Textron System's Survivable Combat Tactical Vehicle, an armored version of the Humvee.

Textron System's Survivable Combat Tactical Vehicle, an armored version of the Humvee. Marcus Weisgerber

In a Groundbreaking Deal, Ukraine May Buy US Armor for Its Humvees

Kiev is negotiating the purchase of an upgrade kit for its dozens of Humvees, which would be its first major purchase from a U.S. defense company.

The Ukrainian military was thrilled when the U.S. sent Humvees to Kiev in March. Now its government is negotiating a deal that would give the trucks new armor —and mark the first major sale from a U.S. defense company to the eastern European country.

Textron Systems officials wouldn’t talk about the pending deal, since Kiev has not officially signed a contract. But they were happy to show off an overhauled Humvee, which they call the Survivable Combat Tactical Vehicle, at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference in Washington.

From the outside, it looks like a standard Humvee, the kind that the U.S. Army has used for decades and will soon begin replacing with better-armored Joint Light Tactical Vehicles. But Textron says its aftermarket package improves the Humvee’s ability to protect troops inside from the kinds of roadside bombs that reduced its usefulness in Iraq.

More than 2,500 American troops were killed by IEDs in Iraq, prompting the Pentagon to spend billions of dollars on thousands of hulking MRAP vehicles. Unlike the flat-bottom Humvee, the MRAP has a V-shaped hull that helps divert an IED’s blast. And so the key part of Textron’s Humvee upgrade kit is a V-shaped capsule that attaches to the bottom of the truck, giving it MRAP-like protection, company executives say.

“It actually outperforms the up-armored Humvee,” Bear Midkiff, Textron’s director of Europe and Africa business operations, said of his company’s own upgrade.

The improvement works like this. A used Humvee is stripped down. It gets a new power supply, suspension and the heat and air conditioning are tuned up. The fuel cell and batteries are moved away from the crew. Inside the cabin, sharp edges are removed and sturdier seats installed to prevent soldiers from getting jostled or impaled during a blast.

“[W]e retain about 70 percent of the parts or the systems that come to us with a rolling chassis,” said Jonathan Dalrymple, Textron System’s vice president for business development.

And unlike typical armored upgrades, the Humvee remains relatively light, Textron officials said.

“Normally, you’d have to go twice the weight to get this kind of protection,” Midkiff said.

The State Department considers the upgrade package non-lethal equipment, meaning there is no bar to a Ukrainian purchase. Once the contract is awarded, Ukrainians will install the upgrade kits themselves.

“We will do this in-country,” Dalrymple said. “This is something that we train them how to do and we perform that level of effort in theater.”

Textron Systems has partnered with Ukroboronprom to install the new equipment under a business model it also used with Colombia.

It’s no secret that Ukraine’s leaders want American-made arms to help its military fight Russian-backed separatists in the east. In February, President Petro Poroshenko attended a massive arms bazaar in Abu Dhabi where he toured the exhibit hall and met with defense-industry executives from the U.S. and Europe.

Poroshenko was spotted at Textron Systems’ exhibit, which included armored vehicles and small drones. The Ukrainians have been interested in the company’s Commando vehicle, which the U.S. government has not approved for export.

Ukraine has been trying to strengthen industrial ties with the United States, specifically through joint projects.

“[W]e need support in the form of experience and technology of Western companies, as we are to withstand aggression of the country, military potential of which ranges as second in the world,” Denis Gurak, deputy director general of foreign economic activity at Ukroboronprom,  Ukraine’s state-run defense industry, said Sept. 25 at the Ukrainian-American Humanitarian Forum in Washington. “This is the main goal of Ukrainian and American defense industries joint projects, which are being implemented now.”