Joint Light Tactical Vehicle: Contractors' Designs Are Too Heavy
MONTEREY, Calif. - None of the contractors that the Pentagon selected to design a new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle has yet delivered a prototype that meets the needs of the Army and the Marine Corps, officials said
Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems and an AM General-General Dynamics Land Systems consortium called General Tactical Vehicles produced 21 trucks for the technology development phase of the program. Tests on these initial vehicles are nearing completion, but none of them will be carried into the next phase of development, said Mark McCoy, the Army's product manager for JLTV.
Every prototype design was between a few hundred and 1,000 pounds too heavy, he told attendees Feb. 8 at the National Defense Industrial Association's Tactical Wheeled Vehicle conference.
The JLTV is intended to produce a replacement for aging Humvee trucks. One of its main objectives has been to balance the infamous "iron triangle" of payload, performance and protection. It must be light enough for Marines to transport on ships and mobile enough to equal the Humvee off-road capabilities. It also has to be “affordable,” a threshold that the Army estimated at $300,000 per truck.
"It's not your grandfather's tactical truck," said Kevin Fahey, program executive officer of combat support and combat service support. "It is a hard problem." Earlier generations of military trucks were born in the commercial industry. JLTV is the military's first true attempt to develop one from the ground up, he said.
As data rolls in from prototype testing, requirements are changing for the vehicle. Officials now say that the trucks may be able to carry two or four passengers, not six, as it was originally sought. A new fuel efficiency requirement will take petroleum haulers off the battlefield, McCoy said.
But "weight drives everything," he said. And therein lies the biggest challenge.
The truck's desired transport weight is 15,629 pounds, still light enough for it to be air lifted by a CH-47 Chinook helicopter. But other new requirements are creating a delicate balancing act, and officials are investigating what features may be traded off.
Protecting the JLTV crew from roadside bombs is a primary concern. But added protection means more weight. Attempts to take off armor pounds by replacing steel with other high-tech alternatives tend to increase the cost, officials said.
If the program survives, the goal is to purchase 50,000 JLTVs, but if the price tag exceeds the $300,000 target, quantities would be reduced, Fahey said. The Marine Corps wants to buy about 5,500. Additionally, the Navy has expressed an interest in acquiring 600. It remains to be seen whether the Navy would partner with the Marine Corps or join the program independently.
Some industry executives at the Monterey conference said that a $400,000 truck — with lighter armor and more advanced technologies — ultimately may cost the military less money over the vehicle's life. But the military currently lacks the kind of data to prove what life-cycle costs may be, Fahey said.
The Army’s requirement for more protection, though, has the Marines concerned, said JLTV product manager Lt. Col. Casey Travers. That change has the potential to drive up the weight and cost of the vehicle, neither of which the Corps could afford.
As a result of the disappointing test outcomes, the timeline for the program has changed a bit.
A final solicitation for industry bids (request for proposals) for the program now will be issued sometime between July and September. Two contractors will be chosen for the next phase of the program for engineering and manufacturing development. Those contracts would be awarded in early 2012. This next phase will last 48 months before a selection is made for a production contract.
Contractors during the engineering and manufacturing phase will be asked to deliver a total of 48 vehicles, about four times the number requested for the technology development that is now winding down.
Interested subcontractors already are lining up to take part in the program's next step, touting their abilities to cut pounds from the vehicle through the use of alloys and other composite materials.