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Armored Cars: AM General BRV-O

December 4, 2015

US AM General BRV-0 01

Since 1981 AM General and its suppliers have produced an estimated 281,000 Humvees in different variants for the US military and foreign customers. (AM General’s own figure is 230,000 Humvees built.) But foreign adventures in Central Asia and the Middle East during the Bush years created an existential crisis for the ubiquitous workhorse. Its foremost problem was an insufficient amount of armor protection and weaponry to survive in urban combat.

To this day the ongoing war in Iraq between paramilitaries and the Islamic State is making short work of leftover Humvees. The latter have even resorted to jerry-rigging the vehicles into bomb trucks and the ad hoc countermeasure of choice against it is a well-aimed rocket or anti-tank missile.

The Humvee’s sad decline led to the ongoing renaissance in blast-resistant wheeled vehicles and the widespread adoption of armored trucks. When the US military began purchasing the first batches of MRAPs in 2007–a fleet that grew to 24,000 vehicles–the Humvee was no longer held in the same esteem as it was in previous decades.

But after the US withdrew from Iraq the MRAP’s star also dimmed. Too cumbersome for transport back to the homeland and unsuited for mechanized warfare, thousands were decommissioned and left as surplus in the Middle East and Europe. Reverting to the Humvee was unthinkable for the US Army despite untold numbers of it kept in storage. A next-generation replacement was needed.

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AM General appears to have been proactive while the reputation of its Humvee faltered. Using its own resources it designed a new vehicle from scratch and in 2012 delivered 10 models of its Blast Resistant Vehicle-Offroad (BRV-O) or “Bravo” to the US military for testing.  In 2013 AM General was one of three defense contractors, the other two being Lockheed Martin and Oshkosh Defense, chosen to compete for the Humvee-replacement program called the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV).

Each firm delivered 22 of their competing models for further testing. The BRV-O may have looked different from its rivals but it shared a lot of similarities. Built for modular upgrades and additional armor, it looked overpowered next to the Humvee it was trying to replace. This was a result of its high ground clearance and a sizable hood over its engine.

No detailed specification sheet of the BRV-O has been published yet. Perusing open sources does reveal its nuts and bolts, however. It runs on a 300 horsepower turbocharged engine named the Optimizer 300 (top speed is probably 120 kilometers per hour) and features a steel-frame backbone chassis. The latter allows for the installment of a v-hull while supporting greater loads from either cargo or extra armor plate.

Another interesting improvement is the BRV-O’s seats are secured from the ceiling rather than bolted on the hull. This adds to the vehicle’s survivability from mine and bomb blasts. Like many of its peers, the BRV-O uses runflat tires on a robust suspension system. A computerized fluid strut damping system helps the BRV-O’s driver navigate extremely difficult terrain and lends the vehicle its imposing appearance. Its current protection level hasn’t been revealed but based on its size and role it should offer at least STANAG II, which makes it impervious to small arms.

According to AM General each JLTV comes with an unspecified “C4ISR system.” This suggests onboard touchscreens, GPS mapping, sensors, and cameras–bells and whistles useful for troops in hostile territory. Since AM General’s production is centralized in its Indiana plant, the BRV-O does share components with the Humvee.

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In August, 2015, it was announced that Oshkosh’s L-ATV, a model that already had a track record of foreign sales, had won the JLTV competition. Both Lockheed Martin–the conglomerate that manufactures the F-35 Lightning–and AM General protested the decision the following month.

The US military’s long-term requirements for the JLTV is 55,500 vehicles by 2040. The winner of the contract must fulfill low rate initial production for three years before entering full production, which is 2,200 vehicles per year. The Marine Corps expects to have 5,500 JLTVs by 2021.

The advent of newfangled tactical vehicles might suggest the Humvee’s ultimate disappearance. This isn’t the case. AM General, a company whose lineage can be traced back to the Willys Jeep from World War Two, still has other product lines and after-sales commitments to sustain its business. And the BRV-O?

It’s obvious there isn’t much of a story (or even a mythology) behind it yet. An understandable shortcoming given its relative youth. Unlike the Humvee it seeks to replace, its far from an icon and hasn’t been enshrined in novels, movies, comic books, and the popular imagination. But Humvee’s in their quintessential form are flawed vehicles and can’t survive modern battlefields.

Are the BRV-O’s prospects any better? Only the future can tell.

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  1. Armored Cars: Oshkosh JLTV | 21st Century Asian Arms Race

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