Magazine article National Defense

Road Warriors

Magazine article National Defense

Road Warriors

Article excerpt

Rivals Gear Up to Build New Tactical Trucks

Richard Cooley, president of the Armored Auto Group, has big ambitions for his thre-year-old company: to grab a piece of the market for the next generation of U.S. military light tactical vehicles.

While his startup is a newcomer to the field of military vehicles, he believes there will be plenty of work to go around as the Army and Marines consider what, if anything, they will do to replace the high mobility, multi-purpose wheeled vehicle, better known as the Humvee.

"We think we're going to be able to get into the mix. At what level, we're not sure," said Cooley, who doesn't rule out the possibility that his company could end up building a future Humvee replacement truck at its San Antonio, Texas, plant. "We'd actually like to make the vehicle ourselves," he added.

Although there are as yet no firm plans or funding to replace the Humvee, truck manufacturers large and small, foreign and domestic, are gearing up to take on the only maker of the 20-year-old vehicle, AM General. Alliances are being struck and partners gathered as the Iraq war shapes the debate on what troops need in the field to protect themselves from mines, rocket-propelled grenades and roadside bombs.

AM General spokesman Craig MacNab said the Humvee is performing well in Iraq and Afghanistan. While the original design is 20 years old, the vehicle has undergone relentless upgrades during the past two decades.

"It is by no means obsolete," he said.

Not surprisingly, rivals looking to break into the light tactical wheeled vehicle market disagree. Archie Massicotte, president of military and government business at International Truck and Engine said, "the Humvee has served a great life for the military for 20 some years. I think what they're finding is that we're fighting battles now in Iraq, and they're using it as a tactical wheeled vehicle. And it was never intended to be a tactical wheeled vehicle," he said.

International Truck has made no secret that it intends to take on AM General. It recently announced a partnership with South African armored vehicle manufacturer Armor Technology Systems Ltd. It has been spending its own research and development funds to build the MXT-MV model, with an eye toward selling it as a Humvee replacement. It has also partnered with Israel's Rafael Armament Development Authority Ltd., and Mississippi-based Griffin Inc. on its armored personnel carrier.

"We're a major truck company," Massicotte said. "It's what we do every day. It won't be a huge undertaking for us to step into a newly developed vehicle and bring it into fruition." He expects the Army will begin a competition for a Humvee replacement in 2007.

Jim Mills, a military truck expert, said other competitors will emerge. Some will come from overseas, but political and practical considerations will lead foreign firms to seek U.S.-based partners. Negotiating the Defense Department acquisition process is a tough proposition for outsiders, he noted. And manufacturing at least part of the vehicle in the United States would go down better politically.

"Other companies are lining up now, and they're seeing the opportunities," Mills said. "At some point, someone will have to come up with the dollars to do it."

MacNab insisted that nothing is in place to move toward a renewed competition for the contract, which expires in 2007. The often-mentioned Future Tactical Truck System is an advanced technology demonstration program, and not a Humvee replacement, he said. "It's not a procurement program; it's a technology demonstration."

Even if the contract does not come up for bid, there are plenty of wish lists and ideas out there for new features.

Mills, who worked on the Humvee program while in the Army, said the process of writing a requirements document for the next generation of light vehicles began in the mid-1990s, and was completed in early 2004. …

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