Army Spending Millions To Trial Three Light Tactical Vehicles Including One It Already Uses

The U.S. Army has selected three different light tactical vehicle proposals to compete in its Infantry Squad Vehicle program. At the same time, the decision to proceed with the project at all, which has been ongoing in some form for five years now, seems somewhat curious. The service has already bought hundreds of examples of one of the vehicles in the running, which is also in service with U.S. Special Operations Command, to meet the same requirements.

A team-up between Oshkosh Defense and Flyer Defense, another consisting of SAIC and Polaris, along with General Motors, all received $1 million contracts on Aug. 23, 2019. The Army expects to take delivery of two examples each of the three prototype designs – six vehicles in total – for testing at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland by Nov. 13, 2019. The service then hopes to award an initial contract to the competition’s winner for 651 vehicles in March 2020. The final order could potentially grow to up to 2,065 Infantry Squad Vehicles (ISV).

Flyer Defense will be in charge of designing the vehicle they are proposing in cooperation with Oshkosh Defense. This will almost certainly be a variant of the Flyer series of light tactical vehicles, which you can read about in more detail here. Flyers are already in active service with U.S. special operations forces, as well as limited regular Army use, which could give the design a leg up in the competition.

SAIC and Polaris have teamed up to deliver prototypes based on the latter company’s Deployable Advanced Ground Off-Road design, or DAGOR. Polaris originally developed this vehicle for U.S. Special Operations Command and other international special operations forces customers. 

The standard Flyer 60 and DAGOR vehicles have very similar overall dimensions and both weigh in at around 4,500 pounds. The basic Flyer 72 is longer and wider and weighs around 1,000 pounds more. The Flyer variants and DAGOR all feature turbodiesel engines that can also run off JP8 jet fuel.

General Motors will deliver a militarized version of its Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison pickup truck. The U.S. Army did previously test a militarized, hydrogen fuel cell-powered version of the ZR2, called the ZH2, but there is no indication yet that GM will propose this particular variant for the ISV competition. 

The potential to covert ZR2s to use the ZH2’s hydrogen fuel cell system in the future could still be a plus for this entrant given the service’s increasing concerns about providing the necessary fuel to units during any future high-end combat operations, something The War Zone has previously examined in detail.

The Chevy ZH2., GM

The ostensible goal of the ISV program is to provide added capabilities for Army light infantry units, including airborne and airmobile elements, that otherwise have not typically had the benefit of significant numbers of organic light tactical vehicles. As the name implies, the basic requirement is to be able to carry a standard nine-person infantry squad. These vehicles would improve the mobility of small units, as well as offer them a means to more readily transport heavier weapons, such as heavy machine guns, automatic grenade launchers, and anti-tank guided missiles.

The ISVs are not intended to replace any existing vehicles that are already in service, such as the new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV), which is now entering service with the Army, as well as the U.S. Marine Corps. The program, which evolved from the Ultra Light Combat Vehicle (ULTV) effort that began in 2014, has been looking at designs that are significantly smaller and lighter weight than the JLTV, or the Humvees that those vehicles are replacing. 

The desire for a vehicle that is itself easier to move around and deploy has been a major driving factor for the ISV program, as well as a host of other, similar efforts across the U.S. military in recent years. The need for an “internally transportable” design that fits inside a wide range of aircraft and helicopters has been a common theme across those projects. A key Army requirement for the ISV has been that it needs to be able to squeeze inside a CH-47 Chinook. It’s already possible to do this with a Humvee, but with considerable effort. Smaller all-terrain vehicles that have less payload capacity than the proposed ISVs will also fit.

At the same time, while the ISV could certainly boost the mobility and firepower of light infantry units, it seems worth questions whether running a new competition after all these years is the best course of action for the Army. The service has already spent considerable time and energy testing a variety of commercial-of-the-shelf options or commercial derivatives, including one based on the Jeep Wrangler.

Hendrick Dynamics Jeep Wrangler-based Commando, which the Army previously evaluated., Hendrick Motorsports

The fact that the service had already decided to go ahead and buy nearly 300 Flyer 72s, which it designated as M1297 Army Ground Mobility Vehicles (A-GMV), only raises additional questions about whether the separate ISV effort is a valuable use of time and resources. The M1297 itself is based on the U.S. Special Operations Command’s Flyer 72 configuration, known as the M1288 GMV 1.1, which has been in service for years and has been involved in combat operations in the Middle East. The Army’s own budget documents treat GMV 1.1, AGMV, and ISV as being components of one larger effort. 

This is to say nothing of similar efforts within the U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps that have led to the acquisition of a variety of internally transportable light tactical vehicles in the past two decades. Some of these projects trace their roots all the way back to the 1990s.

The Air Force’s Guardian Angel Air-deployable Rescue Vehicle, a variant of the HDT Storm, yet another light tactical vehicle design in US military service., USAF

If the ISV competition settles on a Flyer variant, the Army will have paid at least $2 million to effectively pick a vehicle it is already using. If it picks one of the other contenders, it will then end up with two distinct fleets of vehicles that meet the same basic requirements, which could increase logistical, maintenance, and training demands and associated costs. Divesting the M1297s could potentially recoup some funds, but not the sunk costs already spent on things such as training personnel to use them.

On top of all this, there has been increasing debate within the U.S. military about whether a vehicle that meets the basic ISV requirements is suitable for even limited combat operations against opponents with access to man-portable anti-tank guided missiles, mines, and improvised explosive devices, let alone a high-end fight. Adding additional armor and other defensive features can only increase the base weight. This, in turn, could limit any design’s ability to be internally transportable and air-droppable, as well as just its basic off-road mobility.

The Army itself is in midst of a separate competition to potentially acquire a new light tank to provide more heavily armored support airborne and other light infantry forces. The 82nd Airborne Division has already begun receiving ex-Marine LAV-25A2 light armored vehicles in the meantime.

With all this in mind, it will be interesting to see who the Army declares as the winner of the ISV program next year, if those trials continue on schedule, and how many vehicles it actually buys in the end.

Contact the author:

Joseph Trevithick

Deputy Editor

Joseph has been a member of The War Zone team since early 2017. Prior to that, he was an Associate Editor at War Is Boring, and his byline has appeared in other publications, including Small Arms Review, Small Arms Defense Journal, Reuters, We Are the Mighty, and Task & Purpose.