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Replacing the Humvee

11:38 AM, Feb 21, 2007 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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The Humvee is an icon of the modern American military--the primary vehicle for moving American troops and materiel in both times of peace and war. But the vehicle has earned a less than stellar reputation for its service in Iraq, where its limited survivability has been only marginally improved by "up-armor" kits. Now the Pentagon is looking to the next generation of tactical wheeled vehicles, and is gearing up to begin replacing the Humvee two years ahead of schedule due to the unanticipated wear-and-tear of increased armor and the unforgiving desert environments of Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. military operates approximately 160,000 Humvees, which means that the contract to replace them will be extremely lucrative for the company with the best design. But, more important, replacing the Humvee offers the military a chance to provide troops in the field with a vastly superior vehicle.

The competition for the contract has only just begun really, and no company has yet submitted a demonstration vehicle, but some of the nation's largest defense contractors have already started testing the technologies that will ultimately be incorporated into the new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV). Last week I spoke with Kathryn Hasse, director of Lockheed Martin's tactical wheeled vehicle program, about what that company is doing to position itself for this massive contract, and how American troops might benefit from their work.

Hasse told me that Lockheed had taken a "system of systems" approach in designing its Future Technology Truck System (FTTS)--a technology demonstrator which has been delivered to Fort Lewis for testing. The truck, which will never go into production, represents what is essentially a "massive R & D program" to refine the technologies that will be be incorporated into the JLTV. Among the features of this military concept-car is an innovative chassis, an advanced gear suspension, and system variable height. All of which ought to provide soldiers with a more comfortable ride over rough terrain--an important consideration given the long distances that soldiers must travel in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

More important, though, is the increased fuel efficiency of the FTTS. The vehicle will rely on a hybrid diesel-electric engine, with the aim of increasing the vehicle's range to 600 miles, from the 300 miles of the Humvee, and with no increase in the amount of fuel the vehicle carries. Globalsecurity.org explains the cost-savings of such an engine: "70 percent of the logistic burden on a battlefield is fuel, and that fuel delivery can cost between $30 (by Hemtt tanker) and $ 400 (by CH-47, as in Afghanistan) per gallon." Also there is the fact that supplying fuel to American forces in Iraq requires the military to put a large number of fuel tankers on the roads, leaving soldiers and contractors further exposed to attack. Any increase in fuel efficiency will likewise reduce that exposure.

And the JLTV will "absolutely have a v-shaped hull" of the kind that has made MRAP vehicles like the Cougar and Buffalo, which have been covered here before, so much more survivable than the Humvee. The v-shaped hull "appears to be the most survivable design" for deflecting the force of an IED blast, and will offer a critical improvement over the Humvee.

Hasse said that there is "a real sense of urgency" within the military to begin production of the JLTV, and that a contract for the vehicle will likely be announced by January of next year. She expects the contract to call for the production of 5,000 to 6,000 vehicles a year, and in order to meet those demands Lockheed Martin has formed a joint venture with Armor Holdings, which produces a variety of tactical wheeled vehicles.