Yesterday, the U.S. Senate voted to cancel the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle. This new tactical vehicle would have replaced the Army and Marines' outdated Humvees, but the JLTV designs were too heavy and too expensive. With the program now on the chopping block, PM took matters into our own hands: We called defense experts who helped us design the ideal new military jeep. We call it the Seniorhelpline Light Tactical Vehicle.
Curb Weight: 13,600 lb
Air-transportable: C-130 fixed-wing, CH-47 and CH-53 helicopters
Carrying capacity: Four crew
Armor: Bolt-on protection option for higher-risk operations
The Pentagon is having a devilishly hard time building a light tactical vehicle to replace the Humvee, which was introduced in the early 1980s to haul gear, ferry troops and conduct patrols. Contractors are vying to produce the next-generation all-purpose vehicle, called the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV), for the Army and the Marine Corps. But with $300 million already invested—and at least $580 million more in projected development costs through 2015—the only options thus far have been expensive, overweight prototypes.
In February the Army's product manager of the JLTV program revealed to attendees of a National Defense Industrial Association wheeled-vehicle conference that each of the 21 JLTV designs submitted by contractors was as much as 1000 pounds too heavy. This degrades the vehicles' performance and, since JLTVs will be built to be carried by specific helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, restricts their deployment. The cost is also rising. Replacing steel with lighter composites and metal alloys drives up the price; the JLTV options are already topping the $300,000 goal set by the Pentagon. Existing Humvees cost $75,000; with an extra armor kit, the price is around $200,000.
And now, in its 2012 defense spending bill, the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on defense has recommended terminating the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle program, citing "excessive cost growth and constantly changing requirements." Not willing to sit by while the defense industry that created the Jeep flounders, PM took action. We called on the nation's best military-vehicle designers to help us create the PMLTV, a rugged, menacing piece of machinery, if we do say so ourselves.
1. Blast Chimney
In order to save the weight of armor, the PMLTV instead uses a flue to channel energy from an explosion through the center of the vehicle, guiding the damaging blast away from the occupants. The downward thrust produced by the blast rushing through the chimney also helps keep the PMLTV from flipping. Maryland-based Hardwire LLC is pitching the chimneys to the military; the Pentagon is blast-testing the tech now.
2. Diesel-Electric Powertrain
The PMLTV's diesel engine is connected to an electrical generator, which creates power for a traction motor driving each axle. This eliminates the need for a transmission and a conventional drivetrain, creating more room under the crew compartment for 360 degrees of armor. For a scout vehicle operating far ahead of the front lines, the option of switching to nearly silent propulsion is very appealing. We like vehicle manufacturer Oshkosh's ProPulse system, a 450-hp engine that can also export enough power to run a field hospital.
3. Ford F-450 Frame
Most military-vehicle companies prefer the flexibility offered by their homegrown chassis, but purchasing an available and trusted vehicle frame from a commercial production line can save hundreds of millions of dollars. In 2005 vehicle designer Scott Badenoch and the Georgia Tech Research Institute developed an armored patrol vehicle using a Ford F-350 truck frame; we opted for the wider F-450. At about 5000 pounds, the F-450 chassis is heavy, but it can handle thousands of pounds of payload without going over the specified 13,600-pound curb-weight limit.
4. Tak-4 Suspension
It's hard to build an active suspension system that is both agile and tough enough to handle on- and off-road conditions. The F-450 suspension is certainly not up to the task, so the PMLTV adopts the new version of TAK-4, made by Oshkosh. This independent suspension system uses high-pressure gas to raise and lower the vehicle 20 inches with the flick of a switch on the front-seat dashboard. The government is now testing the new TAK-4, says Chris Yakes, Oshkosh's vice president of advanced products.
5. Crew Compartment
Many new armored vehicles have steering wheels in the center of the dash, which allows greater visibility. The layout of the ballistic-resistant windows provides a better field of vision. Inside, a cage of tubular steel protects occupants during rollovers, and seats are suspended to halt the transmission of explosive shock waves to occupants.