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Joint Light Tactical Vehicle: Why Militaries Everywhere Want the JLTV

The JLTV is a flexible, survivable, and affordable platform that can support the needs of military forces across the spectrum of conflict. 

Image Credit: U.S. Army.

Meet the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle or JLTV – A piece of military hardware that is wanted all over the world. 

Much of the reporting on the war in Ukraine and the rearmament of NATO has focused on major fighting platforms such as main battle tanks, artillery systems, and air defenses.

There is intense demand for Abrams tanks, HIMARS rocket artillery, and Patriot air defenses. There is also a lot of interest in and sales of other military platforms, particularly tactical vehicles. 

One system that is popular not only in Europe but globally is the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, or JLTV. With its enhanced survivability, greater payload, and advanced electronics, the JLTV was designed to replace older tactical wheeled vehicles such as the Humvee.

Friends and allies have recognized what the U.S. military saw in the JLTV when they awarded the original production contract to Oshkosh: The JLTV is a flexible, survivable, and affordable platform that can support the needs of military forces across the spectrum of conflict. 

The Substantial Commitment to Ukraine

Western equipment has become the difference between victory and defeat for Ukraine. As the conflict has intensified over the past 15 months, the array of equipment being sent to Ukraine by its Western allies has expanded both quantitatively and qualitatively. While aid has come from more than 50 allies and partner nations, the U.S. has provided the greatest share of security assistance — more than $38 billion-worth since January 2021. The U.S. has sent or is committed to sending man-portable anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, artillery shells, mortar rounds and rockets, and artillery pieces. It is committing more than three dozen HIMARS launchers, eight National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems, and one Patriot air defense system. With respect to armored fighting vehicles, the U.S. has sent or will be sending 31 M1 Abrams main battle tanks, over 100 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles, 90 Strykers and 300 M113 armored personnel carriers, and 500 Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles.

A modern army requires a wide variety of support platforms in addition to armored fighting vehicles to provide logistics support, move personnel, and otherwise support the heavy fighting force. The U.S alone has sent thousands of tactical vehicles and trucks to Ukraine, including 2,000 Humvees, some 400 tactical vehicles, and more than 100 trucks and fuel tankers.

If U.S. support for Ukraine can be characterized as a river, the flow of Western military hardware to the rest of Europe is a veritable flood. The M1 Abrams is fast becoming the darling of Eastern European militaries. Poland alone is acquiring nearly 400 M1 tanks, and Romania wants 54. The M1 is also a candidate to upgrade the tank fleets of Lithuania and Finland. As for HIMARS, NATO nations are acquiring so many that the U.S. Army plans to set up a dedicated training center to support the system. Likewise, multiple NATO countries, including Poland, Germany, and Finland, are acquiring the F-35 fighter aircraft.

While the focus has been on the major fighting systems, sales and transfers of tactical vehicles are worth equal attention. Tactical vehicles play critical roles in both combat and supporting functions such as logistics, command and control, medical, and troop transport. Some types of tactical vehicles can also serve as platforms for guns and missiles.

JLTV and the Modern Force

The JLTV has become one of the world’s most popular advanced wheeled tactical platforms. The demand for them arose from the experiences of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps in Southwest Asia. The Humvee, the predominant light tactical vehicle in both U.S. and allied fleets at the time, had reached the limits of its design possibilities. In future conflicts, the U.S. military will need a more capable tactical wheeled vehicle, one with improved survivability, better payload capacity, more fuel efficiency, and advanced electronics systems. 

The current JLTV, designed and produced by Oshkosh Defense, is superior to the Humvee in terms of survivability, payload, sustainment, mobility, and flexibility. It comes in two versions: the Combat Tactical Vehicle, used for general purpose functions but also available as a heavy gun carrier and close combat weapons platform, and the Combat Support Vehicle, a utility and shelter carrier. Either variant can tow a specially designed trailer. Moreover, the JLTV is air-transportable by heavy lift helicopters such as the CH-47 and CH-53, as well as by fixed wing cargo aircraft. There is no other comparable tactical wheeled vehicle in the world.

The U.S. Army plans to acquire nearly 50,000 JLTVs over the next several decades. This target alone would make the JLTV the largest military ground vehicle fleet in the world. In addition, the U.S. Marine Corps has a target acquisition figure of over 12,000 JLTVs. The Pentagon has already acquired almost 20,000, with the majority going to the U.S. military, specifically the Army. 

The JLTV is also increasingly popular among U.S. European allies. Oshkosh already has orders from Romania, Lithuania, Montenegro, Slovakia, Slovenia, and North Macedonia. The UK is reported to have requested authorization to purchase over 2,700 JLTVs. Belgium is said to be close to making a purchase. More European countries are likely to take an interest in the JLTV as they seek to modernize their land forces. The possibility of an up-gunned version that can accompany frontline forces into combat may be particularly interesting. So too might be the use of the JLTV as an anti-aircraft/counter-UAS platform.

An Expensive Proposition

As more JLTVs are produced for the U.S. and for allied European militaries, other countries are likely to give the platform a closer look. The Brazilian Marine Corps has already agreed to acquire about 60 JLTVs. The JLTV may be particularly attractive to countries that do not need a large fleet of armored fighting vehicles but require a multi-use platform with high survivability against anti-armor weapons, including IEDs, and that can also serve as a gun truck.

Oshkosh recently announced that it had developed a hybrid electric-diesel variant of the JLTV. This version is attractive for several reasons: fuel efficiency, quiet operations, and enhanced power generation for advanced electronic systems. A hybrid JLTV could meet many of the evolving needs of both current and prospective customers. 

Because it lost the recompete on JLTV to AM General, Oshkosh’s contract-ordering period ends on Nov. 30, 2023. After that date, the U.S. government will not be able to place foreign military sales (FMS) orders. Only direct commercial sales (DCS) will be allowed. DCS orders will cost more because they benefit from the economies of scale that come with the FMS orders through the U.S. government. 

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Dr. Daniel Goure is Senior Vice President with the Lexington Institute, a nonprofit public-policy research organization headquartered in Arlington, Virginia. He is involved in a wide range of issues as part of the institute’s national security program.
Written By

Dr. Goure is Senior Vice President with the Lexington Institute, a nonprofit public-policy research organization headquartered in Arlington, Virginia. He is involved in a wide range of issues as part of the institute’s national security program.