By Kathleen T. Rhem
Special to American Forces Press Service
Oct. 16, 2009 - With the first shipment of the newly designed all-terrain mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles fielded in Afghanistan, several government agencies are now working with the manufacturer to ensure proper maintenance of the critical vehicle. Defense Logistics Agency officials were among those who met here yesterday with Oshkosh Defense leaders to get a closer look at the M-ATVs, as the vehicles are known, and the way forward in keeping them operational.
The Defense Logistics Agency will provide parts for the new all-terrain version of the armored vehicles designed to protect troops from deadly roadside-bomb attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan.
DLA Director Navy Vice Adm. Alan Thompson and several other senior agency officials visited Oshkosh Defense, a branch of the Oshkosh Corp., here yesterday. The company has been tasked with building several thousand of the new vehicles.
Thompson noted during the visit that senior defense leaders -- including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Ashton Carter, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, "view this program as so important to the safety and operational effectiveness of forces in Afghanistan."
M-ATVs are lighter and more maneuverable than standard MRAPs so they can better traverse Afghanistan's rugged terrain and keep servicemembers off more-established routes that make them more vulnerable to attacks.
DLA is working to ensure the vehicles can be sustained with repair parts throughout the lifecycle of the platform. Most of this coordination is going on through the agency's Defense Supply Center in Columbus, Ohio. DSCC Commander Army Brig. Gen. Thomas Richardson and several officials from DSCC met Thompson here for the daytrip.
The first seven M-ATVs arrived in Afghanistan earlier this month, and 10 others are in Europe for testing and training of crew, Oshkosh officials said.
Kenneth Juergens, M-ATV program director for Oshkosh Defense, explained to Thompson and the other visitors that the new vehicles had to meet three key performance parameters:
-- Weight. Each of the vehicles needed to be less than 25,000 pounds;
-- Seating. Each had to fit four troops in the cabin plus a gunner; and
-- Survivability. They needed to meet the same survivability specifications as full-sized variants of MRAP vehicles.
Juergens also outlined some of the vehicles' other features. For instance, the C-7 370-horsepower engine "works great on slopes," he said.
This engine power was demonstrated a short while later when Thompson and Richardson drove M-ATVs up and down 50-percent slopes in the rain at the company's test and development center.
Richardson praised the vehicle's power in comparison to the stalwart Humvees, long used as the military's tactical workhorses. But as roadside bombs became the weapon of choice for insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, the need to weigh Humvees down with armor made them sluggish in rough terrain.
"The key here is the ability to punch it and get out of there," the general said as he put the vehicle through its paces on a hilly, muddy and rutted test range. "If you hit an ambush or something else, the responsiveness is key."
Meanwhile, Thompson marveled at the vehicle's relative comfort compared to other tactical vehicles.
The M-ATV also features an environmental control unit that includes heat and air conditioning, as well as separate automated fire-extinguishing systems for the crew and engine compartments, Juergens said.
The composite armor of steel and Kevlar is mounted in bolt-on panels, which has several benefits, said Army Lt. Col. Coll Haddon, M-ATV program manager with the Joint Program Office for mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, in Warren, Mich.
The vehicles can be repaired in the operational theater with no need to send them to a maintenance depot in the United States, he said. "And if technology improves -- let's say a new composite comes out -- instead of buying a new vehicle, you can replace the panels," he added.
The MRAP's signature V-shaped hull was carried forward in this newer version. That and blast deflectors near the wheels direct the power of explosions away from the "protective cocoon" of the crew compartment, Haddon said.
Other features inside the vehicle are dual-purpose. They provide protection and add comfort both in the event of a blast and also while bouncing along Afghanistan's rugged terrain. The seats are suspended with straps from the ceiling instead of being bolted to the floor, so the energy from blasts or hard bumps goes to the straps, not to troops' spines and hips. And pads under the feet of back-seat passengers absorb blows and jarring from terrain.
"When the vehicle comes down, this dissipates the energy to reduce foot and knee injuries," Haddon said, adding that research indicates this was more of a problem in the back of vehicles.
The M-ATV also was designed with "logistics commonality" in mind, Haddon said. For example, it uses the same independent suspension as the Marine Corps' medium tactical vehicle replacement. The dashboard also is identical to that on the MTVR, which limits the training needed, Haddon said.
In addition, the engine is the same as that used in Stryker combat vehicles and the Army's family of medium tactical vehicles.
"Because of this commonality across the board, we already have many of the parts in the system," he said.
Still, providing for the vehicle's sustainment poses several challenges, officials said. Planners across multiple agencies are using lessons learned from the rapid fielding of earlier MRAP variants to build a supply pipeline for both consumable and repairable spare parts.
"Now we're trying to determine what the diameter of that [supply] pipeline needs to be," said Scott Bannach, Oshkosh's manager for MRAP logistics support.
He said Oshkosh officials and the MRAP program manager have worked closely to determine these needs. "We had, right from the get-go, an open and clear discussion about what the expectations were for the M-ATV," he told visiting DLA officials in a briefing.
And as testing and fielding progress, changes are being made to the vehicle even as more are being built.
A very recent change added two additional batteries to the two existing ones, allowing for a separate battery to handle communications and jamming equipment, Haddon explained as he showed Thompson how placement of all the batteries also changed.
"That's an additional demand that will come through DLA," Bannach said later. "More parts are being added as the platform matures."
In July, 1,594 parts were associated with the M-ATV, he said. Today there are 2,301.
This rapid fielding – roughly 90 days from the time the contract was awarded until the first vehicles were delivered to the Defense Department – and continuous changes to the specifications are made possible through close cooperation and synergy among all parties, said Army Col. Jose Baez, commander of the Ground Systems and Munitions Division at the Defense Contract Management Agency's Chicago branch.
"Some people may think this looks easy, but it's all because of synergy," he said. "There's a lot of team playing."
"There's a long-standing and very positive relationship between DLA and Oshkosh," Thompson said at the end of the visit. "I think it's a particularly important time for all of us to be aligned on effort and focus."
(Kathleen T. Rhem works in the Defense Logistics Agency's strategic communications office.)