On the same day an explosion occurred at GM’s Alternative Energy Center, not far away, the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) officially opened its new Ground Power Systems and Energy Laboratory Complex in Warren, Mich.
With increasing pressure on the U.S. military to develop more fuel-efficient vehicles, the new lab complex’s primary objective is to develop powertrain technologies that are less dependent on fossil fuels, including hybrid systems.
Presently, some army vehicles, such as the M1 Abrams tank, which uses a 1,500 horsepower turbine engine, struggle to achieve a single mile per gallon.
We all understand why fuel efficiency is important in normal circumstances, but it becomes all the more critical from a tactical and logistic point of view when the military operates in hostile zones. Cost to safeguard and transport fuel to remote regions of Afghanistan, for example, was estimated at somewhere around one hundred times the $4 per gallon Americans are bucking up against back home.
The U.S. Army has come under criticism in recent years for the amount of oil it consumes (in 2008 the military used 1.5 percent of all black gold consumed by the United States according to the Wall Street Journal), so any steps taken to develop more fuel-efficient vehicles is seen as progress.
The new Army lab complex includes eight state-of-the art individual laboratories that will enable any type of wheeled vehicle – manned or unmanned – to be tested under just about any kind of simulated condition, including temperatures ranging from – 60 degrees to 160 degrees Fahrenheit as well as wind speeds of up to 60 miles per hour.
Once fully operational, the new labs will employ about 150 people (mostly engineers, researchers and scientists) and with looming defense cuts in the state of Michigan, the timing is favorable.
That said, according to TARDEC spokesman John Wray, hiring for the new labs will be incremental; meaning that all available positions won’t be filled in short order. He also said that besides developing more fuel-efficient tanks, personnel carriers and other military vehicles, the new lab complex will help save lives on the battlefield.
“For every one percent improvement in fuel efficiency the need for 6,444 soldier trips is eliminated,” he said.
Speaking of saving lives, following the explosion on the GM Tech Center campus, no doubt the military will take every precaution to ensure something similar doesn’t happen at its new lab complex.