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Within the last 30 years, the HMMWV (High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle) or "Humvee" has become an iconic vehicle on and off the battlefield. From Operation Desert Storm to the current warfare happening in Ukraine, the Humvee has been used in nearly every world conflict since 1989. Form local police departments to Navy SEALs, almost every modern fighting force has used a Humvee in some capacity. Humvees are so ubiquitous that it's not unusual to occasionally see a retired Humvee in a grocery store parking lot or just driving around town. According to AM General, the manufacturer, the Humvee has been exported to over 70 countries worldwide.
In 2022, the Humvee is getting long in the tooth and the U.S. military is slowly making moves to replace it with the Oshkosh J-LTV (Joint-Light Tactical Vehicle), according to Car and Driver. But over its incredibly long service life, the Humvee has made an almost incalculable impact on warfare, pop culture, and the automotive industry. It's made appearances in movies, video games, and even spawned an entire line of SUVs — including an electric model — known today as Hummer.
How did the Humvee attain such iconic status? Much like Jeep, that story starts on the battlefield.
Go anywhere, do anything, get home safely
After the Vietnam war, the Pentagon was ready to replace the rapidly aging fleet of Jeeps that had been in service for the past few decades. In 1983, the military's top brass commissioned a $1 billion contract to AM General, a company that originally made postal vehicles, heavy-duty trucks, and other military vehicles under the American Motors umbrella, and was then owned by LTV Aerospace and Defense (via MotorTrend). The military wanted a vehicle that could do it all: ford streams, climb over heavy terrain, safely transport soldiers and supplies, and serve as a weapons platform for offensive combat operations.
The M998 HMMWV was the result, but soldiers eventually gave it the "Humvee" and "Hummer" moniker we know today. It first saw limited combat during the United States' invasion of Panama in 1989, but the Humvee really kicked the training wheels off against the forces of Saddam Hussein in Operation Desert Storm (via History). The newly debuted Humvee took part in the coalition force's ground campaign where it was used as a platform for not only the TOW anti-tank missile but the Browning M2 heavy machine gun and M240 belt-fed machine gun.
Under the hood, the newest variant of the Humvee, the HMMWV M1167, sports a 6.5L turbocharged diesel V8 and features a modular construction to allow for more weapons, armor, medical, or surveillance equipment.
From a warzone to the suburbs
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In the early 1990s, according to MotorTrend, Arnold Schwarzenegger saw a Humvee and became enamored with the truck. It was then, specifically in 1992, that civilian Humvees dubbed the "Hummer H1" came to the market. Hummer would go on to become a pop culture sensation with the Hummer H2, simultaneously embodying the best and worst of the American automotive industry. The civilian Hummers were huge, brash, and still enjoy a healthy subculture nearly 20 years after the first H2s rolled off the line.
By the time the War on Terror came around and the United States' invasion of Iraq was in full swing, the Humvee was woefully unprepared for the asymmetrical warfare it would experience. The Humvee excelled in combat against conventional armies like the one it encountered in Desert Storm, but it was a different story entirely on the cramped streets of Baghdad and Fallujah. Humvees were a prime target for improvised explosives and ambushes by opposing forces. Eventually, armored variants of the Humvee started showing up on the battlefield.
The Humvee was built from the ground up to be modular and easy to modify, which allowed heavily armored variants of the Humvee to serve in front-line combat. Lighter versions operated as ambulances or troop transports. The Humvee became so legendary because it could perform wherever and however the operator needed it to perform.
Everyone wants a Humvee
Even terrorist organizations like the Taliban and ISIS used stolen or abandoned Humvees in combat. As grim as it sounds, during the military operations against ISIS, it was reported that Humvees were being converted to vehicle-borne bombs. Today in 2022, Ukrainian forces are using donated Humvees in the counteroffensive against Russia. For good or ill, wherever there's warfare, there's bound to be a Humvee present.
Around the United States, many local police departments use Humvees in their daily activities. Civilians can even buy a surplus or retired Humvee relatively easily. With over 300,000 Humvees produced and exported around the world, aftermarket parts are plentiful. After all, a vehicle designed for combat is a perfect candidate for an off-roading build.
For several decades, the Humvee has served continually in warzones everywhere around the globe. While the United States is slowly phasing out the Humvee, the ubiquitous military truck will likely see combat in other parts of the world for decades to come.