The US Army is going to get lighter. At least that’s the message that industry is taking from several recent service initiatives. Moreover, it’s one of the messages that industry participants conveyed during last month’s Association of the United States Army (AUSA) 2014 Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, D.C.
Recent expressions of Army interest in new lightweight vehicle platforms have included exploration of a new Ultra Light Combat Vehicle (ULCV) platform as well as information requests for a slightly heavier Light Reconnaissance Vehicle (LRV) concept. In both cases the notional platforms are significantly lighter weight than the current HMMWV.
Reflective of this light platform interest, across more than 600 exhibits at AUSA 2014, several companies devoted space to highlighting their products or capabilities in this emerging light vehicle space.
Here are 5 representative examples of the trend:
1. Polaris Defense: DAGOR ULCV
Building on its success in providing all terrain vehicles to the special operations community, Polaris Defense unveiled its new DAGOR ULCV at AUSA 2014. According to Rich Haddad, Polaris Defense General Manager, DAGOR is “under contract with elements of U.S. Special Operations Command and international SOF customers.”
DAGOR is larger than Polaris SOF ATVs like MRZR and MV850, and is credited by Haddad with representing “a step up in size for Polaris and in payload for our customers.”
With a curb weight of less than 4,500 pounds, DAGOR’s dimensions allow rapid loading into the CH-47 Chinook platform without modification as well as “sling loading” under the UH-60 Black Hawk.
Highlighting the SOF platform’s applicability toward the “Big Army” interest in a possible ULCV, Jed Leonard, manager of Advanced Mobility Platforms at Polaris Defense, noted, “It provides the optimal balance of rapid air transportability, payload and advanced mobility. The design offers our customers a modular, lightweight platform to support a variety of expeditionary missions.”
2. General Dynamics: Ground Mobility Vehicle
General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems (GD-OTS) is currently under contract to produce the Ground Mobility Vehicle (GMV) “1.1” for United States Special Operations Command. Also known as “Flyer 72,” the vehicle provided the basis for another light vehicle spotlight at AUSA 2014.
“As we did with the Ultra Light Combat Vehicle requirement, which is the 4500 pound / 9 person / 3200 pounds of payload vehicle, we took the Flyer 72 / GMV 1.1 base vehicle; took all of the SOF-unique / SOF-specific items off that vehicle, and that brought us down to 4500 pounds,” explained Sean Ridley, Program Manager for Light Tactical Vehicles at GD-OTS. “It also allowed us to put 2 more seats in the vehicle to accommodate 9 Soldiers with their gear. And we demonstrated that last year at the platform performance demonstration at Ft. Bragg.”
Pointing to the subsequent release of information request for LRV, he said the company “took the same Flyer 72 / GMV 1.1 base and teamed with Nobles Worldwide for the VIPER mount for the M230 lightweight 30mm weapon system as our medium caliber solution.”
Although the vehicle displayed at AUSA was not armored, he added that the idea for LRV is “to take the base vehicle with the SOCOM armor package, with 6 guys inside the vehicle – which we already meet – and provide the ‘lightweight 30’ as the medium caliber solution if that winds up being the requirement.”
3. Krauss-Maffei Wegmann: “Mungo” lightweight air-portable vehicle
In recent years, Germany’s Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) has used the AUSA venue to highlight systems like its “Puma” Infantry Combat Vehicle (ICV). The ICV emphasis made sense in light of the fact that “Puma” frequently emerged as a potential fallback solution for the Army’s next generation Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) program. However, following the cancellation of the Army’s GCV program in early 2014, AUSA 2014 saw “Puma” reduced to scale model display status in the KMW exhibit with the bulk of the area devoted to the company’s “Mungo” lightweight air-portable vehicle.
Currently fielded to German Army paratrooper units, the Mungo has been used in international operations since 2003. The platform is currently available in three different variants: basic; multi-purpose; and large-space.
A KMW representative noted company recognition that the US Army was “looking for something slightly different and very light,” adding that the decision to highlight Mungo was designed to “show how simply this could be done.”
4. The Boeing Company: Phantom Badger
The Boeing Company included a variant of its new light “Phantom Badger” vehicle prototype in its AUSA display.
According to project representative David Leroux, the vehicle exhibit helped to highlight the modular design capabilities of the Phantom Badger platform.
“The base vehicle itself is reconfigurable,” he explained, noting that the concept on display integrated the Army’s 120mm mortar system with ammunition.
“But again, the base vehicle is designed to be modular,” he said. “So this whole [mortar] package lifts off and can be replaced with a completely different module in about 15 minutes. A forklift can do it. We’ve even had operators winch it over a tree branch. We have personnel carrier modules, assault modules, crew rescue modules, utility modules, and also some special mission modules that we have done for some customers. We are constrained only by the volume of fitting it into an aircraft and the payload weight of the vehicle itself.”
Acknowledging that the program participants were “very familiar with the ULCV,” he added, “We are participating down at Ft. Benning in the current phase of the Army Expeditionary Warfare Experiment – ‘Spiral J.’ This is a vehicle they are using to go ahead and do some of those experiments for ULCV.”
5. Navistar Defense: Special Operations Tactical Vehicle
Navistar Defense also responded to early Army ULCV interest with information on its Special Operations Tactical Vehicle (SOTV), which reflects the company’s earlier work on USSOCOM’s Non Standard Tactical Truck, a specially built armored vehicle designed to “resemble” the ubiquitous pickup trucks around the world.
According to Scott Cassidy, product manager for the SOTV at Navistar Defense, the company “submitted something” in response to early ULCV interest but stopped the process when it was clear that and ULCV would need to be “’underslung’ from a [UH-60] Blackhawk.”
“That [ULCV requirement] is just not ‘our space,’” he said. “But if you’re looking to transport six people armored [LRV requirement] then I think we’re the only ones that have a solution to do it.”
Pointing to how a few specific changes in the company’s current SOTV platform would satisfy all of the early key performance parameters assigned to the LRV concept, he added, “I hope the requirements don’t change it at all…At the weight ranges they are talking abut with six people they can actually get a reliable, affordable armored vehicle that they need.”
While the systems noted above provide representative examples of the lightweight vehicle platforms and myriad supporting technologies highlighted across the hundreds of exhibits at AUSA 2014, it remains to be seen if/how the Army will express its maturing interest in new lightweight platform concepts – like ULCV and LRV – and how industry will respond in the future.