Most of the deficiencies found with the military’s newest ground combat machine, the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, have been addressed, officials said after a recent report found the vehicle “not operationally suitable.”
A number of problems were identified in testing last year before the vehicle began fielding recently. The report by the Office of the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation noted all versions of the vehicle at the time were “not operationally suitable because of deficiencies in reliability, maintainability, training, manuals, crew situational awareness, and safety.”
Officials with the company that builds the truck, and the Marine Corps program representative, said most of those issues have been fixed. The report’s findings were from May 2018 and work done to fix problems found during testing was not included in the final report, said Oshkosh Defense President John Bryant and Andy Rodgers, Marine program manager for light tactical vehicles,
“It’s kind of like reading a report from September now that’s an assessment of whether the New England Patriots are going to do well in the playoffs,” Bryant said. “It turns out they did pretty well.”
The vehicle is set to replace many vehicles of the aging Humvee fleet. It is a faster and more ruggedized vehicle built to better protect troops as priorities shift to a more competitive, near-peer battlefield.
Its protection, extreme off-road mobility, modularity and network capabilities far exceed the Humvee and provide a suite of capabilities in a smaller, faster package than the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected, or MRAP, vehicles developed to counter roadside bombs that shredded many Humvees.
Testers found crew "blind spots," difficult missile loading, reduced space and maintenance problems.
Nearly all issues mentioned in the report have been addressed and applied to the current vehicles headed to the fleet, the officials said. Some minor adjustments are being evaluated by the services and will require slight modifications to the fleet at a later date, Bryant said.
The most striking problem was the close-combat version “provides less capability to engage threats with the (Tube-launched, Optically tracked, Wire-guided) missiles” over the Humvee.
“The missile reload process is slow and difficult for crews,” according to the report, and the close-combat version has “less storage space than other JLTV variants and accessing mission-essential equipment from the cargo area is a challenge.”
For those reasons, testers at the time deemed the close-combat JLTV “not operationally effective,” a term used to determine if the system can accomplish its intended mission, in as realistic an environment as possible.
“Operationally suitable” means whether the system can be placed in the field, remain reliable and be sustained within the unit and support available.
Rodgers told reporters that working with the TOW system on the JLTV will require improved tactics, techniques and procedures by troops getting familiar with the vehicle.
The company also made changes to the storage and accessibility of missiles and added shielding to cables that allowed for better accessibility and a greater field of fire, Bryant said. Those changes have been incorporated already on the vehicles being fielded, he said.
But can you get out?
The vehicle comes in two- and four-seat versions with four basic configurations — general purpose, utility vehicle, heavy guns carrier and close-combat weapons carrier.
The report also found problems for users exiting the vehicle, noting, “numerous reliability failures of doors not opening impeded the ability of the soldiers and marines to safely ingress and egress the JLTV.”
Rodgers said there had been minor changes made to the doors. The armored door system is slightly more complex than the Humvee and takes some experience to learn.
Crews also had “poor visibility due to blind spots around the vehicle,” according to the report.
Testers are looking to add an additional hatch to the versions that do not have turrets so that the vehicle will have another egress, or exit, option in case of a vehicle rollover, Rodgers said.
Bryant said the hatch will be added to the variants that don’t already have turrets, which double as escape hatches.
As far as visibility issues, Rodgers said Army officials began looking at ways to modify elements of the vehicle in December to resolve those problems.
“A decision was made back in December for the Army to pursue expanding the visibility of the vehicle, improving size of rear windows, putting a front camera on the JLTV,” Rodgers said.
Bryant added that once there is a decision on those items, they can be included in future JLTV production and modified on those already with soldiers and Marines, a common practice when improvements are made to any piece of gear, from radios to vehicles to rifles.
Maintenance and transport
Report authors cited a lack of maintenance capabilities and over-reliance on contractor support to provide maintenance.
“Units cannot maintain the JLTV without support from the contractor field service representatives due to vehicle complexity, ineffective training, poor manuals, and challenges with troubleshooting the vehicle,” according to the report.
The reliability problems included engine wiring, flat and damaged tires and brake system faults. In testing, one unit had a number of flat tires while another unit running over the same terrain did not have tire problems, Bryant noted.
He added that the vehicle has undergone more than 100,000 miles of testing and the JLTV was assessed as meeting double the reliability requirement set for it.
A short line in the report noted that JLTVs would need more maintenance due to some of their complexity. Rodgers went a little deeper by explaining that while Humvees can hit operational failures at around the 500- to 600-mile mark, JLTVs’ lowest mileage estimates in testing to those types of failures was 2,400 miles.
So, while actually working on and fixing the JLTV may be more time intensive and complex, Rodgers said that the vehicle will likely work longer with less regular maintenance than the Humvee.
Once operators and maintainers are more familiar with the JLTV, “the reliability of the vehicle will go up, which means there will be less maintenance on the vehicles,” he said.
Compared to the Humvee, the JLTV already needs less maintenance, he said.
Another concern arose in testing when existing Humvee trailers didn’t work properly with JLTVs. The Marines will continue with research and development into next year to find a solution, Rodgers said.
For air transport, soldiers will have to remove the B-kit armor because with that layer the vehicle is too heavy for the CH-47F helicopter.
Fielding the vehicle
The Army fielded its first JLTVs in mid-January to the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia. Originally, the Army said the 10th Mountain Division would be the first to receive the vehicle, followed by 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team in Vicenza, Italy, and then a brigade in Hawaii — likely with the 25th Infantry Division.
The combined Army and Marine Corps program calls for the Army to eventually field 49,099 vehicles and the Marines adding a total of 9,091. The Air Force has plans to field 80 vehicles, according to the report.
So far, more than 11,000 JLTVs have been delivered to the services, Bryant said.
The totals won’t be complete until the 2020s for the Marines and the 2030s for the Army. And that still won’t entirely replace the Humvee, which is the majority light vehicle in an Army fleet of an estimated 117,000, according to Military.com. That means about 40 percent of Army vehicles will eventually be JLTVs.