Oshkosh JLTV

The most pow­er­ful na­tion Earth has bought a nee car to fight its fu­ture wars. First, TopGear must sign it off for duty

Top Gear (UK) - - CONTENTS - WORDS: OL­LIE KEW

The re­place­ment of the Hum­mer will be bring­ing truth, jus­tice and the Amer­i­can way to a hotspot near you soon...

ON TUESDAY 25 AU­GUST 2015, A COM­PANY WITH AN AWK­WARD NAME YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF WON A CON­TRACT TO BUILD THE MOST IM­POR­TANT CAR OF THE 21ST CEN­TURY.

On Wed­nes­day 26 Au­gust, a Brit the com­pany had never heard of asked if he could have a go in it.

De­spite them be­ing a bit busy, two days later I had an email back from Oshkosh De­fence, the Wis­con­sin truck­maker that’d scored the $6.75 bil­lion gig. “We’re ex­pect­ing some ap­peals against the de­ci­sion, so we’ll call you.” I’m para­phras­ing, but only a bit. Fast-for­ward al­most three years, and Lock­heed-Martin’s le­gal chal­lenge has been dropped, and the US Ma­rine Corps has re­ceived its first batch of Oshkosh Joint Light Tac­ti­cal Ve­hi­cles. Eight roll out of the fac­tory near the west coast of Lake Michi­gan ev­ery day, five days a week. That’ll dou­ble in Oc­to­ber.

You’re think­ing “that doesn’t look much like a Humvee” – or HMMWV, of­fi­cially. The Oshkosh JLTV is largely the re­place­ment for the iconic ve­hi­cle that’s com­pleted tours of duty in the first and sec­ond Gulf Wars, Afghanistan, and took a past­ing in the open­ing scene of Iron Man. The High Mo­bil­ity Mul­ti­pur­pose Wheeled Ve­hi­cle – which beat the Lam­borgh­ini Chee­tah to win the right to fight – has been in ser­vice since 1984. And it can’t hack it any more.

Pick any war zone news re­port in the past 20 years. You don’t hear tales of de­fined bat­tle­fields. These days it’s pa­trol am­bushes, re­motely det­o­nated im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vices (IEDs) and sui­cide at­tacks. The rules of en­gage­ment have been oblit­er­ated. Now it’s guerilla tac­tics meets ur­ban in­sur­gency. The Humvee, in­tended for hum­ble trans­port duty “in­side the wire” – friendly ter­ri­tory – is a lum­ber­ing, del­i­cate tar­get. Fight­ing cars need to be faster, tougher, clev­erer.

As early as 2006, the US Army re­alised these un­ar­moured trucks were get­ting an­ni­hi­lated, and as the ca­su­al­ties mounted, be­gan retrofitting ar­mour plat­ing. Like any af­ter­thought mod, it wasn’t as ro­bust as a pur­pose-built set-up, plus, the Humvee’s wheez­ing 190bhp diesel V8 now had up­wards of six tonnes to shift, in­stead of 2,400kg. Pay­load ca­pac­ity was erased. Sus­pen­sion travel dis­ap­peared. Re­li­a­bil­ity free-fell, range ca­pit­u­lated and the Humvee for­feited the abil­ity to tra­verse rough ter­rain with­out nau­se­at­ing any­one un­for­tu­nate enough to be aboard. Time for an hon­ourable dis­charge.

En­ter the Oshkosh JLTV. ’Muri­can might with a (twoinch thick) wind­screen, a re­vers­ing cam­era, two cuphold­ers and a bul­let­proof skin as stan­dard. Wher­ever the US Army and Ma­rine Corps are de­ployed be­tween 2019 and at least 2060, long af­ter The Don­ald has tweeted his last WITCH HUNT, you’ll see these mon­sters charg­ing in af­ter the Air Force has un­leashed hell from on high – with or with­out any hu­man sol­diers aboard. For one day only, it’s com­manded by Sec­ond Lieu­tenant Kew.

Oshkosh vice pres­i­dent and mous­tache en­thu­si­ast Ge­orge Mans­field strolls out of the fac­tory door and pitches me the clas­sic sound­bite de­sign brief: “The pro­tec­tion of a light tank and the mo­bil­ity of a Baja race truck.” That’s not bravado. In this light-arms-re­sis­tant ‘A-kit’ form, the JLTV

weighs 6.3 tonnes, which means a Siko­rsky CH-53 Su­per Stal­lion he­li­copter can hoist two at a time. The ‘B-kit’ ar­mour is MRAP ca­pa­ble – that’s Mine-Re­sis­tant Ambush Pro­tected. They test that by driv­ing the JLTV’s an­gled un­der­belly over a pile of ex­plo­sives and light­ing the det cord. Weight? Clas­si­fied, but a beastly Siko­rsky can only lift one of those.

Dakar rally-con­quer­ing mo­bil­ity, then? Yes, Sir. The JLTV’s sus­pen­sion is highly clas­si­fied (the dampers are one of two ar­eas we’re not al­lowed to pho­to­graph in de­tail; the other is the in­te­rior) but the trick TAK-4i sus­pen­sion has pedi­gree. Oshkosh tested it by com­pet­ing in the 2010 Baja 1000. Af­ter 51 hours, they com­pleted the 1,061-mile desert race: 4.5hrs too slow to be clas­si­fied, but what a way to shake down your kit.

In nor­mal ride mode, there’s 20 inches – that’s 508mm – of sus­pen­sion travel – the same as a Land Rover Dis­cov­ery has, but, when it raises to max­i­mum lift, you could pretty much drive over the Disco. It’ll also squat to stoop into trans­port air­craft. And the shocks can be com­manded to con­tract or ex­tend in­di­vid­u­ally, so the JLTV’s cabin will sit com­pletely level on a 45-de­gree gra­di­ent – be­cause it’s a lot eas­ier to train your gun from a flat plat­form.

While the JLTV per­forms its sit-up-and-beg rou­tine, I’m al­lowed a play in the Humvee ly­ing around for bench­mark­ing. This is an un­armed, un­ar­moured ex­am­ple, pretty much ex­actly what Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger climbed out of, and for rea­sons known only to the Gov­er­nor, said: “Yahh, make me a civil­ian ver­sion, do it now.” It’s in­ter­galac­ti­cally wide, so the wheels run neatly in tank tracks, but the roofline’s low to fit into cargo planes. The four up­right seats – mere stuffed pads on metal plat­ing – of­fer less room than you get in a Ford Fi­esta. It’s deaf­en­ing, swel­ter­ing, and ac­cel­er­ates so lethar­gi­cally, if the Earth ro­tated any faster it’d never leave the spot. How has the USA won any wars with this shed on its team? Oh. Good point.

Ge­orge the VP has driven over from the board­room in his lifted 6.6-litre Chevy Sil­ver­ado to watch me off-road the bench­mark. He’s grin­ning. I’m un­easy. Well, it’s taken three years and 4,000 miles to get here, so here goes.

This Humvee isn’t weighed down by ar­mour plat­ing, weapons or a crew, but it tack­les a fiendish off-set bump course like it’s play­ing ‘the floor is lava’. Great crashes shud­der through the chas­sis as the sus­pen­sion slams into its bump stops, jar­ring the car into the air. Imag­ine be­ing locked in a fridge that’s caught in a nu­clear blast, In­di­ana Jones-style. When my eye­balls even­tu­ally set­tle back into my skull, in be­tween the front-hinged bon­net flap­ping about like a dodgy hair trans­plant, I briefly spot the Oshkosh team chuck­ling from the side­lines. Top speed across the humped course? A hor­ren­dously un­com­fort­able 7mph.

Be­fore the new re­cruit tack­les the course, I must a) scale the side step and b) open the door, which isn’t at all heavy, if you’re used to guard­ing a me­dieval draw­bridge. The doorskin’s steel plate, with inch-thick ar­mour hung from each side. It takes two hands and a foot braced against the flank to heave it open if you’re a puny civil­ian, and I reckon a blood ves­sel in my eye burst pulling it shut.

Shoul­der sock­ets still creak­ing, the next job is to slot home the dead­bolts that will hold the door in place, even if it’s blown off its hinges. It’s lit­er­ally bombproof cen­tral lock­ing, via a big red han­dle from a Vic­to­rian rail­way sig­nal box. In­te­rior pho­tos are clas­si­fied, but I am al­lowed to de­scribe it. Like the Hum­mer, it has only four seats, but these are com­fort­able thrones, with cutouts in the back­rests so sol­diers can set­tle in with­out re­mov­ing cum­ber­some ruck­sacks. It’s dark. Ev­ery­thing’s black, and the win­dows are port­holes. It’s eerily quiet too, shielded from the world in this bub­ble of tough­ness.

Stick­ing out in the gloom is a stan­dard Chevy auto gear­lever con­nected to the same six-speed auto and 6.6-litre V8 diesel as Ge­orge’s truck. It gen­er­ates 340bhp, and has been pre­pared with new fil­ters and plumb­ing to in­gest ran­cid con­flict-zone fuel con­tam­i­nated with sed­i­ment and wa­ter. Front and cen­tre lives the most use­ful touch­screen of any car to­day, be­cause what it lacks in graph­i­cal whizzbangery it makes up for with gi­ant, leg­i­ble menu tiles. Ideal when you’re driv­ing. Handy when you’re un­der fire and have a gun plat­form to ad­just.

The V8 starts on a but­ton. Its hum is muted, drowned out by the aux­il­iary gen­er­a­tor’s shriek­ing whine. Then, sim­ply slot it into Drive and let the torque take over. First things first: aim it across the off­set bumps that tor­tured the Humvee. The new­bie cruises over at 30mph. Did I miss the bumps? Vis­i­bil­ity is pretty ap­palling. Let’s go again.

It’s ab­surd. This is the best-rid­ing car I’ve ever driven. The wheel travel is enor­mous, but the way it damps such gi­ant lumps of metal and rub­ber flail­ing around is un­canny. No Rolls-Royce, no McLaren… noth­ing damps bumps like the Oshkosh. What­ever you hit, noth­ing’s al­lowed to dis­turb the seren­ity of the cabin cap­sule which floats along, and I know this is a lu­di­crous word here, so grace­fully.

Em­bold­ened, I branch off into the woods and as­sault a rock course mod­elled on the comet in Ar­maged­don. The JLTV glides across it like it’s a golf­ing green. You know how you al­ways sus­pect the mil­i­tary gets the best new tech first, and it’s hid­den from the pub­lic, like GPS, radar or mi­crowaves? Here’s your lat­est ex­am­ple. Bump- and bomb-proof sus­pen­sion that self-lev­els, squats and smooths ter­rain so coarse Bear Grylls wouldn’t hike over it. I won­der if it’s some­how mon­i­tor­ing the route ahead and pre-load­ing each shock. As if they’d tell me. Ge­orge does con­firm they’re working on au­tonomous ‘drone’ JLTVs, that could be un­manned de­coys, sup­ply trucks and emer­gency back-up. It’s fast enough: lim­ited to 70mph but it’ll get there twice as fast as the Humvee reaches 50mph.

I only get two at­tempts at the wa­ter splash be­fore the JLTV emp­ties the gul­ley. This ma­chine can wade through five feet of wa­ter – twice what its pre­de­ces­sor could man­age. It goes 50 miles fur­ther on a tank, and 4,000 ex­tra miles be­tween ser­vices. Its main­te­nance costs and fuel sav­ings are pro­jected to save the US tax­payer $8.3bn over the JLTV’s en­tire life-cy­cle.

I guess it’s slightly child­ish to be awed by a weapon of war, but the Oshkosh is in­no­cent of the su­per­power pol­i­tics that’ll de­ploy it around the world. It just gets on with its job of con­quer­ing ter­rain with im­punity, and keep­ing ser­vice per­son­nel aboard safer than any light com­bat ve­hi­cle in his­tory. So it’s prob­a­bly the most im­por­tant new car in the mag­a­zine you’re hold­ing. And one hope­fully not hear­ing the call of duty near you any time soon.

“It’s ab­surd. This is the be­strid­ing car I’ve ever driven. The way it damps is un­canny”

PHOTGRAPHY: MARK FAGELSON

iPhone con­nec­tiv­ity and whizzbangery will not be avail­able as ex­tras

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