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Farewell JLTV? So Long MRAP?

This blog post could very well be called "The coolest vehicle you'll never see," but with tremendous pressure being put on the DOD to find energy efficient alternatives to everything from powering the bathroom lights at the Pentagon to flying a tanker in-theater, that may not be the case.

The vehicle I'm talking about was developed by the George Tech Research Institute (GTRI) with funding from the Office of Naval Research. It's called the Badenoch Vehicle, or the ULTRA AP (Armored Patrol). It's been around a few years -- since 2005, in fact, and one of the inventors, Scott Badenoch, has spoken on the Hill about his vehicle. The ULTRA AP was unveiled in Sept. 2005 at the Modern Day Marine Expo in Quantico, Virginia. According to its write-up in the November 2005 GTRI newsletter, the ULTRA AP "emphasizes high-output diesel power combined with advanced armor and a fully modern chassis."

A recent mention of the ULTRA AP in a Feb. 2008 Defense Science Board report on DOD energy strategy could propel the vehicle back into the spotlight. Some of the blog posts I've read criticize Badenoch's comments -- he's said Humvees are dangerous when they're up-armored because they're so heavy. He has claimed the possibility of roll-overs makes the vehicles very dangerous to soldiers. And since he's promoting his own vehicle, it smells a little like conflict of interest. But I'm not focused on that so much as the legitimacy I think the DSB report gives to this vehicle, singling it out as a viable option for a "blast bucket" light armored ground vehicle.

From the report:

In Iraq, Army ground vehicles have proven highly vulnerable to Improved Explosive Devices (IEDs). To mitigate this problem, the Army has 'up-armored' its vehicles. However, this has reduced fuel mileage from about 10 mpg for a standard Humvee to about 4 mpgFurther, the additional weight puts the vehicle beyond the design limit for its suspension, brakes and tires. This results in frequent tire blowouts, vehicle rollovers and other accidents with serious or fatal consequences for soldiers.

The report goes on to say the two programs intended to replace the Humvee -- the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) and the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle -- are even heavier than the Humvee, which would make them even less practical than the vehicle they are replacing. The solution, DSB says, is to put into use the research on lightweight structural materials and innovative design concepts that "have demonstrated the potential to produce survivable, militarily capable ground combat systems that weigh less and use less fuel than current systems." Presumably, the ULTRA AP (called the Badenoch vehicle in the report) is just the solution.

According to the DSB report, the Badenoch weighs less than half an up-armored Humvee, has greater fuel efficiency, carries just as many soldiers, provides better ability to fight from the vehicle (that claim may relate to the vehicle configuration, but I'm not sure how they're quantifying that) and vastly improves protection against blasts and projectiles.

The "blast bucket" vehicle, as DSB calls it, (ULTRA AP or otherwise) "could be fitted with hybrid electric and Opposed Piston Opposed Cylinder Engine technology to achieve a 50% increase in fuel efficiency in wartime conditions and a 200% increase in garrison or local use."

DoD is going green. They don't really have a choice -- the Air Force has been leading the way with its commitment to biofuels on all aircraft by 2011. So the recommendations included in this report, if publicized enough (I heard about it at an Air Force conference on energy), could have some interesting ripple effects in the industry...

Read the rest of this story and more from our Aviation Week friends on tanker troubles, anti-Taliban helo ops and UAV flybys at Military.com.

-- Christian

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