During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Department of Defense figured out the Humvee—its multi-purpose troop transport vehicle, designed in the 1980s when everyone thought the US would be fighting the Soviets across Europe—was woefully ill-equipped to deal with the type of asymmetric warfare American soldiers faced in the Middle East.
Humvees, produced by contractor AM General, weren’t really designed as combat vehicles, and offer little protection to occupants against improvised explosive devices and rocket-propelled grenades. Since those proved to be major threats in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military hurriedly ordered armor upgrades that could be fitted to existing Humvees, but ruined its valuable off-road capabilities. It put more money into large, heavy, and expensive mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles, which are hugely successful at protecting occupants but too big for many mission profiles.
Now, with the war in Iraq over (sort of) and combat in Afghanistan winding down, the DoD can spend its time and money on a new, major acquisition: the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV), the machine that will replace the venerable but outdated Humvee.
One of the frontrunners going after the $9.4 billion contract to design and produce that replacement is the Wisconsin-based Oshkosh Corporation, which calls its vehicle the Light Combat Tactical All-Terrain Vehicle. The L-ATV (Oshkosh is fluent in acronym-obsessed military parlance) is the faster little brother to its popular MRAP, the M-ATV. “Future battlefields will have an unpredictable level of terrain and tactics and threats,” says John Bryant, senior vice president of defense programs for Oshkosh Defense. “Troops require an all-terrain vehicle that’s scalable, net-ready, that performs off road, and is highly reliable.”
The JLTV in action. Oshkosh Defense
It’s easy to make a vehicle that’s small and fast, but with limited protective capabilities. It’s easy to make a big vehicle that is slower but keeps everyone really safe. The goal of the JLTV is to provide MRAP-levels of protection and Humvee-like maneuverability. Oshkosh wanted to take all the protection offered by the MRAP and shrink it down to something much smaller, with better off-road capabilities and the ability to be transported more easily by air and sea.
“M-ATV is really the benchmark of off-road protected mobility right now,” says Bryant. “We had the opportunity to refine our Core1080 integrated protection system so that we could provide that level of protection on a much smaller vehicle.” The L-ATV is approximately 30 percent smaller than the M-ATV, so maintaining the same level of protection even on the lighter vehicle is no small feat.
“The M-ATV provided great off-road mobility and survivability, but we sort of did it through mass,” explains Bryant. With the L-ATV, Oshkosh “optimized every single component” for survivability, allowing the company to offer the same protection in a smaller platform. It helps that the military hasn’t rushed the JLTV design process, as it did with that of the MRAP, which was developed under an urgent deadline for a specific, in-theater threat.
“Every time we come up with a new level of protected mobility off road, the first thing warfighting customers around the world say is: ‘That’s awesome, now can you make it even smaller?’”
The JLTV program has a much wider range of requirements than the MRAP. Key requirements include survivability, transportability and multi-purpose needs for a wide-variety of scenarios. Taking big truck capabilities and putting them in a smaller, faster, more maneuverable vehicle was the goal.
The L-ATV includes a bunch of neat technology too. A computer-controlled independent suspension system allows for 20 inches of wheel travel to improve off-road performance and allow it to park in confined spaces like amphibious ships. While there’s enough on-board power to supply all the computers and sensors stuffed into the modern fighting vehicle, there’s an optional diesel-electric hybrid system that can provide 70 kilowatts of on-board and exportable power for external operations.
The curb weight of the L-ATV is under 14,000 pounds, with an additional 4,000 pounds added in gear and soldiers. That’s half the weight of an MRAP, and light enough so that two can be sling-loaded underneath a helicopter for air transport.
Oshkosh wouldn’t reveal the L-ATV’s top speed or performance specs for competitive reasons: This winter, the Pentagon will assess its final proposals against two other finalists, Lockheed Martin and AM General, with a final award coming sometime next summer. The contract is to build 17,000 vehicles across the first eight years of the program. That works out to more than $550,000 per JLTV, including delivery, add-on kits, logistics, technical manuals, interim support, and everything else that goes along with a major program like this.
Once the DoD picks its JLTV for the future, there will be a slow ramp-up as the military does its own testing, including live fire and other operational testing, with troops in the field getting their first crack at the new vehicle around 2018. But Oshkosh says it could begin production almost immediately, if the need arose. “We can be producing a thousand a month of these a few months from now if the requirement changed and became more urgent,” says Bryant. “We could ramp this up right now, if need be.”
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