By Bob ReinertMarch 23, 2007
FORT LEWIS, Wash. (Army News Service, March 23, 2007) - Maybe it wasn't quite the Detroit Auto Show, but the military concept vehicles on hand last week at the Strategic Deployment Center on post turned a few heads, nonetheless.
The five demonstration trucks - three utility vehicles and two maneuver sustainment vehicles - were built by three different manufacturers to help the Army in its quest for the next generation of tactical vehicles. None will ever go into production, but ideas and technologies could be gleaned from all of them.
The vehicles, part of a $60 million Army program, had been brought to Fort Lewis to undergo their military utility assessment.
"This is an opportunity to actually put them in the hands of users and get the feedback based on the operational scenarios we're going to run," said Col. John S. Myers, the Army's project manager for Future Tactical Systems. "That's all valuable information to feed into the requirements."
The vehicles had just come from Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., where a safety assessment was done. After Fort Lewis, they will be transported to Washington, D.C.
"The plan is to have them in the center courtyard of the Pentagon," Myers said. "We really wanted senior leaders to see these vehicles."
Before that happens, Soldiers from the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, and the 14th Engineer Battalion will put them through their paces at Fort Lewis through mid April. The 5th Bde., 2nd Inf. Div., Soldiers will drive the Joint Light Tactical Vehicles built by International Military and Government and Lockheed Martin, while those from the 14th Eng. Bn. will evaluate the Maneuver Sustainment Vehicles produced by Armor Holdings.
All of the vehicles are loaded with such bells and whistles as diesel-electric hybrid engines, companion trailers, cranes to load cargo and pull their own engines, FLIR and video cameras, improved ergonomics, fire-suppression systems and exportable power.
"About every 25 years, the services have modernized their tactical vehicles," Myers said. "Right now, the concentration is on replacing the Humvee."
"It's still a great vehicle, but it's sub-optimized for the mission," said Myers, adding that the Humvee has lost much of its payload capacity and is now underpowered. "We want to have a clean-sheet-of-paper approach, start all over again and have a family of joint light tactical vehicles."
Enter the JLTVs turned out by International and Lockheed Martin in just nine months to address the needs of the Army and Marine Corps.
"They look different," Myers observed. "Why' Two variations on the theme."
The 18,500-pound International vehicle is the smaller of the two.
"We have just different solutions," said International's Gordon Wolverton. "My objective as chief engineer was to keep the vehicle small. It's easy to make things big. It's hard to make them small and still provide capability.
"It's not excessively roomy, but you've got enough room. And we've had some Soldiers in here with their weapons, and they can assume the warfighting position," he said.
International placed its hybrid engine in the rear to give Soldiers more room in the cab and added
four-wheel steer that allows it to drive sideways. The vehicle also has a remote weapons system.
"We designed it as an off-road truck with a lot of capability and gave it really good on-road, road-handling manners," Wolverton said. "One thing that we've really tried to do is make it very simple to drive."
The Lockheed Martin vehicle is larger - 25,000 pounds - and has a top speed of 75 mph. The vehicle has adjustable ride height, a tilt system in the truck and trailer for rough terrain, and a V-hull designed to deflect IED blasts.
"Even the seat is designed to absorb some of the shock of the force coming up underneath," said Steven Walker, a Lockheed Martin vice president.
The seats can accommodate Soldiers wearing hydration systems and other bulky equipment, Walker noted.
"The cab's pretty roomy," Walker said. "This truck actually has a very smooth ride."
The maneuver sustainment vehicle by Armor Holdings has a fully robotic crane that can lift 13 tons of material off the ground.
"No other vehicle in the Army's inventory has anything like that," Myers said. "There's only three of these cranes in the world. Two of them are on the trucks out there. Another one is at the manufacturer's site in Sweden."
The MSV also has a remote weapons system, and the vehicle produces 30 kilowatts of exportable power.
"You can power up half this facility with this truck," said Pat Pockrandt, Armor Holdings electrical technician.
As impressive as the UVs and MSVs are, none will ever be mass-produced.
"It's really about the capabilities and technologies in the vehicles, not the vehicles themselves," Myers said. "It's an advanced concept technology demonstration."
(Bob Reinert writes for the Fort Lewis "Northwest Guardian.")