The U.S. Army and Marine Corps are looking to change how they will fight near-peer adversaries in the future. Both Services are focused on becoming more lethal, distributed, mobile and survivable. When it comes to fielding new capabilities, this requires achieving a balance between these different attributes. One system that achieves this balance while enhancing the flexibility and effectiveness of Army and Marine Corps units is the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV). Built by the Oshkosh Corporation, it is now being fielded.
The JLTV is a vehicle for the 21st century battlefield. Its advanced features will allow it to operate across the spectrum of conflict, providing Army and Marine Corps units with enhanced mobility, survivability, sustainability, and combat power. At the same time, the JLTV incorporates advanced diagnostics, power generation, and maintenance that will make it easier to operate and sustain than the vehicles it will be replacing. The JLTV fits well with how the U.S. military reshapes itself to take on high-end adversaries in both the Indo-Pacific and Europe.
The JLTV is an Army-led joint program designed to replace most of the venerable High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles, or Humvees. Over the years, responding to evolving threats in Southwest Asia, the Humvee has been repeatedly modified, primarily with additional armor to enhance its survivability. Consequently, it became underpowered relative to its weight, and its payload capacity was reduced. The Humvee lacked sufficient power generation for military forces increasingly dependent on sensors, sophisticated communications systems, and computers. Additionally, the automotive industry had developed a range of diagnostics tools and control systems to enhance vehicle performance and maintainability.
The JLTV is designed to restore mobility to Army and Marine Corps units without sacrificing survivability. It is both a utility vehicle and a combat platform. It will perform a range of missions, including moving supplies and personnel, medical evacuation, command and control, and as a platform for close combat weapons such as anti-tank guided missiles and heavy guns.
The JLTV also has a specially designed trailer that is compatible with all versions of the vehicle. The trailer provides the means to move additional supplies beyond what can be carried internally. With a more powerful engine than the Humvee, the JLTV restores the mobility, speed, and payload that the Humvee lost. Additional armor can be fitted to the JLTV. But even with its additional armor protection, the JLTV can move at high speeds across open terrain, a capability that can make all the difference in survivability on the modern battlefield.
Like modern automobiles, the JLTV is designed to take advantage of advances in sensor technology, both for vehicle maintenance and mission support. Inside the JLTV is a display unit that allows the crew to monitor various vehicle systems and receive early indications of maintenance issues. This alone reduces the demand for mechanics and spare parts.
The JLTV looks to be particularly valuable to the Marine Corps in the context of that Service’s new operating concept. This concept focuses on the requirement for forces capable of fighting at a moment’s notice and surviving inside adversaries’ weapons systems’ threat range through a combination of reduced signatures, mobility, and relative freedom from a visible logistic tail.
The JLTV provides the combination of mobility, survivability, flexibility, and sustainability in keeping with the needs of Marine Corps units that need to move and fight with a minimum of support. It should be noted that the JLTV’s ability to adjust its suspension height makes it easier to store and move on and off amphibious vehicles.
The Army and Marine Corps are looking at ways the JLTV can be adapted to take on additional roles. The vehicle's digital architecture and power generation capability will allow it to incorporate advances in sensors, networking, and communications as they become available without putting a strain on other vehicle systems. There are several options available in the near term to expand the role of the JLTV as a highly mobile weapons platform. Several years ago, Oshkosh demonstrated several possible JLTV variants with different weapons configurations to demonstrate the vehicle’s versatility.
One version carried a remote weapons station with a 30mm cannon, along with a notional compact laser weapon system. A second variant served as the platform for an Avenger air defense system, equipped with Longbow Hellfire missiles and a remotely guided .50 caliber weapon. The JLTV would be a suitable platform for counter-drone technologies such as Raytheon’s Coyote system. The JLTV could be equipped with an unmanned turret armed with a laser weapon in the longer term. It is even possible that the JLTV could serve as the platform for launching advanced land- and ship-attack missiles.
The current acquisition plan is to provide the Army and Marine Corps with over 50,000 JLTVs in multiple configurations. The Marine Corps alone is acquiring more than 9,000 vehicles and associated trailers. Earlier this year, Oshkosh delivered its 10,000th JLTV. In response to budget pressures and the search for resources with which to fund modernization, the Army has reduced its annual procurement of JLTVs and extended the program’s procurement horizon to 2042. For FY 2022, the Army will spend $575 million on JLTVs and associated equipment, a cut of nearly $150 million compared to FY 2021.
Both the Army and Marine Corps remain committed to the program. In late 2020, in a clear vote of confidence in the system, the Army placed an order for more than 2,700 vehicles and 1,000 trailers valued at nearly $1 billion.
The Army plans to recompete the JLTV contract in FY22 and to split future buys between Oshkosh and a second source. The desire is to introduce an element of competition as a means of driving down prices. This is somewhat ironic since Oshkosh has reduced the price of the JLTV below the target level even as the Army has cut the quantities procured. The Army acquired the technical data package for the JLTV in 2016, enabling a competitor to build the same vehicle. It remains to be seen whether a second source can match Oshkosh’s success in producing thousands of JLTVs at a lower price without sacrificing quality.
Dan Gouré, Ph.D., is a vice president at the public-policy research think tank Lexington Institute. Gouré 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.