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Army eyes better Humvee survivability

Nov. 4, 2012 - 10:47AM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 4, 2012 - 10:47AM  |  
A Humvee from U.S. Army Europe's 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team passes tanks during a joint-training exercise. The Army is looking to revamp its Humvee fleet for future operations.
A Humvee from U.S. Army Europe's 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team passes tanks during a joint-training exercise. The Army is looking to revamp its Humvee fleet for future operations. (Staff Sgt. Joel Salgado / Army)
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The Army has kicked off the next round in its attempt to modernize the Humvee fleet, focusing on a series of limited goals targeting vehicle survivability.

The effort calls for "systematic improvements" through better crew protection and vehicle survivability "at a maximum gross vehicle weight of 18,500 [pounds]," according to the solicitation.

The Oct. 29 request for proposals for the Modernized Expanded Capacity Vehicle-Survivability is the first of what Col. David Bassett, the Army's deputy program executive officer for combat support and combat service support, called a multistep process to revamp the Humvee fleet for future operations.

"We wanted to make sure that we could at least get good test results on all of the survivability improvements that industry had developed in anticipation of the original MECV program," Bassett said at the Association of the United States Army conference. "So we set aside a portion of the fiscal year '12 funding to evaluate, model and test those survivability solutions so at least we understand" what is out there.

The Humvee modernization program has had a curious history. At one point, the Army wanted to recapitalize up to 60,000 Humvees, and in late 2011, it looked as though the program might overtake the Army's developmental Joint Light Tactical Vehicle competition, whose cost and schedule were coming under fire from some members of Congress.

But revamped JLTV requirements to reduce weight and cost led the program to receive full funding in the fiscal 2013 budget. The same budget scuttled the Humvee modernization program (the original MECV), much to the displeasure of some in Congress.

But thanks to wrangling on Capitol Hill, the Army has $48 million in research and development money to fund future MECV-related activities. While the Army earlier this year sought to transfer $28 million of that to other programs, the House Appropriations defense subcommittee refused, and now the Army has to spend that money by the end of fiscal 2013 or lose the funding, according to budget rules.

According to the latest RfP, $19.8 million of that cash will pay for up to six contracts for the MECV-S program, with each contract calling for two identical MECV-S systems, as well as two sets of computer-aided design models. The RfP defines a MECV-S system as "an armored 4-door weapons carrier crew compartment on a rolling chassis."

By separating the protection and survivability aspect of the program from the automotive aspect, "it allowed us to spend more of that money in a way that we thought was very responsible," Bassett said. "If we were to try and add additional funds, we put this entire effort in jeopardy because we simply don't have the dollars and the years" to do it.

Money is also the reason the Army can't run the JLTV and MECV programs simultaneously.

"It makes no sense to even talk about a tactical wheeled vehicle fleet without constraining it by resources," Bassett said, and it's not possible to support the Army's entire fleet of 110,000 to 160,000 ground vehicles "at the highest level of modernization."

An industry source involved in the previous MECV program said the new testing is a positive step, because the Army never fully comprehended how far industry had come on the MECV program with regard to survivability, and "this is the test to find out where industry got to and what capabilities are out there."

Another positive step, according to the industry source, is that the Army asked for a potential unit price for 5,750 vehicles, "which is the exact same air assault requirement number [for the MECV] that they had before."

The MECV was originally intended to be transported by sling load under a CH-47 helicopter to fulfill the air assault mission that the JLTV had grown too large and too heavy to meet. Although the air assault mission still exists, there is a gap in platforms that can meet it.

Still, the exec cautioned, "I don't know whether this program is heading anywhere, other than the fact of [the Army is trying to] understand the capabilities" that industry has developed.

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