The U.S. Army is looking into replacing its 30-year-old fleet of Humvee vehicles with a newer, more modern transport.
The top replacement choice right now is the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, or JLTV, currently in its engineering and manufacturing stage.
The JLTV will come in versions that seat 2, 4 and 6 soldiers, and will incorporate modern engine technology to get up to 60 percent more fuel efficiency than currently deployed "legacy" vehicles.
The Humvee-replacement will also have the defensive capabilities of much heavier vehicles. Improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, became a serious problem in Iraq and Afghanistan, particularly roadside IEDs that would detonate beneath or beside cars and other vehicles.
The JLTV is especially designed to withstand these types of attacks, said Frank St. John, the vice president of tactical missiles and combat maneuver systems at Lockheed Martin, a defense contractor leading the development of the JLTV.
It's not just a matter of adding armor, he said. "You can't just take steel plates and hang them on the vehicle. Pretty soon it won't drive anywhere," St. John said, adding that extra weight means reduced fuel economy.
Beyond armor, therefore, the JLTV's defensive capabilties come from its shape. "When a blast happens underneath the vehicle … [the JLTV is] shaped such that the effects of the blast are vented out and away from the vehicle," explains St. John.
In the case of an explosion beneath the vehicle, the JLTV will often lift right off the ground. High-functioning seatbelts and crash protection are therefore a critical part of the design, especially important when the JLTV lands back on the ground.
The resulting design, combining powerful armor with advanced design, does outweigh the Humvee, but the JLTV is still light enough to fall within the military's requirements, and can be airlifted by military planes such as the C130 and C17.
Testing the JLTV's capability to withstand IEDs was part of its development phase. Engineers would detonate explosive devices beneath the vehicle and use sensors placed inside the vehicle to measure the blast and determine if people inside would have survived.
In instances in which damage to the vehicle is unavoidable, the JLTV is designed to collapse along specified stress points to ensure that the vehicle, and not the crew, takes the brunt of the damage.
"The idea is that you can sacrifice the vehicle, but save the soldiers," St. John said.
The U.S. military awarded the JLTV program a contract in 2008 to pursue research. The downselect, or final selection process in which the military will commission a vehicle for production, will occur in 2016.
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