General Dynamics Tweaks Vehicle Lineup for Cost-Conscious Army
Instead of selling vehicles for narrow applications like the mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle, GDLS has taken existing vehicles and created derivatives that executives expect will satisfy future Army requirements. It is a business strategy that pervades defense contractor thinking, and is on display everywhere at the Association of the United States Army’s annual exposition in Washington, D.C.
To win contracts, companies can no longer be platform specific, said Mike Cannon, senior vice president for ground combat systems.
“We are considering impacts at the formation level … as part of our leaner, more agile HBCT initiative,” Cannon told reporters at the conference.
A heavy brigade combat team burns through $94,455 every mile. The formation requires 66, 2,500-gallon tanker trucks and 265,000 fuel loads and at least 172 fuel-truck drivers. General Dynamics is promising to increase fuel efficiency, remove soldiers from convoys and dramatically increase the HBCT’s maximum range, which currently stands at 205 miles. Retrofitting Abrams tanks with diesel engines increases a brigade’s range by 105 miles, a 50 percent improvement, GDLS officials said.
The drop-in diesel engine results in a 14 percent cost reduction per mile compared to the current turbine engine, which runs on JP-8 jet fuel. On a 19-day mission like Army tankers experienced in 2003 during the drive from Kuwait to Baghdad, that fuel efficiency translates to 88 fewer tanker truckloads of fuel, or 220,000 gallons, Cannon said.
The diesel engines are smaller, allowing for a four-fan cooling system at the rear of the engine compartment. Exhaust is emitted at temperatures that are much cooler than from a turbine engine, reducing the tank’s heat signature.
A competition for the Army’s Armored Multipurpose Vehicle, meanwhile, has prompted GDLS to alter the basic design of its Stryker wheeled vehicle.
Fuel efficiency also is a selling point. Stryker costs around $18 per mile to operate. That compares with $45 per mile for the M113 -- which AMPV would replace. A request for proposals for that program is scheduled for first quarter 2013.
Engineers modified the Stryker Double-V Hull vehicles with tracks. At the same show last year, GDLS was hyping the wheeled Stryker as the Army’s ideal AMPV solution.
Using externally mounted suspension, engineers were able to mount M113-style tracks on a Stryker hull. The vehicle was driven onto the showroom floor at AUSA, where it is being displayed for the first time. It took five months to create the tracked Stryker.
It is the company’s first foray into the medium tracked vehicle market. Adding tracks increases the Stryker’s weight considerably — about 70,000 pounds compared to about 40,000 for a wheeled Stryker. The suspension has been rated up to 84,000 pounds to allow for additional armor, weapons and cargo.
The Double-V Hull was a flash engineering job in response to the roadside-bomb scourge encountered in Iraq. Soldiers in flat-bottom Strykers fared poorly against roadside bombs. The double-v redesign, which channels blasts out and away from the vehicle’s passenger cabin, has dramatically reduced casualties from buried explosive devices. Adding tracks required no redesign of the new hull shape, Cannon said.
The company has also begun a Stryker exchange program through which it tears down flat-bottom vehicles and rebuilds them with double-V hulls once they return from combat. Fifty-two are on contract in a pilot program run out of Anniston Army Depot, Ala. The first completed exchange vehicle — marketed as a cheaper path to a fleet fully outfitted with the blast-mitigating design is on display at the conference.
With suspension mounted externally and the elimination of axles, the Double-V Hull’s survivability may improve, Cannon said. The wheeled version requires an interruption in the V hull to accept axles.
The company also has tossed its hat into the robotics vehicle market.
Recognizing a reticence to hand full control of vehicles over to computers, GDLS developed a method of stringing trucks together with a physical tether. The systems, called Leader-Follower, uses a Kevlar line attached to a winch on the following vehicle. The system reacts to tension on the line to control the trailing trucks. It has been tested on up to 10 vehicles driving single file up to 40 miles per hour with a single human driver in the lead vehicle of the convoy, said Church.
Already in theater are the Buffalo explosive-detection and disposal vehicles. Phase one of the wheeled truck looks like an oversized mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle with an articulated “interrogation arm” and a duck-billed front appendage that houses a ground-penetrating radar array. The phase-two buffalo is teamed with GD’s Ocelot vehicle, which also sports the arm and bomb-detecting radar. Given a robotic brain, the Ocelot — dubbed an “Ocebot” when in autonomous configuration — can be controlled by a soldier sitting in the protected Buffalo as far as 500 meters away. Each Phase-2 Buffalo can seat up to four soldiers, each controlling at least one Ocebot.
“Now … the soldiers in the Buffalo become the [command and control] for the robotic platform,” Church said. “We can do route clearances and never put a single soldier in proximity to an improvised explosive device. This will change the concept of operations for route clearance.”
Photo Credit: Army