The Army is pushing forward with the procurement and fielding of its new Infantry Squad Vehicle (ISV) assault buggy despite years of documented issues with the platform, the service recently announced.
The Army’s Program Executive Officer for Combat Support & Combat Service Support (PEO CS&CSS) decided on March 30 that the ISV would officially begin production on a $214.3 million contract with GM Defense to produce what the service has billed as a “light and agile all-terrain troop carrier.”
Commissioned to help “motorize” the Army’s Infantry Brigade Combat Teams and the 75th Ranger Regiment, the ISV is intended as a lightweight asset to provide enhanced mobility and logistics support capabilities to infantry squad, giving maneuver forces greater flexibility across a variety of terrains. Consider it like Uber for infantry squads, capable of zipping soldiers across even the most austere settings to their mission objectives.
Based on the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 midsize truck, the 5,000-pound truck can haul up to nine soldiers and a total payload of 3,200 pounds, according to the service. The vehicle can be externally sling-loaded by UH-60 Black Hawk and CH-47 Chinook helicopters and air-dropped from a fixed-wing C-130 Hercules or C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft.
The ISV “is required across the range of military operations conducting crisis response, initial entry, and selected decisive action missions,” according to the Army’s latest round of budget documents. But during early field testing, soldiers found the vehicle to be too small and not rugged enough to carry an infantry squad fully loaded for combat.
To date, the Army has already taken delivery of 300 ISVs under the designation M1301 and fielded three brigade sets of 59 vehicles apiece, according to the service, with plans to eventually field 649 ISVs to 11 ICBTs by fiscal year 2025. The service plans on acquiring a total of 2,593 vehicles over the course of the program to replace the M1297 Ground Mobility Vehicle in its arsenal.
The Army’s fiscal year 2024 budget request calls for the service to spend $36.22 million on procuring 143 ISVs, down from 197 in fiscal year 2023 and 200 in fiscal year 2022.
“Soldier touchpoints, developmental testing, and operational testing have been key elements throughout the ISV program,” John Hufstedler, product director for Ground Mobility Vehicles at PEO CS&CSS, said in an April statement. “Leveraging a commercial vehicle and the world-class manufacturing capability of GM Defense has helped compress the time it takes to field a modernized capability meeting infantry soldiers’ needs.”
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The ISV has not had an easy ride from development to full-rate production, however. Two back-to-back analyses from the Pentagon’s top weapons tester revealed major isues with the new vehicle, ranging from the logistics and operational burdens posed by a cramped design to “lack[ing] the capability to deliver effective fires, provide reliable communication, and force protection” to an infantry squad, as one assessment put it
A first critical assessment from the Director, Operational Testing & Evaluation, published in 2021, stated that the ISV “[had] not demonstrated the capability to carry the required mission equipment, supplies, and water for a unit to sustain itself to cover a range of 300 miles within a 72-hour period” in accordance with the Army’s vehicle requirements.
“The lack of internal space to carry soldiers with their rucksacks in seats, mission-essential equipment, and sustainment loads may create a logistics and operational burden,” said the report, which covered testing activities during fiscal year 2020. “This limits the type and duration of missions for which an ISV may be effective.”
Indeed, ISVs “are cramped and soldiers cannot reach, stow, and secure equipment as needed, degrading and slowing mission operations,” the report adds, noting that, during a soldier touchpoint testing event, “soldiers on all ISVs could not readily access items in their rucksacks without stopping the movement, dismounting, and removing their rucksacks from the vehicle.”
The second, even more scathing assessment of the ISV from the Pentagon’s DOT&E office was published in 2022 and detailed “major failures” including a loss of steering control, cracked and bent seat frames, engine cracks, and overheating that occurred during operations in cross-country and wooded terrain.
The ISV “is not operationally effective for employment in combat and ESD missions against a near-peer threat,” the report, which covered testing activities during fiscal year 2021, states. “The vehicle lacks the capability to deliver effective fires, provide reliable communication, and force protection. The rifle company equipped with the ISVs did not successfully avoid enemy detection, ambushes, and engagements during a majority of their missions.”
Nearly two months after receiving details questions in writing from Task & Purpose regarding the ISV’s reliability and suitability, an Army spokesman finally responded that the service and GM Defense are addressing concerns raised during the first critical DOT&E assessment from 2021.
“One of the issues they are tackling is storage space in the ISV. To solve this problem, they added more tie-down locations, identified storage areas, and created tie-down procedures for equipment outside rifle squads,” the spokesman told Task & Purpose in an email. “These efforts will provide Soldiers with more space, better ride comfort and safety, and easier ingress and egress of the vehicle.”
The Army said “significant improvements” added to the ISV in recent years include “a new rear axle, leaf springs and front steering knuckles and tie rods,” according to the spokesman, who added that service “repeated ISV reliability testing where failures initially occurred for all design improvements and didn’t experience a single system abort.”
As for the more critical 2022 DOT&E assessment, the Army spokesman emphasized that the primary role of the ISV is as a highly-mobile troop carrier that reduces the need for infantry rifle squads to cover distances areas on foot, not as an armored fighting vehicle meant for a protracted firefight.
“The ISV increases squads’ speed, maneuverability and off-road mobility to avoid or evade threats while squads execute forcible entry and decisive action,” the spokesman said. “There is no requirement for protection or armor; the unit on the ISV is intended to avoid threats where possible.”
“Fighting from the ISV is not the intended use of the platform,” he added. “As the risk of contact increases, soldiers and leaders will mitigate the threat by transitioning to a more dispersed dismount fighting posture that maximizes their formation-based capabilities.”
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