US Marine Corps fielding new JLTV but Army considers trimming JLTV and other programs

U.S. Marines are officially getting a new set of wheels. The Marine Corps will start fielding the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) to Marines, following a decision made Dec. 12 by the Program Executive Officer Land Systems, Ashley Calingo reports on DVIDS. But serious cuts in the JLTV programme are firmly requested by U.S. Army officials to spend money on other defense priorities.

US Marine Corps fielding new JLTV but Army considers trimming JLTV and other programs
Oshkosh Defense JLTV demonstrated at DVD 2018 (Picture source: Army Recognition)

The JLTV, a program led by the U.S. Army, will partially replace the Army and Marine Corps’ ageing High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (Humvee) fleet. The JLTV Family of Vehicles comes in different variants with multiple mission package configurations, all providing protected, sustained, networked mobility that balances payload, performance and protection across the full range of military operations. “It’s a modernization effort for the Light Ground Tactical Vehicle Portfolio to replace HMMWVs in a one-for-one swap with the JLTV,” said Andrew Rodgers, Light Tactical Vehicles program manager at PEO Land Systems.

The HMMWV has gone through several modernization efforts since it was introduced to the Corps in 1984, said Rodgers. The Expanded Capability Variant, the most recent version of the HMMWV fielded to Marines from 2006 to 2012, increased protection but decreased the vehicle’s payload, or ability to carry extra weight. “The JLTV gives you the same performance and payload capabilities as the original unarmored HMMWV, but also gives you better protection than an armored HMMWV without losing payload or performance,” said Rodgers.

The JLTVis the first vehicle purpose-built for battlefield communications networks and provides increased readiness for 21st century warfare. “Unlike the HMMWV, the JLTV is a smart platform with a digital backbone,” said Eugene Morin, product manager for the JLTV program at PEO Land Systems. “In terms of readiness, the JLTV increases Marines’ communication capabilities and their ability to operate in any environment anywhere in the world.” Morin also noted that the JLTV is — by design — easily modifiable, so Marines can incorporate added capabilities as needed in the future.

PEO Land Systems began fielding the JLTV to Marines at Camp Pendleton, California, in February, with initial operational capability planned for late summer 2019.

JLTV and other programs threatened of trimming by U.S. Army

On its side, the Army may cut back on its acquisition plans for the joint light tactical vehicle to invest in higher priority modernization efforts, a top service official said on March 13. The Army intended to acquire more than 49,000 units over the next 20 years at an estimated cost of $28 billion but this figure could soon change, Undersecretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy said at the annual defense programs conference in Washington, D.C., hosted by McAleese & Associates and Credit Suisse, as reported by National Defense.

The service has to make “very hard choices” to free up money for its top six modernization priorities, and the JLTV program might be trimmed, he said. “We have 55,000 Humvees in the fleet today, 49,000 JLTVs [planned]. We have another 800 infantry squad vehicles,” he noted. “We clearly have more capability than we need. We're locking in on that number.” During a brief discussion with reporters after his remarks, McCarthy declined to say when an announcement about potential JLTV cuts would be made.

The Army’s top six modernization priorities being pursued by its new Futures Command include long-range precision fires, next-generation combat vehicle, future vertical lift, the network, air-and-missile defense and soldier lethality. The JLTV doesn’t fall neatly into any of those categories.

Speaking later at the conference, Lt. Gen. James Pasquarette, deputy chief of staff, Army G-8, said the current plan is to procure the same quantity of JLTVs but at a slower rate to free up money. "We're still planning on buying the same number, it's just going to be stretched out to the right," he said. McCarthy’s remarks came the day after the Pentagon released details about the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2020 budget request.

In the Army’s future years defense program, which encompasses fiscal years 2020 to 2024, planned funding for the high priority modernization efforts was increased by $32.8 billion from $24.2 billion to $57 billion, according to budget documents, as reported by National Defense.

The service wants to procure 2,530 JLTVs in 2020, 863 fewer than in 2019. The system is currently in low-rate initial production. The Army has delayed a full-rate production decision from December 2018 to later this year.

The Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation Robert Behler identified shortcomings with the platform in his annual report for 2018, saying the vehicle had deficiencies in reliability and maintainability. The Army has said that those issues have already been addressed or are being addressed. JLTV manufacturer Oshkosh Defense said the platforms meet all requirements and it does not expect delays in fielding.

Observers have been speculating that the joint light tactical vehicle program could fall victim to funding realignments as the Army pursues its top six priorities. The service aims to cancel 93 programs and reduce or delay another 93 to pay for the initiatives.

Pasquarette said with an exception or two, the programs eliminated in the five-year defense plan were relatively small efforts that were deemed to have little role to play in potential future fights. The programs that would see reductions in the proposed budget are "where the big money is," he said.

Other major programs that will be affected by the funding realignment across the five-year spending plan include the Chinook helicopter and the Bradley fighting vehicle, as future vertical lift systems and next-generation combat vehicles move through the development process, McCarthy said. “We've synchronized the buys, if you will, with the investment portfolio,” he said. “Whether it's in armored vehicles or helicopters, [at] the back ends of the FYDP you'll see the synchronization with new weapons systems being brought on.”

The Army plans to stop buying the Bradley in future years. “We are going to stop at five brigades for the Bradley A4 [configuration] and synchronize that in 2023 with the next-generation combat vehicle,” he said.

Pasquarette said the armored multi-purpose vehicle, or AMPV, would suffer the same fate as the JLTV under the service's new plans. "We're taking longer to buy the same amount," he said. "There was a lot of money there and we thought it was acceptable for us to take some of that money, stretch it out to the right and to apply the delta there against the modernization priorities," he said.

The Army’s aviation budgets will be strained in the coming years if the service continues buying legacy platforms as it tries to modernize its fleet, McCarthy noted. “It's going to start to really compress the portfolio's ability to continue to finance, to keep all these assets in the system,” McCarthy said. “We went through and did a thorough exercise on the aviation portfolio and we have 10 % more Chinooks on the books today than we need.”

The Army intends to continue buying the helicopter through 2020 for the conventional force. Beyond that, the service would only procure the system for the special operations component, he said. “We're going to really make a go of it for FVL across this FYPD and bring these new assets online,” McCarthy said.

In recent years, the Army’s acquisition funding mix has been about 80 % for legacy systems and 20 % for development systems. If Congress funds the service’s new budget plans, the mix would change to about 50-50 by 2024, he noted.