Featured image courtesy Oshkosh Corporation (Sebastian Saarloos)
By Dr. Brian Blodgett
Faculty Member, Homeland Security, American Military University
In 1988, I drove my first High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV), which was which was officially designated the M998 and also known as a Humvee. At the time, I was stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado, with the 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized). When our unit received these vehicles, we were in awe at their appearance as compared to M151 MUTT quarter-ton jeep, the M561 Gama Goat and the military’s Ford Bronco.
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Naturally, we had to immediately test these Humvees to see how they performed. My first memory was seeing how far we could drive a Humvee through deep mud. Each of us took turns trying to go further before doing a quick left onto more solid terrain until one of the Humvees became stuck in the mud.
Trying to pull it out was useless. Fortunately, an M-60 Patton tank rumbled to a stop nearby and we were able to convince the driver to pull the Humvee out of the mud. We were dirty, muddy, and in a bit of trouble, but we were all impressed with the Humvee’s performance.
Two years later, I was with the 2nd Infantry Division in the Republic of Korea and had the opportunity to see how well the Humvee did in crossing a river. Our divisional engineers told us that the Imjin River, which separates a section of the Republic of Korea (South Korea) from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), was not fordable.
But our divisional planners wanted to find out otherwise. We took a ride one Saturday morning and proved the engineers wrong; even without the snorkel kit, we were able to ford the Imjin.
History of the Humvee
In 1984, the original order for 55,000 Humvees was under $1.2 billion. In 1986, the General Accounting Office (GAO) reported that the cost for individual vehicles ranged from $19,000 to $37,000, depending on the configuration.
The base design had a common chassis, engine and transmission, which allowed for multiple configurations of the Humvee. Its mission was to provide excellent on and off-road performance, carry a large payload and have improved survivability against indirect fire than existing light tactical vehicles.
The Humvee replaced a series of vehicles used by the Army, Air Force and the Marine Corps. These vehicles include the M151 and M247 utility trucks, the M880 and M561 cargo trucks, and the M792 ambulance. In simple terms, the military wanted a “jack-of-all-trades” light tactical vehicle.
The Humvee has a wide wheelbase of 72 inches with ground clearance of 16 inches; it can also maneuver on hills with a slide slope of 40 percent and climb 60-degree slopes. It can also ford 30 inches of water without a snorkel and 60 inches with a snorkel.
In addition, the Humvee was also capable of traveling at speeds of up to 70 miles per hour. All of these features made the Humvee an outstanding replacement for its predecessors.
Furthermore, the Humvee could be transported by air and dropped where needed. It could also be sling-loaded by helicopters. A C-13 Hercules, for example, can carry three Humvees while a C-5S Galaxy can carry 15.
Flaws of the Humvee
The Humvee, while outperforming the vehicles it replaced, had some technical flaws. Due to the urgent need for the vehicle, the testing schedule was reduced from 14 months to five, which ensured that its reliability and maintainability were well below the Army’s requirements.
A few of the technical issues were that the Humvee:
- Was too heavy to be airlifted by the Army’s UH-60A Black Hawk utility helicopter at 4,000 feet in 95-degree weather, as required for use in the Middle East
- Could not be lifted with a full load, even in favorable altitude conditions found in Europe
- Could not operate with two flat tires for 30 miles without severely damaging the tires
- Did not meet the goal of 200 miles between unscheduled maintenance requirements
- Had major concerns such as binding of the turret and rear axle issues
- Experienced other issues such as mud, water, and dirt entering the engine area, which impacted the radiator and exposed the brake pads to contaminants during muddy operations
But even with these flaws, the Humvee became the military’s newest combat vehicle. The first model entered service in 1985 and had its first combat missions occurring during the invasion of Panama in 1989. The Humvee also received high praise during the First Gulf War in 1991.
However, during the second Gulf War, the Humvee’s design was nearly 20 years old and the battlefield that it was designed for had changed. The threat was no longer the Soviet Union invading Western Europe.
While at first the Humvee did well in the rugged environment of Afghanistan, the introduction of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) into the battlefield changed everything. Previously, the Humvee only had to survive indirect fire.
But now, this vehicle needed to be able to withstand direct, targeted fire by insurgents. Since the Humvee had not been designed as an armored vehicle, this vulnerability put the soldiers and marines inside the vehicle at great risk.
Even as vehicle manufacturer AM General worked to modify the Humvee to serve in the austere combat environments of the Middle East, the need for more armor was the beginning of the end for the Humvee in counterinsurgency missions. No amount of up-armoring was going to be enough to protect the vehicle’s occupants. In addition, the price continued to rise, and the average price of the Humvee is now around $220,000 each.
In 2006, the military began considering a new tactical vehicle to provide increased force protection, survivability, and improved capacity over the current up-armored Humvee. In 2008, the Department of Defense released a request for proposal for a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV).
In 2007, the Marine Corps decided that the Humvees in Iraq and Afghanistan needed replacement with Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles. Since then, the Pentagon has spent over $50 billion on getting 24,000 MRAPs into the field.
However, the MRAP is not without its critics. The criticism is mainly due to the MRAP’s massive size that is required to protect the troops against IEDs, but compromises the vehicle’s mobility.
Introduction of the JLTV
Now, 34 years later after the first Humvee entered service, some of these venerable vehicles are being replaced by Oshkosh’s Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV). The Army and the Marine Corps have procured the majority of these combat vehicles.
The JLTV is designed for fighting insurgencies, compared to the Humvee’s mission of quickly transporting troops across European battlefields with improved survivability against indirect fire. The JLTV features a V-shaped hull to deflect blasts from below, bulletproof windows and an armored cabin. The JLTV can also be up-armored to the same level as the MRAP.
In comparing the JLTV to the Humvee, the difference is striking. The JLTV is a significant change in both design and power, with the JLTV having over twice the horsepower of the Humvee.
The JLTV can ford five feet of water without a snorkel kit, twice that of the Humvee. Its independent suspension allows for an adjustable ride height, giving it a ground clearance of 24 to 36 inches. The JLTV also has a central tire inflation system.
Even with a curb weight of 14,000 pounds, nearly twice as much as a Humvee, the JLTV has a top speed of over 100 miles per hour. Its grade capability of 60 percent and its side slope capability of 40 percent is 20 and 10 percent more than a Humvee, respectively.
The JLTV also has a climb capability of 24 inches, which is six inches more than the Humvee. Its reliability is over 7,000 miles, as compared to the nearly 3,000 miles of the Humvee.
The JLTV is a light vehicle with enough armor to protect it from missiles, rockets and IEDs. Also, the JLTV comes in two variants and four-mission package configurations: General Purpose, Close Combat Weapons Carrier, Heavy Guns Carrier and a Utility vehicle.
It can carry a wide range of weapons, including:
- A lightweight 30mm cannon paired with a 7.62 a coaxial machine gun
- Several .50-caliber machine guns
- A lightweight automatic chain gun
- An integrated M299 launcher with four Longbow Hellfire missiles
Concerns about the JLTVs
According to the December Army’s Office of the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation FY 2018 Annual Report, “All JLTVs provide sufficient protected tactical mobility, are capable of negotiating complex terrain and have the agility to react to changing tactical situations. The vehicles have the necessary command, control and communications capabilities to support tactical decision-making.”
However, the report also stated that the Close Combat Weapons Carrier variant was not deemed operationally effective for use in combat and tactical missions. All of the JLTVs were also deemed “not operationally suitable because of deficiencies in reliability, maintainability, training, manuals, crew situational awareness and safety.”
The issues included:
- Large visual and loud aural signatures increasing the JLTV’s detectability
- A slow and difficult missile reload process
- An inability to maintain the JLTV without contractor field support, due to the JLTV’s complexity, ineffective training, poor manuals, and challenges with troubleshooting the vehicle
- An inaccurate health monitoring system
- Poor crew visibility due to blind spots
- Slow egress from the vehicle and doors not opening at times
The Marine Corps noted that “many of the problems identified in the report can be addressed through improved tactics, techniques, and procedures and that some of the issues identified, such as insufficient training manuals, were a result of program decisions resulting from budget restrictions placed on the service. Marine officials also noted that legacy HMMWVs had similar challenges identified during testing in 1986, but these issues were resolved after fielding.”
JLTVs’ First Delivery
The first units to receive the new vehicles were the Army’s 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized) at Fort Stewart, Georgia, and the Marine’s 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. The Army fielded 320 JLTVs, while the Marines have fielded 55 since January 2019. Both units have been providing feedback on their JLTVs’ capabilities, as well as areas for improvement.
The JLTV, as a successor to the Humvee, was to initially have a base cost per vehicle of $250,000 – excluding add-on armor. Testing began in 2013.
In 2015, the Army awarded Oshkosh a $6.7 billion rate to procure the initial 16,901 vehicles – an average price of nearly $400,000. The Army had planned to purchase over 49,000 JLTVs and the Marines over 9,000 of the new vehicles. However, subsequent decisions by the Army and the Marine Corps may change the number of JLTVs they receive.
The Future of the Humvee
While the Humvee is no longer feasible for the current types of combat missions, it is not going to disappear from the military. While the Humvee is not suited for the counterinsurgencies our military forces currently face, it can still perform admirably in a conventional-style war. Realistically, having too much armor hinders the Humvee’s performance and the ability to meet its original mission.
According to then-Secretary of the Army, Mark Esper, “The Humvee is a very capable light truck. It’s very versatile, it allows us to perform a range of missions…We had a lot of discussions as we continue to move forward on what’s been a mainstay of the Army light truck fleet, the Humvee, from my earliest days in the Army in the 1980s to today and moving forward for the next couple decades.”
Marine Corps Commandant General Robert Neller echoed Esper, stating the “Humvee is going to be around for a while, but where they are used will depend on what the threat is.”
While the Army and Marine Corps will continue to ensure that their troops are protected by the best equipment out there, which for the future means the JLTV, the Humvee will continue to be a mainstay of light tactical vehicles for our nation’s military.
About the Author
Dr. Brian Blodgett is an alumnus of American Military University who graduated in 2000 with a master of arts in military studies and a concentration in land warfare. He retired from the U.S. Army in 2006 as a Chief Warrant Officer after serving over 20 years, first as an infantryman and then as an intelligence analyst. He is a 2003 graduate of the Joint Military Intelligence College where he earned a master of science in strategic intelligence with a concentration in South Asia. He graduated from Northcentral University in 2008, earning a doctorate in philosophy in business administration with a specialization in homeland security.
Dr. Blodgett has been a part-time faculty member, a full-time faculty member and a program director. He is currently a full-time faculty member in the School of Security and Global Studies and teaches homeland security and security management courses.
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