Truck Makers Gear Up for Special Operations Light Vehicle Competition

By Dan Parsons
Defense contractors are eagerly awaiting a Special Operations Command solicitation for light tactical vehicles, rolling out their designs at a recent trade show in hopes of netting domestic and international business.
The Ground Mobility Vehicle competition has heated up and a request for proposals could come as early as December. At least five companies displayed their offerings at the Association of the United States Army’s annual conference in Washington, D.C.
Dwarfed by many of their larger cousins, the smaller, lighter trucks designed specifically for “rapidly deployable forces” — special operators, in other words — were ubiquitous in the exhibit halls.
Considering that Special Operations Command wants to purchase up to 1,300 GMVs, the program is an enticing opportunity for manufacturers that see few large vehicle contracts coming from a cash-strapped Pentagon.
SOCOM put out a request for information from industry in August with a list of more than 100 attributes it wants in the new vehicle, which must be transportable inside a CH-47 helicopter. The specifications included carrying up to seven troops, height and weight requirements, speed and power.
“Two facts stood out about this solicitation,” Frank Sturek, medium assault vehicle-light capture manager and deputy director for Northrop Grumman, said at the unveiling of its candidate for the program at AUSA. “The current Ground Mobility Vehicle used by Special Operations forces does not meet … mission requirements. The other fact that stood out was that existing vehicles on the market also didn’t meet SOCOM’s requirements.”
Competitors are trying to meet those requirements in a variety of ways.
Northrop Grumman took the opportunity to unveil its offering, the Medium Assault Vehicle-Light, or MAV-L. It teamed up with vehicle manufacturer BAE Systems and off-road racing engineers at Pratt and Miller on the initiative. Tom Vice, corporate vice president and president of Northrop Grumman Technical Services, said the design drew from both the defense and commercial automotive industries.
"Our clean-sheet approach and purpose-built solution applies innovation from across our industry team. We deliver an affordable solution that meets the war fighter's mission requirements and is a great new capability," Vice said. The 7,400-pound MAV-L would be built at BAE’s Sealy, Texas, facility. The vehicle can transport up to seven troops, but can hold as many as 15 with eight clipped into a rail system on its exterior, Sturek said. It is also modular to satisfy requirements for a variety of missions from long-range reconnaissance to airfield seizure.
“They told us they need a vehicle where a couple of guys can get in with a lot of stuff … and the same vehicle [must carry] a lot of dudes without a lot of stuff,” Sturek said.
Humvee manufacturer AM General reworked and upgraded the GMV they currently build for Special Operations Forces. The GMV 1.1 has 70 percent commonality with its predecessor, which will reduce the logistical burden of introducing a new vehicle, said Christopher Vanslager, vice president of business development and GMV program manager at AM General. It also shares 40 percent of its components with the company’s Joint Light Tactical Vehicle offering — the other major wheeled vehicle competition in the works.
“We have years of experience in building light tactical vehicles not only for U.S. but for international customers,” Vanslager said. “Because of that commonality, we have 300,000 miles of testing on the vehicle’s components.”
The AM General candidate looks like a Humvee, but is actually 20 inches narrower to increase mobility and transportability by air. It has a 300-mile range, an updated data and communications system and can operate autonomously, Vanslager said. It also is adaptable to missions that require from two to seven troops.
Other companies are offering much lighter, faster vehicles. HDT Global leaned heavily on off-road racing technology in building its Storm — an ultralight truck more reminiscent of a dune buggy than a Humvee. At 8,500 pounds, it is primarily designed for swift rescue operations, such as evacuating a downed pilot from behind enemy lines, said Robin Stefanovich, an HDT spokeswoman. The storm has a 340-horsepower engine that burns JP-8 jet fuel and can carry six passengers and three litters.
“We wanted this vehicle to be serviceable and affordable so we leverage racing technology as much as possible,” said Douglas Hahn, president of Virginia Beach-based Enginetech, HDT's partner. “You can do an engine change on this thing in two hours if you needed to.”
Oshkosh Defense threw its hat in the ring with the 7-ton Special Purpose All-Terrain Vehicle, or S-ATV that it unveiled earlier this month at the Modern Day Marine trade show at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. The small, Humvee-sized vehicle is designed for unconventional warfare missions such as long-range reconnaissance and surveillance and special operations. With a top speed above 70 miles per hour, the S-ATV “will leave a dune buggy in the dust” and fits inside either a CH-47 or CH-53 helicopter. At less than half the weight of the company’s next smallest vehicle — its Joint Light Tactical Vehicle offering, the S-ATV can carry up to seven passengers.
MRAP-manufacturer Navistar Defense announced in February that it would team with Indigen Armor and SAIC to compete for GMV 1.1. Its Special Operations Tactical Vehicle offers scalable armor packages and shares 60 percent of its parts with Indigen Armor’s non-standard tactical truck. The special operations vehicle looks more like an up-armored pickup truck than a Humvee. It can go up to 85 miles per hour off road and fits in the cargo bay of a Chinook, as all of the various competitors’ vehicles do. At 6,700 pounds, its also on the lighter end of GMV contenders.
“The Special Operations Tactical Vehicle and the NSTT share similar vehicle capabilities to meet the rigors and unique requirements of special operators,” said Archie Massicotte, president of Navistar Defense, in a prepared statement. “We worked closely with Indigen Armor on the design of our Special Operations Tactical Vehicle and it is a solid vehicle entry for the Special Operations Command GMV 1.1 competition.”
General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems is also vying for GMV.
Its Flyer, a 4,000-pound vehicle — is the result of a partnership between the company and Flyer Defense. The Flyer is designed to be reconfigurable for a variety of missions, including light strike, rescue and casualty evacuation and reconnaissance. At AUSA, the Flyer, which looks like the marriage of a Humvee and a Jeep, was on display sporting the company’s leader-follower technology. Up to 10 of the vehicles can be physically linked with a Kevlar string and driven by a single soldier in the lead vehicle.
General Dynamics Land Systems builds the SPECTRE wide-track vehicle, which also meets many of the GMV 1.1 requirements and is "capable of rapid strategic deployment and tactical mobility," according to company information.
All of the companies vying for the upcoming contract are confident they have met the needs of special operators for a light, mobile vehicle that can serve multiple missions. They all also recognize that there are opportunities overseas.
“A lot of the focus now is international, as we get through this austere environment” in the United States, said AM General's Vanslager. “Light tactical vehicles will always have a place within U.S. and international markets, but there may be a need for modernization within those markets.”

Topics: Land Forces

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