The US Army is finally set to phase out one of the most consistent images of modern American military power: the Humvee.
Earlier this year, the US Army announced the three finalists for the massive contract to replace the iconic Humvee, which has been in service for almost three decades.
Oshkosh Corporation, defense contractor Lockheed Martin, and Humvee-maker AM General each delivered 22 prototypes of their Joint Light Tactical Vehicles (JLVT) to military evaluators, who are running elaborate tests on the vehicles to determine the best fit.
Since the 1990s, AM General's Humvee has been the US military's workhorse, first seeing action in the Gulf War.
Despite its ubiquity, the Humvee has caused some serious headaches for American forces. As Wired notes, the Humvee was designed in the 1980s as an off-road carrier to transport troops and equipment quickly across Eastern Europe in a theoretical ground war against the then Soviet Union.
But after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Humvee's mission changed. It was deployed to the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan, where US commanders quickly discovered that it was dangerously under equipped to protect troops against close-combat urban fire and improvised explosive devices.
With this problem in mind, the vehicles in this summer's competition are all far more resistant to explosive blasts. The new vehicles are smaller, so they can be more easily airlifted and transported. They're also light and better equipped to deal with the urban and off-road patrol duties that the Humvee took on in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The winning payout for the contract will be huge. As the Dallas Morning News reports, the US Army plans to spend billions on at least 20,000 vehicles, and the Marine Corps will likely buy around 5,000. If the vehicle is more successful, it could be an even greater windfall — since the '80s, the AM General has produced 250,000 Humvees for the US military.
Here are the three vehicles that could replace the Humvee:
Oshkosh's entry into the competition is the Light Combat Tactical All-Terrain Vehicle.
The company has one advantage. After the Army realized in the early 2000s that the Humvee left troops vulnerable to blasts, the Pentagon ordered thousands of Oshkosh's Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles for deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As the name suggests, Oshkosh's MRAP was much better suited to transport troops through these environments. Wired notes that the MRAP was so successful at sustaining blasts that some troops reportedly didn't realize when they ran over bombs.
Oshkosh's entry in the JLTV contest attempts to expand upon the MRAP's success. The L-ATV is a lighter, smaller vehicle than the MRAP and can be more quickly and easily airlifted. This makes the vehicle preferable to the MRAP, which is large and can't be deployed to areas where it needs to maneuver in crowded spaces.
Oshkosh believes that since the company demonstrated its proficiency with the MRAP, the JLTV is a natural transition.
"The Oshkosh M-ATV is the only vehicle performing the JLTV mission profile in operations today," Oshkosh Vice President of Business Development Jennifer Christiansen told Business Insider in an email.
"This is where Oshkosh is truly unique because no other company has successfully transitioned more new military vehicle programs into production for the US Department of Defense," Christiansen said.
The vehicle also has some unique features. If the military wishes to make their vehicles a little greener, Oshkosh threw an optional hybrid-diesel engine into the mix to help increase fuel efficiency.
Lockheed Martin's JLTV
Designed with anti-guerilla combat in mind, Lockheed is playing on somewhat unfamiliar ground in the ground fight. Oshkosh and AM General both have troop carriers in use by the US military, while Lockheed is still more widely known for its high-tech aircraft and missile systems.
Like the other competitors, Lockheed aimed to make its slightly boxier vehicle lighter and tested it for blast-resistance.
"It can take a soldier everywhere, but can survive everything that they could survive in an MRAP," Trevor McWilliams, a former soldier whose truck was hit with an IED, said in a Lockheed promotional video.
Lockheed is also hoping that the vehicle's price tag will persuade the military to adopt its proposal. The defense contractor's website touts the vehicle's gas mileage, low production cost, and easy adaptability in case mechanics want to add on or upgrade the car in the shop.
"We are providing the most capable vehicle to our soldiers and our Marines, and we're going to do it a very affordable cost," Lockheed Martin program director Katheryn Hasse told Army Recognition in 2014.
AM General's BRV-O
Though the Humvee itself may be on the way out, the lessons it learned have been passed on to AM General's 21st century version.
This time around, AM General has built the Humvee's largest weakness into the vehicle's name: the Blast-Resistant Vehicle Off-Road. The company is highlighting the renewed safety of their BRV-O, touting its blast-resistant frame and space for amour add-ons.
"The Humvee was not designed for underbody protection, so the BRV-O has a higher ground clearance and is able to apply a protection kit to the bottom of the vehicle," AM General Vice President of Business Development Chris Vanslanger told CNN in 2012.
According to AM General, the BRV-O is also the only vehicle equipped with a system that allows all passengers to connect to the military's C4ISR network, which helps troops, aircraft, and commanders link up and coordinate movements on the battlefield.