Challenges Remain as JLTV Competition Heats Up

By Eric Beidel
More than any other program, the Army and Marine Corps’ effort to create a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle epitomizes the challenges the military faces with its trucks. Leaders have proclaimed a theme of efficiency from maintenance to acquisition across the fleet. With JLTV, the services want to create a truck that does a little bit of everything without breaking the bank.

But none of the contractors that the Pentagon selected to design prototypes of the new vehicle has delivered one that meets all of 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 vehicles are nearing completion, but none of them will be carried into the next phase, 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 said at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Tactical Wheeled Vehicle conference in February.

The weight issue and a growing focus on cost have subcontractors lining up to help remove weight from vehicle designs through the use of alloys and other composite materials. Potential prime contractors also are gearing up for the engineering and manufacturing development phase of the program, which will be open to any bidder, not just the three teams that have built the prototypes.

One of the largest manufacturers of military trucks, Oshkosh, which had been eliminated from the first phase of JLTV, is looking to jump back in.

“This is a great opportunity to get back into the competition,” said Oshkosh spokesman Pat Davidson, citing the company’s work on the mine-resistant all-terrain vehicle, or M-ATV. “There’s a reason we won that competition, and we’re going to bring the same mindset and off-roading technologies to the JLTV competition.”

Oshkosh has built a light combat tactical vehicle demonstrator to test and evaluate a new lightweight suspension and diesel-electric engine. Two of the vehicles recently completed a 1,000-mile off-road race in Mexico. At the time of the race they weighed about 16,000 pounds, slightly more than military officials are seeking for a transport weight of the JLTV.

The Army intends for JLTV to replace a portion of its Humvee fleet. One of the program’s main objectives has been to balance the infamous “iron triangle” of payload, performance and protection. The new vehicle must be light enough for Marines to transport on ships and mobile enough to equal the Humvee’s 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 roll in from prototype testing, requirements for the vehicle are being refined. Officials now say that the trucks must be able to carry two or four passengers, not six, as it was originally proposed. Program officials also want more fuel efficiency.

But “weight drives everything,” McCoy said. And therein lies the biggest challenge.

The purpose of the first phase was to help the services refine their requirements and to show what is within the art of the possible. So far, it’s not clear if both lowering the weight and providing protection will be possible. Attempts to take off armor pounds by replacing steel with other high-tech alternatives tend to increase the cost, officials said.

The truck’s desired transport weight is 15,629 pounds, light enough for it to be air lifted by a CH-47 Chinook helicopter. Officials are investigating what features may have to be traded off to keep the weight down.

If the program survives, the Army would like to purchase 50,000 JLTVs, but if the price tag exceeds the $300,000 target, quantities would be reduced, Fahey said. Some industry executives say 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 Army currently lacks the data to prove what life-cycle costs may be, Fahey said.

The Marine Corps wants to buy about 5,500 of the light trucks. Additionally, the Navy has expressed an interest in acquiring 600. It remains to be seen whether the Navy would partner with the Marine Corps.

The Army’s desire for more protection has the Marines concerned, said the latter’s JLTV product manager Lt. Col. Casey Travers. It has the potential to drive up the weight and cost of the vehicle, neither of which the Corps could afford. A requirement for added protection could result in a whole new class of vehicles, Travers said.

The trio of contractors that provided the prototypes are waiting to see exactly what the new requirements will be before finalizing designs for the next phase.

“We understand very clearly some of the new budget challenges that our customer faces,” said Kathryn Hasse, director of JLTV programs at Lockheed Martin. “There are always areas for improvement. There are opportunities for us to optimize our design to achieve better performance and to achieve things like cost reductions.”

Lockheed’s prototypes have completed more than 145,000 internal and government test miles. Lockheed will carry “a significant portion” of its prototype design into the next phase of the program, Hasse said. Lockheed plans to simplify its design, rather than make wholesale changes to it. For example, the company may reduce the number of brackets and the amount of pricey carbon fibers used in panels, she said.

“We’re not looking to change the shape, but we’re looking at changing materials so that we’re not materially impacting the way the vehicle will perform … We’re looking at ways to take cost out of the actual unit production cost.”

While Army officials have stated they want to increase protection on the JLTV to the level of an M-ATV, Hasse said in February that no such request had yet been made to industry. Still, Lockheed is reevaluating materials to see where it could reduce weight without affecting vehicle performance. The company won’t know what approach it will take to shed pounds until the first phase testing is complete.

“We understand how important it is, particularly for the Marine Corps, that the vehicles achieve the transportability weight and we are working to ensure that we meet those weights,” Hasse said. “The bottom line is we are on target to achieve the affordability objectives, as well as the weight expectations for our customer.”

BAE Systems executives see no need to make major changes to its design at this time. They believe they have a distinct advantage over newcomers to the program and are “eagerly awaiting” the release of requirements for the next phase to see how it can balance increased protection with reduced weight.

“We are already demonstrating with our vehicles that achieving increased protection does not have to involve more weight and cost,” a BAE spokesman wrote in an email to National Defense. “Traditional solutions to increase protection have relied on brute force techniques, such as adding heavy armor or high-cost solutions like the use of exotic materials. Neither approach will work for the JLTV, as JLTV must keep its weight low to get to the fight and move with agility when it gets there, and also keep its cost low so it is affordable.”

Company executives are confident they can meet the Army’s price goals. “With our focus on fuel efficiency, common parts, reliability and design for support, our vehicles also will provide long-term cost savings,” the spokesman said.

“Our vehicle prototypes have undergone tens of thousands of miles of rigorous government testing, and what we have learned from those tests about mobility, blast protection, reliability and other vehicle features has given us the insights we will need to meet the [engineering and manufacturing development] requirements.”

Representatives from General Tactical Vehicles did not respond to questions from National Defense.

Given the initial testing outcomes, the timeline for the program has changed.

A request for proposals now will be issued sometime between July and September. Two contractors will be chosen for the next phase of the program. Those contracts would be awarded in early 2012. The EMD phase will last 48 months before a contract is given for production. Contractors during the EMD phase will be asked to deliver a total of 48 vehicles, about four times the number requested for the initial testing now winding down.

The Army originally planned to have as many as 10,000 trucks produced each fiscal year between 2013 and 2021. Production is now slated to start in 2016 and last until 2041 to align with the Army’s new tactical wheeled vehicle strategy.

Fewer than 5,000 trucks annually will be built during that time, according to the latest information from the Army.        

Topics: Land Forces

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