Trucks: Kickin’ the Tires
May 15, 2007

While Chinooks, LAVs and Predators grab all the media attention, trucks are said to be the sinews of the Army – without the support of these mundane logistical vehicles, even the most brilliantly planned manoeuvre grinds to a halt and the battle is lost. Trucks are the backbone of the military. Invaluable to any battlefield situation, in peacetime they are taken for granted with little money spent on their procurement or modernization. Even today, under that camouflage, many military trucks are still recognizable as militarized versions of their supermarket supplying cousins.

Typical of these work horses is the familiar big green Army truck currently used by the Canadian Forces – its design almost unchanged from its Korean War ancestors. Known as the Medium Logistic Vehicle Wheeled (MLVW), it has been the backbone of the CF’s logistical support fleet for decades, quietly transporting troops and equipment, pulling artillery guns and delivering humanitarian aid equally well. But to use an advertising term, it is your father’s truck.

In use since the 1980s, these trucks have been driven to the end of their service lives and on June 22, 2006, Treasury Board approved a major project to contribute to Army transformation.

Called the Medium Support Vehicle System (MSVS), the project would provide the platform for embedded unit logistics and mobile support facilities, such as field kitchens, workshops and medical facilities. They will also be able to effect re-supply operations, delivering reinforcements and supplies.

A new fleet of 5-tonne trucks would be used by the Regular Forces and the Reserves in a wide range of roles – from support during domestic emergencies, to deployed operations. With these modernized and improved logistics trucks, fewer vehicles will be required to get the job done. By using standardized containers and palletized load-handling systems, allowing materials to be transferred easily among many modes of transportation, the new fleet would enhance mission flexibility and global deployability.

The MSVS project aims to procure approximately:

  • 1500 standard military pattern vehicles (designed specifically for military use) with up to 300 load-handling system companion trailers and up to 300 armour protection systems.
  • 800 commercial vehicles adapted for military use;
  • 1000 specially equipped vehicles kits (such as mobile kitchens, offices and medical or dental stations).

The commercial vehicles will be used in Canada for training and administrative support functions. Their maintenance and repair should be supported commercially through a well-established local dealer network, benefiting Canadian industry and local economies. For the Canadian Forces, this will also lower support costs and increase availability. This is especially important to the Reserves, who will be the main user.

A competitive procurement process has been designed to select the contractor for new trucks for the Canadian Forces with requests for proposals already released to industry for all elements of the project. The acquisition contracts would also have full economic benefits for Canadian industry. This means that for every contract dollar awarded, the contractor will commit a corresponding dollar in economic activity in Canada. The in-service support contract for the standard military pattern vehicle will include support for an initial period of 2-3 years. A follow-on support contract for the remainder of the 20-year total life of the vehicles will be negotiated or competed separately. The estimated in-service support cost is $100 million, representing a substantial income for Canadian industry.

Several automotive companies began positioning themselves to bid on the CAD1.2 billion Medium Support Vehicle project. Among them are: Armor Holdings (Stewart & Stevenson and Rheinmetall Canada of St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec); International Truck and Engine in Chatham, Ontario; Mercedes-Benz (Daimler Chrysler); and Oshkosh Trucks (in partnership with DEW Engineering of Ottawa);

Metaphorically kicking the tires of each entry, FrontLine examines them for you here in some detail.

Armor Holdings
Armor Holdings’ Tactical Vehicle Systems Division (TVSD) is competing with their Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles (FMTV) for MSVS, but only for the standard military pattern (SMP) program. TVSD was previously known as Stewart & Stevenson Tactical Vehicle Systems until their purchase by Armor Holdings in May 2006.

In partnering with Rheinmetall Canada (formerly Oerlikon Contraves), TVSD selected a partner with a demonstrated record of systems integration and support to the Canadian Forces.

The FMTV is the primary medium tactical truck in service with the U.S. Army, with over 38,000 vehicles already delivered, many in battle environments. As is envisioned in Canada, the FMTV is replacing older 2.5 and 5 ton trucks in the U.S. Army that are very similar to the MLVW that MSVS is intended to replace. The vehicle is currently available in 22 different variants, including various cargo configurations, a containerized load handling system, van bodies, wrecker, dump truck, and tractor variants.

The FMTV has developed such a reputation for reliability that the U.S. Army’s Tank-automotive and Armaments Com­mand (TACOM) has dubbed it “ultra-reliable,” making it the platform of choice for advanced combat systems such as the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) and Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS).

It has undergone continuous improvements since first introduced in the mid-1990s. Taking advantage of technological developments in the automotive industry, Armor Holdings has not only kept the FMTV up to date, but count it among the most advanced vehicles on the market today. For example, all major systems are integrated through the J1939 data bus into the ­vehicle’s Class-5 interactive electronic technical manual (IETM), providing integrated electronic manuals, diagnostics and ­troubleshooting.

The FMTV’s design also allows for retrofit of the latest production configuration to earlier models, ensuring reverse compatibility and built-in facilitation of mid-life upgrades to earlier vehicles. Armor claims several “firsts,” such as:

  • First to combine 2.5-ton and 5.0-ton payload classes.
  • First to pass the Army’s 22-year accelerated corrosion test.
  • First to incorporate Class V Interactive Electronic Technical Manuals
  • First to install anti-lock braking systems in a tactical off-road truck
  • First tactical truck to integrate digital J1939 Data Bus capability
  • First Army off-road truck family to sustain a 98% plus operational readiness rate, or over 93% in wartime.

As to meeting the RPG and IED threats in Afghanistan, Armor Holdings has a strong position due to the wide use of the Stewart & Stevenson trucks already in theatre. Other divisions within Armor Holdings hold a dominant position in the armouring of tactical and commercial vehicles, including OEM armouring of the M1114 HMMWV’s, armouring kits for everything from the HMMWV to the HEMTT and HET, and gunner’s protection kits (GPK’s) to be retrofitted to all armoured tactical vehicles in the U.S. Army. Over 2,000 of the FMTV’s Low Signature Armoured Cab (LSAC) have been fielded in Iraq and Afghanistan where they have withstood literally hundreds of improvised explosive device (IED) attacks.

Armor Holdings also has its next-generation armoured cab available, depending on DND’s preference for an armour solution. This cab, in its “fitted-for-but-not-with” armour configuration will go into series production on U.S. Army trucks before the end of 2007.

Armor Holdings has teamed with Rheinmetall Canada (formerly Oerlikon Contraves Canada) to build a strong ­contender for the MSVS program. Rheinmetall Canada’s reputation for systems integration will serve well in “Canadianizing” the FMTV as necessary and also in providing an in-country locus for in-service support for the FMTV fleet.

With regard to the “Canada First” policy, Armor Holdings is confident of its ability to meet its IRB offset obligations. “We don’t believe content for the sake of content is to anybody’s benefit,” says Armor Holdings’ MSVS program manager Gregory Bilhartz. “We’ve seen instances of that in the past and no one is happy with the result – least of all the customer. We have no intention of repeating that mistake. Armor Holdings has a strategy of bringing high quality programs to a very capable industrial base where not only the Canadian economy but also the final ­customers of those products and services will benefit in the long run.”

International Truck and Engine Corp.
Part of the vital logistics train that supports all coalition forces in Iraq within the Multi-National Division-Baghdad area are civilian drivers. Many of these contracted employees drive International trucks, ­supplying and sustaining the 25,000-plus combat troops currently on the ground.

Steve Mathis, from San Antonio, Texas, is no stranger when it comes to working with the military. After 10 years in the Army infantry, he’s now the civilian convoy commander in charge of the massive freight haulers.

Moving everything – from heavy equipment to food and water – Mathis and his partner, Mike Winters, count on their International 5000-MV heavy equipment transporter to pull loads in excess of 8200 kg (180,000 lbs). “I’ve put a lot of stuff behind it and it hasn’t bogged down yet,” says Mathis. “I’ve taken an IED (improvised explosive device) that ripped out the engine, and I’m OK. I feel safe in it.”

International Military and Govern­ment, LLC is a subsidiary company of International Truck and Engine Corpora­tion, the fourth largest truck manufacturer in the world. Its Canadian roots can be traced to 1910, when it opened a plant in Chatham, Ontario. They employ more than 1,200 Canadians here, building high quality commercial tractor trailers, and commercial line haul tractors (including their latest ProStarTM tractor). As the largest diesel engine manufacturer in the world (in the 175 to 340 hp range), with unit sales of over 180,000 trucks in 2006, International can bring advantages to the military truck building business in ways others cannot match. The high volume production plants provide economies of scale in terms of purchasing power, enabling them to provide quality vehicles at ­­­affordable prices.

The power of International’s distribution chain benefits both its customer base and the local economy.

With 314 dealers in over 930 locations across Canada and the United States, and a further 150 dealers in 75 countries around the world, including Afghanistan and Iraq, the company easily meets the MSVS requirement.

“The competition for Canada’s military business builds a very small number of trucks per year, which, by sheer lack of volume, drives upward pressure on price,” says a company spokesperson. “Our competitors provide purpose-built trucks only and do not enjoy the scale which International has by militarizing its commercial trucks for severe service military applications. Few realize that International has been manufacturing and supporting military trucks and vehicles since 1918.”

International shifted its product focus over to military vehicles to support the Allied troops during World War II. Back then, the company produced the M-series that served the Marine Corps and the U.S. Navy as weapons carriers, cargo transporters, and light artillery trucks. A renewed military focus began in 2004 with the creation of International Military and Government, LLC, and today, IMG is responsible for production and support of all military and government vehicle ­programs currently being produced or in development.

IMG has won over 20 major contracts and the company currently holds contracts for over 12,000 vehicles, which are valued at $1.5 billion. International and its Military Group have delivered over 4,000 vehicles to the United States and foreign militaries since 2003 and have been used in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Mexico, and Taiwan.

International has over 1,200 military vehicles (virtually every variant described in Canada’s MSVS ­preliminary LOI) currently operating in Iraq and Afghanistan, and five dealer locations are providing a complete delivery, maintenance, parts, and service support network in theatre. Configuring these service trucks for the rough terrain of the region went well, and due to the company’s high volume production capacity, it was able to manufacture the high numbers of ­vehicles required by the Afghan National Army, and get them into the country quickly. International will bring knowledge gained in Afghanistan to the Canadian MSVS program to ensure that their trucks would be best suited for any mission tasking.

With respect to axles, suspensions, engine and transmissions combinations, the manufacturing, the company offers a vast array of combinations. For example, all of its cabs are modular. It is also interesting to note that International partners with world-ranking experts in armouring, ballistics and threat serviceability. Again, their huge scale defines their capabilities in design & engineering, testing and manu­facturing, allowing them to create custom products from conception to final stage assembly in very quick turnaround times.

In conclusion, International has complete confidence that it can produce MilCOTS (militarized commercial off the shelf) and SMP trucks for Canada, which will provide our troops with the very best protection while they carry out their duties in Afghanistan.

Back in Iraqi, running the IED gauntlet, Mike Winters says it all: “We love livin’ in this truck, we love workin’ in the truck. I’m happy with what I’m doing.”

When it was officially announced that DND had ordered 82 Mercedes-Benz Actros transport trucks for its AHSVS (Armoured Heavy Support Vehicle System), military observers were not surprised. Mercedes already had a good reputation in Ottawa – earning high praise as it delivered, on schedule, the workhorse G Wagons in Afghanistan when the Cold War era Iltis jeeps had to be quickly replaced. Hubertus Troska, Head of Mercedes-Benz Trucks, says “we knew our vehicle and the associated package was outstanding. To come out as the clear winner in such a highly professional, transparent process is acknowledgment of a great product and all our hard work.”

It remains to be seen if the Mercedes record will allow it to carry off the larger prize – the competition for the Medium Support Vehicle System (MSVS).

Better known in North America for its luxury sedans (and now its Smart cars), Mercedes-Benz, has a long history in  supplying globally deployable military support vehicles for use in prolonged low-intensity operations.

Building on the unsurpassed off-road capability of its famous Unimog truck, the world’s largest commercial truck manufacturer (with more than 200 standard models from van to heavy-duty truck), in the last years expanded its business activities to incorporate the supply of Armoured Military Vehicles to defence customers worldwide.

The S2000 model being entered in the MSVS competition is based on an Actros-platform, and is available in a 4x4 and a 6x6 version. It features, depending on the re­quested protection level, modular armouring or a full steel cabin with optional NBC protection.

The Mercedes S2000 has recently been ordered by Germany for testing in its truck replacement program.
The bonneted S2000 design leads to a reduced front axle load that allows for excellent off-road characteristics, a ballistic and mine protection level that meets the highest standards while maintaining manœuverability, low height design for C-130 air transportability, and easy field maintenance (even with the heavily armoured cabins).

With other Mercedes trucks already in use with ISAF and commercially, the company is well established, as evidenced by the many Mercedes “jingle” trucks on the local roads. In fact, commonality of parts across truck chassis variants significantly reduces the logistics burden and operating and support costs. All-wheel drive, differential locks, and high-torque engines ensure trouble-free operation even under extreme Afghan conditions.

Having won the AHSVS competition, Mercedes is clearly not about to rest on its laurels, and would like to supply the lighter MSVS cousin to Canada’s fleet in 2008. Definitely, the S2000 is a serious contender.

Oshkosh Truck Corporation
In 1917, to overcome the challenges of driving on rural roads, William Besserdich and Bernhard Mosling built four-wheel-drive trucks, successfully learning how to transfer the power from the front axle to the rear. The company eventually settled in Oshkosh Wisconsin, naming itself after the town. The superior traction and power of Oshkosh trucks gave them a steady following in the construction and mining industry, and during the Second World War its “E” series became especially popular with the Construction Battalions, the “Seabees.”

Snow ploughs, fire trucks, and concrete mixers were regular orders. Trucks designed for the desert came to the fore when the company won a major U.S. Army truck contract in 1976 for its first Heavy Equipment Transporter, the M911. But Oshkosh really started down the road to becoming the premier supplier of heavy tactical trucks for the U.S. military with a major Army contract in 1981 for Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Trucks, building more than 16,000 of them over the next two decades.

In 2004, Oshkosh Truck and American Truck Company (ATC), a new entrant on the U.S. military truck scene, were chosen by the Marine Corps to enter the next phase of the service's heavy tactical truck program. ATC received $5.6 million and Oshkosh $5 million in contracts to each build three Logistics Vehicle System Replacement (LVSR) cargo prototype trucks for the System Development and Demonstration phase of the program. The LVSR program, potentially worth U$750 million, would replace the Marines’ current heavy fleet with more capable and robust vehicles.

The MTT and MTVR trucks that Oshkosh is proposing for the Canadian contract are, like most of their U.S. military vehicles, unarmoured vehicles that can be custom-­fitted with armour packages as needed.

Oshkosh’s Canadian connection dates to 2005 when, among its many international acquisitions it bought cement mixer manufacturer, London Machinery Inc., in London, Ontario.

“Oshkosh has been thoroughly briefed on Canada’s IRB policy by Industry Canada officials,” says a spokesperson, “we fully understand what is expected of us. We are very supportive of this program and believe that, in meeting our IRB commitments, we can create significant new opportunities for our Canadian partners.”

In terms of direct IRB’s related to MSVS Oshkosh’s Canadian partner, DEW Engineering and Development Ltd. is working on armour protection solutions for the MTVR trucks. “If we’re successful, we hope the relationship between Oshkosh and DEW, in the area of vehicle armour, will continue beyond the MSVS program and may expand to vehicles other than the MTVR.”

Oshkosh is positioned to provide indirect IRB’s to Canadian industry. Besides military vehicles, Oshkosh manufactures an extensive line of commercial trucks for the fire and emergency, refuse hauling, and concrete placement markets. Oshkosh has manufacturing facilities in the U.S., Mexico, the U.K., the Netherlands and Sweden. The company recognizes that in some cases the highest quality, longest lasting benefits can come from indirect IRB’s.

Through contact with industry associations such as CADSI (Canadian Association for Defence and Security Industries), attendance at trade shows such as CANSEC, and meetings with Canadian government officials from organizations such as ACOA (the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency), Oshkosh has developed a strong network in Canada to assist in the continuing development of its IRB strategy. Oshkosh is confident in its ability to offer a high ­quality IRB package as part of the MSVS submission.

Wrap up
The Conservative Government agreed to replace the army’s fleet of medium logistics trucks last summer, but the proposed $1.2 billion program seemed to have stalled (said to be due, in part, to changing design considerations).

With our old Cold War era vehicles deteriorating rapidly, and calls by the Army Commander to make sure his soldiers are better protected when they travel, the emphasis is again ramping up.

Draft RFPs, intended for industry review, are expected this summer, and final RFPs will be posted in the fall.
Author Peter Pigott saw the trucks of all contenders in use in Afghanistan while researching his book “Canada in Afghanistan: The War So Far” (Dundurn, April 2007).
© FrontLine Defence 2007