Electronic Weapons: Why Hackers Hate Hummers


October 29, 2017: AM General, the American developer and manufacturer of the HMMWV (“hum-V” or “hummer”) has produced nearly 300,000 of these now iconic military vehicles since the early 198os and sees a lot of future sales disappearing with the introduction of the new JLTV (Joint Light Tactical Vehicle). Yet the American military and many foreign users will continue buying new hummers and to encourage that the manufacturer is pointing out some obvious, and not-so-obvious, advantages of the hummer. For one thing it is still useful (obviously) and many foreign users note that it easier to maintain than many post-1980s vehicles which contain a lot of electronics and tech in general. As many older automobile users have discovered the presence of all that electronics makes it more difficult for nations with poor infrastructure to repair them. The reason is simple; the hummer is old school in its dependence on electronics and anyone with mechanical skills can repair it. Post-1980s vehicles require electronic diagnostic equipment to find problems and access to electronic replacement parts to make some essential repairs. AM General recently claimed that hummers, unlike modern vehicles (like JLTV) are not vulnerable to EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) or hacking of any sort. While EMP will disable electronic additions to the hummer the basic vehicle will continue to operate (minus the added electronic features) after subjected to EMP. In addition AM General is continuing to add new features to the basic hummer, but nothing that would be vulnerable to EMP or hacking.

Meanwhile the fear of enemies using EMP weapons to destroy electronics has many military organization seeking ways to minimize the threat. Since the 1950s it was known that the EMP put out by nuclear weapons could damage or destroy solid state (transistors and microelectronics) devices. Back then most military electronics used vacuum tubes, which were invulnerable to EMP. In the 1980s the Russians were found to be using vacuum tube tech, although miniaturized and more reliable, in some critical military electronics systems.

Meanwhile you no longer have to use a nuclear weapon to generate a militarily useful EMP. Since the 1990s devices using high-powered microwave (HPM) devices have been developed to create focused EMP on demand without all the nuclear blast and radioactivity. The most commonly mentioned device for this is the AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radars that are becoming standard equipment in modern warplanes. AESA is more reliable and, increasingly, no more expensive than the older mechanical (a small dish that moves around inside a dome) radar. AESA is also easier and cheaper to maintain, which makes a more expensive AESA cheaper, over its lifetime, than a cheaper (to buy) mechanically scanned radar. More and more nations (including China and Russia) are manufacturing AESA radars and equipping their ships and aircraft with this stuff.

All these nations are also manufacturing or developing EMP “bombs” that could be used to sabotage military bases or civilian facilities. For a long time EMP was believed to be an unlikely threat because you needed a nuclear war to create it. Naturally the blast and radiation damage from the nukes was seen as more of a threat than EMP. But now that has changed. You can “harden” military electronics to resist (but apparently not eliminate) the threat of EMP damage. Even the JLTV manufacturer, which uses hardened electronics in its vehicle, admits that this is no guarantee most JLTVs will survive EMP attack. The hummer manufacturer claims about their vehicle being “EMP proof” is generally acknowledged although no definitive test results have been released and probably never will be. But it is known that older, pre-essential electronics, vehicles are more resistant and some hardening of essential electrical items (like the electric ignition system) would create the most EMP resistant vehicle available.

When the JLTV enters service in 2019 it will signal the end of an era. The hummer was an iconic and revolutionary vehicle and the most innovative military transport to show up since World War II. About half the annual sales of HMMWV vehicles went to the U.S. Army, with the rest going to other branches of the American military and foreign customers. Hummers have been produced in dozens of variants and versions. The army will continue to use the hummer for a decade or more after the JLTV enters service, but the unique vehicle design is now beginning to fade away. AM General is seeking to slow that fade and may succeed.

The 6.4 ton JLTV that replaces the 4 ton armored HMMWV (2.4 tons unarmored) is heavier because of the JLTV being more robust and better protected. The hummer itself replaced the 1.1 ton jeep and the 3 ton M37 "3/4 ton" truck in the 1980s. The JLTV marks a notable design direction for tactical vehicles. The JLTV is designed to absorb combat damage and be quickly equipped with two different armor kits. In effect, the World War II concept of the unarmored light vehicle for moving men and material around the battlefield has been radically changed.

This began in Iraq, where it was demonstrated that you can fight your way through a hostile population on a regular basis and defeat a guerilla force constantly attacking your tactical and logistical vehicles. This has never worked before but it worked this time, in part because U.S. troops promptly armored their hummers and trucks and quickly developed "road warrior" tactics that defeated roadside and suicide bombs. Even though these bombs created a lot of American casualties, that casualty rate was a third of what it was in Vietnam and World War II. This was in large part because of the armored hummers and trucks. Few people outside the military noted this event, a watershed moment in military history. But it was recognized within the military and produced this sharp shift in design philosophy for tactical trucks, and the result is the JLTV.

The U.S. Army began replacing the World War II era vehicles with the HMMWV in 1985. This was the first new unarmored combat vehicle design since World War II when the jeep and ¾ ton truck was introduced. The HMMWV was expected to last for three decades or more. But that plan changed once Iraq was invaded. As expected, hummers wore out a lot more quickly (in five years) in combat than during peacetime use (14 years). So the army and marines began developing, ahead of schedule, a new vehicle to supplement the hummer in combat zones.

In addition to being built to better survive mines and roadside bombs, the JLTV will be able to generate 30 kw of electricity (for operating all the new electronic gear and recharging batteries), have an automatic fire extinguishing system, and jam-resistant doors. Like the hummer, JLTV will be easy to reconfigure, for everything from a four seat, armed scout vehicle to an ambulance, command vehicle, or cargo or troop transport.

The hummer will continue to be used outside of the combat zone, where most troops spend most of their time. But the JLTV will be built to better handle the beating vehicles take in the combat zone, including a design that enables troops to quickly slide in armor and Kevlar panels to make the vehicles bullet and blast proof, but much more vulnerable to EMP that existing hummers.


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