Re­quiem for the Humvee

As Pen­tagon looks ahead, iconic ve­hi­cle heads for re­tire­ment

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY CHRIS­TIAN DAVENPORT

For sale: mil­i­tary Humvee in jun­gle green or desert tan. Great for haul­ing cargo, ar­tillery and sol­diers. Can ford rivers, tra­verse sand dunes and bound over rocky ter­rain. Notre com­mended for heavy ur­ban com­bat or mine-laden roads. Bid­ding starts at $7,500. Af­ter a sto­ried ca­reer that spanned the 1991Per­sian Gulf War, Bos­nia, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States’ fleet of Humvees is en­ter­ing its twi­light, andthe ve­hi­cles are be­ing sold by the dozen to the high­est bid­der. The ve­hi­cle is an icon of the U.S. mil­i­tary that re­placed the Jeep and spawned a gas-guz­zling com­mer­cial cousin that sym­bol­ized Amer­i­can ego and ex­trav­a­gance. But now the Army wants a tougher yet nim­ble ve­hi­cle, light enough that a he­li­copter could carry it, but re­silient enough to with stand bomb blasts.

In one of the most im­por­tant— and lu­cra­tive— con­tracts a warded by the Army in years, three ma­jor de­fense firms are com­pet­ing for the $30 bil­lion prize to build 55,000 ve­hi­cles, called the Joint Light Tac­ti­cal Ve­hi­cle (JLTV), that would de­but as one of the mil­i­tary’s most high-pro­file ve­hi­cles in a gen­er­a­tion.

Wars are of­ten mea­sured by the box-score sta­tis­tics— bat­tles won and lost, us-vs.-them ca­su­al­ties, cities sacked, shore­line sheld. But they also are de­fined by their ar­se­nals— just as the rum­ble of a Sher­man tank was the sound­track of World War II, so, too, was the riff of Huey chop­per blades in Viet­nam.

And now comes a new en­trant to the sym­phonic ca­coph­ony of the Next War— the mad-sci­en­tist mat­ing of a Jeep with a tank. The Pen­tagon is about to in­tro­duce the JLTV, which has been in de­vel­op­ment for a decade and is de­signed for front-line com­bat as well as fer­ry­ing sup­plies be­hind the wire.

The JLTV would be another branch in a fam­ily tree that in­cludes the Jeep and the Humvee, which both served with dis­tinc­tion, from the Ar­dennes for­est to the sands of An­bar province. And both pro­duced com­mer­cial off­spring that quickly be­came em­bed­ded in the Amer­i­can cul­tural con­scious­ness.

The Humvee en­tered the com­mer­cial

mar­ket in large part be­cause of the Ter­mi­na­tor him­self, Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger, who wanted a mus­cle com­mando ve­hi­cle for his per­sonal use, and pushed AM Gen­eral, the man­u­fac­turer, to pro­duce a civil­ian ver­sion.

“Look at those del­toids; look at those calves,” he once re­port­edly said while ad­mir­ing a Humvee.

For a time, the Amer­i­can public was en­am­ored of the ve­hi­cle’s brawny ex­cess. Sports stars, rap­pers and celebri­ties owned them. Paris Hil­ton had a black one but said she re­ally wanted one in pink. Dennis Rod­man’s Hum­mer had naked women painted all over it. Hugh Hefner’s Play­boy went for a stretch limo Hum­mer with a leop­ard-print in­te­rior and mir­rors on the ceil­ing.

Although the Jeep en­dures as a sym­bol of re­li­able sporty rugged­ness, the Hum­mer, con­tro­ver­sial from its com­mer­cial in­cep­tion, was de­rided for its size and low miles per gallon. En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists howled, and even burned down a deal­er­ship in Cal­i­for­nia. The pro­duc­tion line folded, and the last new Hum­mer was sold in 2010, a decade af­ter Gen­eral Mo­tors ac­quired the brand.

“Ev­ery­thing it stood for just kind of col­lapsed,” said Jes­sica Cald­well, di­rec­tor of in­dus­try anal­y­sis at Ed­munds, an online car in­dus­try site. “It was seen as com­pletely friv­o­lous and ul­ti­mately that led to its demise. It’s not cool to have a car that gets 10 miles to the gallon.”

The Humvee made its mil­i­tary de­but in the 1980s, served in the Gulf War and soon be­came “a u biq­ui­tous sym­bol of the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary,” said Joseph Tre­vithick, a fel­low at Glob­alSe­cu­rity.org, a mil­i­tary re­search in­sti­tu­tion.

Over the past 30 years, AM Gen­eral has pro­duced more than 300,000 Humvees for 60 coun­tries. It re­cently inked hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in sales to for­eign gov­ern­ments in­clud­ing Afghanistan, Kenya and Mexico.

The United States has more than 160,000 in its fleet. In ad­di­tion to the ve­hi­cle’s ser­vice abroad, the Na­tional Guard has de­ployed it to re­spond to do­mes­tic hur­ri­canes and floods.

“It sends a very strong mes­sage to cit­i­zens that when they see sol­diers com­ing in Humvees, the cav­alry has ar­rived,” Maj. Gen. Em­mett R. Tit­shaw Jr., the for­mer ad­ju­tant gen­eral of the Florida Na­tional Guard, re­cently told Na­tional Guard Mag­a­zine.

In Iraq, the Humvee’s vul­ner­a­bil­ity also came to sym­bol­ize a botched oc­cu­pa­tion in which the mil­i­tary and its lead­ers were not pre­pared for the long slog — or how the in­sur­gency elim­i­nated tra­di­tional bat­tle lines.

As the con­flict dragged on, the mil­i­tary wore out its tanks and other ar­mored ve­hi­cles and had to de­pend on Humvees for com­bat pa­trols — some­thing for which they were not de­signed.

Fac­ing an en­emy that re­lied on hid­den road­side bombs, U.S. ca­su­al­ties mounted, es­pe­cially for forces trav­el­ing in un­pro­tected Humvees. Troops used what they called “hill billy ar­mor” to for­tify their ve­hi­cles, find­ing ar­mor in scrap yards and bolt­ing it to their Humvees.

One Army unit dubbed its Humvee “Roci­nante” af­ter Don Quixote’s horse, a sym­bol of ob­so­les­cence.

In 2004, Spec. Thomas Wil­son, a soldier with the Ten­nessee Na­tional Guard, asked De­fense Sec­re­tary Don­ald H. Rums­feld about it, say­ing flatly that “our ve­hi­cles are not ar­mored.”

“We’re dig­ging pieces of rusted scrap me­tal and com­pro­mised bal­lis­tic glass that’s al­ready been shot up, dropped, busted,” he said, “pick­ing out the best of this scrap to put on our ve­hi­cles to take into com­bat.”

Rums­feld’s now-fa­mous re­sponse: “You go to the war with the Army you have.”

The Pen­tagon moved quickly to ar­mor the Humvees and to pro­cure much more heav­ily ar­mored Mine-Re­sis­tant Am­bush Pro­tected ve­hi­cles by the thou­sands. But be­hind the scenes, it was al­ready plan­ning the next-gen­er­a­tion ve­hi­cle, the JLTV.

It is sup­posed to be as mo­bile as an un­ar­mored Humvee, an able off-roader but also pow­er­ful enough to with­stand the same blasts as the MRAP — all while haul­ing plenty of cargo.

The bid­ding has at­tracted three de­fense giants for the con­tract, which is ex­pected to be awarded this sum­mer: AM Gen­eral, which built the Humvee; Oshkosh, which built the MRAP; and Lock­heed Martin, the world’s largest de­fense con­trac­tor.

Although it is known pri­mar­ily for its aerospace busi­ness— Lock­heed makes the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter — the com­pany, based in Bethesda, Md., was drawn to the com­pe­ti­tion be­cause it “was viewed as a par­tic­u­larly chal­leng­ing en­gi­neer­ing propo­si­tion,” said Scott Greene, vice pres­i­dent of the ground ve­hi­cles di­vi­sion. The goal, he said, is to “bring the prop­er­ties of the dif­fer­ent ve­hi­cles and com­bine those at­tributes into a much smaller pack­age.”

The new ve­hi­cles, which the Marine Corps will buy in much smaller num­bers, won’t en­tirely re­place the Humvee, which will re­main in the fleet for years. But mu­chof the fleet is old and in need of re­pair. And ev­ery week, Iron-Planet, which holds online auc­tions, sells about 50 Humvees un­der a Pen­tagon con­tract. About 75 per­cent of the pro­ceeds go to the De­fense Depart­ment.

The buy­ers are ranch­ers and farm­ers, as well as car and mil­i­tary en­thu­si­asts, who want to own a piece of history.

“The de­mand is very high,” said Jeff Holmes, Iron Planet’s vice pres­i­dent of gov­ern­ment so­lu­tions. Some auc­tions pit a dozen bid­ders against one another, driv­ing up the price, he said.

Craig Pe­zold, a col­lege stu­dent who lives in Jes­sup, Md., re­cently bought one for $10,000. He tin­kers with it in his fa­ther’s garage and takes it off-road­ing around the farm.

“It ’ll go through the woods pretty good,” he said. But it’s con­fined there be­cause, as he said with a sigh, “it’s not road le­gal.”

MARK WIL­SON/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The United States’ fleet of mil­i­tary Humvees is en­ter­ing its twi­light, and many are be­ing sold by the dozen to the high­est bid­der.

MAX BECHERER FOR THE WASHINGTON POST

Humvees are seen through the win­dow of another in An­bar province, Iraq. The Pen­tagon is pre­par­ing to in­tro­duce the Joint Light Tac­ti­cal Ve­hi­cle (JLTV), which is to be tougher than the Humvee, yet nim­ble.

COUR­TESY OF LOCK­HEED MARTIN

This JLTV was de­signed by Lock­heedMartin, the world’s largest de­fense con­trac­tor, which is com­pet­ing for an Army con­tract.

COUR­TESY AM GEN­ERAL

This JLTV was de­signed by AM Gen­eral, the com­pany that built the Humvee, which the JLTV will re­place.

COUR­TESY OF OSHKOSH

This JLTV was de­signed by Oshkosh, the firm that pro­duced the Mine-Re­sis­tant Am­bush Pro­tected ve­hi­cle.

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