The last Monday in May is dedicated to remembering the brave men and women who have fallen in the line of duty in our military services. This Memorial Day, we decided to pay tribute to our nation's soldiers by looking back at some of our run-ins with military hardware, vehicles, and equipment.
To counter improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and other threats in Iraq and Afghanistan, Wisconsin-based Oshkosh Defense developed the M-ATV. We were able to spend almost a month in the war zone learning about the vehicle, meeting its fans and detractors, and even learning how the mammoth fighting machines are transported on planes. The M-ATV works alongside a variety of vehicles, including the famed Humvee, to traverse the wide variety of terrain seen in current war zones. Large, top-heavy, and with a cramped interior, the M-ATV has nonetheless been directly credited with saving scores of lives on the battlefield.
In June 1944, Warrant Officer Robert J. DeMatio arrived in France with the 118th Field Artillery Battalion, 30th Infantry Division, XIX Corps, United States 1st Army. He would then travel through France, Holland, Germany, and Belgium as, in the wake of D-Day, the Second World War began to draw to a close. Fortunately, Officer DeMatio recorded his trip in a typewritten journal, allowing his sons, deputy editor Joe DeMatio and brother Greg, to retrace his tracks around Europe. For his steed, DeMatio chose a 556-hp, 2011 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe. The car, like the group of American tourists driving it, attracted looks and attention at each of the many towns, churches, and memorials at which it parked as the younger DeMatios retraced their father's footsteps.
Ignoring worries about whether it was advisable to do so, contributor Joe Sherman decided a few years ago to see if he could buy a tank. In the Czech Republic, where the countryside was once littered with old Soviet tanks, it's possible to purchase a fully functional (but used) tank from a dealer called Excalibur Army. Sherman set his eyes on a Russian-built T-72 and even took a test-ride in the mammoth fighting machine, but the pricing deterred him from making an offer: $60,000 for a for a "fixer-upper", $105,000 for a completely rebuilt model. Then there's the pesky issue of importing a tank to the U.S. without attracting the ire of Homeland Security…
If buying a tank proves a bit too difficult, perhaps you can simply take up Minnesotan Tony Borglum on his offer to "Drive a Tank." In what seems like the ultimate grown-up playground, Borglum lets paying customers strap into a British Chieftain main battle tank and drive over a beat-up old car. Starting from as little as $499, customers can learn to pilot a tracked tank through the woods and lakes near Drive a Tank's headquarters, and paying extra earns the privilege of driving over a deceased car. It's just as much fun as it sounds.
The Jeep AEV J8 Milspec is not really a Jeep, per se, but rather a kit car produced by Michigan-based American Expedition Vehicles. It's the only way for Americans to buy the J8 truck that was designed by Chrysler for Middle East militaries: with reinforced body parts, an air intake that can endure a five-hour sandstorm, and other upgrades, the special Wrangler is far removed from the civilian version. We got the chance to experience the AEV J8 in the ghost town of Bodie, California, where a gold rush once brought thousands of prospectors and plenty of bloodshed. Today there are just tourists and enough bumpy gravel roads to put the J8 Milspec through its paces. It may not be a true military vehicle, but it certainly feels more tough and durable than a civilian Jeep Wrangler.
What does the future of military vehicles look like? According to Ricardo, it's this FED ALPHA. It is designed to be far more fuel efficient than current fighting vehicles, while providing the same level of performance and protection for troops in the battlefield. Among the innovations to help save fuel are new Cummins turbodiesel inline-four engine; an Aisin six-speed automatic transmission; bespoke Goodyear Fuel Max low rolling resistance tires; and a lightweight aluminum structure, armor, and blast shield. There's also a computer screen that highlights ways to drive more efficiently, but we somehow doubt soldiers will pay it too much heed when engaging the enemy. Ricardo is now testing the FED ALPHA.
Though it's one of our nation's most famous and enduring war-zone vehicles, the age of the Humvee is drawing to a close. Two companies have already submitted proposals for new vehicles to replace the Humvee in the future. BAE Systems proposes its Joint Light Tactical Vehicle program, which will use the Power Stroke 6.7-liter turbo-diesel V-8 found in Ford F-Series Super Duty trucks. The company says the new engine is more powerful and fuel-efficient than current engines in battle vehicles. Navistar Defense is proposing its Saratoga light tactical vehicle, which is designed to be flexible, and easy to modify and repair in the field. Both companies are hoping to be selected to provide prototype vehicles to the U.S. military for evaluation later this summer.