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JLTV Tests Begin

The Army and Marine Corps have begun testing competing industry designs for the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, a new lightweight replacement for the venerable Humvee that will offer better protection against IEDs and better off-road mobility. Click here for a slideshow.

The Humvee was never intended to carry all the additional armor that was slapped on it as troops fought on IED strewn battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan; the vehicle’s performance and reliability suffered as the engine and suspension sagged under the added weight.

The Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) Vehicles, thousands of which have been fielded in recent year, were stop gap measures intended to rapidly field vehicles with much greater IED protection. Some MRAP versions weigh up to 20-tons and have proven ill suited for Afghanistan where roads are scarce.

The services are taking an entirely different approach with the JLTV. It’s designed from the ground up to be a combat vehicle - not a garrison vehicle like the original Humvee - with excellent off-road mobility and IED blast protection. The services aren’t rushing it into production either, they want to take the time to develop a fighting vehicle designed for a wide range of combat environments.

The Army wants 60,000 of the vehicles, the Marines want 5,500. While program officials said the final number the military intends to buy is constantly changing, it will be the military’s largest tactical wheeled vehicle program. The program could well be worth $40 billion; big stakes for the competing industry teams. Full JLTV production is planned for 2015.

The Army and Marines were hoping the JLTV would cost less than $250,000 a copy, but program officials now concede its likely to cost at least twice that; an up-armored Humvee costs about $200,000.

The services took delivery on May 3 of JLTV prototypes from three industry teams: BAE Systems, General Tactical Vehicles, a joint venture between General Dynamics Land Systems and Humvee builder AM General, and Lockheed Martin. Each team provided 7 JLTV test vehicles.

The JLTV prototypes delivered by the three industry teams each feature some variation of an armored crew “capsule” a blast defecting hull and high ground clearance to get stand-off from IED blasts.

The BAE and GTV vehicles come with a modified V-shaped hull designed to vent explosive energy. The Lockheed Martin vehicle uses an inverted U-shape to vent blast energy.

The new JLTVs have just begun a 12 month technology development phase, testing vehicle performance, blast protection and reliability as well as any new technologies the industry teams built into their vehicles.

The ongoing tests here at Aberdeen will help the services to further refine JLTV requirements, some of which have yet to be finalized, said Army Lt. Col. Wolfgang Petermann, JLTV program manager. The technology test phase will tell them whether the requirements are realistic or “did we ask for a bridge too far,” he said.

“The key will be striking the right balance between weight, mobility and protection,” said Petermann. All three industry offerings are “on target” for the weight requirement, he said.

The JLTV will come in three payload categories and different “scaleable” armor packages. The JLTV “family” of vehicles will come in a 2-seat command and control variant, a four-seat standard version, a six-seat troop carrier, a cargo hauler and an ambulance.

The Category A general purpose vehicle will have a 3,500 pound payload. The larger Category B infantry carrier has a 4,500 pound payload. The Category C cargo hauler will have a 5,100 pound payload.

The JLTV’s standard armor package, or “A Kit,” is designed to withstand IED blasts and provide a “threshold” level of ballistics protection against machine gun rounds and high explosive fragments. On battlefields where larger IEDs are encountered, the JLTV will be outfitted with a heavier “B Kit” armor package which adds thicker armor, thicker ballistics glass and a V-shaped underbelly armor.

Program officials said an additional even heavier armor package will be provided to protect troops against the deadly explosively formed penetrators (EFP). The JLTV is also designed to carry the Tactical Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) Airbag Protection System (TRAPS) built by Textron Defense Systems.

For firepower, the JLTV can be fitted with machine guns, the Mk-40 grenade launcher or the Common Remotely Operated Weapons System (CROWS), that allows crews to fire weapons from under armor protection.

The weight of the new vehicles has become the program’s biggest sticking point. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway recently told Military.com that a 20,000 pound JLTV is too heavy for his expeditionary service.

While the Army can accept vehicles that weigh 20,000 pounds, the Marines need something significantly lighter, he said. Conway worries that if the JLTVs are too heavy the Marines won’t be able to fit many of them on their amphibious ships.

The JLTV requirements state the vehicle must be able to be sling loaded below the Army’s CH-47 and Marine CH-53 helicopters and internally aboard the Air Force’s C-130 tactical lifter. It also must

The curb weight of the vehicles, with no armor package affixed, is supposed to be less than 12,000 pounds. The 4-seat JLTV has a curb weight of about 13,000 pounds; adding the B-Kit armor package and weapons increases the weight to about 19,000 pounds.

The 6-passenger version of the JLTV weighs about 23,000 pounds with the B-Kit armor package. “The six passenger is too heavy for the Marine Corps,” said Dean Johnson, the Marine Corps deputy program manger for JLTV.

The Marine threshold for air-transportability is 16,800 pounds, which includes armor, one day of supply, the crew and their gear. “We can beat that,” he said. Yet, to keep the vehicles “lightweight” will require tradeoffs in other areas, program officials acknowledged.

To fit on Maritime Prepositioning Ships, the vehicles cannot be higher than 72 inches. So, all of the vehicles are outfitted with adjustable air suspension that can raise the vehicle chassis up to 20 inches off the ground to provide blast clearance and then lower it to just five inches off the ground to allow it to fit onboard ships and inside the C-130.

The services will evaluate the vehicles from the three industry teams, then down-select two teams for the engineering, manufacturing and development (EMD) phase. The request for proposal for the 24 month EMD phase will be released in June 2011 with a planned contract award for December 2011.

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