Industry to Army: The Vehicles You Own Can Perform Future Missions
Vehicle manufacturers have recognized this and are devising ways for the Army’s old vehicles to learn new tricks.
The latest company offering retooled versions of its original product is Navistar Defense, maker of mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles.
Responding to an urgent need to protect soldiers from roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army bought 27,000 MRAPs between 2007 and 2011, of which 9,000 are Navistar’s MaxxPro.
When it downsizes its vehicle fleets after the war in Afghanistan ends, the Army will keep 3,000 MaxxPros. Navistar officials see a world of potential in the hulking trucks.
“What we’re pitching to the government is, ‘You own these assets, are you getting all the capability out of them that you can?’” said Bob Walsh, Navistar vice president and general manager. “As you’re going to the next program, whatever it may be, you don’t need a new vehicle that’s going to cost you … $5 million a copy. What you need to do is spend maybe $100,000 on kitting up existing vehicles.”
The Army made a huge investment in MRAPs out of sheer necessity. Now it must figure out how to sustain a portion of the fleet. Navistar wants to not only keep them running but enhance and expand the mission capabilities of the heavy trucks.
Before the Army divests its MRAPs, sells them to allies or gives them away, Navistar wants to offer a cost-effective plan to upgrade their capabilities, said Walsh. Given a budget outlook that is uncertain at best, the Army would benefit by trying to extend the uses of vehicles it already owns, he said.
“We’re hoping that given the budget constraints that we’re all under, that we will have a sympathetic ear to hear” our proposal,” Walsh told National Defense. “Our customer is trying to find its path forward. … There’s a lot of uncertainty in regards to going forward with funding and programs.”
A mission-command-on-the-move version of the MaxxPro was on display at AUSA. That variant has already been tested at the Army’s Network Integration Evaluation at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. The exercise tests vehicles and equipment for inclusion in the Army’s new mobile battlefield communication network.
The mobile command variant brings all of the information and communications capabilities of a tactical operations center (TOC) into one vehicle. The vehicle seats a driver and passenger upfront and five personnel in the rear, each with a personal computer screen on a swivel mount that provides position and communications information. An onboard system can power an entire TOC sitting at idle, which eliminates the need for additional generators and support vehicles.
John Akalaonu, MaxxPro senior program manager for Navistar Defense, said an existing MaxxPro could be converted to a mobile command variant in less than a week.
“It’s a fairly simple kit to install, given how complex the capabilities are,” he said.
Navistar also offers the Dash, an ambulance variant, as well as explosive ordnance disposal and modular integrated command post variants.
The company is exploring producing a maintenance vehicle and a mortar-carrier version. If it can achieve all of those conversions, the reworked MRAPs could be a contender for the Army’s Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle that will replace its M113 armored personnel carriers.
Plans are to buy at least 3,000 AMPVs in five variants: general purpose; mission command; mortar carrier; medical evacuation; and medical treatment. They will replace the 3,000 M113s currently serving with combat units. A final request for proposals from industry is expected in November, with a contract award one year from then.
It is assumed in industry that the Army wants a tracked AMPV. Walsh said the MRAP can come close to the prescribed mark, but on wheels.
“It’s not a tracked vehicle, so gap crossings and some capabilities you don’t have, but is it an 80 or 90 percent solution? If it is, while we’re in this budget crunch, why don’t you take the 80 percent solution using a vehicle that is very capable and already in your inventory?” Walsh asked.
BAE Systems and General Dynamics Land Systems are the two major competitors for the AMPV so far. Both companies are offering retooled versions of their flagship armored vehicles.
General Dynamics last year unveiled a tracked version of the Stryker.
Swapping track for the vehicle’s traditional 8-wheel chassis was a developmental gamble that took five months and considerable resources, company officials said. But the effort was aimed at preempting a request for proposals from the Defense Department that is almost certain to call for a tracked vehicle.
BAE plans to take the body of a Bradley, add a V-shaped blast-resistant hull and preserve the expensive chassis, suspension, engine and transmission components of the original vehicle. The company can produce a mortar-carrier AMPV from an original Bradley in 40 days and can build eight a day at full-rate production, said Greg Mole, AMPV director.
Navistar’s Walsh said industry is trending toward anticipating the Army’s needs by coming up with cost-effective methods of providing new capabilities with existing equipment.
By using commercial technology and building in military-specific attributes like protection and weaponry, industry can quickly produce combat vehicles for far less than having to build to rigid Defense Department specifications. Companies can more effectively build a vehicle to meet performance requirements than adhering to a specific blueprint, he said.
“That’s what we would all like to see more of in the future — building to a performance spec rather than them telling us to go and build this exact vehicle that they want,” he said. “Look at the MRAP. The only thing on that vehicle that is purpose built is the troop protection. So the MRAP was already half available and commercially available. That’s how we could make it quickly and keep the risk down.”