The U.S. Army is taking a closer look at composites, considering them on everything from tanks to a concept vehicle for use in noncombat zones.
The MP Hybrid concept vehicle, unveiled April 11 at the Society of Automotive Engineers 2005 World Congress in Detroit, has an all-fiberglass body attached to a lightweight metal chassis. The vehicle is designed for use when it simply does not make sense to roll out a heavy, fuel-guzzling Humvee.
``Composites are looking more and more to be a good choice, not only in cost, but in weight,'' said Hal Almand, light platforms team leader for the Army's Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center.
TARDEC, part of the Army's National Automotive Center in Warren, Mich., created the concept diesel and battery-powered hybrid with Quantum Technologies Inc. and California Motors LLC. Further refinements considered by Klune Industries Inc. of North Hollywood, Calif., would add the capability to switch out the fiberglass body for an armored composite body.
The MP Hybrid is not so much a next-generation Humvee, but rather an update on the Army's Jeep Willys, said Alan Niedzwiecki, president and chief executive officer of Irvine, Calif.-based Quantum.
It is planned as a low-cost vehicle the Army could use on a military base, for instance, to ferry an officer from one point to another. It could be used to patrol borders or at airports, said Dennis Wend, executive director of NAC, which coordinates vehicle development between private industry and the military.
The MP Hybrid has a flat floor, which makes it easy to get in and out of, Almand noted, with four seats and capacity for 500 pounds of cargo.
California Motors of Camarillo, Calif., built the prototypes, designing a 2,000-pound vehicle that has only one steel structural component above the chassis - a roll bar.
The overall design, combined with the way the companies produce the fiberglass through hand layup, along with the system of bonding the inner and outer skins, makes for a rigid body that attaches to the chassis with eight bolts, said California Motors President Mike Kasaba.
The construction and quick-connection system will make it easy to swap out one body style for another, he said.
Using rapid-prototyping tools and software, the companies created the concept vehicles in 90 days.
The proposal was to make something the military could build for $15,000, Niedzwiecki said. The diesel and battery power system uses the same fuel blend already used by the military and takes advantage of existing hybrid components for quick and inexpensive repairs.
The vehicle could come to market ``sometime in the near future,'' Wend said.
Quantum proposes making the composite vehicles if the U.S. government buys into the concept, although there is no guarantee they would go into production - or even retain the existing material, he noted.
The military has been interested in composites for some time, though, Almand said. TARDEC has built two composite tanks for research, and has started using a new composite resin for the hoods of its Humvees. It only makes sense to look at lighter-weight alternatives that would allow the military to get more miles from its vehicles.