The U.S. Army's top officer said the new light-duty vehicle slated to replace the iconic Humvee is a key part of the future ground force.
The service's departing chief of staff, Gen. Raymond Odierno, who plans to step down when his term ends in September, said the service still plans to buy nearly 50,000 of the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, or JLTV, to replace about a third of the Humvee fleet.
"We have not walked away from that," he said during a recent interview with defense reporters in Washington, D.C., referring to the quantity. "As we move forward, it will be a central piece of the Army."
Overall, the Army and the Marine Corps plan to buy a total of 54,720 Joint Light Tactical Vehicles at an estimated cost of more than $30 billion, or about $559,000 per vehicle, according to Pentagon budget documents released this year.
That figure, which rose from earlier estimates, includes expenses for research and development, overhead and add-on equipment such as radios, weapons and armor. Officials have said the cost of manufacturing the vehicle alone will be about $250,000.
Companies hoping the build the first 17,000 production models of the vehicle submitted their final bids to the Army in February. Humvee-maker AM General, truck-maker Oshkosh Corp. and defense contracting giant Lockheed Martin Corp. are vying for the work. Each of the firms delivered 22 prototypes to the Army for testing under a previous contract.
The Army is expected to announce an award for low-rate initial production of the JLTV this summer, possibly next month.
"Why do we need it?" Odierno said of the acquisition program. "We have taken the lessons that we've learned in terms of having enough space to make sure we can get inside of these things, all of the communications capabilities that we've developed over the years, as well as providing protection for our soldiers and maintaining a certain amount of mobility.
"We certainly have many other capabilities that we have to take a look at as we go to the future," he added. "But the JLTV is one that we feel very comfortable with and I think you'll see us continuing to invest in that into the future.
Odierno also hinted at the what kind of other new vehicles the Army will need based on gaps identified in a new operating concept.
"What are the kind of capabilities we need in order to fill gaps and seams?" he said. "One of them is, for example, when the airborne gets on the ground we want to be able to move them quickly somewhere and they can't do it necessarily walking so we have this new ultra light vehicle that we're doing tests on down at Fort Bragg," he said, referring to the base in North Carolina.
He added, "We also realized that we need some sort of light reconnaissance capability for them so we're going to take a look at that. We also realized we need mobile protected firepower, which is probably a mid- to long-term solution, not only for light, but for light, medium and heavy."