Murphy's Law: Getting Ready For The Next Iraq

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March 26, 2009: The U.S. Army wants the next generation of U.S. battlefield trucks to be the seven ton JLTV (Joint Light Tactical Vehicle). This will replace the 2.4 ton HMMWV (hummer). But the army may not be able to afford it. The JLTV costs 3-4 times as much as the hummer, which replaced the even cheaper 1.1 ton jeep and 3 ton M37 "3/4 ton" truck. The JLTV is more expensive because it marks a notable change in 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. Or has it?

The change 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 kind of violence has been encountered before (in World War II and Vietnam), but never to the extent encountered in Iraq. As happened in earlier instances of attacks on support vehicles, U.S. troops promptly added armor to their trucks, and quickly developed "road warrior" tactics that defeated the attacks.

What was different about Iraq was the large number of roadside and suicide bombs, and the huge size of the individual weapons. But even though these bombs created a lot of American casualties, the casualty rate was a third of what it was in Vietnam and World War II. Mainly because of the armored hummers and trucks, especially the highly effective armor designs (especially in the MRAP vehicles), plus the use of jammers, UAVs and new tactics. 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 problem is, will there be another effort on the same scale as the Iraqi bombing campaign?

Iraq was unique because of the large quantities of explosives available to the enemy, and the many Sunni Arabs who knew how to build these bombs. The Iraqi Sunni Arabs were a minority, and were desperate to regain control of the country, before the Kurdish and Shia Arab majority could mobilize a police force capable of suppressing the  violence, and exacting revenge for decades of savage repression. The JLTV could be another example of preparing for the next war, but assuming that this would be like the last war. It rarely works out this way. That realization, and the high cost of the JLTV, may force the army to keep a lot more hummers, or HMMWV II type vehicles in service.

The U.S. Army began replacing the World War II era vehicle designs with the HMMWV (humvee or "hummer") in 1984. This was the first new unarmored combat vehicle design since World War II (when the jeep and ¾ ton truck designs were introduced), and 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, and eventually replace, the hummer in combat zones. The roadside bomb experience led to a rapid evolution in what the new vehicle should be. Thus the three designs that were selected for development were basically armored combat vehicles. In three years one of the three will be chosen as the final design and put into production. The army wants to buy at least 38,000 of the JLTV (Joint Light Tactical Vehicle), while the marines want to buy about 14,000.

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. Fiscal and historical reality will probably sharply reduce the number of JLTVs produced, and only issued to certain "light armored" units.

 


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