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6 vehicles vie for Special Forces combat role

Nov. 8, 2012 - 07:21AM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 8, 2012 - 07:21AM  |  
Northrop Grumman MAV-L
Northrop Grumman MAV-L ()
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Oshkosh S-ATV ()
General Dynamics (OTS) Flyer ()
Navistar Defense International SOTV ()

Six candidates are battling it out in a bid to become the next Special Forces combat vehicle, known as the Ground Mobility Vehicle 1.1.

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Six candidates are battling it out in a bid to become the next Special Forces combat vehicle, known as the Ground Mobility Vehicle 1.1.

But don't be surprised if one of these innovative designs finds a home outside of the snake-eater community. Top leaders have increased their demand to return high mobility and firepower to a vehicle fleet bogged down by armor protection.

Many industry and military analysts believe the GMV will provide the performance and profiles needed for long-range reconnaissance, airfield seizure — all the high-speed missions common to force-entry organizations such as the 18th Airborne Corps.

For example, the suspension on up-armored Humvees can't take airdrops well. But the GMV, which weighs less than 7,400 pounds, can be airdropped, sling-loaded or internally loaded on the CH-47. Some competitors even fit in the V-22 Osprey. And all of them bring enough horsepower to quickly move the big guns into place.

Each competitor offers a unique design. But set requirements have resulted in a number of commonalities.

Each vehicle can put on A, B and C armor kits. Navistar Defense took a slightly different approach, which will be discussed later. But know this: Even with maximum armor, the maneuverability and speed of these vehicles will leave an A-kit Humvee in the dust.

And there is plenty of firepower to complement the horsepower. There are no blind spots. Every corner, flank and angle is covered by a machine-gun mount. This tour de force is topped with a 360-degree turret that can hold any crew-served or remotely operated weapon system in the inventory.

Various rail and track systems give the GMV great flexibility. Each competitor has countless configurations of seating; weaponry; command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; munitions; and equipment.

The government has completed its testing of each vehicle and is expected to select a winner by year's end.

That company will deliver at least 1,300 vehicles through 2020. The price must come in below $350,000 per vehicle.

Here are the competitors:

Northrop Grumman MAV-L

Northrop Grumman's Medium Assault Vehicle-Light is built around a tubular roll cage and modular skeleton.

The high-performance suspension provides the most wheel travel of any competitor: 18 inches in the front and 20 inches in the rear. That eliminates the bumps and bruises you get when riding in a Humvee, said retired Lt. Col. Frank Sturek, and lets you "glide" over restrictive terrain at high speeds.

This kind of mobility would be a game-changer in places such as Afghanistan, Sturek said.

In addition to serving as program manager for the Northrop Grumman variant, Sturek logged 21 years as an infantry officer. He served as a battalion and brigade executive officer for the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq and a battalion commander with the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan, where many vehicles are unable to go through restrictive terrain and are channeled into an improvised explosive device event.

Sturek said his battalion task force suffered 62 IED strikes in 10 months. It was not hard to see the best tactical locations for the enemy to play such a mine. But the vehicles they had available were restrictive in their ability to maneuver around those chokepoints.

"Our anti-armor and heavy weapons company had most of my wheeled vehicles," he said. "They traveled completely off-road, but they were slow to get to the objective. [With a GMV-type vehicle] I would've had fewer IED strikes, and I would've been able to get the objectives quicker and be inside the enemy's decision cycle."

Oshkosh S-ATV

The Special Purpose All-Terrain Vehicle boasts the TAK-4i intelligent suspension for improved off-road mobility. The system is proving its worth in a variety of vehicles, to include the mine-resistant, ambush-protected, all-terrain vehicle and the company's Joint Light Tactical Vehicle.

Perhaps most unique is the vehicle's center-drive position, which provides unprecedented visibility.

"The idea in this vehicle is that the driver has one mission and one mission only," said William Batten, director of Global Marketing. "He is not hanging out the window with a six-gun shooting. He is driving the vehicle and is surrounded by guys with machine guns protecting him."

The S-ATV, which was cloaked in super-secret development for more than two years, has a "very high power-to-weight ratio" that can easily tackle 60-degree slopes and "slow down to 80 mph if you want to," Batten said.

The company relied on 90 years of experience building military vehicles in this design. Oshkosh in October delivered its 100,000th military vehicle, one of 8,700 M-ATVs serving in Afghanistan.

"When you build 8,700 of anything, you learn a lot from it," Batten said.

General Dynamics (LSFP) Spectre

The submission from General Dynamics Land Systems Force Protection sees an evolution of the Jamma Internally Transportable Vehicle, which was designed with technology gained on the Baja racing circuit.

The modular body construction serves as the vehicle frame, and a center-mounted engine creates optimal weight distribution across the vehicle, said retired Col. Jim Church, who heads Spectre's business development.

The engine placement allows General Dynamics to provide a narrow version that measures fewer than 60 inches in width and can fit inside the V-22 Osprey. It also adds a lot of stability for off-road environments, Church said.

Spectre places the vehicle commander behind and slightly higher than the driver's right shoulder, which provides both soldiers greater visibility and control.

The vehicle has a unique rollover system that collapses for air transportation and envelops every occupant — to include litter patients — when extended. It has a 30-inch unprepared fording depth, can handle a 60 percent grade in forward and reverse and hugs a 40 percent side slope.

On top of all this, Church said driving the Spectre is "just plain fun."

General Dynamics (OTS) Flyer

General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems is another competitor able to fit inside the V-22 Osprey.

The vehicle can be configured for a variety of missions and is able to carry five litter patients.

But the strongest argument for Flyer may rest in the fact that 80 percent of its parts are commercial, off-the-shelf or off the Humvee, such as the differentials, steering rod ends, tie down rings, light system, alternator, batteries, suspension ball joints, air compressor and tires, according to data provided by the manufacturer.

This could be a big factor for a cash-strapped Defense Department, as parts commonality always reduces life cycle cost.

AM General GMV 1.1

This vehicle builds on the knowledge and success of GMV 1.0, a vehicle already under contract with special operators. Because of these sensitivities, AM General is keeping a close hold on many specs and capabilities inherent to its upgraded GMV 1.1.

But Christopher Vanslager, vice president of business development and program management, is confident the company has a winner.

Designers first addressed the number of items added to GMV 1.0 over the years. GMV 1.1 was reconfigured from the ground up to decrease weight and increase performance. The result is a 70 percent parts commonality with 1.0, which opens the door to the global supply system already in place. The vehicle is lighter. In fact, its payload is greater than its curb weight.

AM General is using the same engine that is in the company's JLTV submission. Although this one has a little less horsepower, it has more power than the 1.0 and 20 percent greater fuel efficiency. The engine also compensates to allow for a variety of fuels to be used.

AM General also is leaning on 50 years' experience producing light tactical vehicles. It has produced more than 281,000 Humvees.

Navistar Defense International SOTV

If it looks like a pickup, that's because it is. Well, sort of.

Navistar Defense has teamed with Indigen Armor, maker of Special Operations Command's Non-Standard Tactical Truck, to produce a high-performance, up-armored pickup "skinned" to look like a run-of-the-mill truck.

The team modified the NSTT to meet GMV 1.1 requirements. The truck has 75 percent parts commonality, meaning special operators would have one set of driver and mechanic training and one set of spare parts.

The Baja-inspired suspension provides 14 inches of wheel travel, six inches up and eight down. The vehicle can go from 0 to 60 mph in under eight seconds and has a top speed in excess of 100 mph.

"But this is not a dune buggy. This is a truck," said Scott Cassidy, military sales program manager.

While the truck is a proven technology, its height posed a problem. The cab is only three inches below the maximum allowable height — and a turret had to be added. Navistar Defense created a 360-degree turret that folds into the bed during transportation and can be erected in fewer than 30 seconds upon landing. The design is such that a super-elevated .50-cal can remain mounted, which means there is no need to take off the barrel or reset headspace and timing.

The vehicle also took a different approach to armor.

"There is no way to up-armor a two-frame chassis vehicle and get it right," Cassidy said. "Although weaknesses in the vehicle make it very hard to give a kit to the government and tell a guy at the user level when you want to armor this, you have to put on these 150 pieces. So we are offering a six-piece system: four doors and two sets of glass, and that's it. Everything else is always inherent."

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