On February 8, the military issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) to suppliers, soliciting concepts for a new Joint Light Tactical family of Vehicles (JLTVs). The proposed vehicles with companion trailers are to be capable of performing multiple mission roles to provide protected, sustained, networked mobility for personnel and payloads across the full Range of Military Operations (ROMO). According to Brigadier General John R. Bartley, Program Executive Officer Combat Support & Combat Service Support (PEO CS & CSS), "Commonality of capabilities will be the hallmark of JLTV, a future replacement for some portion of the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs) for the Army, consisting of 10 sub-configurations in three different payload categories."

The RFP that resulted in the HMMWV (that's the acronym that spawned the Hummer military vehicle that became a GM division) was issued in 1979. The first Hummers rolled off the Mishawaka, Indiana, assembly line in early 1985 and more than 190,000 have been delivered since then. But after five years of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), the military is more than ready to replace it with something much better suited to the new battlefield reality.

As many as seven firms are believed to be preparing proposals, which are due on April 14. By June, three companies will be selected as finalists, each of which will prepare seven variants of their JLTV family in three different weight classes. After 15 months of development and a year of testing, a winner will be selected, or one company will be eliminated.

The vehicle you see here will likely be a strong contender. It's the brainchild of BAE Systems, Inc., the world's third largest defense contractor working in collaboration with International's Navistar Defense division. Engineers on hand for a recent unveiling in suburban Detroit say the vehicle is virtually ready for production now, as it uses many off-the-shelf components like the Navistar diesel engine.

Few details were revealed about the new vehicle for competitive reasons, but we are assured the track width is virtually identical to the Hummer's and that overall width is similar. Length and wheelbase are clearly much longer, and it stands taller, too, but weight is claimed to easily undercut the 16,800-pound limit for air transport fully trimmed to Essential Combat Configuration (ECC). The vehicle features a clean V-shaped "hull" designed to deflect mine blasts out and away from the vehicle and to keep vehicle components from penetrating the cabin. The driveshaft runs down the V, well beneath a flat floor that allows troops to enter or leave from either side of the vehicle-something that can't easily be done in today's Hummer, which packages the chassis and drivetrain high inside a center tunnel. Suspension is by control arms and air or hydraulic springs at each corner and is height adjustable from 7-24 inches. Naturally four-wheel-drive and a Central Tire Inflation System (CTIS) will be standard, along with bead-locked run-flat tires. The sides of the passenger compartment are widest at the beltline and, viewed from above, at the B-pillar, again presumably to help deflect blasts and ordnance. The walls are roughly an inch thick and made of "lightweight armor composites."

To meet the ambitious requirements set by the Army's TACOM Life Cycle Management Command for payload capacity, on-board electronics and survivability, the BAE-Navistar prototype will have an "all modular" design, meaning the powertrain, electronics, mobility systems, and armor all can be replaced as needed, says Matt Riddle, BAE's vice president of wheeled vehicles.

Crew survivability is the overarching concern, but it is believed that this JLTV is more likely to survive in repairable condition than an up-armored Hummer would be if hit by the same blast. Many parts are said to be designed to break away and be replaced in such incidents. BAE won't discuss the results of initial blast tests, except to say that the prototype is being built to meet the requirement that it keep running after taking enemy fire. "If you blow off a wheel station, the vehicle can still continue. Or if you take some shots through the armor and hit the cooling station on the engine, the vehicle can continue," according to Riddle. The companies certainly have experience in this area: To date, Navistar and the various divisions of BAE have received nearly 75 percent of the Pentagon's Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle orders.

It definitely looks like one bad mamajama, but we all have to keep our fingers crossed that no matter how many lives it saves and what sort of hero icon it becomes-we won't see a civilianized version on the road. This one is just way too big. Anyway, Jelteevee doesn't roll off the tongue like Hummer does.

More on the JLTV Program:
JLTV Pathfinders: The Combat Tactical Vehicle (CTV) Technology Demonstrator
Army Issues Request For Proposal for Joint Light Tactical Vehicle

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