Magazine article National Defense

Army Covets Commercial Truck Technology

Magazine article National Defense

Army Covets Commercial Truck Technology

Article excerpt

Worldwide demand for rugged vehicles benefits military programs

Charged with the operation and maintenance of more than 200,000 trucks, Ithe U.S. Army also is seeking to modernize the aging fleet. The service's strategy for doing so, however, is falling short in many areas, officials said.

"At the current rate of procurement, it will take about 48 years to replace our tactical vehicle fleet," said Gen. John G. Coburn, commander of the Army Materiel Command. Most trucks are designed to last no more than 20 to 25 years. "We have not been fixing our equipment," said Coburn. "We are going to have to go to a better program [to] insert technology."

The service's $942 million budget for tactical wheeled vehicle procurement in fiscal 2001, according to Army officials, is not adequate to buy enough modern trucks to replace old ones, even though it represents a $135 million increase from two years ago. It cost the Army $1.5 billion last fiscal year to operate and support the truck fleet.

"We are not getting ahead, even with the new investments," said Maj. Gen. John S. Caldwell, commander of the Army's TankAutomotive and Armaments Command (TACOM). The command manages the Army's fleets of heavy, medium and light trucks.

Caldwell spoke with National Defense during a recent conference in Monterey, Calif., sponsored by the tactical wheeled vehicles division of the National Defense Industrial Association. "We got way behind the power curve on maintaining the trucks," he said. "The average age of the fleet is getting older as we do the upgrades." According to Jim Sutton, program manager for heavy vehicles, about 70 percent of the line-haul fleet is outmoded.

"We want more cooperative agreements with commercial truck companies," said Caldwell. "That would allow us to leverage billions of dollars worth of technology investments" by the private sector, he said.

Caldwell's remarks, essentially, reflect the Army's strategy for making better use of its money: team with the private sector because the commercial truck makers already have developed and manufactured many of the products the Army wants.

In the future, however, the Army plans to double its expenditures on truck programs in order to keep up the aging fleet. Dan Mehney, director of acquisition at TACOM, said the spending plan peaks at $2.2 billion in fiscal 2003; and stays at about $1.6 billion to $1.8 billion a year through 2007. The biggest share of the Army's truck dollars goes to the medium-sized fleet, which has the oldest and most outdated vehicles.

The light truck fleet has 114,000 vehicles averaging 10 years of age. The medium fleet of 83,300 averages 22 years of age. And the heavy fleet of 25,400 is about 14 years old on average.

Light tactical vehicles weigh less than 2-- 1/2 tons. The fleet includes the ubiquitous HMMWV, or Humvee; the commercial utility cargo vehicles, or CUCVs; and smaller numbers of SUSVs (tracked small unit support vehicles) and armored security vehicles. These vehicles are used as weapons platforms, troop and general cargo transports, carriers for command-control-communications personnel and equipment, and as field ambulances.

Medium trucks generally weigh 2-1/2 to 5 tons. They include cargo trucks, vans, tractor trucks, wreckers and dump trucks. They are the primary movers of equipment and personnel in the field.

Heavy vehicles exceed 5 tons. They are heavy-duty load haulers-combat vehicle and weapon system transporters. They transport bulk quantities of fuel, ammunition and other supplies, deploying combat vehicles and combat engineer equipment. They also are used as long-haul highway transports.

The Army, additionally, has more than 110,000 trailers, including cargo trailers, flatbeds, low-beds, tankers, ammo trailers, vans and special purpose utility trailers. The U.S. Army National Guard has 121,000 tactical wheeled vehicles.

Industrial Base

By the end of this month, TACOM plans to wrap up an "industrial base sector analysis" that will examine the financial health of existing suppliers, said Mehney. …

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