On Aug. 22, Defense News reported U.S. Army and Marine Corps selections for the next phase of the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) program. AM General, Lockheed Martin and Oshkosh have been selected to compete in the engineering and manufacturing development phase of the program.
When conducted in the spirit of full and open competition, this Defense Department acquisition process will help solve one of the Defense Department’s greatest capability gaps. Specifically, it will deliver light, agile and affordable wheeled vehicles that fulfill expeditionary needs while providing armor protection comparable to that exhibited by mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles.
For some, though, a compulsion to influence vehicle armor decisions from outside DoD appears evident.
In recent — and questionably timed — articles, a team of economists has been highly complimentary of the armored Humvee and critical of DoD decision-making with regard to the MRAP. A Foreign Affairs article co-authored by Chris Rohlfs and Ryan Sullivan described the mass procurement and fielding of MRAPs as a “boondoggle,” in spite of former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ well-founded contention that MRAPs had saved thousands of lives in Iraq alone. The authors based their conclusions on an analysis they had conducted at the Naval Postgraduate School in support of DoD.
While neither the Humvee nor the MRAP is a candidate for the JLTV, the indirect implications of the articles for the JLTV are clear. For many familiar with MRAP’s history, DoD decisions and demonstrated MRAP benefits, such a “boondoggle” conclusion defied common sense.
Consequently, we — using a small team of Marines — conducted an informal evaluation of the data and research products that led to the economists’ public assertions. Our evaluation confirmed our intuition, namely, that the authors’ widely circulated conclusions are flawed to an extent that they should not be taken seriously or be considered as useful information by Congress or DoD decision-makers.
From our perspective, the authors’ research work, which formed the basis for their polarizing statements in Foreign Affairs, constituted a wholly incomplete effort, lacking in both technical and operational credibility.
Admittedly, the mass procurement and fielding of MRAP vehicles responded to an improvised explosive device (IED) threat that grew in scope and deadliness in ways not anticipated by DoD. By themselves, the heavy and voluminous MRAPs were not the ideal wheeled vehicle solutions for Iraq or Afghanistan. However, when employed as components of mixed fleets of armored Humvees, MRAPs were indeed lifesavers in the combined arms toolkits of joint forces, who dealt with widely varying terrain and tactical circumstances. In the absence of a JLTV-like alternative, they proved to be optimal in support of the missions at hand.
In this respect, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was exactly correct when he stated that we must fight with the weapons we have. We cannot wish away the disruptive creativity of our adaptive enemies — not in the real world. The modern threats to joint forces did not pause to allow DoD acquisition to catch up. Fortunately for all, the proven MRAP capabilities were produced when they were needed most.
And these legacy systems have value into the future. It is noteworthy that the Marine Corps has elected to retain 2,600 MRAPs in its inventory as it prepares to reset its capabilities, along with Humvee rejuvenation and JLTV fielding planned for 2017. The Army has plans to preserve the capability, as well. However, the aforementioned researchers and authors who state that MRAPs were a waste of resources acknowledge none of this.
The timing of the article also raised our curiosity, coming precisely at a time when the services seek to reset their armored wheeled vehicle capabilities as the wars draw down. After all, the JLTV program is working diligently to synthesize the best qualities of MRAP protection with lighter, more agile vehicles in a full and open competition. The authors promoted Humvees but failed to note its JLTV successor.
Again, MRAP was never a contender to replace the Humvee in the JLTV competition. However, AM General, with its legacy Humvee reputation, is a finalist, as is Oshkosh, with its M-ATV/MRAP reputation. The real impetus behind the rush to publish unqualified remarks that recommend armored Humvees and disparaged MRAP products at this particular time remains a mystery.
The three remaining competitors in the JLTV competition are fully capable of advocating for and advertising their own products. They need no further cheerleading by academics; in fact, it can actually harm the intended beneficiary when it becomes obvious that those academics did not do their homework.
Independent operational testing and evaluation will be the true ultimate measure of vendor claims for the benefit of joint forces. So let the JLTV contenders compete the good competition without the skewing effects of outside influences.
Franz Gayl is science and technology adviser for Plans, Policies and Operations Department, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps.