Magazine article National Defense

Protection of Army Truck Requires Tradeoffs

Magazine article National Defense

Protection of Army Truck Requires Tradeoffs

Article excerpt

Military truck makers are grappling with how to best satisfy seemingly incompatible goals: building relatively uncomplicated vehicles that can both sustain the rigors of combat and, when needed, effortlessly be plated with thousands of pounds of armor.

Designers and engineers in the United States are learning the hard way that vehicles that originally were not made for crews to survive bomb and grenade attacks cannot simply be shielded with armor, without severely compromising performance and creating new kinds of hazards.

Hanging 1,500-pound armor kits on 7,000 U.S. military trucks operating in Iraq, for example, has led to numerous engine Failures and other malfunctions attributed to the excess weight on vehicles that were not necessarily engineered for those heavy loads, particularly the lighter Humvees. Some truck manufacturers also are concerned that drilling holes in the cab to hang the armor may weaken the chassis.

Fully up-armored Humvees have 3,000 pounds of armor, but come with bigger engines and transmissions. The basic Humvees that are now getting bolt-on armor plates never were intended to carry that much weight over extended periods. The additional weight, further, means that soldiers cannot carry any cargo or extra passengers.

Making trucks "survivable" has to be balanced against practical considerations, such as mobility and operators' needs, said Gem Paul Kern, head of the Army Materiel Command.

"When we do these survivability designs, it's not just a question of encapsulating somebody," Kern said in a recent interview. Vehicle protection must be viewed in the context of the specific environment where troops are fighting, he noted. When Army engineers designed an armor door kit for the Humvee, for example, they had to take into account that soldiers needed to stick their rifles out the window.

For the duration of the Iraqi conflict, soldiers and Marines will make do with current armor technologies, but as new vehicle programs get underway in the years ahead, the Army expects to develop more advanced options. It is a safe assumption that survivability will become a primary consideration in future vehicle designs, said Jeff Carie, program manager at the Army Tank-Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center. As TARDEC prepares to oversee the new future tactical truck system (FTTS) for the Army, there is a growing consensus that vehicles will need to be designed with the proper axle-loading weight and cab designs that can accommodate armor from the get-go, Carie said.

No adequate substitute yet exists for steel armor, leaving the Army with limited options that don't saddle vehicles with thousands of pounds of extra weight.

The $45 million FTTS program will probe more sophisticated survivability technologies, such as active protection systems, which launch countermeasures against incoming missiles or grenades. But steel-based armor remains the most effective option against small arms, experts said.

"With a new design, you can incorporate different levels of armor protection, instead of having to applique them to a structure that never was designed to accommodate armor kits," Carie told National Defense. "The transmission, engine, suspension can be elegantly upgraded without losing the payload."

FTTS will be an 18-month technology demonstration project. A solicitation to prospective contractors was scheduled for release in July.

The way trucks are being armored now is cumbersome, the equivalent of trying to hang the plumbing after the house is built, said Marc King, U.S. representative for Israel's Plasan Sasa Company, a producer of composite armor for military vehicles.

Factoring crew survivability into the design of a truck is a fairly new phenomenon in the industry, he said. "In the past, it was a feature not considered necessary."

The United Kingdom was among the first countries to specify that armor fitting be a design consideration in its future tracks. …

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