M1161 Growler: The Problematic Marine Jeep Designed for the Equally Polarizing V-22 Osprey

M1161 Growler 11 photos
Photo: Lance Cpl. Michael Petersheim
M1661  Internally Transportable Light Strike Vehicle (ITV-LSV)M1661  Internally Transportable Light Strike Vehicle (ITV-LSV)M1661  Internally Transportable Light Strike Vehicle (ITV-LSV)M1661  Internally Transportable Light Strike Vehicle (ITV-LSV)M1661  Internally Transportable Light Strike Vehicle (ITV-LSV)M1661  Internally Transportable Light Strike Vehicle (ITV-LSV)M1661  Internally Transportable Light Strike Vehicle (ITV-LSV)M1661  Internally Transportable Light Strike Vehicle (ITV-LSV)M1661  Internally Transportable Light Strike Vehicle (ITV-LSV)M1663 Prime Mover
Even by the standards of the military-industrial complex, the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey Program took more time, resources, and sweet Benny Franklins than almost any single military contract in the history of aviation. The obvious expenses of making a tiltrotor aircraft capable of both helicopter and airplane-like flight genuinely reliable justify the expense to a degree. But there are also lesser-discussed expenses involved with the program that most people don't talk about.
It typically costs hundreds of millions, if not billions, for a car company to design and mass-produce an automobile from start to finish. So when we tell you a wholly bespoke vehicle optimized specifically for the V-22 Osprey and nothing else was included in its mission plan, does it make sense why the program cost an arm and a leg even by Pentagon standards? The M1161 Growler Internally Transportable-Light Strike Vehicle and family's story is one permanently tied to that of the Osprey program. But even by itself, it's pretty freakin sweet in its own right. Let's look at the details.

When someone thinks of light military trucks, they think of Jeeps, HUMVEES, Land Rovers, and that's about it. Of course, famous names in the automotive scene like Ford, AM General, and the Rover Company took turns building variations of the Jeep archetype at different times. But you've probably never heard of the Montgomery County, North Carolina-based American Growler. If you ask us, that's a real shame. Because what they were able to accomplish in curtailing a new-age Jeep for the U.S. Marine Corps' new toy was nothing short of fascinating, in spite of the flaws.

Founded in 1999, What's known these days as Growler Manufacturing and Engineering started out rebuilding frames and drivetrains for the M151 quarter-ton utility truck made at various times by Kaiser, AM General, and even Ford. Perhaps it's because American Growler was so in tune with the essence of what made old Jeeps such good fighting vehicles that the Marine Corps chose them, and not a larger, more established automaker to design the V-22's own fighting vehicle. In its early stages, American Growler's totally new body, wheels, and tires were mounted on the chassis of the defunct M151 Jeep. At the same time, the outer shell was being tailor-fitted to fit comfortably inside the V-22's cargo bay.

Development of the M1161 platform was only completed after every last component derived from the M151 in test mules was replaced with new hardware made to the precise requests of the Marine Corps. When this was finished, the bulk of what became the M1161 family's manufacturing was moved to the facilities of the aerospace juggernauts at General Dynamics once the Marine Corps' production orders were set to begin. By then, the target deployment date was set for 2009, a full decade after American Growler first submitted its Light Strike Vehicle (LSV) proposal to the Marine Corps. It's as if the bad mojo from the V-22's own glacial-timescale development rubbed off on its LSV companion.

M1661  Internally Transportable Light Strike Vehicle \(ITV\-LSV\)
Photo: U.S. Marine Corps
With dimensions of 163 inches (4.13 m) long and 60 inches (1.5 m) wide in its base four-seater M1161 form, this military jeep bears a similar silhouette to that all-time great civilian off-roader, the JK-series Jeep Wrangler. The two jeeps even share an almost identical curb weight, 4,575 lbs in the Wrangler and 5,537 lbs in the M1661. Still, the bare tube chassis of the M1161 sans doors keeps this resemblance superficial. In areas other than aesthetics, the M1161 and its two-seater mortar-carrying cousin, the M1663 Prime Mover, takes the time-tested formula of a military Jeep and brings it into the 21st century in a way the HUMVEE simply didn't.

Unlike a HUMVEE, the Light Strike Vehicle family's drivetrain matches the light footprint of its lightweight body. All American Growler Light Strike Vehicles are powered by the same 2.8-liter Navistar Defense four-cylinder turbodiesel engine jetting 132 horsepower and a healthy 230 lb-feet (311.8 N.m) of torque. It's good for a top speed of roughly 85 mph (136.8 kph) on level tarmac and a combined fuel economy of 17 mpg. Not impressive by civilian standards, but not bad in comparison to, say, an ex-Marine Corps Abrams tank. With a standard gas-bladder style adjustable air-ride suspension, the M1161 family can wade through up to 30 inches (0.76 m) of water while making short work of off-road terrain roughly as deep.

Weirdly, the drive train is finished off with a GM FL70E four-speed automatic transmission and a two-speed transfer case. As for armament, Light Strike Vehicles are spoiled for choice. For smaller, more mobile targets, fully-armed LSVs either carry a Marine Corps-spec M240G 7.62×51mm medium machine gun or a Mk-19 40 mm automatic grenade launcher. For the really big stuff, the LSV carries an offshoot of the iconic M2 50 caliber machine known as the M2HB, firing between 450 to 600 rounds per minute. Meanwhile, the shortened M1163 prime mover was designed specifically to transport a single M327 120mm heavy mortar via a small trailer attached it its rear hitch.

At face value, the LSV sports impressive performance and ordinance capacity for such a small truck. Unfortunately for American Growler, their baseline $200,000-plus halo vehicle just wasn't cut out for the type of war the Marine Corps was fighting at the time of its deployment. Across the deserts of Afghanistan, Iraq, and later Syria, the constant threat of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) posed a significant danger to American main battle tanks and infantry fighting vehicles, let alone smaller trucks like the Humvee. With little more than some kevlar linings underneath its seats for armor, the prospect of a Growler LSV driving over a hidden IED is truly horrifying.

M1661  Internally Transportable Light Strike Vehicle \(ITV\-LSV\)
Photo: U.S. Marine Corps
This setback greatly limited the scope of what the LSV family was capable of in a counter-insurgency application. It also resulted in the Marine Corps trashing plans for the vehicle to serve in any form of infantry role. Instead, opting to use the vehicle in more niche reconnaissance, artillery, and special ops missions with reduced risks of coming into contact with IEDs. To make matters worse, problems with the LSV's throttle assembly contributed to at least one nasty 2012 accident at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendelton in California. All LSVs in the fleet were subsequently grounded pending investigation.

Such a potent combination of mind-numbing development times, safety-related snafus, and being the complete opposite vehicle needed for the combat conditions presented led to calls for the LSV's replacement not long after its deployment, with the last example being manufactured in 2010. In 2014, the LSV lost its status as the only vehicle designed for the MV-22 when Boeing Phantom Works unveiled the Phantom Badger, while design proposals to outright replace the LSV are still ongoing.

But for the moment, the M1161 and company still operate in a 600-strong fleet with the Marine Corps and upwards of 1000 more with foreign armed forces globally. For a vehicle so tied to one of the most controversial albatross military contracts this side of the F-35, is it even a surprise the little jeep meant specifically for the VM-22 turned out to be just as difficult when it was deployed to the field? It just goes to prove all the money in the world can only sometimes compensate for sub-par common sense.

 But what if you're the kind of nutty eccentric who wants a legit modern military jeep a la the Willys and Kaisers of the past, you're in luck. In the last ten years, a handful of American Growler LSVs have begun making their way into private collections via surplus purchases from the Marine Corps. We found a four-seater M1161 for sale via a private collector in Silver Spring, Maryland, for the low price of $30,000. That's a roughly 80 percent discount over the sticker price if you were curious. The thing depreciates like an Audi. Who could've guessed, right?
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 Download: M1161 Brochure (PDF)


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