MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
The Department of Defense partnered with Force Protection Inc. and Oshkosh Truck Corp. to modify Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles with new independent suspension and central tire inflation systems, and plans to ship them to Afghanistan to do what they do best—protect Marines.
The Combat Center will be the first Marine Corps installation to test the new suspension system with troops and run it through a validation process, said Ryan Palmer, a logistics management specialist with Exercise Support Division.
The existing suspension system is not designed for the harsh terrain of Afghanistan, said Erik Stier, a design engineer with FPI. They were not originally designed as off-road vehicles.
The current MRAP has an issue with the axels bending and springs breaking when it hits harsher terrain, said Dan Nickson, a lead technician with Oshkosh. The independent suspension system virtually eliminates those problems.
“MRAPs were designed to primarily protect war fighters from IEDs [improvised explosive devices],” Stier said. “The new independent suspension system will greatly improve the mobility and help save more lives.”
This is the first time FPI, who manufactures MRAP vehicles, and Oshkosh, who manufactures the 7-ton truck, have come together to produce a vehicle that can withstand the terrain in Afghanistan while protecting Marines and sailors from IED blasts, Stier said.
The process for switching suspensions and training the Combat Center’s ESD MRAP mechanics on the ins and outs is a collaborative effort between both companies.
FPI field service representatives remove the old suspension system and prepare the hull surface for placing the independent suspension system, said Duane Krug, a field service representative for FPI.
“We align the new suspension, permanently attach the brackets, and finally put the new suspension in their permanently,” he said. “We only get one shot to align them correctly, so the whole process takes time.”
After FPI finishes with placing the new suspension, Oshkosh takes over and hooks up the brake systems, electrical wires and hoses, and makes sure everything is in working order, he said.
The process for conversion takes approximately six to seven days. The end result is for not only the company representatives to teach the mechanics the process, but to also find the best way to modify the vehicle so even an inexperienced mechanic in Afghanistan can change the suspension on the MRAP, said Ron Johnson, an MRAP vehicle mechanic for ESD.
“Our job is to find out all of the procedures and modifications, and provide a step by step process so any mechanic can do it,” Johnson said.
Once the system is installed, not only will the new suspension increase the mobility of the MRAP, but Oshkosh’s central tire inflation system that is also being installed into the vehicles will as well.
“Having the ability to deflate the tires before hitting impervious terrain gives the vehicle a bigger foot print and helps provide better traction on softer terrain,” said Dean Coenen, the senior test technician for Oshkosh.
With the new systems, the modified MRAPs will be taller and heavier, but this allows the vehicles to drive over harsh terrain while helping prevent roll-over dangers because the suspension eliminates stress concentrated in one area and distributes the weight more evenly, Coenen said.
Although the systems are new to the MRAP, they are not new to Marines. Both systems are in vehicles that Marines are familiar with, like the 7-ton truck, Nickson said. With Marines already familiar with the capabilities, they automatically require less training and have an idea of how to handle the vehicles when in theater.
Once the MRAP vehicles are locked and loaded, the project management office will keep records of each vehicles’ performance and maintenance from cradle to grave, Palmer said.
The vehicles will be rotated in with units during Enhanced Mojave Viper, a pre-deployment training exercise, he said.
“This will determine the limitations,” Palmer said. “We want them to use it like they will in theater.”
At the end of the training evolution, the Marines will receive a survey on the positives and negatives of the modified MRAP vehicles and provide input and recommendations for improvements.
“This is a great example of how we are trying to continuously improve the vehicles our war fighter’s use,” Stier said.
The overall projected goal is to ship 700 modified MRAP vehicles to Afghanistan, Kuwait and Iraq by the year’s end, he said.