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Is there intelligent life in Washington, D.C.? Recent legislative shenanigans notwithstanding, it seems cooler heads are finally prevailing on Capitol Hill. Witness last week's decision to cut funding for the poorly conceived plan to replace the Army's fleet of 140,000 Humvees with monstrous, heavily armored, gas-guzzling "Joint Light Tactical Vehicles."
On Friday, a Senate defense subcommittee recommended that JLTV be terminated entirely. This vote came just weeks after an analogous subcommittee in the House recommended cutting $50 million from the program's development funding, and observed that "the operational niche to be filled by the JLTV appears to be shrinking." In voting to eliminate funding entirely, one senator went a step further, and said the JLTV's reason for being has quite simply "evaporated."
Lessons from history
I'll say. Depending on whom you ask, the Army's circa-2008 JLTV program was originally estimated to cost anywhere from $20 billion to $70 billion. Inaugurated at a time when un-armored U.S. Humvees in Iraq were getting turned into scrap metal at a frightening rate, the plan aimed to replace the Humvee fleet with more survivable armored trucks that could be used anywhere.
Unfortunately, armor weighs a lot -- and loading armor on top of scores of already fuel-inefficient uber-jeeps would use a lot of gas. When you add in the plan to ultimately remove these "JLTVs" from combat, and retask them with ferrying soldiers and supplies around Stateside, well, the idea never made much sense to me.
This didn't prevent firms like Force Protection (Nasdaq: FRPT ) , Boeing (NYSE: BA ) , Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC ) and Oshkosh (NYSE: OSK ) from bidding to fulfill the Pentagon's wishes, of course. Nor did it prevent AM General and General Dynamics (NYSE: GD ) ; Navistar (NYSE: NAV ) and BAE Systems; and Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT ) and BAE from winning the contract.
But now it appears all of these companies are out of luck. While lobbyists will struggle to save the program, recent cost estimates suggest that at "only" $350,000 per truck, times a reduced fleet size of 50,000 JLTVs for the Army, and 5,000 more for the USMC, JLTV would still cost taxpayers $19.2 billion. For a product the Army no longer needs in Iraq, can't use in the mountains of Afghanistan, and which makes simply no sense to drive Stateside, that number is totally out of whack.
And Congress was right to whack the program.