Army’s tank center looks to auto industry for help

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News

Warren — More than 70 regional automotive and technology companies are looking to take on a task that has bedeviled the U.S. government for nearly two decades: the creation of a new ground combat vehicle for the military.

The U.S. Army’s Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) in Warren is looking to tap the automotive expertise of Southeast Michigan to design a viable replacement for vehicles such as the Bradley Fighting Vehicle or the never-completed Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle. In use since the early-1980s, the Bradley was designed to carry troops in a vehicle with armor plating and weaponry. Several attempts to upgrade the vehicle have been made in the past.

TARDEC officials are looking for expertise in areas that include: autonomous and connected vehicles, automotive cyber security, advanced energy storage, vehicle light-weighting, advanced provision technology and active suspension technologies. Southeast Michigan is already home to companies invested in those areas.

On Thursday, officials with dozens of those companies gathered in Warren to hear how Army officials want to see the Bradley improved. More than 70 of those companies make up a consortium of partners under SAE International responding to the Army’s $240 million, eight-year program proposal.

Proposed upgrades include:

■Self-driving capability for reducing crew members and allowing for two-person operation

■Lighter structure with improved survivability via materials technologies and Active Blast Management Systems

■1,000-horsepower engine

■Unmanned 50 mm turret and ammunition handling system

■Modular Active Protection defense system

The project is being funded by a federal agreement that would allow the Army to put private interests to work, but allow those companies to retain their intellectual property in some cases. An inability to retain proprietary technology developed for the military has been a hindrance to private partnerships in the past, according to SAE’s Dave Porreca.

“They want to partner with the automotive industry... which knows quite a bit about putting vehicles together,” said Porreca, executive director of SAE’s Defense Automotive Technologies group. His group will eventually put together teams that will issue a joint proposal.

TARDEC’s timeline would have development and analysis underway through 2019, building from 2020 to 2022, and testing completed in 2024.

Livonia-based AM General is partnering with TARDEC on a project of a completely different nature – one that also utilizes autonomous vehicle technology. The company is tasked with developing autonomous vehicles capable of transporting personnel within U.S. military facilities.

“The American-made AM General vehicle is ideally suited for this initiative which will demonstrate the ability to augment the academy’s existing transportation system, which consists of a 24/7 shuttle service transporting cadets and other military personnel to/or from the academy hospital,” AM General Executive Vice President Kevin Rahrig said in a statement Wednesday. “Imagine what having a fully autonomous wheelchair accessible vehicle would mean to individuals with disabilities. This partnership with the Army could be the first step in transforming transportation for millions of people.”

A test-run of the technology will take place this spring at West Point.

“The best robotic systems in the world will not find traction until users are comfortable with the systems,” Alex Jimenez, head of the project at TARDEC, said in the statement. “West Point is a prime location to address the acceptance aspect of robotics by having future Army leaders see and experience these robotics first-hand.”

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