For Army Suppliers, Humvee Market Is a Bright Spot on Otherwise Gloomy Horizon (UPDATED)

By Sandra I. Erwin

It’s a sign of the times that the defense industry’s top players are jockeying for advantage in an upcoming competition to modernize old Humvee trucks.
An estimated billion-dollar project known as Modernized Expanded Capacity Vehicle, or MECV, is seen by many companies as “the program” that they must win in order to weather the coming downturn in military spending. It is also viewed as a test of whether the industry can figure out how to improve the Humvee’s off-road performance and make it more survivable to bomb blasts without overloading it with armor.
The MECV program is rather small by Pentagon standards — 5,750 trucks to be refurbished at a cost of no more than $180,000 each — but companies believe that it could lead to billions more dollars of additional work down the road. The Marine Corps has indicated it will launch a separate Humvee modernization effort, possibly in 2014, and will be closely watching what the Army does. Both services plan to keep Humvees in their truck inventories for at least another two decades.
The Army’s program executive office for combat support is expected tol formally solicit industry bids Nov. 10 for MECV -- which is also known as Humvee recapitalization. Up to three fixed-price contracts not to exceed $4.5 million each could be awarded by May 2012. Manufacturers would be expected to produce up to 75 trucks per month.
“By opening the Humvee recap program to competition, we hope to capitalize on the engineering and design expertise of industry to provide a level of protection that makes it a viable choice for combat operations,” said Army spokeswoman Ashley John-Givens. “The Army intends to focus on improvements to crew survivability and transportability, restoring payload capacity and automotive/mobility performance.”
Competing visions on how to modernize the Humvee fleet were on display this week at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual convention in Washington, D.C.
No company has more at stake in MECV than the Humvee’s manufacturer, AM General of South Bend, Ind. The firm has teamed with other suppliers and plans to offer to the Army two different proposals for Humvee modernization.
AM General has delivered 160,000 Humvees to the U.S. military, and production of new trucks for the Army ended in December 2010, so the recap program is the company’s big chance at keeping its manufacturing line busy for decades to come. Army officials have indicated that the MECV program, although modest now, could eventually be expanded to 60,000 Humvees.
“The Humvee platform still has a lot of growth left in it,” said Charles M. Hall, president and CEO of AM General. He predicts MECV will grow beyond the current 5,750 vehicles, simply because funding cutbacks may not allow the Army to buy a new vehicle.
“Money is tight,” Hall said in an interview on the AUSA exhibit floor. “What we continue to focus on is evolving and providing solutions to our platform so they [the Army and Marine Corps] don’t have to buy new vehicles or fund new development programs,” Hall said. “Getting more value out of our platform makes a lot of sense.”
One of AM General’s proposed MECV designs is a Humvee retrofitted with a ceramic armor crew cab made by Plasan North America. The cab’s modularized design allows it to dissipate the energy of a bomb blast, according to AM General spokeswoman Celeste Ross. The other concept -- developed in partnership with Hardwire Armor Systems -- is a dramatic departure from conventional vehicle protection techniques. It is a Humvee with a modified cab that features a “blast chimney.” If the vehicle were struck by a bomb, the force of the explosion would be sent up through the vehicle’s roof, instead of being absorbed by the vehicle and by the occupants, said Hardwire spokesman John Hammond.
Hall said the MECV program in fact does not fully take advantage of the growth potential of the Humvee. If the Army wanted to, he said, it could upgrade the Humvee to provide the same protection that currently is offered only by the much heavier mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles, known as MRAPs.
“The Humvee has more potential in protection, mobility and fuel economy than what is required in MECV,” said Christopher P. Vanslager, executive director of program management at AM General.
The company’s dominance of the military light-truck market, however, is being challenged on several fronts. In 2007, the Army and Marine Corps launched the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle program. The JLTV would replace at least one-third of the Humvee fleet. Although the program is in danger of being terminated because of budget cuts, Army and Marine Corps leaders continue to stand behind it. AM General teamed with General Dynamics Land Systems for the JLTV competition. Several defense industry power players, including BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin Corp. and Oshkosh Defense are expected to enter the fray.
In the MECV program, AM General also faces a tough field of competitors. Oshkosh, a manufacturer of medium and heavy military trucks, as well as the all-terrain MRAP, or M-ATV, is making an aggressive foray into the light truck market. At AUSA, the company unveiled a “light combat tactical all-terrain vehicle” that it plans to offer as an MECV or a JLTV candidate. The new vehicle is at least 10,000 pounds lighter than the 25,000-pound M-ATV, and far more suitable for off-road use, said Meghan Zeimet, senior program manager at Oshkosh Defense.
“We believe this is a better solution” than a modified Humvee, she said. “Recapitalization only gets you half-way there.” The Oshkosh vehicle, however, would exceed the $180,000 cost target set for the MECV. Zeimet said this vehicle would meet the Army’s desired cost goals for a new vehicle, of about $230,000 to $270,000.
Navistar Defense, also a truck manufacturer, introduced the International Saratoga light tactical vehicle as a candidate for both the MECV and JLTV programs. “Defense budgets are shifting and the circumstances demand that industry anticipate what our war fighters need rather than wait for a written requirement,” said Archie Massicotte, president of Navistar Defense. “We believe the Saratoga is a turning point for tactical wheeled vehicles just as the Battle of Saratoga is considered the turning point of the American Revolutionary War,” said Massicotte.
Other companies are proposing modified Humvees for the MECV competition. Armor manufacturer Ceradyne and Gravikor designed an “open frame” concept that replaces the Humvees’ armored crew cab with a reconfigurable structure that gives the vehicle crews options to swap out armor doors for canvas door, and vice versa, depending on the level of protection desired.
Another contender is Textron Marine & Land Systems, teamed with Granite Tactical Vehicles, which designed a blast-resistant crew compartment, known as a “capsule.” The concept retains about 80 percent of the existing Humvee and replaces the body and suspension, said Chris Berman, president of Granite Tactical Vehicles. He said the capsule make the vehicle quieter, more comfortable and, more importantly, allows soldiers to drive off-road, something they cannot do with the current up-armored Humvees.
Soldiers have been saying for years they want their Humvees back -- the ones that can go anywhere and climb walls, Berman said. Saddled with tons of extra armor, current Humvees have overtaxed suspensions and cannot be driven off road, he said. Similar complaints are heard about the MRAP -- it can survive IED blasts, but it’s too heavy, can be prone to rollovers and can’t go off road.
AM General officials recognize they face a cutthroat competitive environment, but they remain bullish about the future of the Humvee. International sales, Hall said, are picking up. The company recently introduced a right-hand variant for countries where they drive on the left side of the road. This opens up opportunities in 73 nations.
CORRECTION: AM General has delivered 200,000 Humvees to the U.S. military, including 160,000 to the Army.

Topics: Land Forces

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