WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s chief weapons tester slammed the Army’s new Infantry Squad Vehicle in an annual report, citing the troop carrier’s vulnerability and uncomfortable ride, as the service works to fix vehicular issues that cropped up in initial operational testing ahead of a full-rate production decision.
That decision is expected to be made in May.
The Army has stressed that the vehicle met its operational requirements in testing and does what it was designed to do.
Much of the criticism in the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation office’s report, published Jan. 27, repeated issues laid out in the fiscal 2020 version, but some new problems emerged during testing in the harsh climate of Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona.
The General Motors Defense-manufactured ISV’s key requirements are being met, and the Army is increasing soldier operational readiness by providing an operationally relevant vehicle that can transport small tactical units to a dismount point faster and in better physical and mental condition to fight, according to Steven Herrick, the Army’s product lead for ground mobility vehicles with Program Executive Office Combat Support and Combat Service Support.
The vehicle was designed for easy transport to operational environments with the infantry’s current rotary- and fixed-wing transport platforms. The key performance parameters required that the vehicle’s weight not exceed 5,000 pounds, that it accommodate nine soldiers and that it fit inside a CH-47 Chinook cargo helicopter.
Those requirements force dimensional and material requirements and drive how much can fit inside the vehicle along with the nine soldiers.
General Motors won the contract to build the ISV following developmental testing of options from three vendors. In June 2020, the Army awarded the company a $214.3 million contract to produce 649 vehicles by the end of FY24. The service plans to procure a total of 2,065 ISVs.
GM’s design is based on the company’s 2020 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 midsize truck and uses 90% commercial parts, including a 186-horsepower, 2.8-liter Duramax turbo-diesel engine and performance race components. It also features a custom rollover protection system.
GM delivered the first ISV 120 days following the contract award.
According to the report, the vehicle “is operationally effective for employment as a troop carrier and can accomplish air assault missions in a permission environment,” but the ISV “is not operationally effective for employment in combat and engagement, security cooperation and deterrence missions against a near-peer threat.”
The report also found that the ISV is “not operationally suitable because of poor developmental test reliability and deficiencies in training, maintenance, safety, and human system integration identified in the [initial operational test and evaluation].”
The ISV in action
During the IOT&E phase, a rifle company was able to drive the ISV over wooded and cross-country terrain to reach objectives at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
The soldiers found the ISV to be “quiet, agile” and to provide “enhanced off-road mobility capability,” according to the test report. The ISV reduced soldier fatigue, covering extended distances quickly, the report added.
The vehicles were easy to rig and de-rig, and rapidly move soldiers and equipment out of the landing zone during an air assault mission, the document stated.
But the chief weapons tester noted the ISV’s lack of ballistic armor makes it vulnerable to threats in landing zones that are insecure. Moreover, the vehicle was unable to deliver effective fires, avoid enemy detection, ambushes and engagements “during a majority of their missions,” the report stated.
At times, the vehicle had to slow down on rougher or wooded terrain “negating any element of surprise,” it added. This resulted in “numerous casualties” within the unit, delay in accomplishing the mission and a degradation of the ability to undertake follow-on missions, the report said.
While the ISV has some features that reduce its susceptibility due to its speed and size, it is unable to offer protection to the unit against enemy fire, the report added.
According to Herrick, the ISV met its primary role in the evaluation.
“As there is no requirement for protection or armor — the unit on the ISV is intended to avoid threats, where possible,” Herrick told Defense News in a Feb. 1 statement crafted in consultation with Army testing and requirements communities. “If engaged, units are intended to disengage and when appropriate, disembark.”
The DOT&E report accounts struggles with accessing personal weapons on the move, difficulties with communication systems and the inability to bring 72 hours worth of supplies along on missions.
“The program office is reviewing options for stowage of multiple locations to aid in the ability to ensure the weapons are stored safely and can be retrieved quickly if the need to disembark from the vehicle is required,” Herrick said.
The ISV does not have a requirement for a mounted communication capability. Soldiers relied on their manpack and leader radios during testing, the report notes.
The assumed behavior is for personnel to use current mission command capability, Herrick said. “Soldiers retain access to the same squad and platoon communications systems they use during operations,” he added.
But the program office is considering investigating a kit to integrate vehicle-mounted radio configurations on the ISV.
The ISV has a key system attribute to carry approximately 3,200 lbs of equipment, which includes the nine soldiers and three days of supplies, Herrick said.
“The ISV is intended to support only the soldiers’ load and not to increase/enhance carrying capability of the IBCT,” he wrote. “Commanders always retain the flexibility to change the combat load based on different mission requirements, with the understanding those changes may impact vehicle performance when implemented.”
The report also details struggles to exit the vehicle from center and rear seated positions due to the limited space and mission equipment in the way. Soldiers also said the seats were “cramped and uncomfortable,” a criticism made the year prior. Particularly, the vehicle’s rear seats led to lower back pain.
The ISV’s open design also exposed soldiers to the possibility of being hit by tree branches and sticks.
Herrick said that while soldiers said they wanted to see egress improvement, they still consistently met the disembark timeline requirements.
The Army is reviewing potential options on stowage plans to address some of the issues.
The program office, test community and General Motors are currently at Yuma Test Center running the ISV through a ride quality assessment. Pending the data, Herrick said, the Army may consider looking at new seats or attachments or non-materiel solutions such as training to improve comfort.
The Army is also working on fixes to some issues that cropped up in the rugged, hilly terrain and heat of Yuma.
The program terminated reliability testing there because the ISV had failures far below operational thresholds.
“The major failures included loss of steering capability, cracked and bent seat frames and engine cracks and overheating,” the report details.
ISV experienced fewer problems at Fort Bragg.
Both of the vehicles in tests at Aberdeen Proving Ground – which accumulated 10,000 miles – and 15 ISVs at the IOT&E event – which logged more than 6,000 miles – exceeded the reliability requirement, Herrick said.
But a single vehicle at Yuma that logged roughly 3,800 miles, experienced multiple failures at certain speeds on complex and challenging off-road terrain.
GM is analyzing the component fixes to address the issues, several of which were already implemented and included in the IOT&E vehicles, Herrick said.
The office has already improved the baseline configuration to address the cracked and bent seat frames.
The Army will continue to verify the changes by using digital engineering, bench testing and full system testing, he noted.
Additional improvements are being assessed to include addressing engine concerns, according to Herrick, and will be evaluated through system-level reliability testing at Yuma later in fiscal 2022.
The second phase of the Army’s airborne IOT&E is planned for later in 2022. The service is working to synchronize this with the unit’s training cycle.
This phase builds on the first test that simulated a starting point after a heavy drop by executing a full assignment from prep to on-ground mission with a platoon, Herrick said.
The ISV has completed developmental testing on Low Velocity Air Drop with six successful drops from a fixed-wing aircraft.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.