The most common vehicle operated by the U.S. military is the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, or Humvee. Not surprisingly, the U.S. Army owns the majority of the Humvees ― more than 100,000. The Marine Corps is next, with 24,000. The other services together operate fewer than 10,000.
The Humvee also is extremely popular overseas. More than 60 foreign militaries operate some 250,000 Humvees. The company that builds the HMMWV, AM General, recently received a contract to produce up to 11,500 vehicles in a variety of configurations for nine different U.S. allies and partners.
There is a plan to replace a portion of the Humvee fleet with the new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle. The U.S. Army wants to buy some 49,000 JLTVs over the next 25 years. The Marine Corps hopes to acquire 5,500 JLTVs and shrink its Humvee fleet to about 13,000 vehicles.
The reality is that the Army and Marine Corps will operate more Humvees than JLTVs for the next quarter century, at least. Moreover, the average age for the current fleet is between seven and 10 years.
What should the Army do with its very large and very young fleet of Humvees?
Nothing. And by the time the Army finishes its planned buy of JLTVs, the average age of its Humvees will be more than 35 years. That is what the Marine Corps plans to do, having canceled its Humvee modernization program in 2015. For an Army that is focused intensely on the possibility of being engaged in a fight with a near-peer state, requiring employment of everything in its arsenal, this doesn’t make much sense.
AM General has continually evolved the HMMWV’s design and capabilities. The vehicle’s engine and transmission have been upgraded repeatedly. One of the most significant enhancements was the addition of protective armor. About half the current Army Humvee fleet is up-armored with the addition of improved shocks and suspension. The new Expanded Capacity Vehicle, or ECV, Humvee provides a 6.5-liter turbo-diesel engine, a microprocessor-controlled engine with an electrical start system and increased payload capability. The ECV can support virtually all the different Humvee configurations. Red River Army Depot and AM General have a multiyear partnership to recapitalize Army National Guard HMMWVs.
AM General has developed seven cool Humvee variants that it could provide to the Army and Marine Corps. All but one of these employs the same chassis, suspension and drive train. While not available on up-armored Humvees, these enhancements could constitute the difference between the war fighters having a long-range, maneuverable, fighting platform, and having nothing.
1. Perhaps the most interesting variant is the result of a collaboration between Mandus Group and AM General. The Hawkeye Mobile Weapon System marries a Humvee prime mover to the U.S. Army’s M20 105mm cannon with a digital fire-control system and front and rear hydraulic anchors that stabilize the gun when firing. The Hawkeye can fire and move in about 30 seconds. It can be carried internally by a CH-47 helicopter. While the Hawkeye can be deployed on other tactical vehicles, the Humvee version provides the greatest mobility.
The near-peer threat, particularly in Europe, will include masses of hostile armored vehicles. The Army will need every armor-killing system it can generate. The next three Humvee variants address this issue.
2. The second variant is a top-mounted, 30mm chain gun turret operated remotely from inside a standard weapons carrier HMMWV variant.
3. The third is a manned gun position that is cheaper but provides less protection for operators. With state-of-the-art optics, both of these can attack targets, including lightly armored vehicles, at 1,500 meters.
4. The fourth variant is an upgraded version of the TOW anti-tank guided missile Humvee with advanced optics.
5. The fifth variant involves reconfiguring the standard troop carrier Humvee to be able to transport a full squad of nine soldiers. The Army could even acquire some number of the kits to reconfigure a standard Humvee and deploy them based on the seriousness of the threat.
6. The sixth variant is a gunship. In addition to carrying a nine-man squad, it mounts three light machine guns that provide readily available firepower to the front and both sides.
7. The final variant is different from all the others. It integrates a large magnet with the Humvee’s transmission. This allows a troop or cargo-carrying Humvee to perform an additional function. The result is a mobile 30-kilowatt generator that can support modular command-and-control centers. This variant would be very useful right now in Puerto Rico.
Daniel Gouré is a vice president with the Lexington Institute. He worked in the Pentagon during the administration of President George H.W. Bush, and he has taught at Johns Hopkins and Georgetown universities as well as the National War College.