. Col. Al Grein, product manager for medium tactical vehicles. “We never take anything away. We always add.”

Speakes said: “We shouldn’t question the end state; we want soldiers to have the very best.”

He added that he can no longer go to senior Army leadership and ask for more truck capabilities without a cost-versus-benefit analysis in hand.

“There are those who question the utility of our reset strategy and the need to spend the amounts of money we’re spending,” he said.

Grein noted that every device added to a truck can have second- and third-order effects as far as logistics. In other words, how do you repair, maintain and replace these new technologies?

“Technology insertion never stops. We are constantly looking for ways to make the trucks better,” he said. But “it’s more than simply the part, what is the logistics tail to support that part as well?” Grein asked.

Army reset costs are running at about $17 billion to $18 billion per year — including ground vehicles and aircraft. All this comes from the supplemental budget, but those are predictable numbers. Reset should be migrated to regular budget, he said.

Janet Bean, executive director of TACOM’s life cycle management command’s integrated logistics support center, said funding reset through supplemental budgets is “probably not the most appropriate way to fund this stuff because it is an enduring mission.”

There is an effort at TACOM to make the Army recognize it as a base requirement, she said.

Recapitalizing the trucks is the preferred method because it is the only way that allows TACOM to insert new capability and change the configuration of a system for the better, she said.

“It’s also the most expensive way,” she added. “We cannot do that for every instance.”

Reset money comes with strict rules as to how it can be used, she noted. Recap is not normally part of the reset requirements.

During the last five years, 14,000 individual pieces of equipment have been reset, she said. It’s hard to make firm plans on what can be done because the amount of money and what it can be used for fluctuates, she said.

“We see a lot of bouncing back and forth between reset and recap as money becomes available,” she said. Furthermore, the command sometimes has the funds to reset a certain number of trucks, but it can’t do so because they’re not available. Units can’t spare them because of their operational tempo.

The Afghan surge is also playing havoc with the Army’s planning as it must decide what kind and what numbers of trucks will be needed, she said.

There is also uncertainty about what will happen to the new fleet of mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles that have been rushed over to Iraq in response to the improvised explosive device threat.

“If these do come back, how do we reset them and to what? That is the problem,” said Col. Scott Kidd, Army project manager of tactical vehicles.

The key word is “if.” Other program managers at the conference acknowledged that there is talk of leaving the trucks in Iraq. They can’t simply be shipped over to Afghanistan for the surge since they have been deemed to heavy to operate in the rough environment there. A lighter version is in development.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James T. Conway said his service may have purchased too many MRAPs. The Marines hope to leave Iraq entirely as it takes up a new mission in Afghanistan, he told reporters in Washington, D.C.

The MRAPs that was designed for Iraq may survive as a vehicle for explosive ordnance disposal teams, but the Marines want the lighter version the Army is developing for the Afghan mission.

“We won’t need all that we have purchased, I believe, and I would add quickly that we have tried to purchase on the lower end.”

The unneeded MRAPs are probably heading to a Marine Corps warehousing facility near Barstow, Calif., where it is hot and dry, he said.

The Marines also face uncertainty over how many trucks to armor, said Chris Yunker, a vehicles analyst at the Marine Corps fires and maneuver integration division.

The iron triangle has shifted toward protection, he said. “That has bumped up against our expeditionary ethos.”

The Marines want to remain a light, agile force, he suggested. And that doesn’t always fit with what the Army wants.

The Marines require a thorough analysis on how to approach its armoring strategy, he said. And that is still ongoing. How much armor and on which trucks is one item being discussed. And what tradeoffs for protection should be made for the force to remain agile?

“Force protection is not a mission unto itself but a consideration for mission planning. We can gain protection through several ways and not just armor,” Yunker said.

There are other unintended consequences that resulted from ground forces’ needs to quickly up-armor tactical vehicles.

Some medium trucks added so much armor to their cab that the front axle has become too heavy for the C-130 transport aircraft’s floor, Grein said.

“Any way we can to take weight out of the front of that truck, we are interested in looking at,” he told industry members.

As the ground services continue to struggle with armor and weight issues, industry has not come forward with low-cost, lighter armor, officials said. So it’s steel plates and B-kits — the add-on armor that is attached to the vehicles after it comes off the production line — for the foreseeable future, they said.

The Army has about 200,000 trucks in its fleet. But some 29,000 are in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those remain behind after a unit returns to their home base, which leaves holes in its inventories.

Lt. Col. Lewis Johnson, product manager for heavy tactical vehicles at TACOM, said there is still a great deal of uncertainty on how many large trucks will be needed. The Army is growing its numbers, there will be new demands in Afghanistan, and there is the annual supplemental budget process that creates budget fluctuations.

Some day, the JTLV will be added into this complex mix. But the humvee, despite the efforts to replace it, will be in the military’s inventory for decades to come. Craig MacNab, AM General spokesman, said if the humvee stopped production today, the truck would still be in service until the 2030s.

In May 2007, then Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Richard Cody ordered TACOM to continually improve the humvee until the JTLV came on line.

Homsy said the second generation humvee variant — the expanded capacity vehicle II — is undergoing tests at the Aberdeen and Yuma proving grounds.

Upgrades include a more robust power systems in order to handle all the new electronics such as IED-jammers being added to the dashboard area, improved suspension, tires and to handle the added armor.

In 2004, the Army released the first operational requirements document for the humvee.

Normally such documents are released before a weapon system is built, but the truck never had one. The Army wanted to formalize the requirements to serve as a roadmap for future upgrades.

But because of the war, and the ongoing needs to add armor — it has never been able to comply with the 2004 document, Homsy said.

The ECV 2 is an effort to restore the balance, meet the requirement and serve as a bridge until the JTLV goes into production, he said.

Topics: Land Forces, Army News, Marine Corps News

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