Yeah, right. This is the slippery language common to Pentagon weaponeers and their industrial camp followers. The notion that U.S. commanders will send troops into harm’s way in a thin-skinned vehicle is a pipe dream that will clog and shut down as soon as U.S. troops are killed aboard such vehicles. It happened in Afghanistan and Iraq, where the Pentagon spent nearly $50 billion rushing Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected vehicles to save lives after crude roadside bombs killed hundreds of U.S. troops aboard both thin-skinned and up-armored Humvees.
Beyond that, the use of “soft-skinned” vehicles in lower-threat areas has been cast into doubt by the 2017 deaths of four U.S. soldiers in Niger, as a Pentagon investigation into their mission concluded. Once the soldiers stumbled into an ambush they became sitting ducks for 100 Islamic State militants. “The special operations component had done an assessment for armored vehicles, for example, and determined, a while back, that they weren’t necessary,” Marine General Thomas Waldhauser, chief of U.S. Africa Command, told reporters at a May 2018 briefing detailing what led to the troops’ deaths. After the Pentagon’s investigation, “we immediately directed that armored vehicles be given to those teams as an option,” he said.
For some of its ground forces, the Army wants to use existing designs “to reduce costs and the time it takes to field combat vehicles,” that March Congressional Research Service report said. The Army’s plan echoes the same promise, ultimately unfulfilled, that the Marines made for their Growler 20 years ago.
The M1161 Growler, officially known as the Internally Transportable Vehicle (ITV), is the only military vehicle approved to fly aboard the Marines’ V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft. The Defense Department originally envisioned the Growler as a cheap vehicle that would use parts already being produced for existing military vehicles. But ultimately, much of it was built from scratch to make it light (that is, armorless) and small enough to be shoehorned into the V-22.
In 2009, the Pentagon inspector general said the Internally Transportable Vehicle’s cost had ballooned by 120% over the original estimate, from $94,770 to $208,938. The watchdog blamed the Marines’ overly optimistic assessment of how much work would be required to fit the vehicle into a V-22, along with sloppy management that made that challenge even tougher.
“The Marine Corps underestimated the development effort required to modify the … ITV to meet size and weight limitations” for it to be transportable in a V-22, as well as the Growler’s “performance specifications for durability and reliability,” the inspector general found. “ITV subsystem design changes posed significant challenges because of minimum size, weight, and center of gravity constraints mandated by the MV-22 Osprey.” The Growler’s development, the inspector general added, “was caught in a cycle of design, test, and redesign and test” that “caused repeated schedule delays and cost increases.”