You can have it all, at least in a military vehicle: The Army and Marine Corps are advancing plans to give warfighters a gamechanging vehicle that will offer protection from IEDs, vastly better off-road rides, stellar fuel economy, cost containment and more.
The joint light tactical vehicle (JLTV) acquisition effort moved into the engineering, manufacturing and development (EMD) phase with contract awards August 24 to three competing firms, each of them a powerhouse in military vehicles production.
This is one of the few major new procurement programs in a time of defense austerity and program cancellations. The JLTV, after being canceled in Senate proceedings, rallied and survived even as other defense vehicle programs were cut or delayed. Some $487 billion of defense program cuts over 10 years already are being legislated, with the potential for another $500 billion over a decade beginning in January.
AM General of South Bend, Ind., Lockheed Martin of Bethesda, Md., and Oshkosh Defense of Oshkosh, Wis., and Stafford, Va., now will vie in the JLTV EMD phase to win the ultimate prize, a multi-billion dollar program to produce 50,000 JLTVs for the Army and 5,000 for the Marine Corps. The JLTVs will provide a successor to the workhorse HMMWV and the iconic Jeep.
The three other competing companies that did not receive JLTV EMD contracts—BAE Systems, General Tactical Vehicles (General Dynamics and AM General) and Navistar—still may not be out of the running: The military stated that they may develop candidate JLTV vehicles at their own risk and expense, to compete for the initial production contract.
The JLTV program was halted momentarily when Navistar filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office. “Following our debrief with the government, the company had concerns regarding the selection process and we had limited time to submit our filing,” said Elissa Koc, manager of external communications. However, Navistar subsequently decided to withdraw its protest.
For AM General, Lockheed Martin and Oshkosh Defense, the EMD phase offers a challenge. Since each firm must design a JLTV that meets stringently difficult minimum requirements set by the military, each company must provide some additional cutting-edge features on its proposed vehicle that will set it apart from the others. And each of the rival firms has done just that.
Here, the top leaders of the JLTV programs in each of the three companies lay out in detail just what that vehicle maker would provide in its JLTV.
AM General: The BRV-O
For AM General, a key selling point for why the company should produce the next generation JLTV is that this is the firm that produced 300,000 HMMWVs, according to Chris Vanslager, AM General vice president of program management and business development.
“We’re the highest volume manufacturer that the Department of Defense has,” having spent decades providing light tactical vehicles, Vanslager said.
Further, he noted, AM General has years of experience in studying how to build vehicles protecting warriors against IED and RPG blasts, along with a veteran workforce already skilled in building light tactical vehicles, a depth of experience that informs the design of the AM General JLTV candidate, the blast resistant vehicle–off-road (BRV-O).
For example, Vanslager continued, a strong hull on a vehicle is only part of the solution to the requirement for survivability. Protection “goes beyond just that armor or that hull. You have five-point restraint harnesses and you have shock absorbing seats. You have devices in there that mitigate any portion of the body that might come in contact with the hull when an event occurs.”
But even more, he said, the AM General strategy is to design the BRV-O so it can go off road, avoiding the enemy’s roadside mines.
“We bring an advanced suspension system, an advanced, high-powered fuel efficient power train-engine combination that, when you put this all together, will take the vehicle off the beaten path, take it away from those routes that are likely to be mined with IEDs,” he added.
That is an example of the benefit of years of building light tactical vehicles used in theater, according to Vanslager. “We’ve been doing light tactical vehicles for over 50 years,” he said. “And over the last 30 years, we’ve been delivering the HMMWV, which is in ways considered the Lamborghini of off-road vehicles. In the last 10 years, we’ve invested a substantial amount to improve the technologies in the vehicle, and that includes the survivability aspects.”
There is no doubt that AM General will meet its $63.9 million EMD contract deadlines to produce the BRV-O, because it already exists, Vanslager emphasized.
“By the time we submitted our proposal, our survivability system had already been tested at a government test site and evaluated by the Army Research Lab, a government agency,” he said. “So we’ve met all of the requirements that our customer wanted.”
Not only has the BRV-O been run through Army tests, it has been tested where it counts: on the road and in the field. “With the BRVO, we’ve already got over 300,000 miles accumulated on the components, on the chassis, up through the whole vehicle,” Vanslager reported.
To further enhance survivability, the BRV-O meets requirements for both external fire suppression as well as internal fire suppression.
Shifting to another BRV-O strong point, Vanslager noted that it helps to contain costs in an era of defense austerity.
Because AM General is a high volume vehicle producer, it offers efficiencies of scale for savings, and the company also helps its suppliers reduce costs to realize further savings, he observed. And having a supplier base already established is yet another reason AM General can meet the aggressive military deadlines for getting the JLTV into production and onto the battlefield. “We’re ready now with our vehicle,” he noted, an asset that has “highly reliable, mature sub-systems components.”
For future savings, he explained that the engine has more than sufficient power for today’s demands, so that it can meet higher performance needs in coming years. And, key to saving the military money, the engine offers excellent fuel economy.
Another point: If the BRV-O is selected as the JLTV, the military doesn’t have to finance AM General setting up a global supply chain for the vehicle, because that supply chain already exists.
Lockheed Martin JLTV
The Lockheed Martin argument for its JLTV is that the vehicle is low risk, low cost, proven in tests and mature in design.
In capturing a $66.3 million contract for the EMD phase of the JLTV program, Lockheed Martin stressed that it had a head start on the competition: The company earlier participated in the technology development (TD) phase of the JLTV effort.
“After seeing what was possible in TD, this new design is about making it a reality for production and the warfighter,” said Scott Greene, Lockheed Martin vice president, ground vehicle programs. “Our design represents a low-risk solution. We have a proven design already tested by the customer that we’re going to serve in EMD.” That translates into a superior vehicle at a cut-rate sticker price, according to Greene.
For example, “We have significantly cost-reduced our TD design by eliminating exotic materials and optimizing the design itself for production,” said Kathryn Hasse, Lockheed Martin director–Joint Light Tactical Vehicle program. “So we really do have very great confidence in our ability to not only deliver very high quality, reliable vehicles on the accelerated schedule that the customer has requested, but we also know that we have great confidence that we can meet their aggressive average unit production cost, in production.”
A typical maximum price limit set by the military is around $260,000 for one variant of the JLTV. Greene observed that Lockheed Martin has eliminated potential harsh surprises in developing the JLTV by testing it exhaustively. “We’ve [designed] our vehicle using over 160,000 combined test miles [so as to] maximize the affordability and survivability for the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps,” he said.
And the vehicle has passed formal tests. “Testing has shown that JLTV meets protection standards for IED-protected vehicles, while weighing approximately 40 percent less than some all-terrain models deployed in theater today,” he said.
“Through government testing, we’ve already proven that our JLTV can meet the government’s performance [requirements], and that includes the enhanced blast performance,” Hasse emphasized. “And I might also mention that as a result of government testing, we know we enter EMD with a highly reliable vehicle.”
She turned to another major issue, the cost of buying and operating JLTVs in a highly constrained budgetary environment. “You know, cost has been a big discussion point over the last year or so,” she recalled. “We have spent a tremendous amount of time optimizing our JLTV design for EMD and for production."
To give just one example, she noted that “we had things like titanium lower control arms when we delivered our TD vehicles. I mean, that’s really been the beauty of our opportunities. We had a design that performed in TD and met all of the requirements. And then we’ve had a number of years since we’ve delivered those vehicles to continue to refine the design, to really take what we knew were high cost materials out of it.”
That helps on the purchase price that the military would pay for the Lockheed Martin JLTV. But what about the later costs of operating the vehicles?
“We’re affordable in terms of the overall life cycle sustainment costs, having demonstrated very high fuel efficiency and other aspects of reduced life cycle sustainment,” she said. “The fuel efficiency—we demonstrated in TD, on a vehicle that was substantially heavier than our EMD vehicle, that we could achieve well over 10 mpg. As you are probably aware, that is a very, very significant increase over” the fuel economy of typical military vehicles.
The firm fixed-price contract has a 27-month performance period with deliveries of 22 vehicles taking place within 12 to 14 months. Primary variants with companion trailers include the utility carrier and shelter, a two-seat prime mover with an open bed; and the general-purpose vehicle, which is a four-seater that will carry troops, ammunition and small supplies.
Additionally, Greene noted, when it comes to creating the JLTV, the Lockheed Martin team has long since been assembled, including BAE Systems in Sealy, Texas, Allison Transmission, Cummins Engine, L-3 Combat Propulsion Systems, Meritor Defense, Robert Bosch LLC and Vehma International of America. And Lockheed Martin itself has ample experience in vehicle programs, Hasse noted, such as participating in the ground combat vehicle program, several wheeled vehicle programs and the Marine personnel carrier.
The JLTV entrant to the contest must weigh 14,000 pounds or less to achieve transportability standards, yet it also must be able to achieve levels of MRAP blast protection, “which we’ve already proven in tests,” she continued.
“We have to achieve a very significantly reduced price point, particularly as it compares to MRAP vehicles of all forms and flavors,” she said. “And we’ve demonstrated to the government’s satisfaction that we can achieve that as well. So from a Lockheed Martin perspective, we are very confident, in conjunction with our world class teammates such as BAE Sealy, who has produced tens of thousands of military vehicles out of their facility in Sealy, and other key suppliers such as Meritor Defense, and Vehma and Bosch and L-3.”
Lockheed Martin—the largest defense contractor—also has a vaunted reputation as a systems integrator, Greene noted. Greene said having Lockheed Martin lead the team provides a critical plus for the company’s JLTV program. “One of the benefits you get with Lockheed Martin is the whole systems thinking approach, from an engineering perspective,” he added.
That becomes crucial when the military demands a vehicle that can do it all, rather than being just a one-trick pony. “There are purpose-built vehicles out there in the inventory that are good for protection,” he observed. “And there are purpose-built vehicles out there today that are good for mobility. And there are purpose-built vehicles out there today that are affordable.
“What Lockheed Martin has done is, we’ve taken those requirements that at some time appear orthogonal to most people, and we’ve been able to combine those into one vehicle that is affordable, that is mobile, and that gives the survivability and protection that the warfighter needs. That’s the difference” that a systems integrator can bring to the table.
Not only must each contractor design a vehicle with many simultaneous virtues, each firm must integrate government furnished equipment such as comms systems into the vehicles, Greene explained.
A key point in the success of the Lockheed Martin JLTV is that the company didn’t attempt to take a heavy vehicle and rework it to make a light tactical asset. Rather, Lockheed Martin began with a blank sheet to design a vehicle precisely meeting requirements, he said, and then proved it with 160,000 miles of testing. That makes the Lockheed JLTV “very low risk,” he said.
Each contract calls for the contractor to deliver 20 vehicles 12 months from receipt of contract, then the 21st vehicle in 13 months and the 22nd vehicle in 14 months.
After each of the contractors delivers its vehicles, the military will run them through robust testing programs. That’s in addition to shakedown tests that contractors will put on the vehicles during the EMD phase.
Oshkosh Defense L-ATV
With Oshkosh Defense, one key means of setting the company apart from the competition lies in a simple statement of facts: The leading killer of U.S. warfighters in theater is the IED, and the best protection against those roadside mines is to avoid coming anywhere near them in the first place. To that end, give a vehicle a nextgeneration suspension system, so it can go off road with ease.
That was a message that was advanced repeatedly by John Bryant, Oshkosh vice president for joint and Marine Corps programs, Dave Diersen, director of defense programs, and Rob Messina, vice president for engineering.
The three Oshkosh officials offered details of the Oshkosh light combat tactical all-terrain vehicle (L-ATV) that the company is proposing for the JLTV solution. Then they adjourned from their offices in Stafford, Va., to the Stafford Airport, a civil aviation facility beside I-95, to offer rides on a rough off-road course in a vehicle with an older style suspension, and then in the L-ATV equipped with the advanced TAK-4i independent suspension.
For this writer, the difference was remarkable. On the rough off-road test course, the older truck provided a pounding ride, and even on a straightaway strained to reach 15 to 17 mph. On the same stretch, the L-ATV was moving at 30 mph, with a far smoother ride, whether one was seated in a back seat or the passenger seat. That was roughly twice the speed.
“Our JLTV offering, the L-ATV, allows offroad speeds significantly faster” than a 70 percent advance from a non-TAK-4i suspension. Bryant stated. “It is truly a leap ahead.”
But the L-ATV is more than just a new-tech suspension system, offering as well improved fuel economy, blast protection, cost containment and more, according to the officials. And paramount for the JLTV program, they stressed the vast experience that Oshkosh commands in providing the military with vehicles.
“We have been serving the military for more than 90 years,” Bryant said. “We’ve actually sold over 100,000 tactical wheeled vehicles and trailers to our military customers.”
The company has supplied heavy and medium vehicles for both the Army and Marine Corps, providing 8,700 of the MRAP all terrain vehicles, or M-ATVs. “And now, with the JLTV program, with the SOCOM ground mobility vehicle program, and with a number of HMMWV modernization options, Oshkosh is solidly in the light tactical vehicle market.”
In moving to design a JLTV, Bryant stated, “The threat from IEDs renders every mission dangerous, and kind of removes the front line.”
Oshkosh has experience in dealing with that danger, he added. “MRAPs were designed for those evolving threats in theater, and they do provide tremendous protection. Our M-ATV combined tremendous off-road capability with that protection.”
What is new is that the Oshkosh L-ATV has provided a way to combine advanced protection with “the lightweight transportable package needed, so they can get the vehicle to the fight,” he noted.
Even though the Oshkosh M-ATV is the lightest MRAP in theater currently, and the Oshkosh L-ATV is about half the weight of that MRAP, the vehicles both have about the same levels of protection, he stated.
Depending on which protection packages are mounted on the M-ATV and the L-ATV, they overlap in survivability, he said.
Focusing on the TAK-4i suspension system, that smoother ride can be more than an impression. It can be quantified, he continued. “What we measure is, we try to keep the forces felt by the driver within a certain level. So the Army will describe certain courses with certain sizes of bumps. And then you have to be able to go over those bumps while keeping the forces on the driver below a certain level. And then they measure how fast you can go when you do that.”
Messina reported that “an M-ATV on a given course can go around 20 miles an hour. The JLTV can go more than 30 miles an hour.” Put another way, an M-ATV can outpace a HMMWV in open terrain, and an L-ATV “is 70 percent better than the M-ATV,” Messina disclosed.
The lighter L-ATV weight means it can more easily get to the fight in the first place. “At about half the weight of an M-ATV, L-ATV offers much greater transportability,” he observed. “In theater, the MRAP requirements were not really built around transportability, were not really built around getting to the fight from the continental United States.”
A light vehicle weight not only means it is more easily transported, the vehicle also offers better fuel economy. And the less fuel vehicles use, the fewer fuel convoys must move through theater—a critical point, considering that fuel convoys are a favorite target of the enemy.
“The L-ATV offers a tremendous increase in fuel economy,” Bryant stated. “A vehicle that’s half the weight is going to be much more fuel efficient. But our L-ATV also has a power train built around the Duramax 6.6 liter engine. And that’s a highly efficient power plant. So by combining the light weight protection of the L-ATV with a highly efficient power train, you get a significant leap ahead in fuel economy. We designed this vehicle for fuel efficiency.”
The engine alone provides the L-ATV with 30 percent greater fuel efficiency, Messina estimated. Other factors such as lighter vehicle weight, drive line efficiencies, aerodynamics and more provide even better savings at the pump. But no solid number on total fuel savings can be provided, because of differences in vehicle drivers, payload and other variables.
Suffice it to say, Bryant and Diersen related, that the L-ATV yields far greater fuel consumption efficiency compared to an up-armored HMMWV.
Oshkosh received a $56.4 million JLTV EMD contract.
The Lockheed Martin JLTV Suspension Story
A key system for any vehicle that must travel off-road is the suspension, and Meritor promises to provide the Lockheed Martin JLTV with a first-rank ride. Meritor will supply its ProTec high mobility independent suspension (HMIS) for the JLTV.
Meritor Defense has developed more than 20 variants of the ProTec HMIS system over the past seven to eight years, according to Dave Damian, director, sales and business development.
“Over this time, we have also developed a vehicle dynamics team that delivers capabilities including full vehicle chassis system setup,” he noted. “By use of Meritor’s vehicle dynamics mobile laboratory trailer, we can provide real time data acquisition, precision spring and shock tuning, and optimization of ride and handling characteristics so the ProTec system can provide the vehicle the best capability to fit real-world mission environments.”
Combining this tuning process with high wheel travel (up to 20 inches), large impacts in full suspension jounce and rebound are minimized, reducing the impact loading, or the pounding and punishment, to the vehicle chassis, he added.
Meritor Defense also offers options that included semi-active damping, further enhancing the ride and performance characteristics of the vehicle. Depending on the application, the ProTec HMIS can provide anywhere from 50 to 100 percent faster speeds over specified terrain, many times at an increased payload, Damian observed.
“I wouldn’t say we have any unusual technologies in the ProTec HMIS, but over the years of development, we have established an expertise at combining low cost, lightweight materials with automotive style architectures in order to deliver to our customers the lightest weight product that delivers improved durability and reliability, while increasing vehicle payload and performance at the same time.”
In addition to the suspension itself, Meritor also offers a full suite of electronic systems to enhance the ProTec HMIS performance, including air suspension height control, semi-active damping, central tire inflation systems, and electronic drivetrain controls for shifting and traction control management. ♦
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