Military Provides Little Clarity For Future of Truck Fleets (UPDATED)

By Eric Beidel

As wars end and budgets tighten, the Pentagon has begun trying to make sense of the spending spree that was the past decade.

Part of that process will require sorting through and thinning out arguably the most robust tactical wheeled vehicle fleet in history.

The Army plans to reduce its force structure by up to 13 combat brigades, which means that the service won’t need nearly as many trucks. Leaders say they are in the throes of trying to figure out the right mix of vehicles for the future, but details have been slow to emerge.

“We live in a world of confusion,” said Don Tison, assistant deputy chief of staff for Army G-8. “But there is some clarity here.”

The clearest picture may be that of the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV), which officials say will be the star of the future fleet. The program promises to deliver a truck that combines the off-road agility of the Humvee with the protection levels of the mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicle. But the Army still has to do something with about 160,000 Humvees and 26,000 MRAPs, some of which will stick around in some capacity even after the new truck becomes a reality. (See correction below.)

What happens to the MRAP, a monstrous vehicle rushed to war to defend against improvised explosive devices, is one of many unknowns. The Army, and to a lesser degree the Marine Corps, has to decide what roles the vehicle — and its many variants, including the all-terrain vehicle M-ATV — will play after Iraq and Afghanistan.

Officials have considered a number of options, including putting them in prepositioned stockpiles to be used in future conflicts and reserving some for specialty units and training. Some could be stored at the Sierra Army Depot in California. Others could be divested and sold to allies.

“Do we put it in prepositioned sets? Do we set it out in Sierra in the high desert? Do we put the M-ATVs into formations where they are most capable? It will probably be a broad combination,” Tison said. “A blended strategy.”

The speedy fielding of MRAPs has been a blessing and a curse, he said. The heavily armored trucks saved lives as intended, but they were paid for with supplemental funds. Introducing them to the force structure presents challenges because they have never been part of the baseline budget, he said.

Still, MRAPs have to help cover the gap until JLTV arrives. They can be used for route-clearance operations, mine and explosive ordnance disposal, casualty evacuation and convoy protection, officials said.

Army Chief of Transportation Brig. Gen. Stephen E. Farmen said the Army would introduce them into tactical truck units that have several spots for “convoy protection platforms” such as MRAP or JLTV, he said.

“That’s how we intend to use MRAPs initially,” he said.

There has been debate about introducing MRAPs into brigade combat teams (BCTs). Some, such as Farmen, support the idea. Others have said that the MRAP, which can weigh as much as 37 tons, is too big and unwieldy to operate in a constrained environment and would only be detrimental to the BCT.

“The answer is to maintain the MRAPs the Army has on hand and to increase production of the JLTV and move up its 2015 fielding date,” Army Maj. Rodney H. Lipscomb II, the S-6 of the 173rd airborne BCT in Italy, wrote in an article last fall for the Army Logistics University. Adding MRAPs to brigade combat teams would hinder the ability to move expeditiously and cause logistics nightmares, he wrote.

The services continue to look at enduring requirements for MRAPs and are taking stock of how many they have and how many they need going forward. Brian Detter, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for expeditionary programs and logistics management, said in late April that he has seen only notional numbers. More concrete information may come this summer, he said at an Institute for Defense and Government Advancement tactical vehicles conference near Washington, D.C.

“We see ourselves maintaining this capability,” said Marine Corps Brig. Gen. John Bullard, deputy commanding general of Marine Corps Combat Development Command, though he noted that the service would be reducing its MRAP fleet.

It will be difficult to justify scrapping certain vehicles, given that they are relatively new and some have never even been used, analysts said. The good news is that the services have built up a surplus. They can keep the best of the breed and retire the oldest vehicles with the most miles on them.

As for its intended replacement, the Army wants to buy 49,099 trucks under JLTV by 2033 to replace MRAPs and Humvees. It plans to award an initial production contract for 20,000 vehicles in fiscal year 2015.

Working with the Marine Corps, which plans to buy 5,500 of the new trucks, the Army could soon announce up to three contracts for an engineering and manufacturing development phase (EMD) of the program that calls for companies to deliver 22 prototypes. A previous technology development experiment saw three teams deliver promising demonstrators that ultimately fell short of expectations related to cost and weight.

There are at least six bidders for the EMD contracts: Lockheed Martin, General Tactical Vehicles (a joint venture of General Dynamics Land Systems and AM General), BAE Systems, Navistar and Oshkosh. AM General also submitted an independent bid. The Army and Marine Corps have said that they would leave the door open for others to enter the fray again at the production phase. The services were at odds over JLTV requirements but have settled their differences and agreed on a revamped acquisition strategy.

The new plan seems like a modified MRAP strategy, said Bill Graveline, assistant director of the Government Accountability Office’s acquisition and sourcing management team.

“It’s just send in what you have,” he said. “If you can generally meet these kinds of [specifications], these type of expectations, put together some prototypes and bring them in for testing.”

A more thorough and detailed design and development process could lead to a more appropriate final product, Graveline said. “Here, it’s going to be pretty much what they deliver.”

The Army and Marine Corps have been impressed with what they have seen from the vehicles that industry is offering, but there is still no need to hurry, he said.

“We think the services ought to be pretty patient here and see what the test results and analysis shows them coming out of the next phase,” Graveline said. “We certainly don’t think there is a need for a rush decision to take the best available even though it may not be what you want or what you’re looking for.”

MRAPs and Humvees have to remain in the inventory, because even though the Defense Department has made JLTV a top priority, there is no guarantee the program will reach production, analysts said.

The Army already has completed three studies recommending it reduce its truck fleet by more than 20,000, but officials expect further reductions. The Marine Corps will shed about 10,000 of its Humvees, maintaining a fleet of about 13,000 to go along with its planned 5,500 JLTVs, Bullard said.

Army officials have said they see no future combat role for the Humvee. The vehicle makes more sense for homeland defense, logistics support and National Guard missions, they said. The Army plans to use its Humvees for the next 20 years. The Marine Corps also wants to keep them around through 2030.

The services aren’t just trying to figure out the makeup of their fleets. They are reimagining the anatomy of the truck as missions and technology change.

Something has to give in terms of the weight that has been added to vehicles in recent years, Bullard said.

As the national defense strategy shifts toward the Asia-Pacific region, the service will be returning to amphibious operations. Those become more difficult with vehicles that have been armored to the hilt to defend against roadside bombs.

The Marine Corps will be placing tougher restrictions on vehicle weights and heights for ship-based operations, Bullard said. Future requirements will focus on getting vehicles to fit aboard ships like they used to, he said.

“In the space that we could have had four vehicles in the past now we only have three vehicles,” the general said. “We’re trying to come to grips with this . . . We’re having to grapple with what we’ve got in equipment and what we need to put on these ships.”

The Marines have turned to other ways of increasing protection without adding weight, such as blast-mitigating floor mats and seats.

Officials have promised some change in armor approaches with the JLTV program. The armor for the new truck will be more integrated into the platform itself as opposed to being “overly kitted,” Farmen said. Further, the Army has begun calling what used to be its long-term armoring strategy a “protection” strategy.

“That’s the mindset shift we’ve got to make right now,” Farmen said. The strategy hopefully will lead to a more balanced, lightweight and less medieval methodology, he said.

The Army will take a layered, “onion skin” approach to protecting its vehicles and soldiers, relying on everything from airborne surveillance to systems onboard trucks to stay out of danger. It’s more than just strapping armor on to prevent “penetration and boom,” Farmen said. It’s about using a variety of technologies to avoid reaching a point where such an event occurs, he said.

Given the fiscal environment, the trick with JLTV will be to advance the concept of a tactical wheeled vehicle within a reasonable price margin. That is easier said than done, Bullard said.

“In the past we were looking at a Humvee for about $70,000. Now the price for JLTV we’re looking to get is under $300,000,” he said. “All of our systems across the DoD line are getting a hell of a lot more expensive.”

The cost increases didn’t cause alarm when the money was flowing.

Not counting the MRAP, the Army alone spent about $6 billion each year since 2003 on trucks. Before that, the service was spending less than $1 billion per year. The extra money has been put to good use, officials said. Vehicles in the Army’s fleet have an average age of nine years, which makes them younger than the average American pickup truck, they noted.

“We have the youngest fleet age in history,” Farmen said. “We can feel good about where we’re at up to 2017, but the question is, ‘what’s beyond that?’”

Lawmakers and industry are asking the same thing.

A House Armed Services readiness subcommittee noted in a recent report the lack of “long-term joint guidance for the integration of MRAP vehicles within the military departments’ existing fleets and the sustainment of the enduring fleet.” The subcommittee requested that the Pentagon work with the services to develop department-wide guidance for the sustainment of the MRAP.

Members of industry at the IDGA conference expressed concern about dwindling opportunities in the tactical wheeled vehicle space. Representatives from companies that supply vehicle suspensions, lights and other components wondered where they would fit into a strategy that focuses on buying less and divesting more. Perhaps they could get in on some of the $271 million proposed in the fiscal year 2013 budget for Humvee recapitalization, one executive suggested.

That would be a no-go, Army officials said. That work will be taken care of in-house at the depots and will cease with the 2013 budget. Tison offered some hope, saying that future sustainment efforts would benefit from a 50-50 approach with about half the work being farmed out to industry.

Companies are positioning themselves for these opportunities. DynCorp International, Force Protection Industries, Oshkosh Defense and McLane Advanced Technologies recently announced a joint venture called Mission Readiness to bid on an Army contract for in-theater sustainment of the MRAP family of vehicles (FOV). The five-year contract could be worth more than $3 billion.

The Pentagon has been calling for leaner, more efficient operations, prompting these companies, which already handle most of the MRAP support in theater, to join forces.

“We pulled together the absolute best providers of MRAP FOV support in an innovative, standalone company that keeps costs to the customer at a minimum,” said DynCorp International Chairman and CEO Steve Gaffney.

JLTV may represent the main modernization effort for the Army, but the service could accomplish other incremental vehicle updates through the use of replacement parts, Tison suggested. He called this alternative method “modernization through spares” and cited current work to upgrade the chassis on the M-ATV. He also suggested that there may be future opportunities to modernize the Humvee.

The Army flirted with a program potentially worth billions that would have recapitalized a portion of its Humvee fleet but decided that it couldn’t afford both it and JLTV. “I don’t think that conversation is over,” Tison said. Other Army officials have made similar statements suggesting that the service will continue to stress the need for such a program.

As defense spending comes down and stabilizes over time, the industrial base will have to be “right-sized” to handle the available work, Graveline said. The MRAP model, though perhaps successful in its singular endeavor to protect troops, doesn’t provide for a steady and predictable exchange between industry and government, he said.

“Money talks,” and what ultimately happens with Humvee, MRAP and JLTV depends on funding, Graveline said.

CORRECTION: The Army has procured about 21,000 vehicles under the MRAP program, which is managed by the Marine Corps. The MRAP Joint Program Office has procured more than 27,000 MRAPs overall.

Topics: Procurement, Land Forces

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