Army May Slow Down Procurement of New Light Reconnaissance Vehicle

By Jon Harper
The Army is looking to procure a new scout vehicle for infantry units. But funding constraints and other priorities could hold the project back as the service pushes forward with its modernization plans.

The Army is undertaking an effort to restore “tactical mobility” to its infantry brigade combat teams, according to service officials. This includes equipping air assault forces with all-terrain “ground mobility vehicles,” or GMVs. But the unarmored trucks would create operational concerns.

Lt. Col. Scott Coulson, chief of the maneuver branch at the Army Capabilities Integration Center, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), said the GMV would not have much survivability.

If there’s a bad guy “with a machine gun and here comes 12 GMVs, that’s going to be a very bad day” for us, he said.

To prevent infantry units from unknowingly moving into the enemy’s crosshairs, the Army hopes to equip cavalry squadrons with light recon vehicles, also known as LRVs.

“LRV is intended to fill the capability gap right now inside the reconnaissance squadron,” Coulson said. “In the infantry brigade combat team, we do not have a dedicated platform that is capable of rapid mobile reconnaissance and fighting … to support expeditionary missions.”
Ted Maciuba, deputy director of mounted requirements at the Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence, said the LRV needs to be able to conduct “reconnaissance by fire.”

The vehicles need to have the lethality necessary to lay down suppression fire, and also the ability to call in artillery or close-air support against heavily armed foes, he said.

The Humvee — the service’s workhorse vehicle — can’t get the job done, officials said.

“We’re looking for something that has better mobility than the current Humvee has right now,” Maciuba said. “We’re looking for something that has a significantly improved lethality, perhaps to the point of a medium-caliber weapon, [and] we’re looking for something that has the protection necessary so that it can survive” when it encounters the enemy.

The Army wants a six-person vehicle that can be sling-loaded or, ideally, carried internally on a CH-47 Chinook troop transport helicopter. It also wants something that can store a suite of command-and-control, communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems, officials said.

The Army hosted a light recon vehicle platform performance demonstration at Fort Benning, Georgia, in August. A number of industry players’ trucks participated, including: Polaris’ DAGOR, Rheinmetall’s Weasel, Navistar’s SOTV-A, Vyper Adamas’ V4-X and Northrop Grumman’s Hellhound.

Other contractors, including General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin and Oshkosh Defense, have indicated they might be interested in pursuing the LRV, depending on the final capability requirements.

Among the demonstration participants, Coulson said the Hellhound probably came closest to meeting what the Army is looking for. The company publicly unveiled the prototype at a recent industry convention.

The vehicle can carry a 30mm cannon — the same gun that’s on the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter but with a slightly longer barrel — and a remote-controlled weapon station. The ability to fire the cannon from inside the vehicle lessens the risk to operators, said Jeff Wood, director of vehicle modernization at Northrop Grumman.

The Hellhound is also designed for off-road mobility. “I can go run the Baja in this thing,” he said.

The truck is equipped with an electrical system that can produce 100-kilowatts of exportable power, which could be used to run a hospital, expeditionary command post or fire a directed energy weapon, Wood said.

“Current vehicles are kind of maxed out” when it comes to power generation, he noted. “This is the next leap forward. So now we can think about doing lots of more interesting fun things inside … from command and control to ISR to … sensor suites.”

“We’ve approached this as an ISR platform with wheels,” he added.

The vehicle is capable of being sling-loaded on a CH-47. It also has an armor kit that can be bolted on, Wood noted.

“We want to make it removable, modular so if you were in a disaster assistance kind of mission you wouldn’t have to have that on, you could take it off,” he said. “But if you need it [for combat] you can have it on.”

The company wants to sell its LRV to the Army, as well as the Marine Corps and international customers, he said.

Oshkosh could be well positioned for a LRV competition, following its recent joint light tactical vehicle contract win, said James Hasik, a defense analyst and military vehicle expert at the Atlantic Council, a Washington, D.C. think tank.

“I think that folks at Oshkosh can figure out in short order how to develop it” if they don’t already have a suitable prototype from the JLTV competition, he said. “They know how to do this stuff.”

John Bryant, senior vice president of defense programs at Oshkosh, said his company is “closely monitoring” the requirements for LRV. “We’ll take a look at what modifications or adaptations of our existing platforms would be needed to meet their needs.”

Heidi Shyu, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, technology and logistics, said the service hasn’t settled on an acquisition strategy for the LRV.

“The piece that we are trying to understand is, ‘what is the requirement versus what’s available out there?’” she said at a recent industry convention.

“The acquisition strategy comes after the assessment in terms of what their needs are. If off the shelf is good enough, then basically … we’ll buy it off the shelf. It’s a lot simpler competition. If they want all the bells and whistles added on top of it, then it becomes more of a development program.”

The Army’s latest combat vehicle modernization roadmap calls for the LRV to be acquired in the “near term,” no later than fiscal year 2021. But the service might not be able to meet that goal, Coulson said.

“Funding reality comes into it too,” he said. “This is not a guarantee [that] we might actually get an LRV program. Right now it’s not funded.”

During a recent presentation, TRADOC’s Deputy Commanding General for Futures Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster noted that the Army would have to come to grips with a “severely reduced modernization budget.”

Until the service gets the money for a new light recon vehicle, it will need to find an interim solution, Coulson said.

“In the near term, the light reconnaissance vehicle is very likely to be something that we’re already producing, which we’re working towards … which is the JLTV,” he said. “That is primarily due to affordability issues and programmatic issues and not due to it … being capable of fully meeting all of our capability requirements.”

“We have not sorted out yet exactly what adaptations we may or may not be able to make” to the JLTV, he added. “We don’t want to do too much because we don’t want to place the program at risk. We don’t want to get people going, ‘Oh, now what are you trying to do with JLTV?’”

Plans to procure other types of vehicles could also push the LRV acquisition further to the right, Coulson said, noting that the Army is interested in developing a “mobile protected firepower” platform, or MPF. The vehicle would essentially be a light tank that could be used in urban combat.

“When you’re in close contact with the enemy in restrictive and urban terrain you better have mobile protective firepower,” McMaster said. “We need to have a vehicle that can … have the adequate protection, lethality and mobility to ensure freedom of movement and action for infantry in close contact with the enemy.”

Army officials said the MPF would likely be a “developmental program” pursued in an expedited fashion.

“We don’t want to do this for 12 years,” McMaster said. “We want to go to prototyping much faster than we have in the past.”

Coulson said the MPF would be “the next big thing.”

“That’s what enables the infantry brigade combat team,” he said. “I could come up with my mobile protected firepower platform and lay down [fire] and now they can go through” a hostile area. “That I think will be the next priority, not the LRV.”

The Army recently sent out a solicitation to industry for input about potential MPF solutions.

“We do not believe that a full [commercial off-the-shelf] solution is possible, but there will be some type of accelerated prototyping effort,” Coulson said. “We’re still working out the programmatics of that” but “we think we might be able to bring a highly modified off-the-shelf product to the Army within about five years.”

Although the LRV might end up on the back burner, the Army still intends to pursue it eventually, Coulson said.

“While we are accepting the fact that from a funding prioritization standpoint it’s probably going to be JLTV in the near term, in the medium and the far term we’re not going to abandon this effort,” he said. “We’re going to continue to look for solutions that actually give an overmatching reconnaissance capability to our force.”

Plans could change, depending on world events or a bureaucratic push by leadership, Coulson noted.

“If the commander of the 82nd Airborne comes up and says, ‘Hey, no kidding, now I need a security option to secure these guys during movement just for the [global response force],’ and he submits another statement of need like he did to get GMV started, there’s nothing to say that some of these things might not come to fruition in the near term,” he said.

But Hasik said he wouldn’t be surprised if the JLTV ends up taking on the mission on a long-term basis.

“If they move towards a recon JLTV as a light reconnaissance vehicle, I dare say it might not be an interim solution; it might actually become a permanent solution, particularly given … the budget climate,” he said. “It’s challenging to start new programs.”

“Interim” solutions for other Army requirements have remained in place longer than expected, Hasik noted. “Stryker turned out that way in the 2000s. I dare say a JLTV could turn out that way in the 2020s.”

Topics: Land Forces

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