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Research Questions

  1. What conditions have precipitated and will likely precipitate ultra-light mobility (UTM) needs, the kind historically met by motorcycles, ATVs, or quadrupeds?
  2. What DOTMLPF capabilities currently exist within Army and other DoD forces to support development, employment, and sustainment of UTM capabilities?
  3. What UTM capabilities are required to meet current and future mobility needs?
  4. How can these UTM capabilities be best used by Army forces in current and future operations?

The Army owns and operates a large fleet of wheeled combat and support vehicles, divided into three categories: heavy, medium, and light tactical vehicles. It also often uses ground mobility capabilities that are not formally identified in any of the categories, such as all-terrain vehicles and motorcycles, as well as some continuing use of pack animals. These vehicles are informally classified as ultra-light tactical mobility (UTM).

Most recently, forces in Afghanistan have used several types of UTM, to include ATVs and pack animals. In April 2014 Army Forces Command (FORSCOM) initiated a plan to develop established sets of UTM vehicles for airborne forces. Given the persistent use of UTM currently and throughout the Army's history, a more detailed examination is warranted to determine whether the Army should formally acquire and equip units with such vehicles. This report assesses the unvalidated needs (demands), validated needs (requirements), current ad hoc capabilities, and key considerations for developing and sustaining formal Army UTM fleets.

The various potential UTM investments and applications do not provide equal opportunity to improve current and future Army operations. Furthermore, the threats and risks associated with some UTM applications make their use in combat less likely and investments in them harder to justify. This report identifies and assesses various potential methods for Army development of UTM capabilities. The Army should consider likely impact, risks and threats, and emerging technologies when prioritizing the employment methods, or Tactical Activities, described in this report to address with UTM program investments.

Key Findings

UTM is often used by Army forces, formally or ad hoc, based on a range of operational factors.

  • Contemporary operations and operating environments present "bundles" of factors that can favor or discourage UTM employment.

UTM has tactical drawbacks.

  • The tactical threat is the most difficult factor to offset, and it has routinely outweighed the potential benefits of UTM in the judgment of operational commanders.

UTM capabilities provide a demonstrated alternative to increase operational flexibility through reduction of requirements for delivering an operationally significant force.

  • Other militaries, services, and individual Army units currently have appropriate and tactically beneficial methods for employing UTM.

Lacking validation, UTM requirements receive little official attention.

  • While UTM demands do exist for conventional Army units, the lack of tactical unit participation in formal requirements validation processes has left UTM requirements undervalidated, underrepresented, and not fully understood.
  • While individual Army units maintain ad hoc UTM capabilities, coordinated Army UTM capabilities are generally nonexistent.
  • The Army can develop the basic UTM capability needed with some limited foundational investments.

More systematic Army testing and evaluation is needed to fully assess the operational impact of UTM.

  • Insufficient metrics, data collection, and evaluations exist to fully assess UTM employment and operational effectiveness or to assess the impact on conducted operations from not having UTM capabilities.

The increasing size of standard service vehicles creates a gap in tactical mobility.

  • The growth in size and weight of the Army's SSV has resulted in unmet tactical mobility requirements that UTM can address under some circumstances.


  • Refine Army doctrine on tactical maneuver to provide sufficient concepts and technical information for effective and safe tactical UTM employment.
  • Develop an Army Techniques Publication or comparable resource that specifically addresses training, planning, employment, and sustainment considerations associated with operational UTM use.
  • Develop venues with other services and Special Operations Forces to determine common UTM needs and take advantage of economies of scale for resource-conscious management of UTM capabilities.
  • Consider using specialized National Guard units to maintain low-density UTM competencies and experience as a cost-effective method to maintain and transfer core UTM capabilities.
  • Develop training resources to establish and maintain basic UTM knowledge that units can flexibly apply to develop and employ UTM capabilities.
  • Coordinate training programs and resources with the USMC and SOF to develop UTM training strategies to meet expertise requirements.
  • Formally recognize the Army need for some UTM materiel capabilities and define Ultra-Light Tactical Vehicles (ULTVs) as a distinct category of equipment in Army materiel strategy.
  • Test and evaluate UTM platforms to identify materiel alternatives that can be tailored to meet requirements across a range of mission profiles for conventional Army units.
  • Develop a UTM support program that enables authorized units to satisfy sustainment requirements, especially repair parts and associated equipment sets.
  • Provide training and doctrinal resources to enable leader consideration of UTM capabilities and to enable planning for UTM employment.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    Defining the UTM Demand

  • Chapter Three

    Army and Joint UTM Demand Profiles

  • Chapter Four

    A Tailored Process for Assessing UTM Alternatives to Meet Unit Operational Requirements

  • Chapter Five

    Strategies for Developing and Sustaining Army UTM Capabilities

  • Appendix A

    The Historical and Contemporary Use of All-Terrain Vehicles, Bicycles, Motorcycles, and Quadrupeds

  • Appendix B

    Detailed Platform Transportability Analysis

  • Appendix C

    Detailed Summary of Army Doctrinal Discussion of UTM Capabilities

  • Appendix D

    Supporting Information for Execution of the UTM Selection Process (UDAP)

Research conducted by

This research was sponsored by Colonel Patrick Mahaney, Commander of the Asymmetric Warfare Group, and conducted within the RAND Arroyo Center's Force Development and Technology program.

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