Oshkosh's version of the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle. (William Kapinski/Courtesy Oshkosh)

Oshkosh Defense won a major contract to build the ground vehicle that could become a symbol of the U.S. Army for a generation and will eventually replace the Pentagon’s storied but aging fleet of Humvees, the Army announced Tuesday.

Under the contract, which could eventually be worth $30 billion or more, Oshkosh will build nearly 50,000 of the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle for the Army, and about 5,500 for the Marine Corps.

The contract, one of the largest awarded by the Army in years, is a huge victory for Wisconsin-based Oshkosh, which may have the promise of work lasting through 2040. And it gives the company an opportunity to build what the Army views as a significant advancement over the Humvee.

Unlike the thin-skinned Humvees, the JLTV would have the protective armor of a tank but the fleet-footed mobility of a Jeep, able to ford rivers and cross rugged terrain, while also being able to carry significant amounts of cargo.

In an interview, Oshkosh chief executive Charles Szews called the company’s offering “one extreme mobility vehicle” that could outrun both a Jeep and Humvee. “And it looks kind of mean, which is good for a military vehicle.”

Lockheed Martin is one of three defense firms that put in a bid for a $30 billion contract to build 55,000 vehicles. Oshkosh Defense won the contract over Lockheed Martin. (Lockheed Martin)

The new design is an acknowledgment of the kinds of wars the Pentagon has been fighting, conflicts that often don’t have frontlines, with often invisible enemies whose bombs can turn the most pedestrian roadway into a death trap.

The contest was highly competitive, pitting a trio of defense giants against each other. Oshkosh beat out Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense contractor, and AM General, the manufacturer of the Humvee.

The vehicles are “delivering major improvements in protected mobility for soldiers and have succeeded in executing a program that remains on-budget and on-schedule,” said Heidi Shyu, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology.

The initial contract awarded Tuesday is for $6.7 billion for 17,000 vehicles. Production is slated to begin in the first quarter of fiscal 2016, and the Army would have its first unit equipped with the vehicles in 2018.

As casualties caused by roadside bombs known as improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, mounted in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon moved quickly to armor the Humvees and procure the more-heavily armored Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle, also manufactured by Oshkosh.

“Our JLTV has been extensively tested and is proven to provide the ballistic protection of a light tank, the underbody protection of an MRAP-class vehicle, and the off-road mobility of a Baja racer,” John M. Urias, president of Oshkosh Defense, said in a statement.

AM General said it is reviewing decision and is “considering all available options.”

A Lockheed Martin spokesman said the company “presented a very strong solution” and will decide whether to protest the award after it is debriefed by the Army.

Although the Humvee will be around for years, it is slated to be phased out, capping a career that spanned the 1989 invasion of Panama, the Persian Gulf War, the Bosnian War and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Like the Jeep, it not only became an icon of the U.S. military but also spawned a commercial offshoot. But while the Jeep endures, the Hummer production line folded, as the vehicle became a symbol of gas-guzzling excess.

Asked if there could one day be a commercial version of the JLTV, Szews said he would love it if the company could build one, but that “this one would be a little bit difficult to get into someone’s garage.”