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Evals begin for new JLTV prototypes

Sep. 9, 2013 - 04:17PM   |  
AM General's JLTV prototype
AM General's JLTV prototype (AM General)
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Lockheed Martin's JLTV prototype (Lockheed Martin)
Oshkosh's JLTV prototype (Oshkosh)

Sixty-six Joint Light Tactical Vehicle prototypes produced by three companies have been delivered, and the battle to replace your Humvee has begun.

The vehicles — made by AM General, Lockheed Martin and Oshkosh — started 14 months of rigorous testing and evaluations during the first week of September. The tests are being conducted at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., and Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz.

This follows more than 400 ballistic and blast tests on armor samples and in excess of 1,000 miles in shakedown testing, according to Army data.

An initial order for nearly 55,000 vehicles will go to the winner. Long-term plans include the first Army units receiving JLTVs by fiscal 2018 and all 49,000 JLTVs delivered to the Army by sometime in the 2030s, he said. The Marines will acquire 5,500.

It’s been a long haul for the JLTV. The Senate Appropriations Committee was about to pull the plug when Army and Marine leaders, in a rather unprecedented move, teamed with industry leaders to trim vehicle costs by $100,000 and cut 16 months from the $52 million engineering and manufacturing development phase.

The result was a $250,000 base vehicle that costs a little more than a recapped Humvee but offers the survivability of a mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle, better mobility than a Humvee and the ability to add mission kits. It will be transportable by ship or helicopter and be able to provide 30 kilowatts of exportable power.

Despite this success, the latest round of Pentagon cutbacks may be an obstacle that JLTV cannot overcome.

Program managers are admittedly taking a calculated gamble with the program’s testing schedule. With the cuts mandated by sequestration biting into the planned testing and evaluation budget of the JLTV, joint program manager Army Col. John Cavedo said that instead of pushing back the start of testing to save money, the services are going to proceed as planned until next summer.

The services will have to begin curtailing planned testing and evaluation activities if sequestration remains in place and the program doesn’t receive a new infusion of cash by July.

Meanwhile, the testing continues. “Iron triangle” are the buzzwords in the JLTV camp. Each vehicle is engineered to enhance and balance protection, performance and payload.

Here’s a look at the contenders:

Lockheed Martin

A newcomer to this arena, Lockheed beefed up force protection while cutting weight and cost during the technology demonstration phase. It quickly hit helicopter lift requirements and logged more than 160,000 testing miles.

The company’s key partner, BAE Systems, brings its vast armor knowledge to bear. Lockheed also turned to the Meritor Pro-Tec air suspension system to enhance off-road performance with minimal crew fatigue.

Soldiers should especially appreciate the user-friendly crew cab, which was designed around the war fighter.

Lockheed’s aerospace background and systems integration experience enabled it to put a substantial amount of capability into the dashboard, which frees space for the war fighter.

AM General

AM General, maker of the Humvee, has the most experience with this type of vehicle. That is evident when looking at the JLTV prototype, called the Blast Resistant Vehicle-Offroad. Many have described it as a “Hummer on steroids.”

The company teamed with General Dynamics to build a vehicle officials describe as having “modular armor already proven effective in government-supervised blast testing” and a mobility technology with more than 300,000 operational test miles.

A self-leveling suspension adds mobility, reduces strain on crew and keeps weapons on target. The vehicle exceeds 14 JLTV mobility criteria, including forward speed, cross-country speed, speed on grade, ride-limiting speed, operational range, onboard power and energy storage, according to company data.

Oshkosh Defense

Oshkosh Defense took the success of the MRAP all-terrain vehicle’s modular and scalable protection and packaged it into the much smaller JLTV.

The diesel-electric powertrain was replaced with a digitally controlled Duramax engine, but mobility is its key strength.

The TAK-4i intelligent suspension system provides up to 20 inches of independent wheel travel.

These combine to provide a vehicle that is 50 percent faster off road than the MRAP all-terrain vehicle without adding bumps and bruises, officials said.

The company has built military vehicles for 90 years, and repeatedly points to its ability to build “on time and on budget.”

That ability will be put to the test as the company on Sept. 4 entered a second round of negotiations with United Auto Workers Local 578 in search of a five-year contract extension. The contract is set to expire in 2016.

A UAW flier indicates the company has set a Sept. 30 deadline for reaching an agreement on the contract extension. Oshkosh Corp. vice president of communications John Daggett said the company needs the extension to help it compete for the JLTV contract.

Requirements and perks

The Pentagon requires at least 600 mean miles before an essential function failure. The JLTV must also operate in altitudes from minus 500 feet to 12,000 feet and maintain full mission capability in temperatures from minus 40 degrees to 125 degrees, according to established requirements. When temperatures drop well below zero, the JLTV must start within one minute with no external aids, kits or prior warming of the batteries.

Once fired up, the vehicle can go 350 paved miles at 35 mph or 300 miles in operational terrain on a single tank of JP-8 fuel. The JLTV can go from 0 to 30 mph in seven seconds on dry, level, hard terrain, and can ford 60 inches of saltwater obstacle without a fording kit, in forward and reverse, while maintaining contact with the ground.

Weighing in at no more than 12,660 pounds, the JLTV can be prepared in 30 minutes for transport by aircraft, Maritime Prepositioning Force ships or rail. This is aided by an adjustable-height suspension that includes five heights.

To keep costs down, the Army opted for an “incrementally scalable” command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance solution. Simply put, you take only what you need.

But some cool features are common to all of the vehicles. One example is the central tire inflation system, which allows the driver to adjust vehicle tires to any one of four preset tire pressures: highway, cross country, mud/snow/sand and emergency. It takes two minutes to deflate from one setting to the next, and from two to six minutes to inflate, depending on the setting. A visual indicator warns the driver of excessive speed at pressure conditions.

Safety is a key factor in the vehicle’s design. Two soldiers can install B-kit armor in five hours. An 800-pound rocket-propelled grenade protection kit can be installed in two hours at field-level maintenance and completed by the crew within 30 minutes. Each vehicle has a backup viewing capability that also provides a 25-foot situational awareness to your six o’clock.

The JLTV also has an automatic fire-extinguishing system to protect the crew cabin and engine compartment. Fixed fuel tanks are self-sealing, mounted externally and shielded by the JLTV structure. Each crew seat has a combined seat and blast restraint device. Ingress time for a crew of four in combat equipment is 30 seconds or less. Egress with B-kit doors is within 10 seconds.

And let us not forget the creature comforts.

The heater can raise the crew compartment from minus 40 degrees to 65 degrees Fahrenheit in one hour. The air conditioner can drop the temp from 120 degrees to 90 degrees within 40 minutes. That leaves plenty of time to put the adjustable driver seat in the right position.

And when the road is long, the driver and commander can place their 12- or 24-ounce drinks in the JLTV’s two cup holders.

Jeff Bollier and staff writer Paul McLeary contributed to this report.

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