Marines test-drive new armored vehicles in Japanese Alps
By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 20, 2020
CAMP SOUMAGAHARA, Japan — The Marine Corps’ successor to the Humvee — the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle — got its first workout in Japan during this month’s Exercise Forest Light.
Twenty of the armored trucks deployed to Japan with 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., which put them through their paces in the mountainous Gunma prefecture, west of Tokyo, during training that concluded Thursday.
The battalion was the first in the Marine Corps to replace its Humvees with the new vehicles, Capt. Nicholas Royer, a 3rd Marine Division spokesman, said in an email Tuesday.
“The Joint Light Tactical Vehicle is the successor to the Humvee (HMMWV), and the Marine Corps has been leading the charge on adopting them,” he said.
The Army, Marines and Air Force plan to acquire more than 58,000 of the off-road armored vehicles.
Three of the new vehicles combined to form a mobile command post where an air assault involving some of the 1,000 Marines and Japanese soldiers participating in Forest Light was coordinated Dec. 15.
“It’s is pretty easy to drive,” Marine Cpl. Juan Flores, 20, of Ft. Wayne, Ind., said that day of the truck he’s been driving through the mountains of Gunma. “You just have to watch out because of the blind spots.”
Thick armor means it’s harder for drivers to see what’s happening outside the new vehicles than it would be if they were in a civilian truck, so they work with a vehicle commander to watch for hazards, said Flores, who also maintains Joint Light Tactical Vehicles.
Blind spots were one of the number of problems identified in a report to Congress on the vehicles last January. Also flagged were maintenance issues, noise and doors that didn’t open properly.
Oshkosh Defense LLC, of Wisconsin, is the vehicle maker. The Army placed an order for another 2,738 vehicle on Dec. 1 at a cost of $911 million, according to the news site Breaking Defense on Dec. 2.
Marines stationed in Japan are curious about the new trucks, Flores said.
“The Marines will come and knock on the armor,” he said. “It’s a lot different to what they’re used to.”
The new light vehicle is the only truck Flores has worked on with the Marines. He enlisted two years ago, not long before his battalion received its new vehicles.
Flores, who drives a Buick back in the States, said the truck has many sensors and electric components.
“There is a monitor inside the cab that gives you things like the air pressure in the tires,” he said.
Drivers can switch the vehicle from road to cross-country mode and raise the suspension using hydraulics, he said.
The 22,000-pound truck has no issues going up steep grades in the backcountry, Flores said.
Forest Light is the first time the new trucks were used in an exercise or operational fashion on the main islands of Japan, although they have been used on Okinawa for utility duties for a year, Royer said.
“The JLTV is, in pretty much every respect, a sturdier, more capable vehicle in line with the Marine Corps’ mandate for faster, more flexible, and more survivable operations,” he said.
The vehicles can be used for everything from command and control posts to general utility transport and combat use, he said.
They can attack other armored vehicles and carry targeting and sensor equipment, as well as every crew-served weapon in the Marine Corps inventory, he said.
“Marines in JLTVs can identify targets, communicate the location, and move on quickly, allowing another unit much further away to fire at the land or sea target they spotted,” he said.
Compared to the Humvee, the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle is significantly more capable of taking a hit from direct-fire weapons, indirect fire, and explosives, to include [improvised roadside bombs] and conventional mines, and all this at a comparable speed (about 70 mph) to the Humvee it replaces,” Royer said.
The light vehicle’s suspension is significantly more advanced, and each wheel can raise and lower independently, he said.
“This allows it to reduce its profile to, for example, fit in an entrenched position easier, then raise up to clear obstacles and rapidly displace to another position,” he said.
The vehicle can be carried by CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters and by a number of other air and sea platforms operated by the Marines, he said.