Under New Deal, US Allies Will Keep Getting The Ever Adaptable Humvee

Many US partners already use the light trucks as scouts, cargo carriers, and even light artillery.

AP Photo/Osama Sami

The U.S. military may be replacing the iconic Humvee with the new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, but it’s also positioning itself to still be able to send thousands of the older trucks to allies and partners around the globe. This is probably welcome news for countries who continue to use them as everything from patrol vehicles to ambulances to mobile rocket launchers.

On Aug. 29, 2017, AM General announced it had received a U.S. Army contract worth approximately $2.2 billion to produce as many as 11,560 Humvees – formally known as the High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicle, or HMMWV – for foreign customers over the next five years. The deal would allow the U.S. government to quickly facilitate the delivery of the trucks through the Foreign Military Sales process and other established international assistance programs.

“The HMMWV continues to be the most sought after light tactical vehicle for military and government customers around the world,” AM General President and CEO Andy Hove boasted in a company press release. “Today’s contract announcement once again highlights the HMMWV as a modern, proven, highly deployable, versatile, rugged and affordable light tactical vehicle.”

It’s definitely true that the Humvee has proven to be a particularly versatile platform over the years. The U.S. military as a whole began purchasing the trucks in 1983 as a replacement for a host of older light wheeled vehicles, including the Ford M151 jeep, and subsequently purchased thousands in more than a dozen standard configurations.

These included weapon carriers, heavy duty cargo versions, special operations specific types, and the carrier for the Avenger short-range air defense system. Armored version of various types eventually appeared, culminated with the famous – or infamous depending on your opinion of the vehicle – up-armored Humvees that became fixture in the War on Terror before ending up replaced by a new family of mine-protected trucks.

US Army

A row of M1167 TOW carriers, an Expanded Capacity Vehicle Humvee type.

The extra weight of the armor kits prompted AM General to develop increasingly heavier chassis and axels to handle the strain. These so-called Expanded Capacity Vehicles only offers more room to expand on the design and its capabilities.

US Army via HMMWV in Scale

This chart shows just a portion of the U.S. military's official Humvee types, circa the early 2010s. 

In more than three decades of service, the U.S. military tested a host of experimental weapons technologies on the Humvee, too, such as hybrid-electric engines, lasers, light-weight artillery, and various types of armor. The popularity of the truck means that private companies often use the chassis when demonstrating their own systems.

So, it’s not surprising that, to spice things up, AM General is essentially offering what is effectively a build-your-own Humvee derivative called the Multi-Purpose Truck (MPT). The company first revealed this concept at the annual International Defense Exhibition earlier this year in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates in February 2017.

AM General

One version of AM General's Multi-Purpose Truck.

We don’t know if the contract with the Army could cover MPTs, but AM General says it will build “a wide range of variants including protected weapons carriers, cargo transporters, communications vehicles and ambulances” under the terms of the deal. Of course, there’s no guarantee that any of these trucks will stay in their original configuration after they arrive with their new owners.

The versatility AM General offers from the factory is matched and likely exceeded by what various American allies have done to their vehicles. Israel’s military and other security forces alone, which refer to the basic truck as the “Hamer,” have come up with dozens more variants, including vehicles carrying radio jammers and equipment to launch small drones, as well as surveillance trucks with electro-optical sensors on an extendable mast.

AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari

Israeli soldiers patrol the border with Lebanon in 2011 in an armored "Hamer Memugan" Humvee variant.

More recently, heavily modified Humvees have become a key component of the Iraqi operations against ISIS terrorists, with each component helpfully painting their vehicles in a distinct way. The country’s elite Counter Terrorism Service generally drives all-black trucks, while the regular Army has more traditional vehicles in the U.S. military’s standard overall desert sand color. The Iraqi Federal Police drive versions in a flashy, if dubiously useful blue-and-white camouflage pattern, while the Ministry of Interior’s specialized Rapid Response Division has variants in solid green.

AP Photo/ Khalid Mohammed

A heavily modified Iraqi Army Humvee patrols a liberated section of Mosul in January 2017

We’ve seen these vehicles, largely based on a variety of early and late Expanded Capacity Vehicle variants, sport any number of semi-standardized armor packages, most notably including reinforcements to the hood and radiator cover, as well as shields over the wheel wells to protect the tires against shrapnel and small arms fire, all leading to comparisons. Another common addition is a huge, boxy turret, mounted either on top or toward the rear, containing a Soviet-era 23mm ZU-23 anti-aircraft cannon, which is also devastating against individuals and light vehicles, such as the technicals ISIS favors.

At least some of the Rapid Response Division’s vehicles have home-made improvised rocket launcher in the back similar in basic design to the types popular with Shia militia in Iraq. The Federal Police salvaged the fully-enclosed turret from a Ukrainian-built BTR-94 armored personnel carrier, which also has a twin 23mm cannon, and put it on top of one of its Humvees.

AP Photo/Felipe Dana

Iraqi Rapid Response Division members launch an improvised rocket from a Humvee in Mosul in March 2017.

How the trucks handle all this added weight and strain is anyone’s guess, but based on the U.S. military’s experience with the up-armored variants, it seems likely that the additions wreak havoc with the chassis, suspension, and transmission components.  The relatively light vehicles are unlikely to be a particularly stable or accurate for firing the heavier weapons, especially the improvised rocket artillery, as well.

And there’s no way the thin add-on armor the Iraqi have been installing would shield the occupants from the kind of guided anti-tank missiles and massive suicide car bombs ISIS routinely employs, which are a threat to even heavy armored vehicles and up-armored bulldozers. One Iraqi Army unit may have spray painted the silhouette of an M1 Abrams on the side of a Humvee, but it definitely couldn’t take the place of an actual tank.

The United States has also been sending Humvees to its local partners in Syria, as well as other militaries battling ISIS and other terrorists throughout the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa. The trucks have been a part of military assistance and aid to NATO allies and other European partners, including Ukraine, too. Some allies even produce their own versions.

Given AM General’s new contract, there are almost guaranteed to be more deliveries in the coming years. We’ll be sure to keep our eyes out for new and interesting modifications to the venerable trucks.

There have already become too many different Humvee types for any one person to keep track of, so feel free to share your own favorites in the comments.

Contact the author: jtrevithickpr@gmail.com