The US Military’s new workhorse
The stronger, faster and much safer replacement for the Humvee is finally here. And we got to drive it.
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KEEP YOUR HANDS LOOSE ON THE WHEEL.
I remind myself of this as we fly across a section of shin-deep ruts at 30 km/h. You want to let the independent suspension do the work and give the steering wheel freedom to move. In almost any other vehicle, I’d have lost steering control, ploughed the front end, and possibly rolled over.
As one of the first civilians allowed behind the wheel of the US military’s new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, built by Oshkosh Defence, I’m nervous. I’m driving a 6 350-kilogram armoured truck that costs five million rand and I’m doing it in front of the engineers who designed it.
The JLTV will slowly phase out AM General’s iconic Humvee in US Army and Marine Corps vehicle fleets. When it debuted in 1985, the unarmoured Humvee was designed for personnel and cargo transport behind the lines. That made it vulnerable in Iraq and Afghanistan, where hastily added armour provided a flawed and temporary solution. The JLTV, however, is built for driving among the IEDS, rocketpropelled grenades and small-arms fire of the modern battlefield. Oshkosh’s CORE1080 crew-protection system wraps the cabin in an armoured shell. Underneath the floor, a convex hull deflects blasts and helps shield the cabin from IEDS.
The JLTV is essentially a light tank with 43-inch Michelin tyres. That’s clear when you try to open the driver’s door, whose weight, like many things at Oshkosh, is classified. With centimetres-thick steel and a small ballisticglass window, it feels close to 150 kilograms. Once I strong-arm it open and climb into the driver’s seat, I feel like I’ve entered a vault. An unexpectedly comfortable one.
Where the Humvee’s seats are flat to the floor, the JLTVS are raised to give your knees some room to bend. There’s more cushioning and the seat backs feature cutouts to accommodate troops’ hydration packs. Big centre and passenger-side dash displays look like they belong in an F/A-18 cockpit, offering critical vehicle data, tactical information and an all-important reversing camera. A standard HVAC control panel offers blessed air conditioning; there are even USB ports.
Start it up, and you hear the JLTVS big alternator producing massive amounts of electricity. It changes audibly with the revs, even over the roar of the Banks 866T turbo-diesel engine (based on GM’S Duramax 6,6litre V8 diesel). With half a metre of suspension travel, the JLTV floats over the terrain like a Baja trophy truck. It inspires more confidence than the Humvee, which I drove on the same course for comparison. At only half the speed of the JLTV, I could feel instability and steering kickback over the ruts through the Humvee’s thin-rimmed steering wheel. Over large moguls, I bottomed the suspension, momentarily losing steering control.
Improved speed, manoeuverability and off-road capability end up being just as beneficial to the JLTV as its armour. Because if you can be unpredictable – if you can manoeuvre away from roads and mines at 100 km/h or more – the hope is that the armour won’t be necessary at all.