Friday, November 30, 2001

During World War II the entire automotive industry stopped its production of cars and geared up in a huge, unprecedented way for wartime production of jeeps, tanks, airplanes and an endless number of associated devices.

Back then the military tended to bid out vehicle requirements to defense contractors and, although these contractors produced effective vehicles, the costs were staggeringly high.

Over the past decade the military has pursued ways of meeting its vehicle needs by partnering with the domestic automotive industry in programs that have the possibility of providing benefits to all concerned.One major player in this new arena is the U.S. Army’s National Automotive Center (NAC).

The NAC is a subordinate activity of the U.S. Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM). The activity serves as the Army’s agent for advancing the development of dual-use automotive technologies by industry, academia and the military services. By cultivating relationships and forming cost-shared partnerships, the NAC accelerates the exchange and implementation of automotive technologies creating savings that are shared by all participants.

The Army’s National Automotive Center recently unveiled its SmarTruck technology in Washington to show just how far the military and domestic auto industry can go to develop vehicles strong enough to go into battle, yet are derived from civilian production models.

Built from a modified Ford F-350 pickup truck, it can:

•Protect its occupants with bulletproof glass, Kevlar-like armor and electric shock door handles.

•Provide occupants with a 360-degree night-vision capability.

•Deploy an oil slick and tire-puncturing tacks to disable pursuing vehicles.

•Fire pepper spray and create smoke screens.

•Navigate using the Global Positioning System.

•Use electronic fingerprint identification to limit operations to authorized persons.

•Foil attempts to booby-trap the vehicle with explosives.

•Voice-activate radios, cell phones and windows.

•Dazzle the enemy with two pairs of lights so bright that the enemy cannot look directly at the vehicle.

•Steer its rear wheels to increase maneuverability.

The SmarTruck’s fingerprint identification modules use a display called PanelMate.The display allows touch-screen access to all countermeasures, controlled by fingerprint identification to prevent unauthorized use. The radio’s location on the dashboard is used by a DVD system that plays briefings or movies on the video system and voice-controls the radio, cell phone, power windows and doors.The mobile video system is provided by Audiovox.

The SmarTruck’s weaponry capabilities aren’t a subject for discussion, but the weapons-control station is situated in the center of the vehicle’s rear bucket seats.The weapon rises out of the top of the cab through sliding doors at a push of the button on the rear console.Four cameras surrounding the weapon capture video that is shown on the quad display on the center of the console.A camera on the top of the weapon focuses on the target.A joystick control can pan and tilt the weapon nearly 360 degrees.

The SmarTruck is the result of NAC’s work with suppliers, universities, small businesses and technology pioneers.Many auto-industry suppliers contribute to its component makeup and some of these components are or can be used on regular vehicles.Its rear-steering system comes from Delphi Automotive and is the same electrically powered rear-wheel-steering system now offered on some GM trucks.

Integrated Concepts and Research Corp provides the pepper spray dispenser, shocking door handles, smoke screen, oil slick, bomb detection and tack dispenser, all of which are unlikely to be found on the nation’s highways (fortunately).ICRC also manufactures the dazzling lights.

International Armoring Corporation supplies the bulletproof glass and body armor, components sure to be offered on more and more civilian vehicles in the years ahead. The glass and armor can withstand the impact from a .44 Magnum bullet.

The NAC works with other automotive companies such as DaimlerChrysler and GM.Other military vehicles developed include the Mobile Parts Hospital, a self-contained, self-sustaining mobile mini-manufacturing center that produces replacement parts in the field.

The Ford Impact program focuses on lighter weight, stronger materials and innovative manufacturing techniques. The Combatt (Commercially Based Tactical Truck) program is a partnership with DaimlerChrysler, Ford, GM and AM General.

The NAC is at the forefront of the 21st Century Truck Initiative that calls for the development of more fuel-efficient, safer, affordable and cleaner vehicles.The unique feature of NAC’s 21st Century Truck Initiative is that the systems developed must equally benefit the commercial sector as well as the military.

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