One of what is expected to be many industry teams positioning for the Army’s emerging program to recapitalize a large slice of its Humvee fleet is a partnership between Granite Tactical Vehicles and Textron Marine & Land Systems.
“We actually started working on this as ‘a solution for now’ versus ‘a solution for future,’” explained Chris Berman, president of Granite Tactical Vehicles. “The JLTV had been slated to come out but guys were still operating the Humvee on a daily basis. So we started going after the known weaknesses that the Humvee suffered with.”
“First of all, it couldn’t withstand any sort of an IED. It had no underbelly protection whatsoever. It had a high tendency to roll over and when it did roll over it had a high tendency to crush. In most events – whether it be an IED, collision or roll over – it usually resulted in fire that would come into the crew compartment,” he said.
“So we worked on those items,” he added. “We lowered the center of gravity. We created a solid structure that does not collapse in a roll over. We isolated the crew from the fuel cell. And we gave it a significant level of blast survivability as well as ballistic survivability. We thought that that was a bridge solution to the JLTV – something that could go on now – it was actually field deployable because we could do the integration in the field.”
“So that was the beginning,” he continued. “What has evolved from that was that, once the government started accepting the fact that the Humvee could be survivable, we were no longer just an armor solution. We needed to start working on mobility and other aspects of an ‘all vehicle solution.’ So we went from a survivable capsule into a suspension and steering upgrade, which has now migrated into a performance and driveline upgrade. And we have been working on all of those features for pretty much the last two years – everything from the front bumper to the rear bumper as far as performance enhancements as well as working to increase the survivability to a higher level.”
“June of 2008 was the first time we took a functioning, working vehicle to the government to show what we had built,” he said. “We had integrated one of our capsules onto a vehicle and started showing it fully operational. We moved from there and continued to evolve. So by the time the government came out with a request for information in January 2010, we had already been driving for a year and a half.”
Since that time he pointed to the company conducting “a couple of dozen blast events” as well as “building more than a couple of dozen vehicles.”
According to Bill Kisiah, vice president, Advanced Military Solutions, Textron Systems, the Granite-Textron team had been testing its prototype designs on a daily basis against the updated Army performance specifications prior to the Sept. 16, 2011 release of the draft request for proposals for the HMMWV Modernized Expanded Capacity Vehicle (MECV).
“We’re getting geared up for a full-out proposal, although we have not heard if the Army and the Marine Corps are going to go joint or if they are going to go separately,” he said. “We’re still awaiting that. We understand that both [services] have been meeting and we don’t know the outcome yet.”
“We’ve been testing against the Army performance spec although we have taken the previous Marine Corps spec and continued to go down that path as well,” he noted.
Asked to characterize how the Army’s performance spec has changed during the update process, Kisiah observed, “They’ve certainly ‘lightened up the requirements,’ based on the original requirement; in some cases drastically, we believe.”
“On the performance side, a lot of the requirements of speed, speed on grade, lane change, have been pulled back down,” echoed Berman. “I guess there was some influence by people who maybe could not meet the original performance requirements. It was a little disappointing for us, because we have been working on it for so long that we met all those performance requirements. Now we’re looking at a much softer set of requirements, which opens the field to a lot of people to produce a lesser product.”
As part of their positioning for the MECV/Humvee Recap program, the Granite-Textron team has been joined by Maine Military Authority, a depot in the state of Maine credited with performing over 14,000 Humvee “resets” to date.
“They have a very good track record,” Berman said. “The concept is that they would do the entire ‘reset of the recap’ of the drive system, framework and suspension. They would be integrating all the parts of the design and test it for the Granite-Textron team.”
Another team member was described only as “one of the largest names in the racing industry – primarily in NASCAR and a big presence in off-road.”
“We’ve teamed with them and they’ve been working with us for over two years on the suspension and steering solution,” Berman added. “We actually have had onsite personnel from that company for over two years now. And we have kind of taken on their industry format. So we have test performance tracks right here at the facility [Pilot Mountain, N.C.]. We have them on site. We have fully instrumented vehicles that they take out and test like they do in the racing world. Then they rebuild, redo, modify, and spit it right back out on the track to test it some more. They do what they do best, which is rapid change and constant improvement.”
He added that a production line is currently located in North Carolina “capable of lower production numbers in case the project comes out with a low initial run. And then Textron has a duplicate assembly line in Slidell, La. And the concept would be, as the numbers increase, to recreate the same line over and over. So we are ready to go. We are comfortably TRL [technical readiness level] 8. If someone pushed the button tomorrow we could start delivering probably 75 days out in whatever sort of numbers they started looking for.”
Asked about key discriminators in the Granite-Textron approach to MECV/Humvee Recap, Berman immediately responded, “Lowest cost/lowest weight,” which was quickly followed by Kisiah’s addendum, “Ready now.”