Army Wants iTrucks for Future Battles
Army Chief of Transportation Brig. Gen. Stephen E. Farmen held up an iPhone while addressing the subject April 24 at the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement’s annual tactical vehicles summit.
“How do we put the kind of power and technology like this into a wheeled vehicle and hit the right price point?” the general said. The Army needs to channel the same ingenuity and creativity that went into building the iPhone to develop the trucks of the future, he said.
He called them iTWVs -- wholly integrated platforms where maintenance, training and other activities are intertwined like apps on an iPhone. The Army needs to build intelligent systems where all of the relevant data is at the fingertips of an operator, Farmen said.
“An Audi A8 can drive down the road and make 3,000 decisions in a mile of travel,” Farmen said. “How many decisions are the next generation of wheeled vehicles going to be able to make?”
Farmen is on a crusade to give the 88M, or motor transport operator, a new public image. The 88M “is not just a truck driver,” the general said. “We aren’t growing 88Mikes who just drive trucks.”
The vehicles driven by soldiers today aren’t like they used to be. And the drivers themselves have much more on their plates. Today, they are asked to be intelligence gatherers, sensors, diplomats and more, Farmen said.
In the future, all of these tasks could be performed with app-like ease. Farmen imagined it working this way:
A sergeant is leading a 12-truck convoy consisting of manned and unmanned vehicles on a resupply mission to a forward operating base. In the middle of the trip, the sergeant’s iPad-like dashboard alerts him that he will have to put the original mission on hold to assist a squad that has run out of ammunition and is pinned down. On the way to the new location, he receives more information through his interactive dashboard, which informs him of the possibility of a homemade bomb within a certain stretch of the road ahead. The sergeant stops the convoy and sends one of the unmanned trucks ahead to investigate. After the route is determined to be clear, the convoy continues on and eventually uses another of its unmanned trucks to deliver the ammo to the squad in need. On its way, that unmanned vehicle continues feeding intelligence back to the convoy, including any information about casualties. After delivering the ammo, the convoy reverts to its original mission and starts heading for the FOB. All the while, the interactive dashboard is now feeding information back to a maintenance crew at the base about aging parts on certain vehicles that need to be replaced. When the convoy reaches the base, the crew is ready to fix the vehicles with the appropriate parts.
Farmen urged contractors to think about truck operators as they engineer electronics packages for vehicles. The Army and Marine Corps are looking to make the leap toward more integrated systems in the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle program to replace Humvees. One of the goals of the program is to give the crew better situational awareness than ever before.
Officials say this can be accomplished by using a more open electronics architecture that can facilitate the integration of future sensor, communications and navigation systems.