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The Future Of Tactical Vehicles Is In Electrification And Autonomy – Breaking Defense Breaking Defense

First deliver of the the Infantry Squad Vehicle, GM Defense’s first program awarded in June 2020, was within 120 days of contract award. Photo courtesy of GM Defense.

In this Q&A with Steve duMont, the new president of GM Defense, we discuss how the organization is leveraging the financial clout and innovation of General Motors in the service of the U.S. military and government.

Breaking Defense: Given your experience as a defense industry executive, why did you depart Raytheon for a startup at GM Defense?

GM Defense President Steve duMont. Photo courtesy of GM Defense.

duMont: I was gainfully employed and frankly very happy with what I was doing at Raytheon Technologies as it underwent its merger with United Technologies. I had been with Raytheon for almost 14 years and had been with other defense companies prior to that for about 20 years.

With General Motors’ big investment in an electric, connected, and autonomous future of zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion, I saw an opportunity for me to come in and translate that vision into goodness for the warfighter. How do we take the $35 billion investment that the corporation is making to drive electrification and advance autonomous vehicles to ensure that vehicles are more connected and meet the company’s core vision?

The answer to that question is directly applicable to the massive transformation that’s underway now at the Department of Defense (DoD) and within other government agencies. There is very clearly a movement towards an electric future, with a greater application of autonomy for defense requirements. Vehicles are being seen now—not just ground vehicles but all vehicles—as just another node on the network. Connectivity is key.

So this was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. I’m excited that I took the job and, after about six months in the role, I feel like GM Defense is going to do a lot of good for our defense and government customers.

Breaking Defense: So are you a car guy?

duMont: I am a car guy. I have always been a car guy. It’s funny, as I was a pilot in the military and transitioned after my military service into the defense industry, I never really thought I’d be here talking to you today as an executive in an automotive company. But I’m really happy I am because I also really like cars. It was very serendipitous.

Breaking Defense: Given your personal time in uniform, how do you see GM Defense being a disruptor in military mobility?

duMont: It ties back to my answer to your first question. I think the warfighter needs capability to counter the ever-evolving threat. You’ve heard it before, but we’ve got to operate at the speed of relevance.

That is the ability to take technology and deliver it to the warfighter while that technology is still modern and cutting edge. I’ll give you an example of a traditional defense acquisition. Early in my career, one of the first programs I worked on was a new aircraft program that had been in development for over 20 years when I joined the program as a mission systems test lead. The program was canceled because the technology that was developed was 20-plus years old by the time it would have been fielded.

For GM Defense, the speed of relevance is taking the commercial investment that General Motors is making in advanced mobility technology—whether it’s electrification, autonomy, software-defined vehicles, and connected vehicles—and translating that directly to warfighter needs, but doing it in a very short period of time so that you don’t have a gap that allows foreign adversaries of the United States to develop more advanced technology.

A good example is the Infantry Squad Vehicle, the ISV, our first program awarded in June of 2020. Our first delivery of that vehicle was within 120 days of contract award. That’s a speed that’s essentially unheard of in the defense industry. That’s what the speed of relevance is.

So, we plan to be a disruptor in military mobility in terms of the application of commercial technology. The ISV was adaptively engineered from an award-winning Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 to a nine-infantry-soldier troop carrier by bringing a 90 percent commercial-off-the-shelf solution to meet Army requirements. The way we leveraged the investment that General Motors made in that vehicle and utilized our off-road Chevrolet Performance racing experience to strengthen the ISV demonstrates how we can bring capabilities forward very quickly.

We’ll continue to do that time and again when it makes sense with GM’s other vehicles that have a natural application to the defense industry or other government customers.

Breaking Defense: What are GM Defense’s current focus areas and how do you see the lines of operation expanding in the future?

duMont: General Motors’ transformation to an all-electric future combined with GM Defense’s core capabilities in integrated vehicles, power and propulsion, and mobility and autonomy enables us to leverage GM’s transformation to an all-electric future to bring additional capabilities on programs like the Army’s Electric Light Reconnaissance Vehicle.

We’ve already adapted electrification to our ISV, which we call our All-Electric Military Concept Vehicle. We replaced the internal combustion engine with an electric motor, and we’re using it as a testbed to get valuable feedback from our Army customer on how they might use an electric vehicle differently than a vehicle with an internal combustion engine.

To a large degree, we’re finding that the warfighter wants to reap the benefits of electrification. Thermally and acoustically, the signature is very low. So you have this great tactical capability that electrification provides, and then you have the other elements of transformation that our DoD is undergoing that includes a huge move toward robotics and autonomy. That’s a major focus of General Motors’, as well.

GM is investing heavily in the development of advanced, autonomous drive capability such as driver-assist capability that helps the vehicle stay within its lane to maintain speed and pass other vehicles. GM is on a path to deliver full, driverless, autonomous vehicles in the future. GM Defense can leverage some of these technologies that we believe can provide a tremendous benefit in many defense applications.

Another area where we’re focused is this concept of connected vehicles. General Motors has been doing it for 25 years with the OnStar system, which is one of the largest connected vehicle networks in the world. GM provides OnStar and Connected Services to 22 million vehicles globally. Our ability to leverage those technologies to our defense and government customers will translate into benefits today, tomorrow, and into the future.

Breaking Defense: Why do you believe that GM Defense is the best electrification partner for defense and government customers?

duMont: It is because of General Motors’ long history of electrification and the direction that the company is going with $35 billion in investments in electrification and autonomy to drive innovation. I’m adding folks to the team—it’s kind of a startup as you said upfront—who come from and truly understand the defense industry. We think of ourselves as a translator back into General Motors to help bring this capability to the military

We’re taking advantage of and getting great use out of GM’s existing investment. It’s a combination of what we’ve been doing for more than two decades pioneering electrification for vehicles through our earlier battery generations, and also the advances we’ve made with our third generation of battery electric power like consumers will realize in our new supertruck, the GMC Hummer EV.

We’ll bring even more modern capabilities to our vehicles and battery capabilities in the future. Those are some reasons why I think we’re the right partner for the defense and government customers at this critical, transformative time.

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