- announced a new president, former Army helicopter test pilot Steve Munford, who spent 13 years at high-tech powerhouse Raytheon;
- officially opened its new factory in Concord, N.C., where it’ll build hundreds of air-droppable Infantry Squad Vehicles for the US Army;
- and unveiled an electric variant of the ISV, using the battery from the Chevy Bolt – leveraging its parent company’s $27 billion, five-year investment plan in electric vehicles.
“That vehicle is out driving around right now,” Munford told me in an interview. “[We built it] in a pretty short period of time, on our own investment…We’ll bring it to Fort Benning next week and let some of the warfighters evaluate it.”
The electrified ISV is a company-funded concept car, not a formal prototype, but it’s tangible proof of GM Defense’s capability to build the Army’s proposed Electric Light Reconnaissance Vehicle. The Army has been leery of the logistical complications of adding all-electric vehicles to its current diesel fleet; after all, there are no charging stations on the battlefield. But electric drive’s ability to move near-silently while powering extensive electronics is particularly attractive for scout units. And since the Electric Light Reconnaissance Vehicle would serve in light infantry brigades alongside Infantry Squad Vehicles, an ISV-derived ELRV would simplify logistics and training, putting GM Defense in a strong position.
That’s an impressive feat for a tiny operation: The new Concord factory, for instance, will have just 20 employees when fully staffed, building 14 vehicles a month – a miniscule sliver of GM’s global operation. But they’ll be drawing on mama GM’s deep bench of engineering talent and its massive supply base. The ISV itself is derived from the civilian Chevy Colorado ZR2 and is built from 90 percent commercial parts.
GM Defense also aims to leverage GM’s investment in self-driving, network-connected vehicles. That’s technology which blurs the line between one of the military’s most old-school industrial-age components, trucks, and its cutting-age information technology, AI and robotics.
“It’s more than trucks,” Munford told me. “The real value, and frankly why I’m here, and why I left a very high-tech job for this job…. there is tremendous focus and investment within GM on technology that is very relevant to some of the warfighter’s biggest challenges.”
Munford knows high-tech. He flew Apache gunships for the Army, including in the Balkans as part of the ill-fated Task Force Hawk. He served as an instructor pilot and a test pilot before joining the defense industry in 2001, just in time for an epic military build-up. At Raytheon, he worked on air and missile defense, space, and intelligence systems.
Now he’s building ground vehicles – but expect to see some sophisticated ones, he hinted. While he couldn’t discuss details, Munford did tell me this: “If you look across GM’s vehicles, you can see almost every vehicle now comes at least with an option to have autonomous drive features, and so one of the things I’m really excited about is the advanced sensors and the capabilities that… we could then translate into enabling autonomous drive for military vehicles as well.”
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