Marine Humvee Upgrade Seen as Inevitable

By Valerie Insinna

The Marine Corps is deciding how to rejuvenate its war-weary Humvee fleet. Compromised performance — caused by a decade of combat zone wear and tear and being overloaded by armor — is prompting this action.

The service plans on issuing a request for proposals later this year for its Humvee sustainment modification initiative, which will upgrade 6,700 expanded capacity variants (ECVs).

The Marine Corps is focusing on safety, reliability and mobility, said David Branham, spokesman for the service’s Program Executive Office Land Systems.

“We can’t do everything. But some of these things we can do are mission essential, like restoring that reliability piece,” Branham said. “We also have to at least retain — if not outright ­— improve mobility.”

Armoring the vehicle has led to “increased maintenance demands, increased braking distances, increased acceleration times, reduced side slope and grade performance and degraded on/off road performance,” according to the advanced technology investment plan (ATIP) PEO Land Systems issued in 2012. Upgrades would extend the fleet’s life to at least 2030, it continued.

The Marine Corps intends to eventually field the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, currently in its engineering and manufacturing development phase. However, because the service does not have enough funding to completely replace its Humvee fleet with JLTVs, sustainment of the Humvee will continue to be an enduring requirement.

The improvement initiative is still in its early stages. The Marine Corps and Army are currently conducting studies at the Nevada Automotive Test Center in Silver Springs to determine what technology is already available in the market, which will help the services to price options, Branham said. “Our budget in FY [fiscal year] 14 is $8.1 million, so we’re not talking a lot of money here. We won’t do anything that’s not affordable.”

The ATIP said key areas of improvement include the suspension, engine and transmission.

 “The suspension systems are breaking. The ride height is significantly reduced, the ride quality is reduced [and] the reliability of the vehicle is reduced,” said John Bryant, vice president and general manager of joint programs for Oshkosh Defense. “In essence, the Humvee is just too heavy for its own drive-train and suspension.”

The ATIP said upgrades to the vehicle’s suspension would reduce the amount of force transferred to the chassis, thereby lowering operation and maintenance costs. Additionally, upgrades to the engine and transmission would help to make the vehicles more fuel efficient, and enhancements to the cooling system will better prevent overheating, stated the plan.

The Marine Corps is also looking at incorporating a central tire inflation system to “allow for reduced tire pressures during off-road use to improve mobility and ride quality.” The document also notes the service is seeking to increase the underbody survivability of the vehicle.

The Marine Corps is scheduled to conduct final testing of the upgraded vehicles in fiscal year 2014, resulting in production and installation in fiscal years 2015 through 2018, according to the ATIP. 

The service plans on reducing its fleet of light tactical vehicles from 24,600 to 18,500 by 2017. The planned end state will include 9,500 ECVs and 3,500 A2 series Humvees as well as 5,500 JLTVs. Humvees will be retained in the light tactical vehicle fleet until the newer vehicles are fielded.

About 4,000 of the older A2 series vehicles will be disposed of through means such as foreign military sales and transfers to other departments, Branham said. Those Humvees currently make up about half of the fleet.

So far, figuring out how to best upgrade Army and Marine Corps Humvees has been a long and winding road.

The Army in 2011 issued a request for proposals for its recapitalization program, the modernized expanded capacity vehicle (MECV), which would have refurbished about 6,000 Humvees.

Army Training and Doctrine Command documents said the initiative would have provided “protective armor below the cab, enhancements of the vehicle’s ability to respond to demands for speed and braking, improvement of the vehicle operator’s ability to control the vehicle, and the incorporation of safety enhancements to reduce the intrusion of thermal fires from fuel as well as directed enemy fire in the form of projectiles from entering the crew compartment.”

The Marine Corps closely watched the Army’s effort but decided that the program was too expensive. The Army canceled the MECV in early 2012.

Then, the Army restarted a new, more limited version of its recap program, now called the modernized expanded capacity vehicle-survivability, with a request for proposals issued in October. By then, the Marine Corps had already announced its own improvement initiative.

It’s too early to say how close the Marine Corps’ effort will be to the Army’s program, but the USMC likely wants to protect its own amphibious-specific needs, said Dean Lockwood, senior weapons system analyst for Forecast International.

“Most of the funding [for the Marine Corps Humvee upgrades] is actually going to come from the Army, and the Marines are going to have to pony up a certain amount of it,” he said. “So I think what they’re doing is they’ve created their own kind of subprogram to protect their own interests in the Humvee program.”

Upgrading the Humvee fleet is critical, in part because the JLTV program has been criticized by Congress for being too expensive and could be on the chopping block in coming years, Lockwood added.

“When you get down to [the] budget, nobody knows how many — if any — JLTV platforms we’re actually ever going to see,” he said. “And even with the JLTV, you’re still going to have a significant number of Humvees in service.”

That’s a matter of practicality, not just politics, he added. “There are a lot of Humvees out there, and you just can’t replace them all. And there are a lot of situations where a lighter vehicle like a Humvee is a more appropriate choice” than the JLTV, which will have almost the same level of protection as the mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicle.

A 2012 Government Accountability Office report on tactical wheeled vehicles (TWV) said the Defense Department purchased more than 158,000 TWVs in fiscal years 2007 through 2011, but plans to buy significantly less through fiscal year 2017.  The department sees the JLTV program as integral to preserving the defense industrial base, it continued, but full production of the vehicle isn’t expected until 2018 at the earliest.

“We’re looking at a situation where we know regardless of what happens to the JLTV that the Humvee is going to be serviced for a lot of years. That’s a lot of money to be made,” Lockwood said. “That’s a lot of very secure money.”

While the Marine Corps has yet to decide the requirements or reveal the value of the sustainment initiative, defense contractors have already developed their own upgrades to the Humvee.

Jeff Adams, an AM General spokesman, would not specifically confirm whether the company planned to bid for the sustainment initiative, but said it will continue to improve the vehicle that it builds and support future Marine Corps efforts.

“AM General has spent the last 30 years committed to continuously improving the [High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle] and we have not stopped planning to invest in our core product line,” he said. “We have spent a tremendous amount of independent research-and-development dollars over the past decade improving light vehicle technologies for protection, performance, payload, transportability and reliability.”

The Marine Corps has already incorporated AM General upgrades for the chassis and cooling system into the Humvee fleet, he added. “These improvements have re-gained some capability in the vehicle while improving durability and reliability.”

AM General has also made improvements to the vehicle’s armor and suspension and has initiated changes that make it easier to replace the engine within a few minutes, Lockwood said.

The Marine Corps might also look at how contractors have improved the vehicle’s electronic connectivity to make it more adaptable for different communications and electronic devices, he added.

Oshkosh also has upgrades available that can be customized to a certain capability or price point, Bryant said. Chief among those is a resized version of its TAK-4 suspension system, which is used in the MRAP All-Terrain Vehicles it builds.

“TAK-4 for the Humvee provides 14 inches of independent wheel travel that allows the vehicle to overcome obstacles,” he said.  “It also restores the ground clearance that has been lost in the vehicle. At the same time it restores 2,500 pounds of lost payload capacity to the vehicle.”

However, simply upgrading the suspension would still leave the vehicle underpowered, Bryant added. “The suspension itself would offer a significant improvement in capability, but to truly restore the off-road performance, mobility, payload [and] reliability for the Humvee, you would need to have both a drive-train and the suspension that’s matched to the higher weights of the Humvee now.”

Oshkosh has a number of drive-train upgrade options available, including more high-powered, fuel-efficient engines and transmissions that would help improve acceleration, he said.

BAE Systems has no plans to bid on the contract, said Shannon Booker, the company’s communications manager. “However, if the RFP [request for proposals] appears to align with our current capabilities and product offerings, we will re-evaluate our decision.”

General Dynamics also is not planning on competing, said Rob Doolittle, the company’s vice president for communications.  

Photo Credit: Defense Dept.

Topics: Combat Vehicles, Land Forces

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