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Army ‘Truck Rodeo’ Could Expedite Vehicle Upgrades 


Sandra I. Erwin 

The U.S. Army will be hosting a truck-technology exhibition this month intended to help service officials expedite purchasing decisions.

Unlike traditional trade expos, this one—unofficially dubbed “truck rodeo”—is only open to pre-selected contractors who meet the Army’s product specifications and agree to pay for the administrative cost of the demonstration, estimated at up to $10,000 per company.

Scheduled for January 17-21 at the Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz., the truck rodeo will allow dozens of vendors to get the undivided attention of key Army decision makers, including top acquisition officials.

The Yuma test ranges cover 1,400 square miles and offer climate and terrain similar to major desert areas worldwide.

With 36,000 trucks in Iraq today, the Army is hard pressed to keep them running in the harsh environment. Maintaining vehicles is made all the more difficult by the addition of armor plates on thousands of trucks that never were designed to carry that much excess weight.

Topping the list of items to be evaluated at the rodeo are fuel filters, air filters, suspensions, batteries and survivability equipment. These are low-tech but much needed components, said Army Col. Robert Groller, program manager for tactical wheeled vehicles.

Groller has made several visits to deployed truck units in the Middle East and South Asia to get first-hand accounts of their equipment performance and shortfalls.

“I’m looking for easy-to-maintain technology,” he told National Defense. “I’m looking for small, inexpensive stuff that I can get now.”

Things as mundane as oil filters and air filters can make a huge difference in the field, Groller said. The dusty environment in Iraq is wreaking havoc on engines and transmissions, he added.

Another priority is suspensions, which have taken a beating as trucks get saddled with thousands of pounds of armor.

The rodeo is part of an effort known as “expedited modernization initiative procedure,” or EMIP, that is designed to sidestep the Army’s cumbersome acquisition process and speed up deliveries of new equipment to deployed units.

The technologies demonstrated at Yuma will be evaluated by a “tactical wheeled vehicles corporate board” made up of top procurement officers and members of the Army staff, said Pat Plotkowski, interim deputy program executive officer for combat support and combat service support. “We’ll look at products, determine what are the promising technologies. Once we rank them, we’ll go to the Army staff and seek funding for those technologies,” she said at a recent industry conference.

Under the traditional approach to upgrading military trucks, the Army relies on the vehicle manufacturers to select and procure new technologies. But many component vendors have complained that the process makes it difficult for innovative products to get into the Army fleet. Truck manufacturers at times have stifled competition, critics charge.

According to one industry source who asked not to be identified, “it is a significant major concern that the military services are favoring ‘no bid,’ non-competitive contracts for convenience … under the veil of wartime contracting.”

Groller said the EMIP project was designed to address those concerns. “Contractors claim there is no easy way to get their foot in the door,” he noted.

Under the EMIP process, suppliers were asked to submit white papers, which were due in November. Any proposed technology had to be ready for delivery within six months.

Although Army officials initially expected that about 30 contractors would participate, that number could double, Groller said. Even though it costs them several thousand dollars to demonstrate their technologies, companies are motivated by the prospect of getting direct access to the Army brass. “The biggest thing is visibility,” he said. The rodeos are expected to become annual events, Groller added.

EMIP is part of a broader “truck strategy” that has been in the works for a couple of years, and for which the Army has added $2 billion over the next five years.

It is a three-pronged strategy, Groller explained. EMIP intends to boost innovation by opening up the market to more competitors. Another piece of the strategy is to work with the original truck manufacturers to upgrade the existing fleet. The third piece is to begin planning for the next generation of vehicles, under a project called future tactical truck system.

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