February 24, 2021

Revamped Humvee Draws Military’s Eye

The Humvee fell out of favor in Iraq and Afghanistan as homemade bombs, the biggest killer of American troops, ripped through its light armor and turned it into a death trap.

But recent blast tests show that Humvees built with the new chimney could provide as much protection as some of the heavier, and more costly, mine-resistant vehicles that have replaced them in many uses.

And if the final tests go well, the invention could save billions in new vehicle costs and restore much of the maneuverability that the Army and the Marines have lacked in the rugged terrain in Afghanistan, military officials say. Engineers say the chimney, which rises through the passenger cabin, releases some of the explosive gases — traveling at twice the speed of a fighter jet — that have mangled and flipped many of the vehicles.

Pentagon officials have said little about the 11 blast tests so far, in which the prototype vehicles are engulfed by a cloud of smoke, dust and fire, but the passenger cabin remains intact.

Dr. Leo Christodoulou, who has overseen the tests for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, said in a written statement that the changes represented a “significant improvement” over the classic Humvees.

He said the new design also provided safety levels comparable to the smallest mine-resistant vehicles, which can weigh twice as much as the Humvees, and might be useful in protecting other military vehicles.

John M. McHugh, the Army secretary, recently told a Senate committee that the new approach held “a great deal of promise, and it’s exciting.” He said commanders had been reluctant to send Humvees off bases in Afghanistan “because of the problems with survivability.”

The chimney was designed by a small Maryland firm, Hardwire L.L.C., which is working with AM General, an Indiana company that has built 270,000 Humvees since the mid-1980s. Hardwire is run by a colorful group of aeronautical engineers who say they took a fresh approach to evaluating how to make the vehicles safer.

George Tunis, the company’s chief executive, likened the chimney to an exhaust vent on a rocket.

He said that rather than just piling on more armor to absorb the blasts, as has been typical in the past, the idea was to disperse as much of the explosive energy as possible.

Tests show that the explosive gas from a roadside bomb can accelerate to speeds as high as Mach 4 in less than a millisecond, Mr. Tunis said, or far less time than it takes to blink an eye.

Mr. Tunis said he was inspired to work on the vehicle’s safety after a chance meeting with Octavio Sanchez, a Marine staff sergeant who lost a hand and was badly burned when his Humvee blew up in Iraq in 2005.

Sergeant Sanchez said Friday that he told Mr. Tunis that small safety improvements might have saved his hand, “and I think that turned a light bulb on for him.”

Mr. Tunis said the chimney, which is hidden next to a gunner’s turret atop the Humvee, is the biggest change. But like the mine-resistant vehicles, the Humvee prototypes have V-shaped steel bottoms to deflect parts of the blasts.

Mr. Tunis said his engineers were inspired by sports gear in making other changes.

He said that Dyneema, a thin fiber that links surfboard riders to kite sails, is so strong that it is used in bulletproof vests, and that his team sandwiched plates of it between metal panels throughout the vehicles. It also adapted a rock-climbing device to drop the gunner into the vehicle when a blast occurs.

The Pentagon will conduct five more blast tests, and the Army could request bids this fall for a new version of the Humvee.

Several companies, including Oshkosh, BAE Systems and Textron, are expected to bid. Charles Hall, AM General’s chief executive, said his company had also been working with Plasan, an Israeli armor manufacturer, on another prototype.

But he said in an interview that the blast tests “demonstrate very clearly” that the chimney could offer protection well beyond what the Army was expected to seek.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=c27255a47b470099acb05b45e29c5e4f

Audit of Pentagon Spending Finds $70 Billion in Waste

The Government Accountability Office, a Congressional watchdog, said the biggest program, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, accounted for $28 billion of that increase. Other systems also had significant cost overruns, the agency said, adding that the increases could force the Pentagon to cut the number of ships and planes it buys.

The auditors said many of the problems occurred because the Pentagon began building the systems before the designs were fully tested.

The findings were significant because Congress and the Obama administration have promised to change many of the practices that have long allowed weapons costs to spiral out of control.

President Obama signed a law in 2009 to improve contracting. The accountability office said that Pentagon officials had done a better job in starting new programs. But the agency also found that most of the new programs were not “fully adhering” to the best procedures, leaving them “at a higher risk for cost growth and schedule delays.”

Pentagon officials questioned some of the calculations. But Nancy L. Spruill, a Pentagon acquisition official, added in a letter to the auditors that the military was determined to “address cost growth where it is real and unacceptable.”

The defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, has acknowledged that the Pentagon lacked discipline as its budget more than doubled after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But with military budgets tightening, Mr. Gates has canceled several expensive systems and sought simpler alternatives.

All told, the accountability office said, the projected cost of the Pentagon’s largest programs has risen by $135 billion, or 9 percent, to $1.68 trillion since 2008.

It estimated that about $65 billion of that increase resulted from decisions to buy more of some systems, like mine-resistant vehicles and Navy destroyers, than had been planned.

But it said the other $70 billion of increases appeared “to be indicative of production problems and inefficiencies or flawed initial cost estimates.”

The auditors also found that a significant part of the total cost increase for nearly 100 programs came from just a few of the largest and oldest ones.

The F-35, which is supposed to become the main fighter for the Air Force, the Navy and the Marines, had by far the worst problems. The Pentagon has revamped the program, led by Lockheed Martin, twice over the last year. It has budgeted an additional $6 billion for development, as well as the projected $28 billion increase in production costs, for a program that is expected to cost well over $300 billion.

The report indicated that the Pentagon also had to spend $9 billion more on research and development to fix problems with satellites and other systems that had already entered production.

The auditors said the biggest problems occurred when the Pentagon changed the capabilities it sought or started production before critical technologies were ready.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/30/business/30military.html?partner=rss&emc=rss