The armor on the High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, colloquially called Humvee, has been a hotbed issue as of late. It began in 2004 when specialist Thomas Wilson asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfield, ``Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?''
More than a year later, the Pentagon is still dealing with Humvee armor, just not in the way one might expect.
Warren, R.I.-based TPI Composites Inc. received a $4.5 million development contract from the Army for the research and construction of three Humvees that will be designed and built with plastic composites to make them lighter and more maneuverable, but still adequately armored.
TPI is a resin transfer molder; and during the next 18 months, it will try to replace Humvee's aluminum with glass-fiber-reinforced resin.
The company will receive help from Humvee manufacturer AM General Corp. of South Bend, Ind.
``TPI will be providing the structural composites. [AM] will be providing the vehicle engineering and vehicle components besides the composites,'' TPI Chief Executive Officer Steve Lockard said in a telephone interview Aug. 9.
Craig MacNab, director of public relations for AMG, said: ``This is a research and development project that primarily involves [TPI]. AM will just be making sure their Humvee does all the things it needs to do.''
TPI did not receive the contract by responding to an armed forces broad agency announcement, or BAA. The company submitted its ideas for a lighter, more mobile Humvee to various denizens of Washington, including congressional staffers and military men.
``We have all heard recent stories about soldiers in Iraq with old HMMWV models that aren't adequately protected or are too slow and unreliable because of the heavy armor kits attached to them. These older HMMWV models are being used in a manner different than that for which they were designed. This program starts with a clean slate to create a HMMWV that will optimize the vehicle for weight, armor, mine-blast, durability and mobility requirements,'' Lockard said.
MacNab added: ``We're always looking into new technologies and opportunities to improve the vehicle.''
This is not TPI's first military design project. The firm has designed hoods for Humvees and parts for armored cabs. TPI is in the process of buying land in Springfield, Ohio, for a military manufacturing plant. The R&D for the Humvee will be done at its Warren headquarters.
TPI runs two facilities. It employs 100 in Warren and 300 at a manufacturing plant in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
The Humvees are manufactured at AMG's site in Mishawaka, Ind.
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* Military Humvees have a snorkel kit extending the exhaust and air intake to roof level, making it possible to operate in 60 inches of water.
* There are at least 17 variants of the Humvee in service with the U.S. armed forces.
* The first Humvee prototype, the M998, was built July 1979 by AM General.
* The Humvee is vulnerable to light infantry weapons, but it was never designed to offer such protection in the first place. Incursions into threatened areas were intended to be done with armored personnel carriers or APCs, which are armored vehicles (usually equipped with treads) used to transport infantry.