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Polaris / August 24, 2022

635653179725755748-300x450-q95WASHINGTON — The Army's 82nd Airborne Division is evaluating an ultra-lightweight combat vehicle (ULCV), a new effort that would allow airborne assault troops to drop far from objectives that are protected by air defense, then speed over land to capture them — and Congress has taken notice.

The House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces subcommittee proposal for the National Defense Authorization Act requires the secretary of the Army to brief the HASC by March 1, 2016, on the ongoing effort. The Army is looking to address a request from the 82nd Airborne Division, and it has already purchased 33 commercial vehicles for proof-of-principle tests.

Whether the Army buys more vehicles depends on tests conducted by the 82nd. Soldiers have evaluated the Polaris MRZR-4, dubbed the light tactical all-terrain vehicle (LTATV), for increased mobility during airfield seizure operations, and the vehicle would provide a rifle company with an air-droppable maneuver and small arms platform.

The 82nd has posted pictures of soldiers in 2nd Brigade Combat Team, driving the Polaris MRZR 4, through a "familiarization course" on Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in January; driving in a snowy forest at Fort Pickett, Virginia, in February; and at its Combined Joint Operational Access Exercise, earlier this month.

The 82nd's plan calls for it to buy commercial off-the-shelf vehicles in the mid-term and establish a formal acquisition program in the long term.

The Army issued a questionnaire on April 10 through a government procurement website, asking industry about the ULCV, envisioned as an off-road vehicle that would carry a nine-soldier squad, and be air-droppable from a C-17 or C-130. It would be carried internally and externally by a CH-47 Chinook and externally by a UH-60 Black Hawk.

US Special Operations Command announced in March that it is making a sole-source purchase of 2, 000 LTATVs from Polaris. The contract, to be awarded in June, includes 1, 750 of the MRZR-4 and 300 of its smaller MRZR-2.

James Hasik, a Brent Scowcroft Center resident senior fellow for defense, said he was surprised at the size of SOCOM's need, and wondered at Congress' interest in the Army's program, which is relatively small.

"Don't you have something better to spend your time on, this is down in the weeds, " he said. "Please look at the joint strike fighter."

That said, the use of light, air-droppable off-road vehicles as the 82nd plans would be "totally reasonable, " provided the terrain warranted. In an urban operation, it would not make sense, Hasik said. Nor would it make sense in a sustained fight, with the probable use of roadside bombs.

"These would be first inside the wire, " Hasik said.

As modest as the plans seem to be, the ULCV is notable in a time when US defense budgets are shrinking.

"I'm happy to see they are buying something, " Hasik said.

Officials with the Army's Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Georgia, said in January that they were seeking approval for a plan to choose from readily available vehicles and field about 300 of them to the service's global response force, in essence the 82nd. Once the program is established, a vendor could be selected and a vehicle fielded in 2016, they said.

Heidi Shyu, the Army's chief weapons buyer, said on Wednesday that the effort was in "early discussions" and that an acquisition strategy and detailed analysis had yet to arrive at her desk.

"This is what the requirements community sees for early entry, what they need to get on the ground and have mobility right now, " she said. "Right now the early entry guys are walking, so they would like that mobility."

A team of paratroopers assigned to the 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, conduct training with the brigade’s new Light Tactical All Terrain Vehicle on Fort Pickett, Va., Feb. 26. Photo Credit: US Army

Michael Clow, strategic communication lead for the Army Program Executive Office for Combat Support and Combat Service Support, said in a statement April 15 that specific quantities, funding, a program timeline and finalized requirements for a potential ULCV acquisition remain under consideration, and no final decisions have been made.

"The survey's purpose is to begin informing the acquisition community about the availability and characteristics of commercial products, potentially challenging requirements, and the capabilities of equipment manufacturers in order to inform any future potential ULCV acquisition decisions or strategies, " Clow said.

Polaris, whose core business is recreational vehicles, has several ATVs modified for military operations. It unveiled its first purpose-built military vehicle last year, the DAGOR, which can transport a nine-person infantry squad or carry 3, 250 pounds.

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