- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 21, 2006

Contractors vie to createa high-tech war machine


Paul Rieckhoff recalls a frustrating ride through Baghdad on a nighttime raid in 2004 as he commanded 40 soldiers hunting Iraqi insurgents. His Humvee didn’t carry gear to communicate with the armored vehicle leading the convoy.

“We literally couldn’t talk to them,” said Mr. Rieckhoff, 30, an Army first lieutenant at the time. “I didn’t know where we were going until we got there.”

Military planners are using lessons learned on the streets of Baghdad to push for a tougher, smarter successor to the Humvee, the U.S. Army workhorse that replaced the jeep a generation ago.

Lockheed Martin Corp., the world’s largest defense contractor known more for fighter jets and computer networking than trucks, is offering new designs. The Pentagon may spend $10 billion to replace the Army’s 115,000 Humvees, said the Lexington Institute, a research group based in Arlington, Va., and Lockheed is vying for more than a winning idea. Its pursuit of the program is another step in its effort to branch out into new military hardware.

The Bethesda, Md.-based company, already the government’s biggest supplier of secure computer networks and the maker of the F-22 fighter jet, is developing electronics and communications equipment to turn the next U.S. presidential helicopter into an “Oval Office in the Sky.”

That may help the company win the contract to build the Army’s new truck. The vehicle, being created under the Pentagon label Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, probably will have computers hooked into wireless networks to show its location and that of friendly forces, carry advanced communications technology and offer new designs to better withstand roadside bombs.

“They want everything on this thing,” said Stephen Rann, head of the combat-support unit in the Army’s acquisition office. “What we have now doesn’t meet our needs.”

Lockheed should be taken seriously in the truck arena, said Howard Rubel, a New York analyst with Jefferies & Co., who has a “hold” rating on Lockheed shares and doesn’t own any. The company won a $9 million award in February that the Army says will help set requirements for a Humvee successor.

“They think outside the box when everyone else might just be thinking about what is the next truck,” Mr. Rubel said.

AM General Corp., a South Bend, Ind., company that has supplied the Humvee to the military for more than two decades, bid for the technology-demonstration contract that Lockheed won.

Closely held AM General isn’t out of the running to build the new truck and has a “future concept Humvee” that could vie for any award for a replacement vehicle, said spokesman Craig MacNab, who declined to provide design details.

Lockheed is also intent on winning the production contract, said Kathryn Hasse, the company’s director of tactical wheeled vehicles.

That is a bold position because Lockheed did not set up its military truck business until September 2004. It won its first vehicle-production contract — a $30 million award for as many as 120 artillery tow trucks — on April 6.

Lockheed’s version of the Humvee replacement will include computers linked to video cameras to allow vehicles to share battlefield images and other data, Ms. Hasse said.

“You’ll be able to have the rear vehicle in the convoy see what the forward vehicle is looking at,” said Ms. Hasse, standing beside a prototype at a hangar in Owego, N.Y.

AM General says the military didn’t begin asking it to install basic radio systems in new Humvees until this year.

The successor truck will have its communications and computer systems built in at the factory. For now, though, the Army is adding these ad hoc to some Humvees in the field.

“None of this stuff is considered part of the vehicle,” Mr. MacNab said. “Now, vehicles have lots of stuff mounted, computer screens all over inside, but we don’t do that.”

AM General participated in an earlier stage of the new vehicle’s technology-demonstration competition before pursuing the award won by Lockheed in February, Mr. MacNab said. He called the technology demonstration a project that “doesn’t go anywhere” and won’t lead directly to the purchase of new trucks.

The Army, whose Humvee contract with AM General expires next year, is working with the Marine Corps to plan a competition for a replacement once design requirements are set, Mr. Rann said.

Since 1985, almost 190,000 Humvees have been built for the U.S. military and allies in more than 50 countries, AM General said.

The second truck technology demonstration award went to the International Truck and Engine unit of Navistar International Corp., the world’s fourth-largest truck maker.

International Truck plans to offer a vehicle that will include equipment to sense and predict parts failures or remotely disable a truck if it falls into enemy hands, said Archie Massicotte, president of the Warrenville, Ill., company’s military truck business.

“Lockheed and International have got a leg up,” said Mr. Massicotte, referring to the next phases of the competition for Pentagon work on the Humvee successor. “We’ll be able to leverage some of the prior work that has been done.”

The Army and Marines plan to assemble a joint office by August to set requirements for the Humvee replacement, Mr. Rann said. The services will award multiple contracts for competing prototypes by 2008, then by 2010 pick a single company to build the trucks. The vehicle could be shipped to troops in the field by 2012, he said.

The ability to keep troops safe is a top goal for the new vehicle, Mr. Rann said. More than 2,400 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq, the Defense Department said. Improvised explosives such as roadside bombs represent the leading cause of death, accounting for 33 percent of fatalities, said an analysis by the Brookings Institution, a research group in Washington. The Pentagon hasn’t released figures on deaths from attacks on unarmored vehicles.

Lockheed will offer a new, rigid chassis design for the Humvee replacement — similar to one used in Formula One racing cars — that will be more blast-resistant because of the geometry of the frame, Ms. Hasse said. The company also will add armor from Armor Holdings Inc., a Jacksonville, Fla., company that makes add-on armor kits for existing Humvees.

Lockheed acquired the chassis design when it bought HMT Vehicles Ltd., a British developer of military vehicles, for an undisclosed price in January. The purchase also gave Lockheed an air-suspension system that allows vehicles to adjust their height for loading cargo and handling difficult terrain.

For Mr. Rieckhoff, who led more than 1,000 combat patrols in Iraq’s capital in 2003 and 2004 and now heads a group that advocates for war veterans, the vehicle improvements contemplated by the Army and Marines are overdue.

“It’s good to see them updating the Humvee. What took so long? We’re into the fourth year of the war.”

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