Road warrior: rivals gear up to build new tactical trucks.
While his startup is a newcomer to the field of military vehicles, he believes there will be plenty of work to go around as the Army and Marines consider what, if anything, they will do to replace the high mobility, multi-purpose wheeled vehicle, better known as the Humvee.
"We think we're going to be able to get into the mix. At what level, we're not sure," said Cooley, who doesn't rule out the possibility that his company could end up building a future Humvee replacement truck at its San Antonio, Texas, plant. "We'd actually like to make the vehicle ourselves," he added.
Although there are as yet no firm plans or funding to replace the Humvee, truck manufacturers large and small, foreign and domestic, are gearing up to take on the only maker of the 20-year-old vehicle, AM General. Alliances are being struck and partners gathered as the Iraq war shapes the debate on what troops need in the field to protect themselves from mines, rocket-propelled grenades and roadside bombs.
AM General spokesman Craig MacNab said the Humvee is performing well in Iraq and Afghanistan. While the original design is 20 years old, the vehicle has undergone relentless upgrades during the past two decades.
"It is by no means obsolete," he said.
Not surprisingly, rivals looking to break into the light tactical wheeled vehicle market disagree. Archie Massicotte, president of military and government business at International Truck and Engine said, "the Humvee has served a great life for the military for 20 some years. I think what they're finding is that we're fighting battles now in Iraq, and they're using it as a tactical wheeled vehicle. And it was never intended to be a tactical wheeled vehicle," he said.
International Truck has made no secret that it intends to take on AM General. It recently announced a partnership with South African armored vehicle manufacturer Armor Technology Systems Ltd. It has been spending its own research and development funds to build the MXT-MV model, with an eye toward selling it as a Humvee replacement. It has also partnered with Israel's Rafael Armament Development Authority Ltd., and Mississippi-based Griffin Inc. on its armored personnel carrier.
"We're a major truck company," Massicotte said. "It's what we do every day. It won't be a huge undertaking for us to step into a newly developed vehicle and bring it into fruition." He expects the Army will begin a competition for a Humvee replacement in 2007.
Jim Mills, a military truck expert, said other competitors will emerge. Some will come from overseas, but political and practical considerations will lead foreign firms to seek U.S.-based partners. Negotiating the Defense Department acquisition process is a tough proposition for outsiders, he noted. And manufacturing at least part of the vehicle in the United States would go down better politically.
"Other companies are lining up now, and they're seeing the opportunities," Mills said. "At some point, someone will have to come up with the dollars to do it."
MacNab insisted that nothing is in place to move toward a renewed competition for the contract, which expires in 2007. The often-mentioned Future Tactical Truck System is an advanced technology demonstration program, and not a Humvee replacement, he said. "It's not a procurement program; it's a technology demonstration."
Even if the contract does not come up for bid, there are plenty of wish lists and ideas out there for new features.
Mills, who worked on the Humvee program while in the Army, said the process of writing a requirements document for the next generation of light vehicles began in the mid-1990s, and was completed in early 2004. While there has been much public discourse on the effectiveness of the Humvee in Iraq, the document was largely finished in the early stages of the war. The military's experiences in Somalia and Bosnia were more of an influence, he said. Those conflicts marked the first time the Army and Marines saw the need for an armored version.
Armored Humvees were first introduced in Bosnia. When the Iraq war began, demand for armoring kits soared.
While the requirements document was completed in the early stages of the war in Iraq, the prevalence of roadside bombs, and remarks by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to a soldier's question in 2004 about not having the proper armor, sparked debate on whether the Humvee is the right vehicle for urban combat.
The question of armor--how much is needed, when to use it and the trade-offs in engine power, weight and carrying capacity it entails--will be a technological challenge for any proposed follow-on vehicle, experts said.
"You have to be careful about specifically designing the next truck for Iraq, because the next place we may be may not be an Iraq environment," Mills said. He predicted the kits used to "up-armor" the Humvee will remain. That will require overbuilding the chassis and engines to accommodate the increased payload requirements. Not every vehicle will require armor, but all will need the flexibility to carry the armor if required, Mills said.
The prevalence of roadside bombs, which have been responsible for more than half of U.S. fatalities in Iraq, will push armor technologies to improve. The lighter the armor, the more efficient the engine will run and the more cargo it can carry. Mills predicted incremental improvements of 5 to 10 percent in armor efficiency rather than a revolutionary change of perhaps 50 percent. Ceramics, reactive armor and traditional steel plates are all in the mix.
AM General's 1151 and 1152 Humvee models will address the need for easy-to-apply or remove armament kits, MacNab said. It will allow new armor technologies to be incorporated "without starting all over from scratch." The U.S. Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command awarded AM General a contract last year for delivery of 2,074 units of the new models.
Shaped charges that send roadside bombs laden with copper and steel shooting 5,000-degree plasma through an armored vehicle, are an emerging problem, said Cooley. His firm has armor that can withstand 9,000-degree plasma bombs. However, the vulnerability remains glass.
Armored Auto Group and several competitors are working on the ballistic glass issue. The problem with glass, he said, is that its weight and thickness increases exponentially for every increase in bullet caliber protection. Slight upgrades in protection can double the thickness.
The rewards for creating a windshield that can withstand higher caliber bullets and explosions are significant because the technology has commercial applications. Cooley said his company recently sold its glass product to a construction company that wanted windows strong enough to withstand hurricane-force winds. This wider market will drive prices down and spur research, he said.
Mills said there will also be a need for windshields that can better accommodate night-vision technology. Lead content in the glass can reduce its effectiveness. Soldiers want to be able to drive at night with headlights turned off. And in special operations when stealth is necessary, it's mandatory to go in with night-vision technology. Longer-range infrared headlights, which would allow drivers to go 45 to 60 miles per hour, will be needed for any follow-on vehicle used in such operations, he said.
Other improvements Mills recommended include a spare tire, air conditioning and electronic stability control. The latter is necessary to prevent rollovers, another leading cause of death and injury in Iraq. Soldiers want to push the Humvee faster to avoid insurgent attacks. Such a system could prevent drivers from having accidents, Mills said, noting that the driver is often the youngest and most inexperienced of the three-soldier crews.
MacNab countered that AM General has an anti-lock breaking system it can incorporate into the Humvee. All it needs is the Defense Department to give it the funds and the go-ahead.
As for air conditioning, Mills' proposal has been met with derision from those who have called it a "wimpy" idea. Some models have been outfitted with climate control, but more should be in the future, he said. Hot climates can be debilitating and lead to heat-induced injuries. Soldiers should arrive at their destinations battle ready.
Many officers have also expressed the desire for a next-generation Humvee to carry a spare tire, Mills said. Current operations call for crews to drive further away from bases, and maintenance crews are often out of range.
A spare tire, sturdier armor and the perpetual demand for increased cargo space all lead to one thing: a larger, heavier vehicle, Mills said. The term "light tactical vehicle" is becoming a misnomer, he added.
"A soldier in the military will always find more things to carry inside a vehicle," Mills said. "The next question is how much bigger will the new truck be?"
MacNab said one aspect potential competitors, especially overseas suppliers, neglect is that Humvees need to fit into transport aircraft. The U.S. military has a global reach. No one is going to accept being able to fit only one truck in a C-130.
Mills said there may be a need for an ultra-light vehicle, similar to the retired M274 Mule, one of the vehicles the Humvee was designed to replace. The trend may reverse, Mills and Cooley speculated, with several vehicles, in turn, replacing the Humvee.
The M-Gator, an ultra-light, off-the-shelf vehicle used by U.S. troops in Afghanistan and manufactured by John Deere, shows there is a need for a smaller, compact vehicle, Mills said. The M-Gator weighs 1,450 pounds and can carry loads of up to 1,250 pounds. The six-wheeler, roughly the size of a golf cart with no cabin or armor and a top speed of 18 miles per hour, has been touted as a supply carrier and litter that can carry up to three injured soldiers.
Cooley predicted there could be four to six replacement vehicles, which is why he believes there could be room at the table for smaller manufacturers. Although relatively new, his company is already selling its armored vehicles to contractors and non-governmental organizations in Iraq.
The problems with additional models include increased costs associated with training, maintenance, and less commonality in parts. Mills said the Marine Corps--signaling that it would like to go its own way for a follow-on vehicle--may add another model into the mix. The service would like to see room for six personnel, for example. However, the Defense Department or Congress may quickly put an end to that notion on the grounds of increased expenses, Mills added.
Cooley remains a fan of the Humvee, and while he believes the vehicle is currently being tasked with missions it was not designed to handle, "it's not going the way of the dinosaur," he said. "It may be phased out over 10 or 15 years, but there's not going to be a 'get rid of that, use this'" scenario.
AM General's MacNab maintains that the Humvee has changed with the times. It now can carry twice as much weight as the original model. "There are little changes made practically every week, and major changes every couple years."
Army to Build New Truck-Test Facility
THE SAFETY OF MILITARY transport vehicles operating in Iraq not only depends on their armor protection but also on their ability to move troops and cargo over long distances at high speeds without breaking down.
That thinking prompted the Army to approve construction of a new track as part of a $500 million renovation of its vast automotive testing range in Aberdeen, Md.
With nearly 40,000 armored trucks in combat in Iraq, the Army has learned during the past three years of the conflict that the addition of thousands of pounds of armor undermines vehicle performance, especially at high speeds.
Officials note that vehicles in Iraq now operate at higher-than-traditional speeds of up to 75 mph, or even higher. They mostly stay on paved and level gravel roads, and they often must endure missions over distances ranging from 200 to 600 miles.
"Add-on armor has drastically impacted both reliability and performance characteristics at high speeds," says Randy Babcock, senior automotive engineer at the Army Aberdeen Test Center.
Plans to build a new track have been in various stages of discussions for at least 18 years, but it wasn't until the war in Iraq that the Army realized it needed to get serious about modernizing its test track. "The war elevated the priority," says Babcock. "We have permits in hand to start construction."
The project, known as the Automotive Technology Evaluation Facility, is scheduled to break ground in March 2007, and will take about two years to complete.
The new track, Babcock says, will not replace the existing 43-mile facility, but rather will augment it. The intent is to add a new capability for high-speed testing for wheeled, tracked, manned and unmanned vehicles, he notes.
The current track severely limits testing because its three-mile straightaway forces vehicles to slow down to 25 mph each time they turn around. On the new track, vehicles can run at maximum speeds for unlimited periods, Babcock explains.
Another advantage is that all the traffic will be traveling in the same direction, so it's much safer for operators. The current three-mile straightaway has two-way opposing traffic, which can create hazardous conditions for slower vehicles.
The new facility will be a 4.5-mile tri-oval track with wide sweeping turns. All traffic will travel in same direction and will be able to exceed speeds of 70 mph.
Enhancements to the Army test ranges aim to more realistically replicate the threats that combat forces face in the battlefield, says Col. John P. Rooney, commander of the Aberdeen Test Center.
"We have significant money to upgrade," he says in a recent interview. A rush to equip trucks with add-on armor kits and to acquire factory-armored vehicles led to a rapid surge in demand for rapid testing, which propelled the decision to improve the range, Rooney says.
The potential usefulness of a high-speed test track recently was highlighted in a June 2005 report by a Marine Corps unit that had just returned from Iraq. The report, titled, "Convoy Operations in Stability and Support Operations," made the case that troops training for war would benefit from practicing in driving conditions that more closely resemble those that will be encountered by drivers. "Suggested improvements to pre-deployment training include the development of a training pool of up-armored Humvees and seven-ton trucks with center-line seating and high-speed driving courses with obstacles."
--SANDRA L. ERWIN
Marine Ponder Options for Future Trucks
THE MARINE CORPS EXPECTS to increase purchases of light and medium armored II trucks in the months ahead, while it continues to study long-term options for modernizing the fleet.
Of the Corps' 19,000 Humvees, 1,700 were equipped with add-on armor kits, From now on, however, all Humvees shipped to Iraq will be factory-armored, says Marine Col. Sue Schuler, program manager for tactical wheeled vehicles.
The up-armored Humvees are known as M114s. So far, the Corps has ordered 1,302, Schuler says. With war-emergency supplemental funds, it will procure another 524. Deliveries should he completed by June 2006, she adds.
Trucks headed to the war zone also are being outfitted with safety upgrades that were requested by deployed troops. A case in point is an improved gasoline cap for the two-seater Humvees that have armor kits on the back. Other enhancements, Schuler says, include the addition of ballistic glass in the troop compartments, and a fire-suppression system for the engines.
Possibly in 2007, the Marine Corps will consider moving up to the newer version of the up, armored Humvee, the M1151 and M1152, which the Army plans to begin purchasing next year. The 51/52 variants, unlike the earlier up-armored Humvees, are built with some level of blast protection, but also can receive heavier armor add-on kits if needed. This approach gives commanders more flexibility, Schuler says.
In 2008, the Marine Corps is scheduled to begin replacing the Humvee fleet with a new "combat tactical vehicle." Several options could be considered, including a commercial-style truck. Also, whatever vehicle is selected must be common with the Army.
"There ate some good South African vehicles out there," says Schuler.
The Army Corps of Engineers and several Army and Marine tactical units have leased South African mine-protected vehicles, some of which are being licensed to be manufactured by U.S. firms. Unlike Humvees equipped with add-on armor, many of the South African vehicles were designed from the ground up to survive mine explosions. Most have V-shaped hulls that deflect blasts.
"We'll be looking at a lot of cutting-edge technologies to put on that thing, from the bottom up," she adds, speaking about a future Humvee replacement. "One of the problems you run into with armored vehicles is balancing the protection requirements against maneuverability in a tactical environment."
The Marines will continue to negotiate with the Army before they both can agree on a common set of performance requirements for their Humvee replacements. "I think we are coming to some closure," says Schuler. "We are working some things out with the Army ... For a vehicle fleet that is that big, it's just not going to pass the giggle test in Congress for each of us to go in a different direction."
The Marine Corps, meanwhile, is expanding its fleet of medium tactical trucks, the 7-ton MTVR (medium tactical vehicle replacement). The original plan was to buy 6,393, but the Corps used funds from the 2005 emergency-war appropriation to purchase an additional 832 cargo variants of the MTVR. "The requirement could go up by 1,000 to 1,200 vehicles," says Schuler. Another upcoming buy is for 130 MTVR tractor variants.
All MTVRs in Iraq are equipped with armor kits, she says.
The heavy haulers, called LVS (logistics vehicle system), soon may be replaced with a new truck. The Corps is evaluating two bids--one from the current manufacturer of the LVS, Oshkosh Truck Corp., and another from American Truck Co. A contract award is expected in June 2006, says Schuler.
When the LVS replacement program was started there were no ballistic requirements, she says. However, the prototypes evaluated at the Army Aberdeen Test Center this summer had to have mine-blast protection in the floorboards.
--SANDRA L. ERWIN
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|Title Annotation:||tactical vehicles|
|Date:||Feb 1, 2006|
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