Video Above: Army Views German-Built "Lynx" Infantry Combat Vehicle
While it may have come to life during the years of IEDs, terrorist attacks and massive counterinsurgency operations, the Army and Marine Corps Joint Light Tactical Vehicle is being massively adjusted, upgraded, upgunned and powered up for major mechanized warfare.
Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) Weapons Integration
While it may be a tactical vehicle designed during the Afghan-Iraq era, the JLTV has also since its inception been envisioned as a platform able to perform lethal war missions in major combat against a “peer” adversary.
“We can integrate just about any weapon,” George Mansfield, Vice President, Joint Programs, Oshkosh Defense, told Warrior in an interview.
Now the Army is taking this vision to a new level by massively up gunning the JLTV with mortars, guns and a Non Line of Sight Missile able to track and destroy targets with precision from great distances. The NLOS missile, called SPIKE, is now arming some of the Pentagon’s European military partners, Oshkosh Defense weapons developers say.
The JLTV was recently armed with the NLOS Spike in Estonia in a test designed to show that the missile can hit targets up to 32 kilometers. The NLOS Spike, a missile system developed by Israel, can track and destroy drones, helicopters, low-flying fixed wing aircraft and even ground targets parallel to the vehicle on the ground.
Interestingly, the live-fire demonstration, hosted by the Estonian Navy, emphasized cross-domain connectivity as the missiles can be fired at landing craft, enemy ships such as Corvettes and even small, inflatable commando Rigid Inflatable Boats. On land, an Oshkosh statement said, the SPIKE NLOS can enable target identification and precision strike against enemy tanks, armored vehicles or even advancing enemy infantry.
The targeting and fire control system connecting the NLOS SPIKE to the JLTV include an ability to redirect and course-correct in flight as new information arrives.
“It has a bi-directional datalink, enabling full control of the missile from launch up to target hit with pinpoint precision that is not affected by range. Unlike laser-guided or active radar munitions, the SPIKE NLOS electro-optical guidance is completely passive and is capable of operation in GPS-denied environments,” an Oshkosh statement explained.
120mm Mortar Weapons
The Oshkosh JLTV has also been armed with transportable, built-in 120mm mortar weapons able to fire on elevated enemy positions while on the move in combat.
A more heavily armed JLTV introduces new tactical dynamics for ground commanders who might be primarily inclined to use the vehicle for scouting, reconnaissance or small group troop transport missions.
A missile-armed JLTV could not only help provide air and missile defense for tactical and combat vehicles in convoys or moving to contact with an enemy, but also open up new possibilities for direct attack.
The speed and off-road ability of the JLTV might enable new possibilities for combat maneuver in areas less accessible to heavier forces or larger tactical trucks ill equipped to travel off road.
Part of this maneuverability is enabled by Oshkosh Defense’s well known TAK-4i suspension, an intelligent system autonomously able to adjust to terrain below using compressed nitrogen. The technological concept is to allow for specific rapid, on the move adaptations to terrain in real time to improve mobility, durability and survivability for soldiers traveling inside.
Fighting against IEDs, hit-and-run small group ambushes and asymmetrical terrorist tactics captured much attention from Pentagon war planners, operational commanders and U.S. military weapons developers during two decades of warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan.
However, while this might lead some to think the U.S. was left ill-equipped for major power combat, the prospect of major power warfare did not completely exit the Pentagon. Many of its evolving platforms over the last decade, born in an era of counterinsurgency, were also engineered with a mind to winning major mechanized warfare engagements in heavy combat.
The Army’s Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) for example, was built as a next-generation Humvee to bring new speed, protections and combat performance to both counterinsurgency and major power warfare.
JLTV Anti-Air Missiles, Anti-Tank Weapons
It is upon this basis that JLTV-maker Oshkosh Defense, the U.S. Army and other U.S. allied militaries are now arming the vehicle with anti-air missiles, anti-tank weapons and advanced fire control technology to enable heavy combat.
The Marine Corps has been experimenting with arming its JLTVs with anti-tank missiles such as TOWs and Javelins, and U.S. allies are firing off the Israeli-built SPIKE Non Line of Sight Missile from the vehicle to expand its mission envelope.
Unlike a counterinsurgency mission wherein an advancing ground convoy would operate with established air-superiority, a major power warfare contingency would require an air-defense component, something which a missile-armed JLTV might be able to offer. Attacking enemy helicopters, drones or even approaching armored vehicles could be stopped, intercepted or destroyed by missiles fired from a JLTV.
Combined Arms Maneuver
The JLTV is also networked for modern applications of Combined Arms Maneuver which call for more disaggregated, yet highly integrated combat platforms able to gather, process and share targeting specifics in real time across the force. This includes Satcom connectivity, force tracking digital mapping technology, radio communications and other kinds of integrated sensor coordination.
Part of the concept when it comes to adding heavier weapons to the JLTV pertains to questions related to speed and expeditionary warfare. Of course more heavy weapons such as anti-tank or air defense fires gave the vehicle new attack capabilities but also enabled previously impossible offensive combat maneuvers. A JLTV is much faster and more deployable than other armored combat vehicles, and the increased ranges and precision with which weapons can strike can bring forces closing with the enemy an anti-armor capability on a deployable, lighter-weight tactical wheeled vehicle.
Army and Marine Corps leaders refer to this concept of operation as putting “lightweight mounted fires” on fast-moving tactical vehicles, a scenario which could involve arming the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle with anti-tank missiles or other precision anti-armor weapons. This makes a lot of sense, given longstanding concerns about tank mobility and deployability. While the tried and tested Abrams tank is combat proven and not likely to disappear anytime soon, it does operate with certain limitations such as an inability to cross certain bridges, slower speeds, logistical challenges with high fuel consumption and, perhaps most of all, an inability to conduct rapid-deployment expeditionary warfare.
Oshkosh Defense has now built at least 13,500 of its Joint Light Tactical Vehicles for the U.S. Army, Marine Corps and a growing sphere of international partners, hitting a milestone which may only be but a beginning to a decades-long developmental, production and delivery trajectory. It is now used by as many as seven U.S. allied countries, to include the U.K., Belgium, Montenegro, Slovenia, Lithuania, Brazil and North Macedonia. More than 6,000 have already been fielded.
The Army’s Humvee became a classic, war-tested tactical vehicle for decades, yet the vehicles were decimated in Iraq and Afghanistan by IEDs. During more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army worked intensely to better protect its Humvees with things like “uparmoring” and extra bolt-on protections. These innovations or adjustments, while impactful to a large degree, simply could not save the flat-bottomed, low-riding Humvees from being extremely vulnerable to roadside bombs. The continued vulnerability of the Humvee, and the tragedy of casualties associated with its performance in Iraq and Afghanistan, gave rise to an urgent Pentagon need to accelerate live-saving alternatives to war.
As this was unfolding, the Pentagon fast-tracked a number of efforts to engineer, build and deliver troop transport and tactical vehicles able to withstand or counter the IED threat. This lead to the creation of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles, (MRAP), the MRAP-All Terrain Vehicle and the now deployed Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, built by Oshkosh Defense. Thousands of JLTVs now operate in as many as seven U.S. allied nations as well as in the U.S. Army and Marine Corps.
Built with new suspension higher off the ground and an entire generation of new technologies, the JLTV was intended to change the combat paradigm for light tactical vehicles. When compared with earlier light tactical vehicle models such as the Humvee, the JLTV is engineered with a much stronger, 250 to 360 horsepower engine and a 570-amp alternator able to generate up to 10 kilowatts of exportable power.
Army developers explain that the JLTV is designed with enough on-board power to support the Army's network and be able to take advantage of the latest generation of diesel engine technology to maximize fuel economy. This is of great relevance given the Army’s current emphasis upon networking, as the JLTV will need to power up more computing, electronics sensors and fire control technology to support a new generation of weapons intended for the modern battlefield. Exportable electrical power is increasingly critical for tactical combat vehicles as it not only supports command and control technologies on the vehicle but can also enable power-reliant weapons systems such as lasers or EW applications.
The vehicle is built with a system called TAK-4i independent suspension designed to increase off-road mobility in rigorous terrain – a scenario quite likely should there be a major war.
The JLTV is also configured with what is called Variable Ride-Height Suspension, described as the ability to raise the suspension in high-threat areas and lower the suspension so that the vehicles can be transported by maritime preposition force ships. The JLTV is also reported to be air-sea-and-land transportable, able to transport on amphibious assault ships, fixed wing aircraft such as a C-130, C-17 and C-5 as well as CH-47 and CH-53 helicopters.
The JLTV, which has been armed with weapons such as a grenade launcher or .50-cal machine gun, is now being armed with heavier weapons to include anti-tank missiles, counter drone weapons and more lethal mounted guns. It also has a central tire inflation system which is an on-the-fly system that can regulate tire pressure; the system can adjust tire pressure from higher pressures for higher speed conditions on flatter roads to much lower pressures in soft soil such as sand or mud.
Many of these attributes are proving increasingly critical as the U.S. Army and Marine Corps look to become even more deployable and expeditionary while retaining a heavy combat lethality.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox