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TARDEC’s Ultra Light Vehicle (ULV)

No, it's not a JLTV

Could it possibly be a four-wheeled stalking horse?

In an example of timing that could only confuse the casual observer, the U.S. Army’s Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) is following last week’s start of multi-service Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) prototype testing with the start of final testing on its own Ultra Light Vehicle (ULV) “research prototype” platform. The final design of the ULV platform was developed in conjunction with lead contractor Hardwire LLC, the Maryland-based company that was the so-called “seventh bidder” for the JLTV EMD phase in 2012.

According to TARDEC representatives, the ULV research prototype effort was funded by the Office of Secretary of Defense to design, develop and build three identical lightweight tactical research prototype vehicles that would emphasize occupant survivability while meeting four research objectives:

  • Payload of 4,500 lbs.;
  • Performance at 14,000 lbs. curb weight;
  • Protection levels “comparable to the currently fielded Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP)” vehicles; and
  • A $250,000 unit price “in a hypothetical 5,000-unit production run.”

They add that TARDEC’s Ground System Survivability (GSS) group moved from design to prototype in only 16 months in part by partnering with non-traditional defense contractors.

Ultra Light Vehicle (ULV)

For the Ultra Light Vehicle (ULV) the U.S. Army has partnered with Hardwire LLC, a non-traditional defense contractor. U.S. Army photo

“The Army’s approach was to create synergistic survivability,” explained TARDEC GSS Associate Director Steve Knott. “Soft deliverables – such as data and lessons learned – and hard deliverables – such as test assets and spare automotive components – will help shape, inform and support tactical vehicle programs, technology demonstrator efforts and/or TARDEC Innovation Projects to maximize the overall return on investment.”

The TARDEC announcement notes that that the ULV also utilizes “high-strength steels and advanced composite materials offering lightweight ballistic protection from a number of threats to include a newly developed transparent ceramic armor system to keep the vehicle’s overall weight down.”

The ULV prototype platform features a hybrid powertrain design with two electric motors – front and rear – with either capable of powering the vehicle, providing a level of mobility redundancy. Moreover, by eliminating the need for a driveshaft and other traditional automotive components beneath the vehicle, the platform can be optimized for underbody survivability through the integration of various blast-mitigating kits under the hull for higher threat levels.

Ultra Light Vehicle (ULV)

The Ultra Light Vehicle (ULV) has the capability to be optimized with an array of blast-mitigating armor kits that can be attached under the hull. U.S. Army photo

Interior technologies include a crushable floating floor system that decouples the crew’s feet and legs from the steel hull and absorbs energy, adjustable stroking seats, five-point restraint systems, and spatial accommodations to mitigate head impacts and flail injuries.

The TARDEC announcement notes that that the ULV also utilizes “high-strength steels and advanced composite materials offering lightweight ballistic protection from a number of threats to include a newly developed transparent ceramic armor system to keep the vehicle’s overall weight down.”

Ultra Light Vehicle (ULV)

The Ultra Light Vehicle (ULV) uses high-strength steels and advanced composite materials to provide lightweight ballistic protection. U.S. Army photo

“The cab is designed to have seven egress points facilitated by quick-release and removable components, stowage space for personnel and mission-specific items and 360-degree situational awareness through front- and rear-mounted ultra wide-angle thermal imagers,” added TARDEC engineer Vladimir Gendlin.

“The cab is designed to have seven egress points facilitated by quick-release and removable components, stowage space for personnel and mission-specific items and 360-degree situational awareness through front- and rear-mounted ultra wide-angle thermal imagers.”

Two of the three ULV prototypes will be used for mobility, mine blast and ballistic survivability testing with the third platform moving into TARDEC’s Ground Systems Power and Energy Laboratory (GSPEL) for mobility and fuel efficiency testing. ULV testing results are expected to be available in early 2014.

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Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...