DETROIT ARSENAL, Mich. -- When Gen. Dennis Via, U.S. Army Materiel Command commanding general, visited the Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center earlier this year, he said, "We don't know where the next contingency will be, but there will be another contingency."
Via emphasized that regardless of where, "they're going to expect units to be ready to go with the equipment and materiel needed to accomplish the mission and come home safely."
With that in mind, engineers with the Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, known as TARDEC, are surging forward with projects to support the Army of the future.
"By improving the current vehicle fleet and developing new capabilities, our engineers and scientists are making progress in shaping the Army of 2025 and changing the way Soldiers in the next generation will fight," said TARDEC Technical Director Dr. Paul Rogers.
Envisioning how future mobility will look and function started with the Mobility Demonstrator. Some of those ideas have spun into other key projects, such as the Combat Vehicle Prototype, known as CVP, and the Ground experimental vehicle, known as GXV. The GXV is a joint project with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.
Engineers explored future mobility concepts that offer modularity, advanced drive trains and component commonality. They looked at systems such as common chassis, wheels-to-tracks transformation systems, high-power-dense engines, advanced suspension systems, electrified propulsion systems, advanced energy storage systems and advanced thermal management systems. These exercises evolved into future research initiatives, including the GXV.
The GXV has initiated several seedling evaluations involving other Army agencies and academic partners exploring the technical feasibility of advanced -- and in some cases, radical -- mobility concepts and performance assessments for a smaller, lighter, more agile vehicle that could move over previously inaccessible terrain.
"Operational forces have been limited to the terrain they encounter, and we're researching how GXP could travel over different kinds of terrain," said Paul Decker, deputy program manager for DARPA GXP and Advanced Vehicle Make. "A vehicle with rapid deployability, radically enhanced mobility, lethality and enhanced survivability is within the realm of the possible."
TARDEC demonstrated autonomous vehicle technology at Fort Hood, Texas, earlier this year. Engineers equipped two unmanned Palletized Load System cargo haulers and an M915 tractor trailer to interact with a manned Humvee gun truck escort, negotiating oncoming traffic, following rules of the road, recognizing and avoiding pedestrians and obstacles, and then using intelligence and decision-making abilities to re-route their direction through a maze of test areas to complete both complex urban and rural line-haul missions.
The system may provide flexibility and adaptability to augment Soldier capabilities and protection. Engineers designed the system to provide a wide range of military vehicle platforms with optionally manned capabilities to increase safety and provide Soldiers with additional flexibility.
Equipped with GPS, LIDAR (Light Detecting and Ranging systems) and RADAR, along with a host of sensors and other high-tech hardware and software components, the system's intelligence and autonomous decision-making abilities can be installed in practically any military vehicle, transforming an ordinary vehicle into an optionally manned version.
Another demonstration with more vehicles and more complex notional scenarios is scheduled for later this year.
"We are very happy with the results, but the AMAS must undergo more testing before it becomes deployable," said Bernard Theisen, TARDEC's lead AMAS engineer. "The vehicles and systems are replaceable, but nothing can replace the life of a Soldier. These systems keep Soldiers safe and make them more efficient."
MODULAR VEHICLE DEMONSTRATOR
TARDEC leadership periodically selects a series of innovation projects featuring new technology development with potential to change how ground vehicle platforms are designed. The Modular Vehicle Demonstrator proposes to assemble interchangeable vehicle pods on a common chassis in the 30 to 55 ton weight class, transforming the way the Army produces vehicle fleets.
The concept would allow a common platform and powertrain system as a base, combined with a series of removable pods to assemble mission-specific configurations. The concept would preclude the requirement for vehicle variants built to perform specific missions, such as carrying a squad, hauling supplies, assault or reconnaissance. The demonstrator program even allows for a driverless application.
"It's all conceptual," TARDEC engineer David Skalny said. "The propulsion unit doesn't change. We're looking at a standard unit length for the chassis and you could put together whichever pods you need to achieve the goal. There's a four-man pod configuration, a six-man configuration, and there are pods for carrying ammunition, supplies, a crane or weapons."
The team has transitioned to full-size vehicle testing to demonstrate the chassis, drivetrain performance and armor solutions using an existing mine-resistant ambush-protected hull as a test bed.
"The intent of the program is to design a vehicle with extensive modularity, commonality, adaptability and flexibility to perform a variety of missions," TARDEC engineer Mazin Barbat said. "The ability to quickly reconfigure the vehicle for mission-specific needs would give us a significant advantage in speed and flexibility."
The Army has made meaningful investments in laboratories and facilities to validate these technologies. For example, the Ground Systems Power and Energy Laboratory, which opened in April 2012, provides eight laboratories under one roof to test automotive systems under climate-controlled conditions.
In addition, the Vehicle Characterization Laboratory combines a series of vehicle performance and durability simulator devices. And the soon-to-open Vehicle Electronics Architecture Systems Integration Technology Hangar will allow engineers to address power and electronic integration issues, along with in-vehicle hardware and software solutions verification.
At the heart of this strategy is investment in exceptional facilities and talent to achieve the right technology solutions for Soldiers. "If we are successful as a science and technology community, we will fundamentally change the capabilities future Soldiers have to give them overwhelming superiority," Rogers said.
(Editor's Note: Bruce Huffman, TARDEC Public Affairs, contributed to this article.)
The U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America's Soldiers.
RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army's premier provider of materiel readiness -- technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment -- to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.