Joint Light Tactical Vehicle Pushes Truck Technology Forward

By Yasmin Tadjdeh
The Joint Light Tactical Vehicle is one of the most hotly competed contracts currently up for grabs in the U.S. defense market.

The Army and Marine Corps plan to collectively purchase about 55,000 trucks over the span of more than two decades. The three competitors — Lockheed Martin, AM General and Oshkosh Defense — are awaiting a single vendor downselect that is slated for an announcement as early as July.

As the competition edges nearer to a close, all competitors told National Defense that their JLTV offering will push technological boundaries and give soldiers and Marines of the future increased protection and mobility.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno echoed those comments in May and said the JLTV represents a critical need for the service that will be a central piece of its vehicle inventory for years to come.

“When we look at vehicles, we look at a family of vehicles and what do we need, and this is one we absolutely need,” he said during a breakfast meeting with reporters. “I feel really good about what we’ve done with the JLTV. I think the way we developed the requirements and the way it’s moving forward … is a really important step for us.”

The vehicle — which will replace aging Humvees — will provide soldiers with increased protection and mobility, Odierno said. Further, it will have enough interior space for the myriad of electronic devices the service will need as it faces new threats.

Despite budgetary pressures and the looming threat of a second round of sequestration, the Army is on track to fund 49,000 vehicles, he said. “We have not walked away from that.”

A spokesman for the U.S. Army’s program executive office for combat support and combat service support said a single vendor selection will be made sometime between July and September. Competitors submitted their final request for proposals in February, after some delays.

The Marine Corps and Army will finish fielding the vehicles between fiscal years 2022 and 2040.

AM General — the manufacturer of the ubiquitous Humvee — will offer its blast resistant vehicle–off road for the competition. One of its most useful features is its integrated command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance suite, said Christopher Vanslager, vice president of business development and program management at the company.

Instead of having vehicle operators look at multiple screens — as is often the case now — the BRV-O offers them one consolidated monitor, he said.

“[There are] horror stories inside commander’s stations inside vehicles … [where] they are surrounded by three, four, five, six different displays,” he said.

By simplifying the displays, it not only reduces the workload of an operator but also frees up space for additional mission equipment, he noted.

The system will be able to support the Army’s Warfighter Information Network-Tactical when it is operational, he added.

The BRV-O will also be survivable, Vanslager said. In addition to its v-shaped hull for blast protection, the vehicle has a modular armor system that would allow soldiers or Marines to swap out protection as needed, he noted.

“It does not take much to be able to go ahead and unbolt the armor package, the crew compartment, and then add in different protection levels and bolt it back together,” he said.

It can also be repaired in the field by operators using common tools, he said.

Oshkosh Defense’s L-ATV offering will include an updated transmission system that will give it increased mobility, said John Bryant, senior vice president of defense programs for the company.

The system, called TAK-4i, is an intelligent independent suspension system, he said. It “is a generational leap ahead from the TAK-4 suspension on our M-ATV and on many of our other tactical wheeled vehicles,” he said. “It allows [for] tremendous off-road speeds with a very smooth ride for the crew.”

With the new system, the JLTV can travel at speeds 75 percent greater than the M-ATV. During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Oshkosh’s M-ATV was rushed into theater under the Pentagon’s mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle program to protect soldiers and Marines from deadly improvised explosive device attacks.

In addition, Oshkosh’s JLTV will have a digitally controlled engine that is tunable, he said. “We could optimize that engine for both tremendous performance — speed, torque, great climbing capability, etc — but also to be extremely fuel efficient,” he said.

While most of the competitors have V-shaped hulls to help with blast protection and survivability, Lockheed Martin’s JLTV does not.

“We have something a little bit different,” said Scott Greene, vice president of ground vehicles at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. “We actually attenuate the blast in four separate directions — north, south, east and west — and … this is very unique to the tactical vehicle arena.”

Additionally, the vehicle has a crushable floor on the inside and stroking seats that absorb shock during IED attacks. Those three attributes make the Lockheed JLTV extremely survivable and fulfill all of the blast requirements that were given to competitors during the program’s engineering, manufacturing and design phase, he said.

Lockheed’s offering also includes an integrated starter generator (ISG) that replaces the vehicle’s alternator, Greene said. That will allow the JLTV to generate more power over time.

ISGs are already used on many rotary wing aircraft, he noted. “This is a new application from a proven technology that we think will give a real leg up for the Army.”

While the JLTV will incorporate many new technologies, tactical wheeled vehicles developed over the next several decades will have even more cutting-edge components, experts said.

Directed energy weapons will likely play a key part in vehicle technology of the future, said Dakota Wood, a senior research fellow who focuses on defense issues at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

Most traditional weapons are reliant on heavy and limited ammo, he said. However, laser weapons provide military leaders with more affordable and abundant munitions.

“Directed energy is where things are going,” Wood said. “In the directed energy world, as long as I can generate power I’ve got an infinite magazine. …That’s the attractive component.”

Future vehicles will have to generate a large amount of power to juice up directed energy weapons, he noted.

The military is already developing laser technology. The Navy has tested its laser weapon system on the USS Ponce and is developing its land counterpart, the ground-based air defense directed energy on-the-move program.

Wood also believes that armor technology will improve so much over the coming years that the Army will have to consider using different types of ammunition to pierce through it, he said.

Researchers will likely look at munitions that have different shell shapes and materials for increased performance, he said.

A modular design will be a key part of tactical wheeled vehicle development, said Paul Luskin, president of Ricardo Defense Systems LLC, a manufacturer of defense vehicles.

“Because of the complexity and uncertainty in terms of the future conflicts and what’s going to be required of the vehicles … you’re going to see more and more emphasis on modularity in tactical vehicles,” he said.

Trucks can be in the military’s inventory for decades. Leaders will need vehicles that have swappable armaments and weapons to meet whatever challenges pop up during their service lives, he said.

The forthcoming decades will also likely hold new designs for vehicles, especially as trucks rely more on lightweight batteries and electricity for power, he said.

Currently, manufacturers are “pretty constrained in the layout of the vehicle because of where the engine has to be placed and where the driveline has to run,” Luskin said. “In the future you are going to see vehicle layout in some very unusual configurations because … that electrification allows you to be flexible.”

While alternative power sources will be prevalent in the long run, he doubted that military vehicles even 50 years from now would be designed without an internal combustion engine.

“In the defense market, I don’t see the internal combustion engine going away anytime soon,” he said. “Military vehicles are going to lag behind civilian vehicles a bit in terms of going all electric just because of the unique demands that are on them.”

Engines will have their size and roles diminished, he noted. “But I think it’s going to be a very long time before the internal combustion engines are completely supplanted in military vehicles.”

Truck operators will eventually rely much more heavily on data pulled from vehicle sensors, Luskin said. Instead of requiring a crewmember to stick his head out of a hatch to gain situational awareness, that soldier or Marine would simply look at a screen within the safety of the vehicle, he said.

Autonomy will also play a significant role in future military vehicle operations, he said. “Autonomy is a pretty big area of research and what we see … in the civilian market, we’re seeing that more and more in defense.”

Trucks wouldn’t have to be fully autonomous, but could engage in robotic convoys where the lead vehicle would command the others behind it to follow, he said.

Topics: Procurement, Land Forces

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