In mid-October, the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) will hold its annual fair in the nation’s capital. The theme of this year’s meeting is “Building the 2030 Army”.
This is the fitting focus of a military service that has spent the past five years implementing a systematic strategy to modernize its helicopters, artillery, troop carriers, and air defenses.
It’s the military’s largest modernization campaign since the Cold War, and it appears to be progressing smoothly.
There is only one problem: The military may find itself in a shooting war well before 2030. Maybe next month, in Eastern Europe or the Western Pacific.
If that happens, many of the bold innovations the service seeks will not be ready to emerge, and the Army will find itself fighting with weapons first designed in the Reagan years — or earlier.
However, there is at least one major future-ready system at the moment, and it promises to be by far the most reliable, flexible, and versatile system of its kind ever.
This system is the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV), a heavily armored truck that combines light tank protection with off-road speed faster than the speed limit set on most interstate highways.
The contract to develop and build the JLTV was awarded to the Oshkosh Corporation in 2015, and as of today 18,000 have been built, of which 15,000 have been sent to the Army, Marine Corps, other U.S. services, and select allies (Oshkosh contributes to my research center).
The Army alone expects to buy at least 50,000, with the Marines buying an additional 15,000. Designed to correct the shortcomings of the Reagan-era Humvees, the JLTV is the closest thing the military today has to the legendary WWII Jeep.
Humvees were not intended to operate on the battlefield, so when irregulars in Afghanistan and Iraq eliminated the distinction between front lines and rear areas with improvised explosive devices, the Humvee was dangerously unprotected.
The military tried to add armor and other defensive features, but the Humvee could not easily absorb the extra weight and sometimes turned into a death trap. Ultimately, the service switched to much larger “mine-resistant and ambush-protected” trucks that make Brinks trucks look flimsy, but which proved difficult to support or adapt to changing conditions.
Step into the JLTV, a vehicle designed to take on the challenge of improvised explosives while still providing speed and flexibility on the battlefield. It was supposed to be the first light military truck capable of maneuvering combat troops and surviving the rigors of modern warfare.
That’s exactly what Oshkosh delivered, in a package that’s nearly as perfect as any Army acquisition program is likely to be.
Not only did the company build each vehicle at a cost of about 17% less than the Army had expected, but when competing designs were tested during the competition to win the initial contract, it turned out that Oshkosh’s entry was six times More reliable than the next closest filter.
In other words, the Oshkosh design was less likely to collapse than any other offering. It provided superior (patented) protection for occupants, while enabling unprecedented mobility over rough terrain thanks to its (patented) intelligent suspension system.
Moreover, the four basic variants of the JLTV can accommodate over a hundred different configurations depending on missions and combat conditions.
For example, Oshkosh demonstrated a version of heavy rifle carriers at the Black Sea Defense Conference in May, where there is a remote-controlled Elbit weapon station that fires 12.7-mm shells, but other versions can carry air defense missiles, light machine guns or not weapons at all. Configuration depends on how soldiers plan to use the vehicle.
Recently, Oshkosh unveiled an electric variant of the JLTV that is both fuel efficient and can operate silently on the battlefield while not requiring a fixed infrastructure for recharging. The car simply relies on the diesel engine to recharge the lithium-ion batteries, which takes about 30 minutes.
The military hasn’t asked for an electric variant, but the new Oshkosh offer stands well while negotiating a re-competition for the production contract. Nobody is suggesting to change the JLTV design, the competition is simply a “price swap” to determine if a different company can offer the same design at a lower price.
This is not very likely, because Oshkosh has long established itself in the market as a low-cost provider of military trucks. Beginning in 1976, it gradually outperformed its competitors to become the sole supplier of heavy, medium and light army trucks.
Aside from always delivering on time and within budgets, Oshkosh has distinguished itself from other competitors by building a wide range of commercial vehicles from which it draws lessons on productivity and sustainability.
It has also sought to position itself in the market as a technology company innovating in areas such as vehicle electrification, smart systems and digital engineering. So, while most of the world might still consider it a truck company, it’s working toward becoming something more.
Evidence indicates that it works. Fortune magazine ranks it as one of the most admired companies in its field, Newsweek ranks it one of the most responsible companies in the country, and the Dow Jones Sustainability Index gives it high marks.
These are powerful accomplishments for a company that experienced near-death experience in the subprime mortgage crisis, when the Oshkosh Commercial and Civil Lines nearly dragged it into bankruptcy, and the Army’s urgent need for mine-protected vehicles in Southwest Asia saved it.
JLTV shows how accurately Oshkosh bounces from that low point. Today, it is the dominant provider of light tactical vehicles to the United States and many allied forces, with a proven track record worth celebrating at AUSA 2022.
As noted above, the Oshkosh Corporation is a shareholder of my research center. The same has been true in the past for other potential JLTV re-contestants.