Fleet Overhaul

Article excerpt

Army Seeking $34 Billion For New, Upgraded Trucks

Senior Army officials have okayed a $34 billion plan to refurbish the services truck fleet. Between now and 2018, the Army would acquire 70,000 new vehicles and upgrade more than 200,000 from the existing inventory.

The proposal, which also lays out a strategy to equip every truck with armor, was heavily influenced by the Iraq experience. By the military's own account, the lack of armored trucks at the outset of the conflict contributed to hundreds of casualties, who were killed or maimed by roadside bombs.

The Army spent the past two years rushing to Iraq thousands of armored Humvee trucks and appliqué armor kits. Now that most of the urgent hardware needs have been filled, officials say it is time for the Army to commit to a long-term effort that will prevent it from getting caught flat-footed again.

The 12-year plan, code-named "tactical wheeled vehicle fleet transformation strategy," would expand the Army's inventory from 235,000 to 280,000 trucks. The growth is attributed to the conversion of the Army's 10 divisions into 77 independent brigades. Each brigade will need to deploy with its own logistics assets, and no longer will rely on division- or corps-level support. The upshot is a sizeable increase in the number of trucks required to outfit each brigade, explains Army Lt. Gen. Claude V. Christianson, deputy chief of staff for logistics.

A light brigade support battalion, for example, would grow from 92 to 584 trucks. The logistics battalion for a heavy brigade would expand from 539 to 657 trucks. The ranks of truck drivers consequently will grow by nearly 15,000 within the next four years.

Although Christianson cautions that the numbers still are being refined, there is little question that the Army's truck fleet will be substantially larger.

Under the modernization plan, every truck will be manufactured with a common frame specifically designed with hooks and hinges to hang armor, if needed. Add-on kits would be made in enough quantities to equip up to 20 brigades. According to preliminary designs, each kit would provide armor appliques for the trucks roof, door, belly and side, in addition to transparent armor for windshields and windows.

"The technology is available for most of this," says Maj. Gen. Brian I. Geehan, chief of Army transportation.

This approach to armoring makes sense because not every truck needs the same level of protection, he asserts. Funding for the kits, which would cost between $7,000 to $11,000 each, is not included in the $34 billion modernization plan.

Since October 2003, the Army has spent more than $4 billion on truck armor, in addition to $300 million for contractor labor to install the kits. That also includes more than 10,000 armored Humvees.

All new and upgraded trucks, meanwhile, will have to be sturdier and outfitted with more powerful engines and transmissions in order to withstand the weight of the armor. Most steel-armor kits weigh between 2,000 to 3,000 pounds. Although there are lighter armor options available, such as composite ceramics, only steel has met the Army's requirements so far, says Geehan. Lighter armor is showing significant progress, however, and may be incorporated into future kits in the next two to three years, he adds.

Future armor kits, unlike current systems, will be purchased and installed by the truck manufacturers, rather than bought as an after-market product.

"Designing vehicles from the ground up and armoring them at the factory is the right solution for today's soldiers," says Archie L. Massicotte, vice president of International Truck and Engine Corporation.

Once the Army signs off on the kit design specifications, it will direct truck manufacturers to compete the armor work, says Brig. Gen. Patrick J. O'Reilly, the Army's chief procurement official for combat-support vehicles. This will open the market to multiple suppliers, and will ensure that the Army no longer is dependent on a single vendor, O'Reilly says. …