WASHINGTON — US Special Operations Command is evaluating what it needs for a vehicle to be transported inside a CV-22 Osprey — the Pentagon's latest foray into the growing light-vehicles market.

Air Force special tactics squadrons would use a speedy off-road vehicle for combat search-and-rescue operations, deep reconnaissance missions and combat controller team insertions on rugged, hostile territory, program officials say. Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) has, since trading its MH-53 Pave Low for the tilt-rotor Osprey in 2008, sought a narrow vehicle to fit inside it.

Special Operations Command (SOCOM) plans to wrap up a yearlong proof-of-concept evaluation of the General Dynamics Flyer 60 in July and finalize its requirements. The goal is to post a request for proposals in late 2016 and a competitive award for 68 vehicles in 2017. Program officials said the Flyer 60 was evaluated as a representative of the class of light, commercially available vehicles.

"The evaluation wasn't to determine whether the Flyer 60 is the vehicle, but rather does a vehicle like this satisfy an ITV [internally transportable vehicle] capability gap," said Marine Corps Col. James Utsler, program manager for the family of special operations vehicles. "During this whole evaluation, AFSOC had been revising its capability production document."

For the US, this marks the third pre-solicitation this year for a lightweight vehicle of some kind. Eyeing similar approaches in the Marine Corps and the Army, SOCOM program officials want to avoid a "bottom-up" development in favor of something that can be fielded quickly and affordably, said Duke Dunnigan, the deputy program manager.

"For us to go and have to develop a vehicle from the the ground up is our least preferred method," Dunnigan said.

In 2013, SOCOM made an award to General Dynamics for three Flyer 60s for the ongoing evaluation. It has since evaluated its mobility and safety at high speeds in mock ground operations at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., with plans to try it soon with the CV-22 at Hurlburt Field, Fla.

"We're doing the buy, try, decide, which is the combat evaluation," Dunnigan said. "The evaluation will inform the requirements process because we want to avoid gold-plating and putting in thresholds and objectives that are not reasonably achieved at a good cost."

Though SOCOM has light vehicles in its fleet, the ITV would fill a very specific niche the others cannot, officials said.

With the Defense Department's full fleet of mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles to draw on and plans for the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle underway, SOCOM has found the gap in its inventory for a light vehicle, said Brendon Reedy, the assistant program manager for the light tactical all-terrain vehicle (LTATV) and ITV.

"By nature, when you're conducting combat search-and-rescue, you're not in a permissive environment," Reedy said. "You don't always have the ability to land an aircraft right by what you're going to do. Having a vehicle with some range and off-road mobility gives you that capability to do an off-set insertion and move to the objective without risking something catastrophic, an aircraft being shot down."

SOCOM already has a lightweight vehicle that fits inside an Osprey, but officials say it does not meet all of their needs for search-and-rescue missions. It has been fielding the Polaris MRZR as its LTATV and has a sole-source deal with Polaris for as many as 2,000. For AFSOC and the combat search-and-rescue mission, SOCOM officials say they need more range, payload and litter-carrying capacity than the MRZR provides.

The MRZR's range is 75 miles, it carries two litters and its payload is 1,000 pounds on the two-seater and 1,500 pounds on the four-seater — which program officials consider limiting for search-and-rescue equipment. The latest published requirements for the ITV are for a 3,500-pound payload, three to six litters and a 400- to 450-mile range.

SOCOM's next heaviest vehicle is the Ground Mobility Vehicle 1.1, awarded to a 72-inch variant of the Flyer in 2013 — still to be fielded. At that width and 10,000 pounds, the Flyer 72 is too wide and heavy for an Osprey, while the Flyer 60's width and 4,500-pound weight make it a better fit.

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