FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo.—The first test vehicles for the Army’s future heavy dump trucks have already rolled off the Mack Defense production line and are undergoing final fittings before delivery to the service in late May or early June for a 40-week round of testing, a company official said here last week.

The first production lot test vehicles are armor capable but won’t be outfitted with armor for the upcoming testing. The company expects to receive another order this spring for five to seven more vehicles in the armored cab configuration for a separate round of blast and survivability testing that will follow the initial testing, Rob Gordon, senior director of Business Development, told Defense Daily April 9 during the Army Engineer Association Industry Exhibition.

The company is confident going into all the tests.

Mack Defense’s M917A3 heavy dump truck the company is building for the Army. The company exhibited an armored capable version at the Army Engineer Association exhibition. Photo: Calvin Biesecker

“We’ve done testing ourselves in parallel” during both the competitive phase and the production of the first test vehicles, Gordon said, pointing out that the M917A3 HDT passed its ruggedness challenge that include vertical step, trench crossing, side slope, environmental and other test steps previously. The company has also done survivability and blast testing on the cab and truck to Army standards, he said.

“To get to the right readiness level, we basically did a rehearsal of what the Army tests to, to ensure we’re providing the best vehicle solution possible,” Gordon said.

The test vehicles that recently rolled off the production line include the cab and chassis and are being outfitted with the dump body, electronics, environmental systems, lift and tie downs for transport, and others, he said.

The 40-week test program is expected to begin in mid to late June.

Mack Defense, part of the venerable Mack Trucks, which is owned by Sweden’s Volvo Group, won the contract for the new Army heavy dump truck over Navistar [NAV]. The M917A3 will replace AM General’s MM917, which has been in service for more than 40 years.

Mack Defense received a $296 million contract from the Army in May 2018 for the test program and first 683 vehicles. The indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract has a five-year base period and a two-year option. The acquisition objective is about 1,221 HDTs, Gordon said, which would increase the contract value.

The first production orders are expected in 2020, while survivability testing is ongoing, Gordon said. From orders to the start of deliveries will take about nine months to a year, he said.

In the Army’s fiscal year 2020 budget request released in March, the service outlined its plans to shift more than $30 billion over the next five years to priorities that better position it to counter near-peer threats, with Russia at the top of the list. The $33 billion in shifting funds will reduce or eliminate 186 programs, including a number of legacy stalwarts such as Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Chinook helicopters, in favor of modernization priorities such as Future Vertical Lift, the forthcoming Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle, precision fires, and a new integrated air and missile defense command system.

Gordon said that Mack Defense believes its program is in a good place given the Army’s requirements and the age of the vehicle it’s replacing. The customer base for the truck is distributed among the active, reserve and guard components, with the active Army getting 50 percent of the vehicles and the guard and reserve the other 50 percent, he said.

These multiple constituencies strengthen the demand signal, Gordon said.

“Our assessment is that the fact that it is distributed among the active, reserve and National Guard components it strengthens the program,” Gordon said. “And being a wheeled vehicle, based on a commercial-available chassis, we provide flexibility for the Army to prioritize the guard, to prioritize the active component, based on these mission parameters.” He added that trucks might be needed domestically for a disaster response mission by an engineering unit or for an overseas deployment.

Gordon also said that Mack Defense believes wheeled vehicles are an “inherent part of all modernization priorities” and that “logistics is a continuing activity and in order to be successful and dominant in a future operational environment that has to be considered.”

Given the age of the existing heavy dump trucks, the user community has been asking for a new truck, Gordon said.