The U.S. military is looking for light, high-speed four-wheelers that can zip troops around battlezones. And just about every major player in the defense industry — including Blackwater — is lining up to supply the vehicles. Military vehicles have generally gotten heavier in recent years, to protect troops from roadside bombs and other threats. “The latest Humvee model, the M1151, weighs in at more than 5 tons, twice the weight of the original, unarmored M998,” GovExec.com notes. “The military’s new ‘Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected’ vehicle program is awarding contracts to build wheeled transports as heavy as 40 tons.”Dean Lockwood, a Forecast International analyst, tells Defense News, “With the way they have up-armored the Humvees, they are too heavy to do many of the missions they were originally intended to do.” Moreover, he said, up-armored Humvees strain Army helicopters.
So “the U.S. Army, Marine Corps and Special Operations Command may order thousands of rugged, high-tech, high-speed vehicles that can climb mountains, rescue fallen comrades and lead quick-strike assault teams in combat,” Defense News‘ Kris Osborn reports. “Service officials are eyeing prototypes and early versions of several existing vehicles, including ones that can hit 100 mph on roads. [Army] engineers are also exploring individual technologies that may give vehicles the suspension to handle rigorous terrain at high speed.” (The picture, above, is of a Chenoweth
strike vehicle, used by U.S. troops in the first Gulf War)
The Marines’ vision for the new vehicles will likely be shaped by their experience with the Internally Transportable Vehicle (ITV), a 4,000-pound, 65-mph, four-wheeldrive open-cockpit vehicle. In development since 2004, it passed tests last year at Twentynine Palms, Calif.; Camp Lejeune, N.C.; and Fort Greely, Alaska. Made by American Growler and General Dynamics, the $120,000 ITVs can carry a 2,000-pound payload and fire the Mk 19 grenade launcher, .50-caliber and M240 machine guns…
The Corps, which will begin fielding the ITV this summer, envisions buying 699 through 2015. But that could change, especially if the joint effort with the Army bears fruit.
The Army and Special Operations Command will soon look at Blackwater USA’s 100 mph Light Strike Vehicle. Still in the prototype stage, the 3,000-pound vehicle will have a 500-horsepower engine, 41-inch tires and a 2,500-pound payload.
“A vehicle with outstanding offroad capability and high axle articulation requires a compliant and loose suspension with maximum travel,” said Marty Strong, Blackwater USA vice president of communications. “These are the opposite characteristics required of a highspeed platform. Our suspension design spans both worlds by offering high articulation and extreme offroad performance, while still maintaining great manners when traveling at speeds approaching 100 mph.”
Another potential candidate for the program is the Tactical Autonomous Chassis-Combat (TAC-C) vehicle, which is being designed to be driven by a soldier or programmed to operate autonomously. Emerging from the Army Research Lab in 2005, the 85 mph TAC-C has four-wheel independent suspension, can make tight turns and can drive diagonally.
“It was designed with a lot of the know-how that is typically incorporated in the off-road racing circuit in order to handle high, rocky terrain,” said Kevin Bonner, lead engineer at General Dynamics Robotic Systems. SOCOM [Special Operations Command] wants a vehicle to handle weapons, reconnaissance and medical missions. They envision a 2,000 to 3,000-pound four-wheel-drive vehicle that can fly on a CH-47 Chinook helicopter.