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When Army Green means something else

Military hybrid vehicle designs do a lot more than just save fuel
Thursday, April 17, 2014 - 07:00
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One of the most dangerous missions our service men and women face is in the delivery of fuel to remote outposts. These lumbering caravans make easy targets for insurgents and we’ve all seen the carnage caused by Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). The development of hybrid and fuel cell technology not only provides military ground vehicles with increased range and capability, they reduce the need for these dangerous missions and according to one military source “a mere one percent improvement in energy efficiency would mean 6,444 fewer soldiers would have to participate in fuel convoy missions”. With the help of some new friends at the U.S. Army’s Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC), I was able to learn about some of the projects currently being worked on.

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But first, exactly who and what is TARDEC? Headquartered at the U.S. Army Detroit Arsenal in Warren, Michigan, TARDEC is the nation’s laboratory for advanced military automotive technology and serves as the Ground Systems Integrator for all Department of Defense (DOD) manned and unmanned ground vehicle systems. With roots dating back to World War II, TARDEC is a full life-cycle, systems engineering support provider-of-first-choice for all DOD ground combat and combat support weapons, equipment and vehicle systems and is made up of both military and civilian experts. TARDEC’s staff of technical, engineering and scientific professionals lead cutting edge research and development projects in Ground Systems Survivability, Power and Mobility, Ground Vehicle Robotics, Force Projection, and Vehicle Electronics and Architecture. All of these projects focus on improving the effectiveness of our nation’s ground forces while keeping our soldiers safe.

FED Alpha And Bravo        
Research into hybrid drivelines was only part of the equation that TARDEC designers were charged with. Improved efficiency is not only measured by miles per gallon but what the vehicle can do in the field to support our ground troops and how safe it can keep them in the case of an enemy attack or accident.

The FED Alpha achieved a 70% improvement in fuel efficiency. Courtesy: TARDEC

One of the early prototypes was the Fuel Efficient Demonstrator (FED) Alpha. “Light” by military standards (11,650 pound truck with a 2900 pound payload), the Alpha featured a Cummins 4.5 liter 4-cylinder common rail diesel engine said to produce 200 horsepower and 560 lb/ft of torque (they don’t have to worry too much about emissions). It’s coupled to a 30-kilowatt 24-volt starter/generator for power production and that can put a big load on the engine at low rpm, so a small overdriven supercharger is mated to the turbo-equipped diesel. The supercharger is only used at low rpm and disengages as the engine reaches turbo operating range. The electric power is needed because of all of the accessories and tactical equipment fitted to the platform. Power delivery to the drive wheels is accomplished through an Aisin six-speed automatic similar to the unit used in the Ram Chassis Cab.

Built around a blast shielded aluminum monocoque frame, it measures roughly 17 feet in length, 71/2 feet wide and 7 feet tall. It carries 4 fully equipped soldiers riding in blast-attenuating seats. Ride quality is provided through air springs with titanium coils fitted inside to minimize ride height loss if a bag is damaged. Spring control is handled by Koni FSD shocks and the terrain challenges are met with composite wheels fitted with Goodyear Unisteel 335/65R22 tires.

TARDEC testing put fuel economy for the FED Alpha at 7.1 mpg during urban mission use, 4.8 mpg on cross-country missions, and 12.6 when performing convoy and tactical idling (using a half a gallon of fuel per hour). And while most of us would cringe at those numbers from our personal vehicles, even if we did own a monster 4x4, the FED Alpha actually achieved a 70% improvement in overall fuel economy.

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