If it’s even possible for a Pentagon acquisition program that could cost up to $70 billion (pdf) to be compared to a forgotten middle child, then the joint Army/Marine Corps’ Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) is it. Kicked off in 2006—before the MRAP program even really got started—the JLTV has been trudging along for a half decade now, piling up unanswered questions. We still don’t know how many trucks the Army and Marines want (or if the Marines even want it), how much each vehicle is supposed to cost, or even what the final requirements are for its design.
All of these uncertainties have to some extent been buried by the Army’s ambitious—and on some level equally uncertain—plans for the Ground Combat Vehicle and growing buzz about the Humvee Recap program.
While things may have appeared quiet on the JLTV front as of late, there’s actually lots going on within this fluid program, including a testing and evaluation schedule that is both being pushed back in the near term while sped up on the back end, and the promise of some serious reductions in how much the whole thing will cost.
Eyebrows were raised earlier this year when the House and Senate Armed Services committees agreed to cut $50 million from the requested $172 million fiscal 2012 budget for the JLTV, moving that cash over to the nascent Humvee Recap program. But that $50 million was only the beginning, Aviation Week has learned. “We’re looking to take more money out than that,” says Col. David Bassett, the U.S. Army’s project manager for tactical vehicles.
The way to do that is to push back the expected award date for the JLTV’s Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) phase, while shortening that planned four-year phase to accelerate the program schedule overall. The EMD phase will also be a full and open competition open to all bidders, and not just the three teams led by BAE Systems; Lockheed Martin; and General Tactical Vehicles, a joint venture between General Dynamics and AM General, which have already won development contracts. Bassett said that he expects to issue a draft request for proposals (RFP) this fall, “and assuming that we get approval for the updated program, we would be looking out at the spring of next year for the next round of contract awards.”
The program is currently at the end of its Technology Development phase, and Bassett says his office is taking what was learned there in the relationship between cost, weight, protection and reliability, and is making trades in order to save time and money on the program. “The protection level of the vehicle we know is going up from what it was in the last phase,” he says. “We’re looking for a vehicle that has more protection than the previous JLTV threshold.” More savings will come in the armor packages he’s asking for. He is not buying “b-kit” armor for every truck in keeping with the Army’s tactical wheeled vehicle strategy, which calls for 50% of the fleet to be armor-capable while having armor kits for one-third of the fleet. This will save fuel in training, and will still allow commanders to surge production of the latest armor when a threat arises. Bassett is also “looking for trades across the potential C4ISR architecture to make sure we have the capability for future growth without locking ourselves into an architecture that might eventually be overcome by technology.”
In the time since the three industry teams started building their trucks when contract awards were made in 2008, the program—and the Army’s wheeled vehicle fleet—have gone through quite a few changes. Since then, MRAPs and MATVs and up-armored Humvees have come on line by the thousands, and the Stryker has grown to become a big part of the Army future. Through it all, the JLTV has remained something of an enigma. With so many different armored vehicles out there, and with the GCV and the Recapped Humvees looming on the horizon, will the Army finally clearly define the goals—and cost—of the JLTV program? The RFP that is slated for this fall is huge for the future of the program.
(Click here for pics I took of the three models last year at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds.)
Tomorrow, I’ll have a post on how the Humvee recap program fits into all this.