As reported here and by other sources, many of the military’s vehicle programs are in deep difficulty. There are serious questions being raised regarding the viability of new starts for the Ground Combat Vehicle and Joint Light Tactical Vehicle. Stories coming out of Afghanistan suggest that the vaunted MATV is inadequately armored against the kind of IEDs they are finding. An Oshkosh contract to build MATV-based ambulances was cancelled. The Army has yet to define a strategy for resetting its vast fleet of Humvees. The Army is trying to press ahead with a very iffy program to shut temporarily the Lima, Ohio Army plant that produces the M-1 tank.
Even as the Pentagon struggles with its armored vehicle program, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is experimenting with a revolutionary approach to designing and building military hardware. Not only has it outsourced to the specialty vehicle sector, but it is supporting a unique approach: “crowdsourcing” the vehicle to an anonymous “mob” of rally car enthusiasts. For years Phoenix-based Local Motors has built off-road rally cars such as the Rally Fighter designed by large, voluntary groups or crowds. Now it has turned its skills, and those of the crowd to making a military vehicle. The objective is to see if a combat support vehicle can be designed and a prototype built in months rather than years.
The vehicle in question is the XC2V. The XC2V is a derivative of one of Local Motors rally vehicles with a GM LS3 V8 engine, a commercial 4-speed automatic and a rear axle from Ford. Local Motors added a purpose-built tubular frame. When problems emerge the solutions are sourced from the crowd of experts and plain old car and truck enthusiasts following the program.
This approach is absolutely contrary to the way the military has traditionally designed and built major systems since World War Two. Creating a new military vehicle has involved an elaborate design process based on a laundry list of requirements and hundreds of government specifications that both lengthen the time of development and massively increase the costs involved. The only exceptions to this rule have been the MRAP variants built by Navistar and the M-ATVs produced by Oshkosh, both heavy truck makers.
The XC2V experiment resembles the process conducted by the Rapid Fielding Initiative (RFI) which seeks to deploy within 180 days an off-the-shelf solution to an urgent military requirement. Both the RFI and its companion program the Rapid Equipping Force have had particular success in providing soldier clothing and individual equipment from commercial producers while relying on third party product integrators to organize individual items into deployable kits.
Yes, the XC2V is only an experiment. However, the expected tight budget environment will force the military to reduce the time and costs associated with developing new capabilities. The military is looking increasingly at exploiting the explosion in commercial mobile communications devices. Relying on the wisdom of crowds and the existing commercial market for the future of some classes of military vehicles may be key to ensuring that the military can still get the kind of equipment it needs in a relatively short time and at a reasonable cost.
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