Army Looks to Replace Cold Weather Vehicle

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Small unit sup­port vehi­cle

Photo: Army

Increased activ­i­ty and com­pe­ti­tion in the Arctic are prompt­ing the Pentagon to put a renewed focus on the region. The Army is now seek­ing a replace­ment for a vehi­cle that remains a cor­ner­stone for its units in Alaska.

The service’s small unit sup­port vehi­cle, or SUSV — which was last pur­chased in 1983 — is an amphibi­ous, tracked system built to travel through rough ter­rain such as snow, mud and swamps. At 1.8 pounds per square inch of force, the plat­form has a foot­print that exerts less pres­sure than a human foot. That allows it to travel smooth­ly over deep snow.

However, the aging vehi­cle no longer falls under a pro­gram of record, leav­ing the ser­vice with­out means to main­tain them, the Senate markup for the fiscal year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act noted. Rather, the decades-old sys­tems are being “can­ni­bal­ized for parts” to keep the remain­ing sys­tems run­ning.

Additionally, the vehi­cles have only five years left before they will be clas­si­fied as obso­lete, accord­ing to the Senate markup for the fiscal year 2018 NDAA.

“Allied and near-peer com­peti­tor coun­tries are devel­op­ing extreme cold weath­er ground trans­porta­tion capa­bil­i­ties that far exceed U.S. mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ties, notably the recent advances in all-weath­er/cross-coun­try mobil­i­ty being demon­strat­ed by new Russian spe­cial­ty vehi­cles,” the doc­u­ment stated.

Keith Klemmer, direc­tor of busi­ness devel­op­ment for the National Guard at BAE Systems, said it is also dif­fi­cult to find replace­ment parts for the vehi­cle because of its old age. The company’s Swedish sub­sidiary, Hägglunds, was the orig­i­nal man­u­fac­tur­er of the small unit sup­port vehi­cle.

In June 2018, the Army released a request for infor­ma­tion to gather indus­try input for a new plat­form that will have four vari­ants and pro­vide trans­porta­tion for “a combat-loaded Infantry-like squad ele­ment, emer­gency med­ical eval­u­a­tion, com­mand-and-con­trol capa­bil­i­ty and gen­er­al cargo.” The RFI was issued by Army Contracting Command-Warren and the prod­uct direc­tor for medium tac­ti­cal vehi­cles.

The new system — deemed the joint all-weath­er all-ter­rain sup­port vehi­cle, or JAASV — would have to oper­ate suc­cess­ful­ly in “oth­er­wise impass­able ter­rain” such as marshy con­di­tions, deep snow, frozen ice and extreme cold weath­er, the notice stated. Cold weath­er is defined as tem­per­a­tures that drop as low as minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

As a tracked, amphibi­ous plat­form, it would also need to have a light foot­print and be trans­portable by a CH-47, UH-60 or C‑130.

Mark Cancian, a senior advis­er at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the Army has two main roles in the Arctic region. It main­tains a pres­ence with two brigades in Alaska, and main­tains a capa­bil­i­ty with its Northern Warfare Training Center, he said. As inter­est in the area con­tin­ues to increase, the Army might not add sol­diers beyond the two brigades, he noted. Instead, the ser­vice may focus on increas­ing its activ­i­ties in the region. The number of stu­dents that have gone through the train­ing center has risen sub­stan­tial­ly within the last couple of years, he noted.

“I would not be sur­prised to see a unit, bat­tal­ion-size, [or maybe] even brigade-size even­tu­al­ly exer­cis­ing up in the Arctic,” he said.

The Defense Department has already com­plet­ed a busi­ness case analy­sis for the small unit sup­port vehi­cle replace­ment, the fiscal year 2019 markup stated. The analy­sis con­clud­ed the ini­tia­tive will com­pete for fund­ing in the Army’s pro­gram objec­tive mem­o­ran­dum for 2020 to 2024, which pro­vides an out­line of how the ser­vice hopes to fund its future efforts. Congress encour­aged the Defense Department to con­sid­er using rapid acqui­si­tion author­i­ties to obtain a com­mer­cial-off-the-shelf, non­de­vel­op­men­tal item solu­tion. Although the poten­tial pro­gram is likely to fall under the Army, the report noted that Congress believes the vehi­cle will be needed by the Air Force and Marine Corps as well.

Additionally, the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command will work to deter­mine the total number of new util­i­ty vehi­cles needed for both its active and reserve com­po­nents.

The Senate’s markup for fiscal year 2018 noted that besides assist­ing units in Alaska, the service’s 200 SUSVs are field­ed in states such as Colorado, Minnesota, Vermont, Louisiana and Michigan.

“The tech­nol­o­gy that’s out there is … ‘60s/‘70s tech­nol­o­gy,” Klemmer said. “It’s just an old vehi­cle that [has] served a great life for the mil­i­tary in the United States, but … it needs to be replaced with a new vehi­cle.”

However, this is not the first time the Defense Department has con­sid­ered replac­ing the small unit sup­port vehi­cle, said Tom Spoehr, direc­tor of the Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense. He noted that during his time serv­ing at the Pentagon, the depart­ment pro­posed to replace the SUSV at least two other times.

“No one said it wasn’t some­thing that was needed,” he said. But “when we racked and stacked all the Army’s other pri­or­i­ties, that came above … the cut­line.”

Spoehr said if the Army decides to move for­ward with a formal pro­gram of record for a replace­ment, it likely won’t have an acqui­si­tion objec­tive higher than 200 or 300 vehi­cles, and they would not be pur­chased all at once.

The small unit sup­port vehi­cle is the main system the Army has for maneu­ver­ing in this area, he said. Although Humvees have high mobil­i­ty, they are unable to travel through deep snow.

“You either walk, you use your snow shoes or your skis, or you use one of these SUSVs,” he said. “Those are about the only options you have for the units that are up there.”

A formal pro­gram of record would not be expen­sive, he said, should the Army stick with a com­mer­cial-off-the-shelf item, which is the same strat­e­gy it used for procur­ing the orig­i­nal SUSV. Even when the pro­gram was at the height of its pro­cure­ment, it only cost about $150 mil­lion, he esti­mat­ed. Replacements might be about $3 mil­lion or $4 mil­lion each, he pre­dict­ed.

Although the ser­vice has yet to announce a spe­cif­ic time­line for a joint all-weath­er all-ter­rain sup­port vehi­cle pro­gram of record, some indus­try mem­bers have already shown inter­est in win­ning the poten­tial future con­tract.

BAE Systems announced its inten­tion to bid for the system in August.

Klemmer said BAE plans to offer its BvS10 and Beowulf vehi­cles. The com­pa­ny devel­oped the armored BvS10 in 2004 and has since devel­oped Beowulf as an unar­mored vari­ant. Klemmer noted the Beowulf is sim­i­lar in appear­ance to the SUSV, but about four feet longer.

The system has a top speed of 40 miles per hour, a range of up to 620 miles and can climb slopes up to 45 degrees, accord­ing to BAE. However, Klemmer noted the biggest dif­fer­ence between the small unit sup­port vehi­cle and the Beowulf is within the elec­tri­cal sys­tems. Beowulf has a 400-amp base­line, he said, which is “quite an increase in power.” Additionally, Beowulf has 285 horse­pow­er, where­as the SUSV has only 136 horse­pow­er.

The BvS10 car­ries over the orig­i­nal small unit sup­port vehicle’s artic­u­lat­ed steer­ing and drive system, Klemmer said, which allows it to maneu­ver in small­er spaces by split­ting parts of the vehi­cle and incor­po­rat­ing a middle pivot point. Beowulf is based on BAE’s Viking BvS10, which was first designed for the United Kingdom’s Royal Marines.

ST Engineering also has a tracked, amphibi­ous vehi­cle called the Bronco 3 that is designed to work in extreme con­di­tions. However, Tom Vecchiolla, pres­i­dent and CEO of VT Systems, which is owned by Singapore-based ST, said it is too soon to deter­mine whether or not it will bid for the pro­gram.

Dominic Phoon, prod­uct direc­tor for the Bronco, said the four-wheel, tracked vehi­cle can oper­ate in envi­ron­ments of about 104 to 122 degrees as well as tem­per­a­tures as low as minus 49 to minus 58 degrees. Similar to the small unit sup­port vehi­cle, the Bronco 3 has a ground pres­sure less than that of a human foot so it can tra­verse over muddy ter­rain and dense snow, he said.

Because the amphibi­ous system uses its tracks to propel itself in water, there is no need for addi­tion­al prepa­ra­tion when tran­si­tion­ing from land, he noted. The com­pa­ny has already run the vehi­cle through Arctic ter­rain in Finland, he said.

There is also a com­mer­cial vari­ant of the system that could be used at a state and local level for nat­ur­al dis­as­ters, he noted. Vecchiolla said Japan has one of these vari­ants, which is cur­rent­ly in demon­stra­tion phase, and there are poten­tial plans for it to pro­cure addi­tion­al vehi­cles.

Cancian said that as the mil­i­tary con­tin­ues to increase its pres­ence in the Arctic, he expects the Army to focus mostly on adapt­ing its sys­tems to oper­ate in the region.

“I wouldn’t expect a lot of new sys­tems, but I would expect a lot of activ­i­ty and maybe efforts to figure out how to get sys­tems to oper­ate in extreme­ly cold envi­ron­ments,” he said. This may include adap­ta­tions for trucks, gen­er­a­tors and com­mu­ni­ca­tion equip­ment that must work in neg­a­tive 50 degrees or neg­a­tive 40 degrees tem­per­a­tures, he noted.

Topics: Army News, Land Forces, Tactical Wheeled Vehicles

Source: NDIA

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