Murphy's Law: Scary Ceramics And The Son Of Hummer


January 17, 2011: Procurement bureaucrats have a hard time dealing with change. For example, as IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) became more frequently encountered in Iraq after 2004, U.S. troops added armor to their vehicles. This often caused problems, especially with hummers, which were not designed or built to operate with the extra weight. MRAPs (specially built armored trucks) replaced the armored hummers after a few years and solved the problem. However, during the effort to armor hummers, some army vehicle procurement people suggested that the army adopt lighter (usually ceramic or composites) materials. But the army vehicle community was most comfortable with metal, especially steel, and resisted using lighter alloys, ceramics or composites, even through these materials, in the form of vehicle components, had been used in commercial vehicles, for years. The army vehicle bureaucracy also resisted adding more electronic devices, to make vehicles more functional, lighter and reliable. Again, years of use could not sway the tradition minded officials. Some of this new stuff was allowed, but a lot was kept out. Some of the new materials have been making it into army vehicles, and the innovation (or just keeping up with commercial trucks) crowd believe they are winning. That's because new orders for hummers stop this year, as the army readies the design for the hummer replacement, the JLTV (Joint Light Tactical Vehicle). This new vehicle is ambitious, and the specifications basically demand that lots of ceramics, composites and other new technologies be used.

The army vehicle procurement officials are getting a lot of heat from outside the army, as well as within. While half the annual sales of HMMWV vehicles were to the U.S. Army, the rest went to other branches of the American military, and foreign customers. Nearly 200,000 hummers have been produced so far, in dozens of variants and versions. The army will continue to use the hummer for a decade or more, but the unique vehicle design is now fading away, to be replaced by the JLTV.

The heavier (seven ton) JLTV replaces the 2.4 ton HMMWV. The JLTV marks a notable design direction for tactical vehicles. The JLTV is designed to absorb combat damage, and be quickly equipped with two different armor kits. In effect, the World War II concept of the unarmored light vehicle for moving men and material around the battlefield has been radically changed.

This began in Iraq, where it was demonstrated that you can fight your way through a hostile population on a regular basis and defeat a guerilla force constantly attacking your tactical and logistical vehicles. This has never worked before, and worked this time, in part, because U.S. troops promptly armored their hummers and trucks, and quickly developed "road warrior" tactics that defeated roadside and suicide bombs. Even though these bombs created a lot of American casualties, the fatality rate was a third of what it was in Vietnam and World War II. Mainly because of the armored hummers and trucks. Few people outside the military noted this event, a watershed moment in military history. But it was recognized within the military, and produced this sharp shift in design philosophy for tactical trucks, and the result is the JLTV.

The U.S. Army began replacing the World War II era vehicles with the HMMWV (humvee or "hummer") in 1985. This was the first new unarmored combat vehicle design since World War II (when the 1.1 ton jeep and 3.3 ton ¾ ton truck were introduced), and was expected to last for three decades or more. But that plan changed once Iraq was invaded. As expected, hummers wore out a lot more quickly (in five years) in combat, than during peacetime use (14 years). So the army and marines began developing, ahead of schedule, a new vehicle to supplement the hummer in combat zones. Three designs were selected for development, and soon one of them will be chosen as the final design and put into production. The army will buy at least 38,000 of the JLTV (Joint Light Tactical Vehicle), while the marines will buy about 14,000.

In addition to being built to better survive mines and roadside bombs, the JLTV will be able to generate 30 KW of electricity (for operating all the new electronic gear, and recharging batteries), have an automatic fire extinguishing system and jam-resistant doors. Like the hummer, JLTV will be easy to reconfigure, for everything from a four seat, armed scout vehicle, to an ambulance, command vehicle or cargo or troop transport.

The hummer will continue to be used outside of the combat zone, where most troops spend most of their time. But the JLTV will be built to better handle the beating vehicles take in the combat zone, including a design that enables troops to quickly slide in armor and Kevlar panels to make the vehicles bullet and blast proof.


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