Magazine article National Defense

Slow Down: Next-Generation Humvee Faces Delays, Budget Crunch

Magazine article National Defense

Slow Down: Next-Generation Humvee Faces Delays, Budget Crunch

Article excerpt

The Army and Marine Corps are expected to delay an industry competition to design and build a new family of light trucks to replace aging humvees.

Under a project called "joint light tactical vehicle," both services announced tentative plans to begin evaluating industry bids later this year or early in 2008. Their intent is to have new vehicles in the fleet by 2012. But the program has encountered obstacles--the biggest one being the Defense Department's decision to buy 6,800 mine-resistant armored vehicles as "interim" replacements to armored humvees.

These interim vehicles are billed as short-term buys to fulfill urgent requests from U.S. military commanders in Iraq. But comments by senior officials and industry experts in recent months suggest that the services will be in no rush to commit to a new vehicle design after having spent billions of dollars on the interim armored vehicles.

The joint light tactical vehicle replacement, or JLTV, also faces major bureaucratic hurdles. The Army and the Marines have yet to agree on the performance and technical specifications of the vehicle, and the Defense Department has added a new twist to the program by requiring that JLTV become a shining example of "acquisition reform," said Col. Steve Myers, Army project manager for future tactical systems.

"This program has lots of oversight from OSD," said Myers, referring to the office of the secretary of defense. The directive from the Pentagon is that JLTV will be a test case for a new approach to major weapon acquisitions. This will require the services to articulate their equipment needs with budget implications in mind. For JLTV, the Army and the Marine Corps will determine what vehicles they need, but their wish-list must include "mature" technologies that already exist in the commercial industry, Myers explained in a presentation to a tactical vehicles conference in Monterey, Calif.

"OSD wants mature technologies that have been demonstrated," he added. "We have to make some trades. We have to be realistic about our requirements."

The Army already has been scouting the marketplace for existing technologies that could be applied to JLTV, Myers said. Vendors have been asked to send proposals in the form of "white papers" and some companies have been invited to special demonstration events during the past two years. Of 374 technologies submitted, the Army has tested 222, and is considering funding further development for 30 of them, Myers said.

The Office of Naval Research last year awarded $500,000 contracts to five companies--AM General, General Dynamics Land Systems, BAE Systems, Oshkosh Truck Corp., and Textron Systems--to design preliminary JLTV mockups.

Most recently, the Marine Corps asked vendors--not just those five but any interested bidder--to send draft proposals.

Lt. Col. Rubin Ben Garza, Marine Corps product manager for joint light tactical vehicles, said he expected a "final request for proposals" to be published in May 2007.

Many unanswered questions remain, however. One major source of speculation among potential bidders is whether the services will ask for "fixed price" or "cost plus" proposals. By law, the Defense Department is required to seek fixed-price bids for new weapon systems. But the Pentagon traditionally has favored "cost plus" contracts, whereby the government pays for research and development expenses, contractor overhead and a profit allowance.

Military officials have not openly discussed an estimated price tag for JLTV trucks. Industry representatives privately have guesstimated that the trucks could cost upwards of $200,000 each, given the assortment of new technology the services are seeking. Current up-armored humvees cost $150,000.

"Fixed price is preferred but all bidders said they favored 'cost' contracts," Garza said at the conference. "We are subject to legislation that mandates fixed price. …

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