Murphy's Law: The Orphans Of Steel

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July 13, 2011:  Outside of York, Pennsylvania, is a BAE plant that refurbishes U.S. Army M-2 Bradley IFVs (Infantry Fighting Vehicle). In the parking lots surrounding the York plant are over 600 refurbished (like new) M-2s. Seems that the army has asked BAE to hang on to the M-2s after they come out of the plant, until the army can figure out where it wants the vehicles. The army is still undergoing a reorganization, which has included converting some mech brigades (normally using M-2s) with Stryker wheeled armored vehicles. Now there are proposals to equip some combat brigades with MRAPs on a permanent basis. All this uncertainty is keeping the M-2s sitting around waiting for orders. BAE doesn't mind providing parking space. The refurbishment work, which cost about $170,000 per M-2, was paid for.

All this refurbishment came about because war is rough on vehicles, even when they are not being shot at. As a result of operations in Afghanistan, and especially Iraq, the U.S. Army ended up with over 10,000 trucks and armored vehicles requiring refurbishment. The economics of this are pretty straightforward. Buying a new hummer costs about $190,000. A refurbished (to like-new condition) one costs about a third of that. Similar situation for Bradleys, which cost $2.2 million brand new. It's proven easier to get money out of Congress for new vehicles, than for refurbs, but the army brass finally convinced Congress that rebuilt vehicles were a much better way to go.

Iraq was the first prolonged period of combat for the M-2. The first combat for the Bradley was in 1991, but that lasted less than a week. In Iraq, the fighting went on for years. There, the M-2 was found to have a serious weight problem. When the vehicle first appeared in the early 1980s, it weighed 25 tons. Now M-2s weigh about 36 tons. The increase comes from added equipment and, especially, armor. This makes the M-2 RPG proof, but the extra weight has been hell on the M-2s most vulnerable component, the tracks it runs on.

Like most armored vehicles, the Bradley runs on metal tracks that have rubber pads, or shoes, attached to save wear and tear on roads and give better traction. Naturally, the rubber pads, as well as the entire track, wears out with use. Initially, a Bradley might need a new set of tracks once a year (after about 3,000 kilometers to road use). By the time 2003 rolled around, additional weight meant that a set of tracks lasted about 1,400 kilometers. But still more weight was added (more armor), and it got to the point where tracks had to be changed after only 700 kilometers. This meant that M-2s in combat might need several new sets of tracks a year. Changing tracks is hard, sweaty work, especially in tropical Iraq. The crews do most of the work, and they don't like it.

Normally, most of the replacement tracks come from an army depot that refurbishes worn tracks (about 80 percent of the track is reused). Even running round the clock, and outsourcing some of this specialized work, the army has had a hard time keeping up with the demand. By 2006, the army had designed a new set of tracks that was good for about 4,000 kilometers.  The refurb included new tracks, as well as replacing other worn out or damaged equipment, and adding new items (usually electronics.) There is also a new desert tan camouflage paint job, which makes the M-2s easier to spot from space.

 


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