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The Family of Vehicles Concept

More than the sum of its parts

The concept of a family of land vehicles, using a common chassis, tires/tracks, etc., is hardly new. Although not using that term, it was common during World War II, despite the number, types, complexity, and missions of platforms being significantly higher than previous conflicts.

“During World War II, in England during the buildup to D-Day, we had a warehouse with 1.5 million ‘parts common’ – nuts, bolts, screws, washers, etc. – that would fit vehicles built by every manufacturer,” said TACOM Life Cycle Management Command (LCMC) historian Randy Talbot. “But then there were seven or eight million other parts that were not common on all the vehicles provided by Chevy, Ford, Dodge, GM, Studebaker, the REO deuce-and-a-half, etc.”

The explosion of new technologies, capabilities, requirements, weapons systems, and missions in the early years of the Cold War led to greater diversity, with a more insular design approach to individual platforms as contractors and program managers sought to best incorporate mission-specific new technologies and capabilities. However, greater diversity also led to greater demands on logistics and, as coalition operations became the norm, made battlefield interoperability a challenge, at best.

The U.S. military began returning to a family of vehicles (FoV) concept during the Vietnam War.

M113 Armored Personal Carrier

U.S. soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, fire an M120 mortar out of an M113 armored personal carrier (APC) on Forward Operating base Taji, Baghdad, Iraq, April 25, 2009. The venerable M113 has to be considered a success story for the family of vehicles concept, with an estimated 80,000 produced for service in more than 50 countries. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joshua E. Powell

“We have a lot of systems – tracked, wheeled, armored personnel carriers, etc. – but the smartest thing we did in the 1960s was to go back to a concept that had been missing for about 20 years,” Talbot said. “And if you look at the way we build systems today, it goes back to that. Conceptually, from our command standpoint, it helps with purchasing and contracting, makes it easier to acquire ‘parts common’ for a system versus 20 systems; it makes sense from a logistical footprint perspective in the field, managing one type instead of a variety of things.

“From the 1960s, that began with development of the M113 armored personnel carrier [APC], from which we developed 11 variants on a single chassis. So it became a FoV, which is the most important concept we ‘remembered’ from the 1940s – develop a system that is multimission, multi-variant. And the 113 did that for us. It was the workhorse of Vietnam, providing one system, one platform for infantry, artillery, scout, medical, etc.”

The task of meeting the tank and automotive needs of the ground force – primarily Army and Marines, but also elements of the Navy, Air Force, and allies – falls to the Army Materiel Command’s (AMC) TACOM LCMC.

“Right now, the Army is tackling tactical vehicle strategy – how many trucks do we really need? As the force structure comes down, how many vehicle systems do we support?” Michael Viggato, deputy to TACOM LCMC’s commanding general, added. “Adaptability and flexibility and collaboration – those are the keys to being relevant when called upon. And that we have been called upon and met the requirements is a testimony to TACOM and AMC.”

Standardization and the FoV concept began to drive tactical vehicle development in the 1980s, aiming for multi-mission variants with a reduced logistical footprint. Among the initial entrants into service in 1982 was the Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck (HEMTT) system, with five configurations – fuel tanker, material handling, tractor, cargo, and wrecker. The HEMTT is still considered the backbone of Army logistics, including a load handling system with interchangeable flat-rack cargo beds and containerized roll-in/out platforms.

Another multimission, multi-variant platform of that period was the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV), better known as the Humvee, a replacement for the M151 Jeep, M718 ambulance, and the M561 GamaGoat. Originally designed as an administrative vehicle, the Humvee eventually came in 11 variants and in the last two decades, has seen numerous upgrades, configuration management, armor kits, and packages, etc.

“The Humvee really was never meant for the battlefield, it was meant to replace the jeep as an administrative vehicle. But during Desert Storm, it became one,” Talbot said, adding that conflict also marked the creation of other new FoV. “In the 1990s, the major development was tactical wheeled modernization. We had just modernized all our armor, now we had to do the same with the family of light, medium, and heavy tactical vehicles.


Never intended as a vehicle to be in the thick of a fight, the HMMWV family of vehicles eventually came to comprise almost three dozen variants and sub-variants. U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Kerri Brantley

“But with the family of tactical vehicles, you replaced the entire 2.5- and 5-ton fleets with one vehicle system that included a Palletized Load System [PLS], which changed logistics by lifting everything with hydraulics. Now you had one truck that could carry 33 tons of supplies – 16.5 tons on the PLS truck itself, the same in a trailer – in a 35 mph convoy. So it wasn’t really one system, but the whole family of tactical wheeled vehicles for combat support, combat service support, logistics, fuel handling – all modernized to go forward with speeds comparable to the maneuver units.”

In post-9/11 Southwest Asia, those advanced logistics capabilities helped change the battlefield and concept of operations. Most important, according to Talbot, they saved lives.

“If the maneuver units have to wait two or three days for the resupply trucks, they’re sitting ducks. As long as they are moving forward, the logistics convoys have to keep up with them. And you then can sustain the battle as long as you want or need,” he explained.

“Where before you had one truck that did this, then another doing another mission, and another, and another, and so on, now you have one platform doing everything – and carrying a lot more cargo than multiple old trucks. It adds a lot more speed with both the loading and unloading, as well as getting there faster. You want to get into the fight and finish it as fast as possible – the faster you do that, the fewer casualties.”

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J.R. Wilson has been a full-time freelance writer, focusing primarily on aerospace, defense and high...