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Army begins testing new combat truck at Aberdeen Proving Ground

The Army is testing a new combat truck, the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle JLTV, at Aberdeen Proving Ground. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun video)

The cab of the military truck still had that new-car smell.

The Army, working on the successor to the long-serving Humvee to carry troops to fight around the world, is testing the new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

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Col. Morris Bodrick, commander of the Aberdeen Test Center, said Monday the JLTV will be tested for performance and reliability over the next year on the 50-odd miles of test track that wind around the Army installation in Harford County.

The Humvee became an icon of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, but it proved vulnerable in Afghanistan and Iraq to roadside bombs.

Efforts to imrpove the vehicle's armor — adding metal plates to protect the troops inside — left it over-burdened. So in the midst of the conflicts, the Army rushed to field a heavier bomb-resistant truck while also planning for the Humvee's ultimate replacement.

Several companies competed to build the trucks; the different versions were also tested at Aberdeen. Wisconsin-based Oshkosh beat Lockheed Martin and AM General, which makes the Humvee, for the $6.7 billion contract to build the first group.

A formal protest by Lockheed set the program back, but Oshkosh turned over seven JLTVs to the Army and Marine Corps in late September and delivered another 10 in October. The team at Aberdeen Proving Ground has five of the vehicles; others are going to be put through their paces at facilities in Arizona and Alaska.

The Army and Marines plan to buy some 55,000 JLTVs over the next two decades. The testing data gathered at Aberdeen and the other facilities will help the military make decisions about the future of the program.

The name Humvee is a kind of abbreviation of the cumbersome High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle. No similarly catchy moniker has emerged for the JLTV.

Several versions of the new truck are planned. The one on show at Aberdeen Proving Ground on Monday was a two-door model that will likely serve as a transport vehicle. Others will carry weapons systems, including missiles that could be used to take on tanks or destroy bunkers.

The JLTV's top speed of about 70 mph will let troops quickly close on enemies, and its advanced suspension system means it can travel across very rough terrain.

Maj. Jason McPhee, an official with the office that is developing the JLTV, said the ride across one particularly bumpy test track was so smooth he could have drunk a cup of coffee.

The JLTV is large by the standards of a civilian car, with tires that reached up to Bodrick's waist as he stood next to it. It's bigger even than a Humvee. But it is much smaller than the Army's most heavily armored trucks while still affording its passengers as much protection, officials say.

McPhee said the designers of the new truck aimed to take lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Oshkosh had already tested out some of the concepts on the armored Mine Resistant Ambush Protected All Terrain Vehicle.

Those large trucks provided troops with good protection from bomb blasts, McPhee said, but couldn't be easily transported by helicopter or on amphibious landing ships.

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Humvees, meanwhile, struggled under the weight of the extra armor loaded onto them.

The Army parked the three vehicles next to one another Monday to make the point.

"We started to up-armor that Humvee, but once we started to up-armor that vehicle we started to trade away its payload and its mobility," McPhee said.

The MATV and other mine-resistant vehicles were quickly developed as an answer — some of the work took place at Aberdeen Proving Ground — but they brought their own problems.

"That program rapidly responded and provided protection immediately to the soldiers and Marines on the battlefield, saved a lot of lives along the way," McPhee said. "But when we made that investment we traded away transportability and mobility. We're talking about very heavy vehicles."

The JLTV is designed to find the sweet spot.

"It's going to try to find the perfect balance of performance, protection and payload," McPhee said.

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