Army Warns Truck Manufacturers of Impending Slowdown
The Pentagon is putting the brakes on purchases of new combat trucks. It will fund repairs and upgrades of existing vehicles, but manufacturers should not expect big production orders in the foreseeable future.
The military’s largest consumer of trucks, the Army, no longer has the money it once had to modernize its fleets, said Col. David Bassett, deputy program executive officer for Army combat support and combat service support. Budgets are coming down and ground forces will be shrinking, which “does not lend itself well to a lot of new truck production,” Bassett said last week during an online forum with industry representatives.
“We are in an interesting and challenging time for our Army,” Bassett said.
The truck industry enjoyed booming demand over 12 years of war. The Pentagon spent $47.4 billion to buy 27,740 mine-resistant ambush protected trucks, known as MRAP. Between 2009 and 2011, budgets included $6.3 billion for new Humvee light trucks and $4.2 billion for the family of heavy tactical vehicles. Supplemental war appropriations accounted for almost 40 percent of this funding.
By contrast, the Army’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2014 seeks $277 million for tactical wheeled vehicle modernization: $224 million for 837 family of medium tactical vehicles, $51 million for 746 protection kits and $2 million for MRAP upgrades. More money is budgeted for vehicle updates in the operations and maintenance accounts, and in war supplemental budgets.
With the wars winding down, the Army cannot justify large procurements of new vehicles, Bassett said. The war buildup left the Army and Marine Corps with a huge inventory of about 300,000 trucks.
The Government Accountability Office estimated that between 2007 and 2022, the Army and Marine Corps will have acquired 158,000 new tactical wheeled vehicles. GAO projects future buys of about 8,000. Bassett said that forecast is accurate.
“We used to be in a position where we had plenty of money and we were trying to get the very best technology that was available for our forces,” he said. “Today, we clearly have technologies and designs that are ready across our force. What we don't have is money to buy them.”
Neither can the Army afford to maintain every truck it currently owns. As a result, the MRAP fleet will be downsized. “During the war we bought a lot of systems that were costly,” said Bassett. The lesson for the Army is that it should buy vehicles based not only on their sticker price but also on their estimated life-cycle cost, he said. “Programs [will be expected to have] low technical complexity and low risk.”
At the height of the Iraq War, the military directed contractors to build the best vehicles that money could buy to protect soldiers from roadside bombs. The Pentagon also embarked on a new truck procurement program called joint light tactical vehicle, or JLTV, to replace the Humvee. The Army and Marine Corps wanted a truck that would be nearly bomb proof like the MRAP but far lighter, more mobile and capable of going off road. Initial estimates for the JLTV bordered on $500,000 per truck. Sticker shock forced the Army to pare down its wish list and revised the vehicle’s cost target to $250,000.
“That's the big shift,” Bassett said. “We are no longer technologically constrained, we are budget constrained. That's just the reality.”
Bassett advised contractors to prepare for the downturn. The Army is aware of the “risk we are taking as investment goes down,” including the possibility that some suppliers might go out of business or exit the military market. “We want you to know that we are very sensitive to the pain that is starting to happen,” he said. “We recognize that our industrial base is important.”
JLTV remains a relatively bright spot in an otherwise gloomy market. The Army and Marine Corps intend to keep the program going, Bassett said, although he warned that sequester budget cuts could cause unplanned delays and orders could be scaled back. The objective is to buy 55,000 vehicles over the next decade, 5,500 of which would go to the Marine Corps.
Three companies are competing in the engineering and development phase of JLTV, which is expected to conclude this fall. AM General, Oshkosh Defense and Lockheed Martin Corp. are expected to each deliver 22 prototype vehicles in August that will then begin a 14-month test program.
At the end of the testing phase, only one vendor will receive a low-rate production contract. Contenders other than the current three incumbents would be allowed to compete for production contracts.
The Army is considering ways to modernize the Humvee fleet as a stopgap in case JLTV is delayed. A program known as “Humvee recapitalization” was launched two years ago but was canceled because of funding cuts. Bassett said some Humvees will be modernized, although the scope of the improvements will be limited. “Our large Humvee fleets aren't going anywhere,” he said. “We are continuing to evaluate sustainment options for the Humvee.” Improvements will focus on armor protection and automotive upgrades such as new suspensions and engines. “We'll rely on MRAPs and Humvees if there's a production gap” in JLTV, said Bassett.
If the Army does decide to buy JLTV in large numbers, the vehicle will have to comply with the Army’s information network standards. Whereas in the past trucks would be bought and later would be integrated into the Army’s information networks, vehicles now have to be built with open-system “hooks” for electronic devices. The new standard is called “victory,” for vehicular integration for command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance interoperability.
“We are trying to get compliant with the victory standard,” Bassett said. “Platforms have to have the capacity to carry the network.”
Kathryn Hasse, JLTV program director at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, said the victory architecture is an “evolving specification.” The company “will continue to incorporate changes to the architecture as it evolves,” she said in a statement.
John Bryant, vice president and general manager for joint and Marine Corps programs at Oshkosh Defense, noted that the current JLTV purchase description does not specify the victory architecture, but “does require a robust network backbone.”
Bryant said that despite the projected downturn in tactical wheeled vehicle spending, there are still business opportunities in the defense sector. In addition to JLTV, there is aftermarket and sustainment work for Humvees and international sales, he said. “We’ve been through many defense spending cycles, and we know how to manage our business to stay profitable.”
Oshkosh received a five-year contract in 2009 to build up to 26,000 family of medium tactical trucks and trailers. According to Bassett, the Army is “evaluating whether additional procurement of medium trucks will be necessary” after the five-year deal expires.