Army Truck Enhancement Cuts Maintenance Costs

By Scott R. Gourley

The cooperative efforts of operation and support cost reduction (OSCR) and modernization through spares (MTS), is saving money and time for the military. This new program, say officials, is also improving industry standards and highlighting the role of industry suppliers.

Jerry L. Chapin, director of the Army's Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center, speaking at the National Defense Industrial Association's Tactical Wheeled Vehicle Conference, described the importance of OSCR and MTS initiatives.

Chapin cited a high mobility multi-purpose wheeled vehicle (HMMWV) support cost and performance problem. "The performance problem, plain and simple, was that the HMMWV wouldn't always start in cold temperatures. The support problem we originally thought [we had] was a glow plug problem-we were burning up glow plugs like popcorn.

"We originally thought the solution would be a better glow plug [but] what we found was that we were also burning up the protective control boxes [PCBs] at the same time. So we had both of those problems out in the field. And, instead of a new glow plug, we ended up with a new, smarter box.

The program was developed between our folks, the HMMWV program management office, and industry. Now we have the new better system in production."

Chapin supported the popcorn analogy by noting that the 130th Engineer Brigade in Croatia had 3,000 glow plugs burn in a four-month period.

Maj. Gen. Roy Beauchamp, USA, commanding general of Tank-automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM), Warren, Michigan, during a subsequent interview, summarized his own service-wide view of the problem by saying that the Army found itself replacing a glow plug at an average rate of once every 2 1/2 minutes.

He said that his personal experience dates back to the early 1980s, when the first HMMWVs were initially fielded by the Army.

Beauchamp explained that the glow plug is intended to heat the environment in the cylinder for the diesel fuel to combust, and the eight glow plugs in each HMMWV heat to approximately 2,000 degrees. He added, "if you don't go through a particular starting sequence, the glow plug will overheat, burnout, and you can't start the vehicle. "

The HMMWV has been out in the field since 1984 and "we've had nothing but glow plug system problems since then," said Chief Warrant Officer Edsel Penton, TACOM staff maintenance technician. Noting that the service tried changing the old PCBs several times hoping to correct the situation, Penton said the problem was finally turned over to Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering (TARDEC) engineers.

TARDEC was tasked to create a new design. The prototypes were solid state, instead of mechanical relay, he said.

"That's how it came about. Because we spent so much money-an inordinate amount of money-on glow plugs and glow plug controllers every year out there," Penton explained.

TARDEC engineers focused on a concept for a solid-state vehicle control unit (VCU) that measured and controlled the power, avoided glow plug overheating and extended the service life of this component. The first VCU prototype was produced in January, 1997, just two weeks after they were initially given the problem. A second re-packaged prototype version emerged in February.

Scott Gourley is a journalist based in Arcata, California.

Topics: Combat Vehicles

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