Weighing the Humvee’s replacement

August 29, 2012

Eight days ago, the Army awarded contracts worth $99.5 million to three defense corporate teams for the engineering and manufacturing development phase of the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV).

Don’t be put off by the name. What’s involved is the replacement for the Humvee (High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle), which in 1985 replaced the venerable World War II Jeep and its successor versions that were produced for the military services from the 1940s through the 1970s.

The new vehicles are to be able to travel through all types of terrain and be “equipped to link into current and future tactical data [networks],” according to a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report on the JLTV released in January. They also are to be survivable with adequate armor and transportable by ship, airplane and helicopter. In addition, they are to be “more mechanically reliable [and] maintainable” than the Humvees and contain onboard diagnostic equipment, the CRS study said.

The Army, in offering this development contract, said it was seeking two types of JLTV. One would be for two passengers to be used as a utility truck. The other, a four-passenger version, would have two platforms, one for use as a close-combat weapons carrier, the other for general purposes. They all would have a companion trailer and be configured to install special “mission packages.”

Here is the number worth remembering. The Army said in its January solicitation that it had a goal of “no greater than $250,000” for the average cost of all configurations, “including all direct and indirect costs.” Put another way, that $250,000 is to be “the price of the vehicle rolling off the (assembly) line,” the document said. The Army’s fully equipped JLTV some five years ago was originally estimated to cost $418,000, according to the CRS.

A few things the Army wants this vehicle to do: travel 300 miles at 35 mph on a tank of fuel; continuously ascend a 5 percent grade at 60 mph; and drive off an 18-inch vertical step at 15 mph without any mechanical damage to the vehicle.

Tracking the six-year history of the JLTV program illustrates the time and complications for major U.S. weapons systems and recent efforts to control costs as the Defense Department faces the possibility of budget cuts.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff’s Joint Requirement Oversight Council approved the JLTV program in November 2006, but it took until late December 2007 before the DOD approved going from concept to seeking development contracts.

In fact, the Army — partnered with the Marines — redrafted an October 2007 request for industry JLTV proposals because John Young, then-DOD acquisition czar, said the project needed a more “robust technology development phase.”

The eventual proposal released in February 2008 covered 27 months — the first 15 months devoted to building four preliminary JLTV configurations and the last 12 months for testing them.

In October 2008, three companies were awarded a total of $166 million in contracts for this first development phase. That award was unsuccessfully contested by two of the losing corporate teams, which caused another three-month delay. The first phase, set to end in June 2011, was pushed to January 2012.

Another reason for the delay was that the Army in February 2011 changed requirements, which caused more delays and cost increases. The Army wanted additional under-body protection for the JLTV based on experience in Afghanistan with improvised explosive devices.

Because of the added weight of additional armor, the Army dropped the general purpose vehicle, which became too heavy for helicopters. It limited development to a two-passenger combat support vehicle that can carry 5,100 pounds and haul a 105mm howitzer or a small radar.

The four-passenger combat tactical vehicle can carry a tube-launched anti-tank guided missile and fire weapons such as a 50-caliber machine gun for use in urban operations.

Faced with the added weight and a projected per-unit cost of some $300,000, the Marines expressed concern and looked at upgrading their 22,000 Humvees at a lesser price.

Congress also voiced doubts. In September 2011 the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee recommended ending the program and upgrading the Army and Marines Humvees.

On Oct. 3, 2011, the Army announced the broad provisions of the engineering and development contract it awarded last week. Along with the target cost stated as $230,000 to $270,000, it added an armor kit, which could not cost more than $50,000 per vehicle. The next phase would be for 32 months.

The contract said the Army would procure at least 20,000 JLTVs with options to buy up to 50,000. Also, the production phase contract solicitation would be offered in 2015 with a fixed-price award going to a single winner, probably in 2016 — 10 years after the Joint Chiefs’ groups approved the idea.

The Marines are planning to buy 5,500 and the Navy perhaps 500.

A year from now I plan to check to see where this JLTV procurement program stands and whether the per-vehicle price is the same.

For previous Fine Print columns, go to washingtonpost.com/fedpage.

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