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Army testing lightweight combat vehicles at Knox

by Ali Bettencourt

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Jan. 3, 2000) - State-of-the-art medium-armored vehicles from six foreign countries and the United States are being tested this month at Fort Knox, Ky.

Soldiers from four installations - Fort Knox, Fort Lewis, Wash.; Fort Benning, Ga.; and Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. - are manning the vehicles during a month-long "Platform Performance Demonstration."

The Army crews are putting 35 French, Turkish, Canadian, German, Swiss, Singaporean and U.S. vehicle platforms through a series of live-fire, mobility, agility, and endurance tests, said Col. Joseph Rodriguez, director of the "Transformation Axis." The Transformation Axis is the Training and Doctrine Command cell in charge of operational and organizational requirements for the Army's new Brigade Combat Teams.

The Army is in the market for an off-the-shelf vehicle that can serve as the basis for a new fleet of lighter armored vehicles, and is holding the demonstration to see what is currently available, said Rodriguez.

The new vehicles may outfit two initial Brigade Combat Teams being stood up at Fort Lewis, Wash., he said.

The new platform and BCTs are part of the Army's response to Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki's vision of making heavy forces lighter and light forces more lethal, mobile and survivable, Rodriguez said.

The intent of the BCTs is to: deploy in 96 hours and be combat ready upon arrival, Rodriguez said. The BCTs will be most effective in small-scale contingencies and applicable to stability and support operations and major theater wars, he said.

To do that, the new vehicles must be lighter than the tanks, Bradleys and artillery pieces the Army currently has, and must have a uniform platform that can be used for all the vehicles needed in the brigade - from a command and control vehicle, to the anti-tank and reconnaissance platforms, Rodriguez said.

"Today, when we deploy the heavy force, we can get one M1 tank in the C-17 aircraft," Rodriguez said. "We think we can put four to six of these medium-armored vehicles in one C-17, depending on which armored vehicle the Army ultimately selects and decides to buy."

The heaviest part of an armored division is not the tanks or Bradleys, it is the fuel for those vehicles, Rodriguez said. The next heaviest aspect is the ammunition and then the vehicles themselves, he said.

Army officials will look for a vehicle with reduced fuel and ammunition weights, an interchangeable design that negates the need for 20-30 different mechanics and 20-30 different drivers, Rodriguez said.

Once in the area of operation, the commander in chief should be able to move the BCT and its equipment via a C-130, Rodriguez said. That couldn't be done with today's mechanized force, he said.

"Everything in this brigade has to fit into a C-130 transport aircraft," he said. "If it doesn't fit into a C-130, it doesn't go into this brigade."

The demonstration will educate the Army on what is available and allow officials to communicate the Army's requirements to industry, he said. It is not a competition yet, he said.

The vehicles tests at Fort Knox will be conducted by scout, tank, mortar and engineer crews. They'll conduct off-road and on-road driving tests during tactical exercises, test the swim capabilities of the vehicles and load the vehicles onto C-130 transport planes and railcars.

After the demonstration, the Army will determine the modifications and technology insertions the platforms need and will put out a request for proposals, Rodriguez said.

A "drive off, shoot off," for the vehicles contractors construct is anticipated in May, and a final decision could be made in June or July, Rodriguez said.

(Editor's note: Spc. Adriane Foss from the Fort Knox Turret contributed to this article.)