For nearly a decade, the U.S. Army has hemmed, hawed, and talked about building a better Humvee. Soon, it might get around to actually doing so.

Lockheed Martin's JLTV prototype. Photo source: Lockheed Martin.

A bit of background
The Pentagon first said in 2006 it planned to build a fleet of "Joint Light Tactical Vehicles, or JLTVs. Improvised explosive device attacks were shredding the Army's unarmored Humvees in Iraq, and while the service had stopgap measures in place -- a combination of fast-moving "up-armored Humvees" and heavily armored, but slow-moving and gas-guzzling, MRAPs -- the generals still wanted a one-size-fits-all solution. Something fast as a Humvee and tough as an MRAP.

Requests for proposals were issued, competition ensued, and by 2008 the Pentagon had settled on three teams to build JLTV prototypes:

  • General Dynamics, teamed with incumbent Humvee producer AM General
  • The United Kingdom's BAE Systems, teamed with the United States' Navistar
  • BAE again, this time teamed with Lockheed Martin (LMT 0.73%).

Together, these three teams would compete for the expected $70 billion prize to build as many as 170,000 JLTVs for the U.S. military. (Estimates of the number of vehicles to be built, and their price, were in flux at the time; this was the high estimate.)

But six years later, we still have no JLTVs.

The more things change...
In part, you can blame this on a 2012 shake-up of the bidding teams. First, the Pentagon invited Ford to make a bid (Ford declined). Then General Dynamics, BAE, and Navistar were all dumped from consideration. Then Oshkosh (OSK 1.52%) was added. (Lockheed Martin and AM General both survived the shake-up intact.)

In the process, the program's size was significantly scaled back, to "only" 55,000 vehicles and "just" $22 billion in projected value. Lockheed Martin, Oshkosh, and AM General would each provide the Army 22 prototype vehicles for review in competition for the prize.

AM General's JLTV candidate is still in the running. Photo source: AM General.

Back to the future
Now, with testing completed, the Army has asked Lockheed, Oshkosh, and AM General to submit proposals to actually build the jeeps. By July, the Army expects to pick a winner. According to, this lucky company will almost immediately begin producing a first run of 17,000 JLTVs at "low-rate initial production" speed.

What it means to investors
Here at The Motley Fool, we're as interested as anyone else in keeping up with developments within the military-industrial complex -- but what we really enjoy is figuring out how this kind of news affects investors' portfolios. So what should we be looking for here, and when should we expect to see it?

Results from the JLTV program will be hard to see in 2015, with the Pentagon expecting to buy only 176 JLTVs for the Army, plus seven for the Marine Corps, and to spend just $230 million getting production up and running. Production should hit its stride toward 2018, with JLTVs being manufactured in real numbers. Through 2040, the Army and Marine Corps intend to buy 54,500 of these war buggies.

Estimates for the cost per unit range from $250,000 (suggesting a total program cost of about $13.6 billion) to $400,000 ($21.8 billion).

It remains to be seen which company will collect all that loot. But you probably have to assume that, as the incumbent producer of the Humvee, AM General has pole position in this race -- bad news for investors, who would not benefit from this bit of Pentagon largesse. (AM General is a privately held company.)

A win for Lockheed Martin would be almost as bad for investors. As the nation's largest pure-play defense contractor, generating $45.4 billion in revenue last year (according to S&P Capital IQ data), even a win on JLTV could amount to little more than a rounding error on LockMart's income statement (especially with JLTV revenue being spread over 25 years).

Oshkosh, however, is another matter entirely. The company's annual revenue stream is a mere $6.8 billion, meaning even the initial purchase of 183 JLTVs the Pentagon is contemplating would amount to a 3.3% boost to Oshkosh's annual sales. Over the course of the program, the JLTV has the potential to generate as much as $872 million in annual sales for 25 years. That would be equal to nearly 13% of Oshkosh's current revenue stream.

So which company should investors be rooting for in this contest? Oshkosh, b'gosh!

Oshkosh might look like an underdog, but a win for its JLTV would be a big win for shareholders. Photo source: Oshkosh.