As a car guy, I’ll confess to being a bit excited about last Sunday’s reception at General Motors’ Washington, D.C., offices, where the automaker showed off a hydrogen-powered Chevy truck that it has been quietly building for the U.S. Army.
Having attended plenty of military aircraft “reveals,” and having read my share of Motor Trend articles about flashy unveiling parties, I was curious to see how one of Detroit’s Big Three was handling its own pitch to the Pentagon. It seemed like the perfect way to kick off the annual Association of the United States Army, or AUSA, conference week — and a chance to ask GM executives about their vision for military sales.
The big takeaway: after operating at arm’s length from the Pentagon over the past decade, GM is shifting closer again, with the hydrogen-powered Chevy Colorado ZH2 a case in point. This is exactly what Defense Secretary Ash Carter has been seeking for the past year and a half: commercial firms whose products might become military game-changers.
“This relationship is about potential,” said Paul Rogers, who runs the Army’s Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center, set up after World War II to be close to the U.S. automakers in Detroit. “Where for years the military investments in research led many industries, this is an example where the industry investment in advanced capabilities is now leading the military.”
General Motors publicly unveiled its new military truck at the Washington Convention Center, a place that many locals associate with the annual Washington Auto Show. (Our executive editor likes to call AUSA “the auto show on steroids.”)
So even though GM had not displayed at AUSA before, it was right at home in the cavernous convention hall, even if its exhibit space was smaller and far less ostentatious than those of the defense industry titans. On the conference’s opening day, GM employees literally pulled a black sheet from the Colorado ZH2 and handed out glossy posters and “hero” cards filled with performance characteristics of the truck, much like the auto show.
Behind the truck, a display case held a small, yellow submarine — another product of the budding relationship between GM and the Pentagon. The fuel-cell-powered drone is a joint effort with the Navy.
GM sold its defense business to General Dynamics Land Systems in 2003, but kept its hand in military manufacturing by building the Duramax diesel engine that powers the Oshkosh Light Combat Tactical All-Terrain Vehicle. The Army is buying the L-ATV to replace tens of thousands of Humvees.
GM officials privately hinted that there might be more collaboration between the automaker and Pentagon, although they would not share specific details beyond the two fuel-cell projects. And it’s clear the Army is also hoping to rekindle the flame between old friends.
“We are using this relationship to explore the possibilities for the military, take advantage of that commercial investment for potential military applications,” Rogers said. “Not only for the technology it offers our warfighters, but also the economy of scale that would come with commercial investment, the producibility, the manufacturing expertise so that we could buy and field a very affordable system and we understand logistically, from a maintenance perspective how to support that on a modern battlefield.”
Companies Keep Busy at AUSA
Chiefs of staffs from armies around the world, as well as plenty of U.S. Army brass, were in attendance, keeping company executives busy in meetings both pre-arranged and ad-hoc. “We were having to take turns hitting the restroom,” one executive said of the busyness of his company’s meeting load. The aisles in both exhibit halls were clogged, and difficult to pass, most of Tuesday. Even though there’s not much money marked for Army modernization in the near term, that might change after the new administration steps into office.
Take a deep breath: the back-to-back-to-back (Air Force Association, Modern Day Marine, AUSA) DC trade-show season is now behind us. Not to brag, but I will: my trusty FitBit tells me I logged 13.1 miles walking around the AUSA exhibits on Monday and Tuesday alone. Send your tips, comments, and random thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org, or hit me up on Twitter: @MarcusReports. You can check out the Global Business Brief archive here. And tell your friends to subscribe!
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Cubic Explores Future of Virtual Training
The fighter jets of the future are a lot costlier to fly than the warplanes of the past, so pilots will do far more training and practice in virtual cockpits on the ground. Even the real jets have simulations built in, meaning that a pilot enjoying one of the F-35’s $40,000 flight hours might turn her helmet and see a virtual jet being “flown” by a wingman in a ground simulator.
It’s called live-virtual-constructive training, and “I think that’s the next big training domain, training frontier that we’ll see,” said Dave Buss, a retired Navy three-star who is now president of Cubic Global Defense.
LVC training aims to allow pilots to face the toughest threats in the world in the most realistic fashion possible. And it’s the best way to allow jet jockeys to learn how to use new high-tech radars and sensors that can see far beyond the confines of a training range.
“If we can come up innovative and cost-effective ways to help meet the performance measures that our customers are interested in, then that’s a pretty solid proposition for them,” Buss said.
This type of training is already happening, but the goal is to make it happen in real time between the real planes in the air and the simulator-flown ones on the ground. There are still no formal Pentagon programs, or even a budget, for this type of advanced simulation, although industry is expecting the Air Force to take the lead.
Cubic is pursuing training contracts across all of the military services, said Bradley Feldmann, the firm’s president and CEO, in an interview at AUSA.
Oshkosh Eyes International Growth
Truck-maker Oshkosh is projecting a slight bump in military sales in coming years as the Army ramps up its Joint Light Tactical Vehicle effort to replace 55,000 Humvees. But sales could really spike if European and Middle Eastern allies start buying the armored truck.
“The view we have right now, having been marketing our L-ATV [Light Combat Tactical All-Terrain Vehicle] for about five years internationally and putting it in different demos and shows overseas, [is] the interest has been great,” said John Bryant, the president of Oshkosh Defense.
This month will see the company’s first L-ATV deliveries to the Army, which is expected to begin buying large numbers of them in 2019. The company is not anticipating foreign sales until after that.
“It’s a little bit out there, but we do know there’s been significant interest in the Middle East, … Europe,” Bryant said. “We’re very positive about the growth potential that’s built into the JLTV.”
Two former senior Pentagon officials known for their embrace of technology are now in the private sector. JD Johnson, a retired Army lieutenant general who ran the Joint IED Defense Organization, JIEDDO; became Raytheon’s vice president of business development for Army and special operations projects in the spring. The other is Zachary Mears, a former chief of staff to Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work and director of the Advanced Capability and Deterrence Panel. Mears, who led the development of the Third Offset Strategy, joined Covington & Burling as a senior advisor in the Aerospace, Defense and National Security industry group and the public policy and government affairs practice.