April 16, 2010:
In Afghanistan, M-ATV (MRAP-All Terrain Vehicle) are replacing hummers in infantry units, and the U.S. Army is equipping these MRAPs with all the new electronic and robotic items that comprise the E-IBCT (Early Infantry Brigade Combat Team). "Enhanced Infantry Brigade Combat Team" might be a more apt description, as this is a collection of new equipment that makes troops safer, and more aware of what is around them.
In many cases, soldiers don't start their M-ATVs, they boot them up, as the fully equipped vehicles have half a dozen electronic systems, many of them networked. The Stryker was one of the first vehicles to go this way, and prove that too much ain't enough when it comes to battlefield electronics. Hummers followed, and now the army is introducing a new control system for vehicles, which provides a common internal network for all of them to plug into. This allows troops to share a few displays for visual or operational data. Touch screen allow troops to more quickly operate all this gear (which could include a micro-UAV, a ground robot, a remote control turret and wireless sensors deployed nearby to watch for an approaching enemy). In addition there is instant messaging, email, maps and Blue Force Tracker (which shows the position of all American vehicles in the area, in real time.)
The M-ATV is a $587,000, 15 ton, 4x4 (with independent wheel suspension) armored vehicle. Basically, it's an armored truck with a V shaped bottom. Payload is 1.8 tons, and it can carry five passengers (including a gunner). Top speed is 105 kilometers an hour, and road range on internal fuel is 515 kilometers. The M-ATV is slightly larger than a hummer.
Unlike earlier MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle designs, the M-ATV was designed to operate off roads, particularly in Afghanistan. Troops have found that the M-ATV can safely handle a lot of cross country travel that would be dangerous for a conventional MRAP. But, like taking a tracked vehicle (like a tank) off road, you can't just drive it anywhere. Even a tracked vehicle will flip, or lose a track (hit an obstacle that will tear the tracks from the wheels) if you don't drive carefully. Same deal with the M-ATV. Off the road, this is a more stable and forgiving MRAP, and commanders are coming up with new tactics to take advantage of it. The enemy can no longer assume all MRAPs will stay on the road, and are finding that these vehicles are much more aware of the surrounding area than in the past.