Truck Manufacturers See Potential Business Partnering With Army Depots

By Dan Parsons
Billions in procurement funding over the past decade allowed the Army to build up a fleet of tactical trucks that was more than adequate to meet its needs.
Those trucks, which number about 278,000, are now an average age of just two to three years — the youngest fleet in modern Army history, said Col. Doyle Lassiter, commander of Red River Army Depot.
As procurement budgets continue to recede, the Army must transition from buying new vehicles to sustaining the ones it will keep after the war in Afghanistan, said Don Tison, assistant deputy chief of staff for Army G-8.
The Army has more than the 240,000 vehicles its published requirements prescribe for fiscal year 2014, he said at the National Defense Industrial Association’s annual Tactical Wheeled Vehicles Conference in Reston, Virginia.
“From a numbers standpoint, we’re fine,” he said. “These years of large procurement accounts have helped us fill out the fleet. Modernization and obsolescence are another matter.”
Now the fleets need to be progressively modernized, he added. The 8,500 mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles the Army is keeping need to be formally integrated into its brigade combat team structures and lighter tactical vehicles need to be better capable of carrying heavier armor than the Humvee, he said.
On that score, the Army is on track. The joint light tactical vehicle that will replace the Humvee is on schedule to begin low-rate initial production in 2015. Still, Humvees will be a part of the Army inventory for several years, Tison said. A sustainment plan should be in place by 2018 that includes integrating up-to-date communications equipment and modular armor packages.
“We think we’re in pretty good shape for light tactical vehicles,” Tison said. “I don’t see a real challenge with light tactical vehicles as long as we can continue with JLTV. That really is our modernization effort.”
The Army plans to keep around 11,100 MAXX-Pro, M-ATV and route-clearance vehicles of the 16,000 total it has now, Tison said.
“They are all relatively new. They’re not in bad shape,” he said. “The trick will be … to get them out of theater, do whatever upgrades we need to them and then have a sustainment conversation.”
The Army’s fleets of medium and heavy tactical vehicles also are in good condition, Tison said.
“Over the last 10 years, we were helped a lot with procurement,” he said. “A lot of the conversation we’re going to have to do is for sustainment, some recap[italization] with the depots and industry.”
“We need to be able to recapitalize,” Tison said. “We need to look at service-life extension wherever possible. … From an equipping standpoint, I would argue we’re not in too bad of shape. From a modernization standpoint, it’s going to get each year more and more challenging.”
Much of the needed recapitalization will take place in the Army’s depots and other maintenance facilities, said Gen. Dennis Via, commander of Army Materiel Command.
As the Army transitions from a procurement footing to a sustainment footing, it will increasingly rely on its “organic industrial base” for maintenance and sustainment, Via said.
Via encouraged industry officials to consider partnering with the Army in sustaining its truck fleets by using its facilities and equipment, lessening the cost burden on both the government and commercial sides.
Public private partnerships will be a “tremendous opportunity for industry,” Via said. AMC has invested billions in the infrastructure and equipment at its various facilities nationwide.
Lassitter said the depots were actively seeking business opportunities with industry to ensure that both Army maintainers and the tactical truck industrial base are supported through the impending peacetime lull in vehicle procurement.
“The purpose of the depots is to ensure that the war fighter has the capability to go to war now and be supported through sustainment and maintenance,” Lassitter said. “It works hand in glove with the commercial industry whose job is to come alongside of us. We buy you the time so you can ramp up the industrial might of this country to support any long-duration war.”
Industry officials were open to the prospect of partnering with the Army to sustain its fleet, recognizing that other than the joint light tactical vehicle, the Defense Department will have little funding to buy new vehicles in the near term.
“We have to be really realistic on what is possible now so that we can be successful in the future,” said Clint Herrick, director of global integrated product support for Oshkosh Defense. “With our common interest in preserving the tactical wheeled vehicle industry base … we need to keep our smart people engaged and working.”
Brian Butler, executive director of the Army Life Cycle Management Command’s integrated logistics support center, said both government and industry must communicate better for such partnerships to work.
“We’ve got to open ourselves up a little bit more, both on the government side and on the industry side in order to form a more collaborative-type relationship,” Butler said. “If we can’t accurately communicate our requirements to industry and you can’t communicate back to us where the shortfalls are, then we’re just never going to get there.”
Scott Greene, vice president of ground vehicles for Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, agreed, saying a lack of transparency was one of the tallest hurdles that must be cleared before partnering with government depots makes sound business sense.
“When you look at some of the challenges … to actually partnering, from the depot perspective, communication is one of the key challenges between the parties,’ he said.
James Grooms, vice president of logistics and sustainment for Navistar Defense, said that truck manufacturers that have had to shutter production facilities because of the downturn in government orders must find business elsewhere if they are to retain their ability to ramp up production in wartime.
“When we draw down capacity, as an industry partner, there has to be something that replaces that,” Grooms said. “When we think about total performance sustainment … there obviously are things that the government is going to win on, but there have to be things that industry wins on.”

Topics: Land Forces

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