Concept combat vehicles get test runs at Fort Lewis

FORT LEWIS — The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have exposed the vulnerabilities of the Army’s workhorse vehicle, and Fort Lewis soldiers are using technologies that could be used in the vehicle’s successor.

The Army didn’t design the 22-year-old Humvee as a combat vehicle, but it has been pressed into that duty in conflicts in which insurgents can strike with rocket-propelled grenades and roadside bombs at any time and place. Armor kits offer improved protection to U.S. troops but compromise the vehicle’s stability and maneuverability.

Fort Lewis soldiers will use three concept vehicles through April that will guide the development of the Humvee’s successor, a vehicle now known as the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle that will offer improved payload, performance and protection.

None of the vehicles will be produced for Army use, but the technologies used in them could be incorporated into the Humvee’s successor.

“They’re trying to lay out what it can do, the vision,” said Tim Connor, a Pentagon contractor representing Fort Lewis and I Corps during the testing.

Three manufacturers designed the five concept vehicles — three utility vehicles and two maneuver-sustainment vehicles — through a $60 million Army program.

The technology in the concept sustainment vehicles could be incorporated into the successor to the HEMTT, a heavy truck used to deliver ammunition, equipment, food and water.

All the armored vehicles have diesel-electric hybrid engines, which improve the vehicles’ range and allow them to run virtually silently when needed; cranes or winces to load cargo or pull equipment; and an “air bag” suspension system that raises or lowers the chassis to improve the drive over rough terrain. The vehicles also have communication and computer systems to give soldiers better situational awareness.

“It’s just a little bit of everything,” said Dan Jusela, a civilian engineer for the program, known as the Future Tactical Truck System.

Soldiers assigned to the 14th Engineer Battalion and 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, Fort Lewis’ newest Stryker brigade, are testing the vehicles. They will offer feedback on the vehicles’ performance and features.

Sgt. Jeremiah Snedigar, 25, had high praise for the utility vehicle he rode in during a test run Wednesday at a training range on the Army post.

The Yelm resident liked the ability to run silently and the underbelly armor that offers protection from roadside bombs, the biggest killer of U.S. troops in Iraq. He also liked that the vehicle had a top speed of 75 mph — 20 mph faster than an up-armored Humvee.

“Those vehicles feel like they’ve been developed around the soldier,” he said.

Next month, three of the vehicles will be loaded on a C-17 cargo jet at McChord Air Force Base and flown to the Fort Lewis airfield to demonstrate that they are light enough to fly on an airplane.

Marine Corps representatives will visit Fort Lewis to test the vehicles for themselves. The vehicles then will be sent to the Pentagon to be inspected by the military’s top leaders.

The Army plans to issue a request for proposal for the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle as soon as this summer, officials from defense contractor Lockheed Martin recently told the Army Times newspaper.

Christian Hill covers the city of Lacey and military for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-5427 or chill@theolympian.com.