JLTV Program Proves the Army Can Acquire a New Combat Vehicle

January 24, 2020
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On Friday, the Army announced that it was canceling the rapid prototyping phase of the new Optionally-Manned Fighting Vehicle (OMFV), intended to replace its aging fleet of Bradley Infantry Vehicles. This decision appears to be another in a series of acquisition missteps by the U.S. Army and a blow to the reputation of Futures Command. But before one judges the Army incapable of managing a new vehicle acquisition program, one must remember two things. First, OMFV is not dead; it is being rebooted. Second, the Army has several successful major vehicle acquisition programs underway. The most notable of these is the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV).

The JLTV is designed to be a partial replacement for the venerable High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle or Humvee, compared to which it has improved survivability, power generation and carrying capacity. With a more powerful engine than the Humvee, the JLTV is able to regain the mobility and speed that were lost when the Humvees were uparmored in order to add protection against IEDs. The JLTV is intended to perform a range of missions, including moving supplies and personnel and serving as a platform for close combat weapons such as anti-tank guided missiles and heavy guns. 

JLTV is a big program. The Army recently announced that it was advancing the JLTV to full-rate production, and plans to replace around half of its Humvees (approximately 49,000 vehicles) with JLTVs. The Marine Corps decided to nearly double the size of their planned procurement of JLTVs from 9,000 to around 15,000, completely replacing their current inventory of Humvees. Moreover, the JLTV has already achieved initial operational capability with the Marines, two years ahead of schedule. The U.S. Air Force and Navy also will acquire a small number of Humvees.

Foreign interest in the JLTV is also strong and growing. Lithuania was the first foreign purchaser of the JLTV, committing to acquiring around 500 vehicles, and the United Kingdom is considering ordering more than 2,700. A significant number of NATO members are certain to give the JLTV a careful look, and several are likely to acquire the vehicle.

Although the JLTV program predates the Army's effort to transform its acquisition processes, it has still benefitted from the overall trend towards making the system more agile. For example, the move to full-rate production was delayed for six months in order to allow for modifications to the vehicle, in response to issues raised in Operational Test and Evaluation and soldier feedback. The JLTV team, led by Oshkosh, showed itself willing to respond to changing user requirements even without a formal rewriting of the production contract. Oshkosh added bigger windows, a front-facing camera, and a muffler to the JLTV, incorporating these changes into the vehicle production line.

Oshkosh and the Army are exploring ways of expanding the capabilities and mission set for the JLTV. The vehicle's digital architecture will allow it to incorporate advances in sensors, networking, and communications. In 2017, Oshkosh demonstrated how the vehicle could serve as a highly mobile air defense platform, showcasing its versatility. In the future, a near-term variant could carry the Avenger air defense system equipped with Longbow Hellfire missiles and a remotely guided .50 caliber weapon. Longer-term, the JLTV could be equipped with an unmanned turret armed with a 30mm cannon and a laser weapon.

There have been some who have argued that the JLTV was designed for the last war, the counterinsurgency fight, and is, therefore, less relevant for an era of great power competition. Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that the Army and Marine Corps will require many utility vehicles and light combat platforms for whatever conflict faces them in the decades to come. U.S. adversaries are becoming more lethal, whether they are employing IEDs or sophisticated counter-vehicle munitions. It is better than the next Army/Marine Corps utility vehicle that has improved survivability, payload and mobility, in comparison to platforms designed thirty or more years ago.

In addition to the JLTV, the Army’s two other major successful vehicle programs are the Stryker Combat Vehicle and the armored multipurpose vehicle (AMPV). Originally intended to be an interim armored vehicle, the Stryker has proven itself in years of combat in Southwest Asia. Today, the Army has nine Stryker brigade combat teams, both active and reserve components. Recently, the Army funded development of an upgunned Stryker variant, the Dragoon, with a 30mm cannon. In the future, the Dragoon may also be equipped with the Javelin anti-tank missile. Currently, the Army is developing an Interim Short-Range Air Defense system that will be an Avenger turret on a Stryker vehicle chassis.

The AMPV is considered part of the portfolio of modernization programs being managed by the Army's Next-Generation Combat Vehicle Cross Functional Team. The AMPV is intended to replace the obsolescent and extremely vulnerable M-113 armored personnel carriers, first and foremost, in the Army's Armored Brigade Combat Teams. The AMPV will conduct support missions such as transport, ambulance, mortar carrier, and serving as a mobile command post. The vehicle entered production in December 2018.

Regarding the OMFV, the Army plans to take a pause to reconsider the interplay of schedule and requirements.  There is a good lesson in the OMFV restart for how the Army needs to balance competing demands when it comes to modernizing complex weapons systems. The Army remains committed to replacing its aging fleet of Bradley Infantry Vehicles. Fortunately, programs such as JLTV prove that the Army can develop and field a major new vehicle.

Dan Gouré, Ph.D., is a vice president at the public-policy research think tank Lexington Institute. Goure has a background in the public sector and U.S. federal government, most recently serving as a member of the 2001 Department of Defense Transition Team. You can follow him on Twitter at @dgoure and the Lexington Institute @LexNextDC. Read his full bio here.

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