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COVER STORY – GM Defense – Offering a made-in-Canada solution for LFE

COVER STORY – GM Defense – Offering a made-in-Canada solution for LFE

BY JAMES CARELESS

Built in Canada, built by Canadians: That’s part of our true value proposition, says duMont

GM Defense

Ready to build Canada’s future fleet of Light Utility Vehicles (LUV) while also meeting the requirements of the CAF’s Light Forces Enhancement (LFE) program

When it comes to defence purchases, the Canadian government is faced with a real conundrum – and it’s not an easy one to fix. 

On the one hand, procurements like the Canadian Armed Forces’ Light Utility Vehicle (LUV) Program and the CAF’s Light Forces Enhancement (LFE) Program need to obtain the most flexible, robust military ground vehicles and portable battlefield equipment possible. On the other hand, these items must be practical to maintain and repair, and be available at prices that the Canadian government can afford – especially when the CAF’s arsenal is being depleted by Canada’s justified support of Ukraine, and requiring funds for its restocking. 

For the record, the LUV contract will acquire rugged vehicles to replace the CAF’s current fleet of Mercedes G-Wagons (Geländewagen) and Militarized Commercial Off-The-Shelf (MilCOTS) Chevrolet Silverados, which have been in service for two decades. The LFE contract will provide Canadian Army troops (“light forces’) with dismountable medium range Anti-Armour weapon systems and other tactical equipment to enhance their mobile operations and personal safety. 

Fulfilling these procurements in ways that combine advanced commercial technology, performance, reliability, and the right prices to Canada and its warfighters requires a supplier with the resources, products, and worldwide supply/distribution chains to deliver on the deal – plus a commitment to providing Canadian infrastructure investments and well-paying jobs in the process. 

General Motors Defense (GM Defense; the defence, government, and security arm of General Motors) is one such supplier. In its bid to win the LUV and LFE contracts, GM Defense is leveraging GM’s billions of dollars in investments to strengthen Canadian manufacturing infrastructure, including $1.3 billion at Oshawa Assembly and $1 billion at CAMI Assembly. 

Most importantly, GM Defense’s contender for the LUV contract is a fully-operational prototype based on its commercial Chevrolet Silverado chassis. This pragmatic, affordable adaptation of advanced Commercial-Off-the-Shelf (COTS) technology for specialized military applications mirrors GM Defense’s use of its award-winning 2020 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 truck platform to produce 649 nine-seater Infantry Squad Vehicles (ISVs) under contract to the U.S. Army. 

“GM Defense has a very novel way of looking at delivering capability to the warfighter, and it’s based on our whole value proposition of bringing the technology investments that General Motors is making on the commercial side of its business to global defence and government customers,” said Steve duMont, President of GM Defense. “We want these customers to benefit from the sizable investments GM is putting into future mobility technology. We also want them to enjoy the economies of scale, the benefits of common parts and components across variants, and easy access to parts and service worldwide that GM Defense can provide, thanks to our enhancements of COTS technology.”

THE RETURN OF GM DEFENSE  

The first iteration of GM Defense was founded in 1950. Such was its success in producing specialized vehicles for military customers, that this company was acquired by General Dynamics in 2003. 

The widespread adoption of commercial GM vehicles by various military organizations convinced General Motors to relaunch GM Defense in 2017. “After seeing how useful our commercial products were proving to be for these organizations, we reformed GM Defense with a focus on building the best commercially-adapted vehicles to deliver great capabilities to warfighters,” duMont told CDR. “Again, it only makes sense to leverage GM’s global manufacturing, support and supply chain base to offer great value to our customers, and to free them from the high costs and supply problems associated with bespoke military-only vehicles that are produced in extremely limited production runs.”

The highly modular ISV can be customized to support diverse mission profiles as shown with the ISV Family of Vehicles

INFANTRY SQUAD VEHICLE  

GM Defense proved its ‘value case’ with the U.S. Army’s expeditionary Infantry Squad Vehicle. The business delivered the first ISV 120 days after contract award in June 2020 and has already supported the fielding of the advanced mobility solution to the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. 

To make the grade, GM Defense first studied the U.S. Army’s ISV requirements carefully, then compared them against its roster of commercial trucks. Based on the ISV’s required form factor, function, size, and weight specifications, it was soon apparent that a modified 2020 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 was the best choice for the job – especially since the commercial version of this truck had won more off-road races than any other vehicle in its class. GM Defense later used the same process in choosing the Chevrolet Silverado heavy duty as the platform for its Canadian LUV prototype. 

“In the case of the ISV, we built a light, agile all-terrain troop transporter,” said duMont. “Its design is anchored in the construct of tactical mobility for the nine Soldier Infantry Squad for the U.S. Army and was designed to deploy with the 82nd Airborne’s brigade combat teams, who would otherwise arrive to their mission on foot.” These are paratroopers whose ISVs are parachuted out of C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemasters. They can also be slung under Black Hawk helicopters or carried within Chinooks. 

This fast-deployable ISV capability gives the U.S. Army’s nine-person teams tremendous mobility and speed to accomplish their missions. “These vehicles go wherever the troops go,” duMont told CDR. “Once everyone and everything is on the ground, the troops can quickly load their gear and weapons onto the ISVs. They can move out fast to close, dismount and engage with the enemy, and then get quickly out of the area after the mission’s completed.”

PURSUING LUV PROGRAM 

GM Defense’s goal is to bring the same advantages that the U.S. Army is enjoying with the ISV to the Canadian Army’s LUV – including the flexibility to adapt vehicle configurations as warranted. However, the LUV is not a rebadged ISV: It is a purpose-built vehicle designed to meet Canada’s specific defence needs. 

This is why the GM Defense’s LUV prototype is based on “the award-winning Chevrolet Silverado, which was a natural starting place for the Light Utility Vehicle program,” duMont said. “And although this prototype is aimed at fulfilling the LUV requirement for general use vehicles, we can offer optionality through customization of the LUV platform to support a variety of missions, just as we’ve done with the ISV for the U.S. Army. Being flexible and nimble in meeting customer needs is a big part of GM Defense’s approach.” 

From a cost standpoint, GM Defense’s ability to build the LUV by drawing upon successful commercial manufacturing designs and processes really gives this company an edge over the competition. “One of the key economic values that GM Defense brings to our customers is the flexibility of our vehicle architectures, which are based on proven commercial building blocks,” duMont told CDR. “That’s a very different proposition than what other defence companies offer. These companies build bespoke vehicles to meet the customer’s needs. These bespoke vehicles cost much more to design and build on a per-unit basis, and are much more challenging to access parts for around the world. Our approach allows us to leverage all the benefits of General Motors, namely our global commercial supply chain, technology investments, and manufacturing capabilities.” 

The size of GM Defense is also an asset for fulfilling the Light Forces Enhancement Program requirements. “We have an interest in both kinetic and non-kinetic weapon defence capabilities that could be easily mounted on the LUV,” duMont said. “And we have the know-how and resources to realize these capabilities in a practical and useful manner.”         

THE POWER OF FLEXIBILITY 

Thanks to the efficiencies of using a COTS-derived ISV platform, GM Defense was able to deliver the first of these vehicles to the U.S. Army within 120 days of the contract being signed. This speed is due to GM Defense’s flexible and nimble approach to building military vehicles. They are designed so that the company can adapt and evolve them to keep up with changing battlefield conditions and requirements, and do so in a cost-effective manner that gets these vehicles into customers’ hands fast.                       

“In developing all of our products, we look to establish a foundation with built-in flexibility and adaptability,” explained duMont. “In fact, what we’re trying to do is brand ourselves for these qualities and demonstrate that the vehicles we build can be simply modified to support diverse mission needs. In the case of the Silverado – our award-winning pickup truck – the 1500, 2500 and 3500, as well as our Tahoe and Suburban SUVs, are all the same family of vehicles. They share commonality at the building block level. Such commonality reduces cost by supporting the mass production of parts and the standardisation of assembly procedures. So, although many of these vehicles look different, they share the same design philosophies and many of the same components. That gives us the flexibility to adapt the vehicles to meet many different needs, which is kind of at the heart of what we do.” 

This flexible approach to manufacturing is being harnessed by GM Defense for military purposes, by deriving the ISV and LUV from its commercial truck platforms. “Frankly, this design philosophy is different from what you might see in some of our competitors who don’t have the benefits of the portfolio of vehicles that GM Defense can tap into to maximize flexibility for our defence customers,” duMont told CDR. “For example, the ISV started out as a nine passenger troop transporter. We immediately modified it into a five troop heavy gun carrier that could pack a little bit more punch with a .50 caliber on the top and squat automatic weapons mounted on the side. We then created a four passenger variant called the ISV Multi-Mission and Logistics variant, with a back-mounted motor to support ‘Shoot on the Move’ capability.”       

If given the chance by the Canadian government, GM Defense will employ this same flexible approach to fulfill the LUV and LFE contracts. “Both of those programs have future variations and modularity at their hearts,” said duMont. “So, we think we’re well positioned to fulfill them, and to bring this value to Canada.”

GM Defense’s five-passenger ISV Heavy Gun Carrier variant features a 46-inch/117-centimeter ring turret and cargo area.

DIGITAL DESIGN 

In the old days of making cars and trucks, prototypes would be designed on paper and then physically built by hand, with any subsequent design problems being discovered the hard way through actual testing. 

In the Digital Age, GM leverages technology to streamline the design process from the start. “Today, we significantly leverage digital engineering within GM through an IT-based process that we call ‘Virtual Design Development and Validation’, or VDDV for short,” duMont said. “VDDV runs right through the heart of GM’s design and development philosophy. It drives our ability to design, develop, and deliver military capabilities in a much shorter period of time and much more efficiently for our clients. That’s all enabled by VDDV, from designing defence vehicles to customer specifications to building actual physical products, going out and testing them, and making sure they work as planned.” 

In other words, every vehicle that GM and GM Defense builds “begins in math,” he quipped. “We start out using digital models that we can test, evaluate and improve before we build the physical prototype. We can validate against customer requirements in the digital realm, and then take a customer either into our Customer Engagement Facility or bring out a laptop to them and say, ‘this is how we would design your vehicle. This is how it would react in a number of different environments.’” 

GM Defense harnessed the intelligence of digital design when it built the ISV for the U.S. Army. To anticipate and respond to the many challenges its vehicle would encounter on the U.S. Army’s test track, a GM Defense team went out and digitally measured the various terrain courses that the ISV would drive over during its testing phase. Then they went back to the design lab and replicated the test course in a digital environment in a couple of days. 

“We ran 10,000 days of equivalent testing on a surrogate vehicle in our design lab,” said duMont. “And we actually predicted failures: We predicted components that needed to be enhanced in order to meet the mission profile. The ability to do this digitally first allowed us to make all those changes ahead of the actual test.” 

GM Defense used the same digital approach to design the LUV for Canada. Using the Chevrolet Silverado truck as its starting point, the LUV started out “in math” as a digital design. “Everything we did to modify it, augmenting the approach and departure angles to give it more off-road capability, adjusting the tail end of it to have greater utility for the Canadian Army’s needs, along with an armoured crew compartment on the vehicle — all that was done digitally and tested digitally,” duMont said. “This is why we’re well down the path of having the right vehicle for the Canadian Armed Forces, thanks to what we’ve been able to do in digital design.”

THE FUTURE OF ELECTRIC VEHICLES

Fully aligned with its parent company’s vision for an all-electric future, GM Defense is in an ideal position to leverage GM’s investments, including $35 billion in electric vehicle and autonomous vehicle technology to transition global defense and government customers to a more electric future. At the same time, the business will continue to meet customer needs, whether delivering solutions powered by efficient internal combustion engines, next generation battery electric technology or fuel cell technology.  

As proof that GM is ‘putting its money where its mouth is’, the company unveiled plans to build drive units at the GM Canada plant in St. Catharines, Ontario on February 21, 2023. These will be the GM Ultium Drive family of electric motors, which will cover front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive propulsion combinations, including high-performance and off-road capabilities. All GM electric vehicles built on the Ultium platform will be powered by Ultium Drive and Ultium Battery technology. The work will support about 500 jobs at this GM facility, which currently has about 1,100 employees producing V-6/V-8 engines and transmissions. 

“This is an excellent example of the significant investment that General Motors is making in Canada and GM Defense’s ability to tap into that investment to serve our military customers,” duMont told CDR. “It’s a critical investment for supporting GM’s global transition to a more electric future. And, of course, it’ll keep our GM Canada plants viable for years to come. This also assists us in meeting the ITB (Industrial and Technological Benefits) financial commitments required of any company who wins a Canadian defence procurement contract.”

A CENTURY-LONG COMMITMENT TO CANADA 

In fact, when it comes to delivering ITB-type benefits to Canada, GM has been doing this of its own accord for more than a century. It was in 1918 that the highly successful McLaughlin Motor Car Company of Oshawa, Ontario was acquired by GM and became the core of GM Canada. The company has continued to invest billions of dollars in the Canadian economy and provide thousands of well-paying jobs here since that time. 

“Built in Canada, built by Canadians: That’s part of our true value proposition that we get to leverage as a global corporation,” said duMont. “GM has invested more than $3.5 billion in Canadian manufacturing, research and the development of a North American EV (electric vehicle) supply chain since 2020. In addition to that, since 2009 GM has invested over $6 billion in updating its facilities across Canada, including $1 billion in Oshawa, where the opening of our new facility there created over 2,600 new Canadian jobs.” 

The bottom line: “As GM continues to invest in Canada, GM Defense will leverage resources and capabilities in the region to deliver modern, flexible and sustainable mobility solutions to Canadian customers while exploring marketing opportunities around the world,” concluded duMont. “We have incredible access to cutting-edge technology, test tracks, and engineering and manufacturing expertise that enables us to meet the requirements of Canadian customers through a local team who understands their needs. This allows us to deliver the best, most capable solution in support of LUV and LFE that will enhance CAF capabilities.”

James Careless is CDR’s Ottawa Bureau Chief

Article sponsored by GM Defense

 

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