Military history is full of creative solutions. It’s astonishing to consider how many innovations in transportation have come about because of the military’s need to tackle terrain obstacles and handling hostile environments, but what replaced the Jeep in the military?
The Jeep, renowned for its lightweight, all-terrain capabilities, was eventually traded out for the Humvee, which became the military’s new all-purpose vehicle in 1989 during Operation Just Cause for reconnaissance and transportation of personnel.
There’s a lot of fascinating military history involved in the transition from the Jeep to the Humvee, and the rest of this article will discuss why the Humvee became the military’s go-to vehicle of choice.
The Jeep’s Original Role and Why We Needed Something Better
The Jeep first got its start in the military in the 1940s when the U.S. foresaw its inevitable involvement in World War II.
According to Auto Influence, “The vehicle needed to be at least 1,300 pounds, have a payload of at least 600 pounds, have an engine with 85 pounds per feet of torque, and be four-wheel drive.
The vehicle needed to be at least 6.25 inches off the ground with a wheelbase of no more than 80 inches and tread no more than 47 inches.”
Willys and Ford were two companies capable of meeting these needs and produced over 700,000 Jeeps for military use.
With its lightweight frame and hearty suspension and torque power, the Jeep was the true jack of all trades, serving for everything from administrative needs to weapon mount testing.
In fact, the Jeep was even used during the Allied invasion of Normandy on D-Day, with Jeeps gliding into battle. Over the years, it would see plenty of modifications and upgrades, but the all-purpose nature of the Jeep eventually became outdated in the 1980s.
The chassis couldn’t support the weight of modern accouterments needed for battle, and the limited-capability suspension was outclassed by other ATVs.
As a result, the army began looking into alternatives, both to replace the Jeep as an all-purpose vehicle and to address specific theatres in different parts of the world.
The Gama Goat
Difficult terrain requires innovative solutions. As it turned out, the Jeep was woefully unfit to handle the bumpy, heavily-forested highlands of Vietnam, so the Army contracted LTV aerospace to design a tactical truck for the occasion.
Unfortunately, the Gama Goat wasn’t as versatile as expected. Touted as an amphibious vehicle capable of exceptional off-road handling, the Gama was bulky, expensive, and required specific training to use in amphibious situations.
Difficult to maintain, prone to overheating, and a liability in water any deeper than a pond― not exactly the all-terrain vehicle the army was looking for. Even so, the Gama Goat handled well off-road and was used extensively in the Vietnam War.
The Willys MD: Modifications to the Jeep
Produced from 1952 to 1971, the Willys MD was one of the first restyles of the World War II Jeep, seeing extensive use in the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
Other than a better drivetrain and a modified design, there wasn’t much beyond the Willys MD than a restyle; however, the Willys MD came equipped with a .50 caliber machine gun.
The M38A1C variant came armed with a M40A1 106mm recoilless rifle, offering the capability to be accompanied by more modern military armaments.
The M151 as the Successor to the Willys MD
With a more spacious interior, the M151 replaced the short-lived Willys MD as the go-to utility vehicle in the early 1960s. With higher ground clearance than the Willys MD, the M151 was better equipped to handle all kinds of terrain.
An independent suspension system made it both fast and agile (not to mention more comfortable).
Unfortunately, the M151 was prone to rolling over in high-speed situations, making it unreliable, particularly when there was no load being carried or gun mounted to the vehicle.
That being said, the M151 lasted much longer than the Willys MD series vehicles. In the ‘80s, however, the M151 would be outclassed by a new utility vehicle that is still widely used today.
The Humvee’s Entrance as the Better Utility Vehicle
Enter the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, or Humvee. The Humvee would get its start in Operation Just Cause during the invasion of Panama in 1989, where its armored shell was perfect for defending U.S. troops from small arms fire.
Coincidentally, Operation Just Cause was also the Jeep’s last mission. AM General was the army’s choice of contractor in 1981 when it came to producing prototypes for a new lightweight military vehicle.
The specially designed wheel and drivetrain allowed for higher ground clearance and was capable of generating substantially higher torque. The independent suspension system contributed to the Humvee’s ability to tackle most kinds of terrain with ease.
Compared to the Jeep’s top speed of 55 miles per hour, the Humvee could top out at over 70 miles per hour.
The Humvee is no slouch when it comes to loadbearing either, with modern Humvees being able to handle 2000-4000 pounds of military equipment― a vast improvement from the Jeep’s 1000 pound maximum.
Capable of climbing a 60 percent slope and traversing a 40 percent slope, the Humvee had no bounds, especially on European terrain.
The history of transportation is fascinating, especially when it comes to the military, but what replaced the Jeep in the military?
The need to be prepared for countless operations across vastly different terrain has fostered the development of many utility vehicles― some that have withstood the test of time, and others that have not.
The iconic Jeep, a marvel of technology at the time, served the U.S. well throughout the global conflict of World War II, seeing service across several continents.
Specialized vehicles like the Gama Goat offered new solutions for new conflicts, and the steady progression of suspension and drivetrain technology through the Willys MD and M151 bring us to the Humvee.
With its incredible versatility, speed, and agility, the Humvee remains one of the military’s go-to vehicles to this day.