Why It Is So Hard for the U.S. Military to Buy a Truck

Destroyed Humvee in Iraq

The U.S. military is looking for a few good trucks. Again.

In 1940 the United States armed forces needed to replace its sidecar motorcycles and Model-T Fords with something that could go anywhere on a modern battlefield. The result of a brief but thorough process was the Truck, 1/4 ton, 4×4, known commercially as either the Willys MB or Ford GPW, and known to the rest of us as the Jeep.

The U.S. manufactured some 650,000 of these vehicles during the war, and the design was so versatile that it remained, with modifications, in the U.S. military’s inventory for over 40 years. It was replaced in 1984 by the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, or HMMWV, better known as the Humvee, and older brother of the civilian Hummer.

Today, a quarter century after its induction into US service, the Humvee appears headed for the great convoy in the sky. Its  many virtues notwithstanding, the past two decades have revealed a list of battlefield shortcomings that argue for its replacement.

The U.S. Department of Defense, prodded by Congress, has turned to the RAND Corporation to help figure out how the U.S. Army and Marine Corps should rebuild their combat vehicle fleets. To us laymen, this would seem to be a simple proposition. Reading U.S. Combat and Tactical Wheeled Vehicle Fleets, however, offers offers a sickening glimpse into how hard it is today for the Pentagon to buy a truck.

Based a continent away from the Beltway, the analysts at RAND have the distance as well as the brains and chutzpah to tell the Department of Defense when it is asking the wrong damned question. So along with a superb analysis of which vehicles the military should buy, the RAND team unravels the ossified hairball of Pentagon procurement and makes bold recommendations for changing the system altogether.

The one person who must read this book is whomever replaces Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense. The folks at RAND have delivered an emphatic message: if somebody does not fix the Pentagon’s procurement processes, and soon, the U.S. military will seize up like an oil-starved engine.

China would like that.

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