Logistics: November 16, 2004


The American Department of Defense recently issued an $11 million contract to VSE Corporation to upgrade the M969 Fuel Dispensing Tankers. This upgrade will give these semi-trailers additional armor and self-sealing fuel tanks, both of which will make these vehicles much more resistant to insurgent attacks in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Fuel is the lifeblood of the U.S. Army. The M969 delivers 5,000 gallons of fuel for the Armys ground vehicles. M1A2 Abrams, M2 Bradley, and even the Hummers cannot go anywhere unless they have gas. Driving a fuel truck is hazardous duty. A roadside bomb, RPG, or even machine gun and assault rifle fire  can easily take out the truck, the semi-trailer, and its crew due to the nature of its cargo. Fuel is designed to be combusted but it only does good when the combustion is controlled in an engine having it combust because the semi-trailer (or a fuel tank) was hit is bad combustion, and usually injures or kills trained personnel. Particularly when the quantity is 5,000 gallons of fuel.

The Army, therefore, is taking steps to make these vehicles tough enough to either resist damage, or at a minimum, prevent the crew from suffering serious injuries. There is a small penalty to pay for these features. TSS International, a Dutch company that makes self-sealing fuel tanks, promises its foam linings only cause a maximum one percent loss of fuel capacity, taking it down to 4,950 gallons if the self-sealing system performs to specifications. That would better than experience with the F4F-4 Wildcat, the first aircraft to use self-sealing fuel tanks (initially delivered in November, 1941). The F4F-4 showed a decrease in internal fuel capacity from 147 gallons to 144 gallons, a loss of 2% of fuel capacity. Between that and the added armor, top speed of the fuel truck will be slightly less than that of an unarmored vehicle. The F4F lost about one percent of its top speed due to the added armor in the F4F-4. For a HET towing the M969, the additional armor will mean a loss in top speed of maybe 1 kilometer per hour, if that.

History has shown that the small losses in fuel capacity and top speed are well worth it. Americans who flew planes like the F4F-4 often were able to return to base despite taking heavy damage from Japanese Zeroes due to these features. This was the big reason why the F4F, despite being slower and less maneuverable than the Zero, was able to score a 6.9-to-1 kill ratio (905 kills to 178 losses) in air-to-air combat. Pilots survived and were able to fight another day, and also were able to pass the lessons they learned to new pilots. The same will be true for the soldiers who drive the fuel trucks. They will be able to pass on the lessons they learned to new arrivals in theater and to new soldiers back home, much to the chagrin of future insurgents. Harold C. Hutchison (hchutch@ix.netcom.com)


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