Lighter MRAPs in the works (USA)

Some of the Pentagon's final batch of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles could be several tons lighter and one or two feet shorter in length - an effort to reduce deadly rollovers and increase mobility, a senior Pentagon official said.


Some of the Pentagon's final batch of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles could be several tons lighter and one or two feet shorter in length - an effort to reduce deadly rollovers and increase mobility, a senior Pentagon official said.

"We will study engineering change proposals over the next four to six weeks, looking to improve mobility requirements and develop a better turn radius for the MRAPs," said the official, who requested anonymity.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates responded favorably, the official said, when presented with the plan July 9 by John Young, defense undersecretary for acquisition.

The plan is to increase stability while preserving the vehicles' survivability - their V-shaped hull, ground clearance and armor, the official said.

Today's fully loaded MRAPs are about 12 to 14 feet long and weigh from 15 to 22 tons, depending on armor options.

"The roads are caving in. If we could have all the survivability that an MRAP gives you at a lighter weight, the roads would not cave in. We want it to weigh less than it weighs now," the official said.

The Defense Department plans to buy roughly 1,600 MRAPs by the end of the year, completing the planned purchase of up to 15,000 MRAPs, Pentagon spokeswoman Cheryl Irwin said. These will include standard MRAPs, plussed-up MRAPs with extra armor and the new shorter, lighter MRAP, the official said.

On July 17, the Pentagon announced the first part of the 1,600: 773 General Dynamics Canada RG 31 MRAPs for $552 million. Buyers chose the RG 31, slated to go to Afghanistan, because it was smaller than other entries, the official said.
The Army also placed a $60 million order for 36 BAE Systems RG 33 MRAPs to replace other vehicles for U.S. Special Operations Command.

The Pentagon will not purchase the 30-ton MRAP II vehicles, despite spending more than $25 million over a year to develop them, because of mobility and safety concerns, he said.

Among the competitors for MRAP II were Ceradyne, Oshkosh, Ideal Innovations 59,000-pound Bull vehicle and Blackwater's Grizzly.

Within the past month, field commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan have asked for tougher, more mobile, MRAPs.

"They want more mobility and to accomplish that, it needs to be a little smaller. We will build it smaller," said the senior Pentagon official.

The lighter MRAPS carry fewer passengers and crew.

Tendency to roll over

The massive vehicles' tendency to roll over was described in a June 13 Marine Corps MRAP safety report.

"There have been a number of vehicle rollovers in theater that have resulted in injuries to several Marines and the deaths of two soldiers, as well as instances of electrical shock when the vehicle's height causes them to be close enough to power lines," the report said.

The report lists tactics, techniques and procedures that can reduce the risks of operating an MRAP, including practicing rollover drills, better planning of routes, maneuvering more skillfully, and wearing seat belts.

Designing the changes will be relatively cheap and quick because the vehicles were designed with 3-D software.

"All of these manufacturers are engineers. You have a technical data package and you modify it. You modify key components of the bill of material. You build it smaller, but it is a scaled model, so it is the same model," the senior Pentagon official said.

Army officials, who have been testing MRAPs at Yuma Proving Grounds, Ariz., over the last few months to find and correct vehicle vulnerabilities, say smaller, lighter MRAPs would likely decrease risks to soldiers.

"We oversaw the threat tactics that were applied to a variety of MRAP systems to challenge the vehicle, test it and make it as tough as possible. As people learned where the weaknesses were, they started to deal with them," said Darrell Combs, who directs the TRADOC Intelligence Support Activity Wargaming, Experimentation, Test and Evaluation Directorate at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

The MRAP rollover issue is closely related to the vehicle's ability to withstand enemy attacks because both issues hinge upon things such as the driver's vision or field of view, vehicle maneuverability and off-road ability.

"It makes a lot of sense if the weight distribution is better. It makes it harder to fight against and less likely to roll over," Combs said.

The Yuma testing helped identify blind spots by firing blanks at vehicles on the test range, then checking to see whether drivers and passengers could spot the locations of incoming fire.

Extra armor can help blunt enemy attacks, but the weight decreases the vehicle's stability. Lowering the chassis can help recover some stability, Combs said.

"It is like keeping a lower center of gravity. If you shaved weight off the back or upper deck but still kept the ground clearance, it is tougher to knock over. It makes for a better vehicle," Combs said.

The reduced weight also could make MRAPs a little easier to move to the war zone, Combs said.

Also, the lighter MRAPs will increase the vehicles' ability to handle different kinds of terrain.

"You need to be able to have the horsepower-per-ton ratio to drive off-road without caving in," the senior Pentagon official said.

Upcoming orders

Most of the military's MRAP orders have been filled by BAE Systems' RG 33, BAE's Cayman, GDLS's RG 31, Force Protection's Cougar and Buffalo and Navistar International's MaxxPro.

The final order will likely draw from this pool.

"The vehicles that we have been delivering have been doing very well. We have a good capability and we are just building on it. We will not compromise any attributes of the survivability," the senior Pentagon official said.

Von: 29.07.2008, by Kris Osborn

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