The Pentagon is accelerating its search for a replacement for the Humvee after two years of roadside bombs and suicide attacks in Iraq that have killed hundreds of soldiers in a vehicle that wasn't designed for front-line urban combat.
Before the war in Iraq, a Humvee successor wasn't due until the middle of the next decade. Now the Army plans to review designs this fall, and working prototypes will be due in June.
There are about 24,000 Humvees in Iraq and Afghanistan. By 2008, the military could start using a new vehicle that provides:
More protection for troops. Congressional pressure forced the military to add armor to all older Humvees and buy more models with factory-installed armor. But even Humvees with the latest armor are still vulnerable to the powerful bombs insurgents use.
A beefier suspension that can handle the weight of the armor. The extra armor has led to increased maintenance problems for the Humvee, which wasn't designed to handle so much weight. The extra weight also makes it more prone to rolling over and getting bogged down in sand.
Lower fuel consumption to reduce the need for supply convoys that are targets of insurgents.
Powerful on-board power generation to handle the expanding array of electronics that troops take to battle today compared with the simple radios of 30 years ago. Hybrid-electric drive trains, gaining popularity in passenger vehicles and already being tested in current Humvee prototypes, are under serious consideration for both mileage and power generation.
"We wish we had that vehicle out there today," says Lt. Col. Stuart Rogers, transportation division chief of the Army Combined Arms Support Command.
"Survivability is our primary concern," says Jeff Bradel, project officer at the Office of Naval Research, which is overseeing prototype development for the Marines. Unlike the Humvee, originally designed for moving troops and supplies behind the lines, the next vehicle will be a fighter from the start, he says.
The original Humvee design worked well in the first Gulf war, Bosnia, Kosovo and elsewhere, said Thomas Donnelly, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a research organization. The Iraq war has forced the vehicle into doing what "it was never contemplated that it would do," including battling bomb-wielding insurgents in today's urban combat.
The armoring of the Humvee to counter the bombs has had limited success. But some shortcomings cannot be fixed without a thorough redesign. For example, even with armor, a Humvee's flat bottom won't deflect bomb blasts as well as new designs with boat-shaped underbodies. Roadside bombs are among the leading killers of troops in Iraq.
Nearly half of the troops killed in Iraq in July were inside Humvees, military records show.
The added weight has cost the Humvee much of its legendary off-road capability, a major concern of wartime commanders. The next vehicle would be armor-capable from the start, possibly using computer-controlled suspensions to stay nimble despite its mass.
"If this is the threat of the future, the long-term utility of the Humvee has to be questioned," Gen. William Nyland, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, told a House panel in June.