Friday, 26 July 2013

Micro Level Trends – Military Vehicles – The US Army Hums a New Tune For Detroit and the World

Since the financial crisis, the sovereign debt crisis and political recognition of over-extended state budgets in even less problematic nations, the news headlines have perpetually publicised the need for, and the social effects of, necessary fiscal controls to reduced government spending.

All under the banner of 'austerity measures'.

The tight fiscal policy plus loose monetary stance has sought to slow public expenditure whilst simultaneous QE continues to pump-prime financial markets. Primarily to buoy the depleted banking sector, yet also strengthening investor friendly large cap companies. The companies themselves using those hefty but declining reserves through the global slow-down.

A worldwide slow-down which consequentially limits previous concerns of western 'stagflation', containing inflation of vital input costs such as labour and commodities. In the meantime business leaders seek to construct the foundations of a new era, typically initially via acquisition to provide scale and latterly organic growth.

So the promise an improved tomorrow, first seen by the green shoots of today

However, today is vastly different to the economic re-births of yesterday.

Past Precedence Nullified -

At any other time throughout the 20th century today's circumstances would have almost automatically induced a full or partial Keynesian reaction, the flexibility of the public purse able to provide sufficient 'economic stabilisers' and provide the long-term funding behind central government's immediate instigation of 'shovel ready' infrastructure projects.

Conversely, for the west the 21st century denies such a simple panacea.

The triple blow of empty Treasury coffers, ageing demographics and increasing loss of the historical knowledge-advantage, all creates shifting economic sands as never really seen before.

[NB Here in the UK, the OBR relays the future need well. The long term boost effects of combined QE and ongoing immigration, with its flexible 1st generation workforce and an 'educationally hungry' 2nd generation, will be able to provide long-term local economic boost].

To state the obvious, the after-effects of 2008-12 have indeed been structural, to a degree never seen before. So through this decade, and perhaps into the next, western mindsets will have, indeed be forced, to fundamentally shift so as to create those new foundations.

Austerity's New Thinking -

Here in the UK, a now well-worn phrase since 2008, itself recycled from WW2, has been “Keep Calm and Carry On”. Whilst seeping such attitudes through societies has helped people to recognise that they face very different times, the adjustment must be followed meeting the challenge pro-actively.

From 2012 onwards then the rally-cry must be that “Necessity is the Mother of Invention”...ideally followed by...”Ingenuity the Father”.

This then translates as seeking solutions which are affordable yet effective. The creation of affordable, zero-budgeted ground-up solutions, as well as rationally evolved solutions, all of which equal or better the status quo.

So, affordable re-hashed old and completely new solutions across industry (in products and services), society (in group activities) and government (in policy-setting and especially so in public procurement).

Tightened Western Military Budgets -

Along with Health, Education and other public-facing service cut-backs, the question of Defense / Defence expenditure has gained ever greater profile Western military budgets under renewed scrutiny regards basic affordability and ultimate cost effectiveness.

Here in the UK discussions have been about downsizing the compliment of full-time personal vis a vis the expansion of reservists, the notion of a shared air-craft carrier with France, and the Treasury's desire to see Britain's 4 nuclear submarines shrunken to either 3 or 2 – the latter figure no doubt tabled to achieve the former.

Obviously, similar budget debates continue with even greater emphasis across Europe, given the level of massive cost savings needed. Ironically during a period when some thought the EU would collapse, the very need to maximise efficiencies will lead to a more militarily integrated, so politically integrated, Europe.

American Defence Expenditure -

The USA sees a similar, though less frenetic process. The opposing forces of national budget sequestration and extended QE ultimately causing less inherent tension than might seem the case.
Nevertheless, in the short and medium term costs are being reduced and the remaining expenditure scrutinized so as to operate in a lean manner, upon central requirements.

As understood, the overall budget remains spread as 33.3% for each of the Army, Air Force and Navy, though the Navy's Marine Corps tends to undertake a disproportionately high level of activity for its size.

Where funding has been heavily cut or stopped, this has arguably caused a vacuum-effect, where recipients and dependants have felt the results. Into this vacuum have stepped an increasing number of NGOs, primarily charities, now assisting serving and ex-service military personnel. One such being Operation Troop Aid with connections to the Army, Airforce, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard. This organisation raises funds via events, charity collections and corporate sponsorship. These initiatives then provide in-direct, though more emotionally tied, publicly and commercially originated funding.

The commercial-military relationship then is most interesting, though it is seen that for the most part commercial charitable funding derives from local and national consumer-facing businesses to gain PR gains, so public affinity and so improved custom, whilst those firms whose prime operations lays with working with the military tends to be rather more removed from the public glare.

Though the USA will experience lesser military budget cuts than European counterparts, savings are still required. Required across much of the value-chain so capital expenditure and variable expenditure regards: strategy and consulting, sponsorship of pure and applied academic research, a rationalisation of internal research and development work, and external development work, delays in full series production for qualified and so ratified projects, in general procurement programmes, as well as massaging the schedule of 'through life' costs for machinery currently in use.

All of these challenges then offer potential opportunities to private enterprise.

The American Context -

Unlike the UK or its European partners, as NATO's figurehead, the United States will undoubtedly seek to maintain its strong military standing.

Since the Soviet 'Cold War' ended in 1989, NATO troops often wore the UN's light-blue helmets to act as peace-keepers as in the Balkans, though obviously participating as nation specific forces in the 1990-1 Gulf War (Iraq War 1) and to a far lesser extent Iraq War 2.

Thus under the auspices of the “War on Terror”, but without a UN mandate, the USA along with closest allies such as Britain had to draw for the most part upon their own resources to try and secure regional regime change in Iraq and Afghanistan. With depleted capabilities and over-spent defence budgets, some political analysts suspect that the multimedia fuelled and chain-reactive 'Arab Spring' since Gaddafi's toppling, was instead designed not to strengthen and democratise the Middle East but to once again divide and disrupt the region; doing so without the high financial and reputational cost of 'boots on the ground' intervention. This conjecture supported by the Egyptian military coup which made a mockery of what had been a democratically elected outcome.

So with Iraq and Afghanistan much settled, and exit time-lines established, and with the Middle East veritably unsettled, and EM leaders concerned with re-orientating domestic economies as opposed to building military capability, US attention is increasingly drawn to broad Asia.

Today, under Shinzo Abe's leadership a more forthright Japan could be viewed as the USA's Asian proxy; as it seeks an 'extended arm' in its own right with soft and hard powers, but also with American interaction. Soft power enabled by the Yen's substantial depreciation so as to enhance its exporting capability and enhance cross-Asian trade, and hard power via the recent Japan-US joint force military exercises which underpin the island nation's rhetoric of moving away from post WW2 demilitarisation.

Indeed, America's regional influence will be seen to grow further if S.Korean troops and Japanese troops are similarly unified, as a counter the notional N.Korean threat, then latterly bolstered by US troops.

Those troops often drawn from the Southern US states (Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee etc) whose own 'country' cultures of self-reliance, practicalness and gun ownership – primarily for hunting, though also last resort self-defence – gives a ready-made 'militia' for US forces.

At home, the US seeks greater North American integration as tries to once again unify its multi-racial 'melting pot', obviously so with a Black President, intending to lessen the previous hostility towards Mexicans, other Hispanics, and of course those of African descent. Understanding that to maintain economic strength, it will once again open its doors to further immigration in the future. A powerful example being Mexican actress Salma Heyek's rendition of the American national anthem recently on the prime time David Letterman Show (10.07.2013). However, frictions still obviously exist, the Trayvon Martin judgement once again upsetting African Americans, with echoes of Rodney King in 1992, leading to the Watts district riots.

[NB Unfortunately though, racism is pervasive and is the direct result of a range of social conflics. from the invisibly subtle to the obvious, and derives as ever from self-interests. Examples exist across the board, typically amongst those who feel themselves marginalised by 'the system' groups and left powerless; these typically low paid blue-collar whites who feel themselves impacted by 'under-cutting' immigration, those poorer african-americans and hispanics yet to reach the middle classes given the historical context of 'socio-economic traps', the last decade's focus on 'islamic terrorism' essentially segregating many muslims. But perhaps most disturbing when amongst supposedly educated people; especially when codified in likewise company, such as the yiddish use of term “schwarzers" ie "niggers" and similar].

Nevertheless, even with ever present 'tribal differences' the natural administrative intent is that of much better homeland integration.

Integration to improve as the economy grows and so opportunities for the disenfranchised appear. Such civil peace then lessens the need for a large National-Guard capacity and expenditure, and so allows the US to deploy a stronger military reach in foreign affairs. Generic national practice, and so little change for the US in this regard.

Yet likewise, it too must make defence budget savings, and seen to do so as part of the 'Federal Debt Ceiling' debate and Budget Sequestration demands.

Though in doing so, proportionately less compared to other nations, given the US's self-reliant posture, its external leadership role and monetary (ie the Fed's 'money printing') autonomy.

Thus the Defence Agenda has a relatively high corollary with the overall health of the US economy. Army, Air Force and Navy spending; plus an secondary trickle-down relationship with public law enforcement agencies and private security firms, indicates that whilst marginal savings will be made, in the long-term QE will ultimately allow the medium-term military budget (as % of GDP) to remain either static or indeed increase.

Yet even with this probability, in the cash restricted short and medium terms (and likely over the long-term) the “Bang for the Buck” quotient will need to be maintained or bettered. And since public accounting appears to be less rigorous than strictly governed commercial accounting, such efficiencies will inevitably be gained through the deployment of private firms undertaking a multitude of tasks.

Expanded Privatisation -

Such a 'new era substitution' previously explored with PMC's (Private Military Company)and PSC's (Private Security Company) as enforcement agencies in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. The likes of America's Blackwater and Triple Canopy amongst foreign others such as Britain's Aegis plc.

Given the nature of the 'work', and the argument that profit-driven privatisation core to the 'US political- military-industry complex' would in fact seek to escalate conflict and peace-keeping tasks in strategically important and high value areas, this is indeed a highly sensitive topic.

Yet, given the increasing restriction of directly public funded forces, privatisation is set to continue at an even greater speed across an ever wider plain, from the upstream activities of leading-edge research and development in highly confidential locations, through downstream activities such as conflict supply logistics, and as seen, in post-war security within hostile environs, and throughout the security and government 'hand-over' process set for infrastructure renewal general economic development.

Amongst these arenas, the migration of unmanned ariel 'drones' from military to civilian applications is well under-way, just as the realm of cyber-security offers an expanding harvest for various private firms.

Within what might be classed as high-value industry, the best known share listed examples are...
of American origin: Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, Boeing, Raytheon and General Dynamics, General Electric and Oshkosh ;
of British origin: BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce (Aero) and the UK government's spin-out of Qinetiq ;
of French origin: Thales and Safran ;
of Italian origin: Finmeccanica; and merged European interest: EADS.

It is notable, that of the top 22 global defence firms, 14 are American

Ultimately, quite obviously, the business rationale of private industry's participation in military projects was and is to enhance value; typically via one, two or all three of the usual triple criteria:

1. Cost
2. Quality
3. Time

All three project issues inherent in the design of a next generation of general ground service vehicles, presently known as 'FED Alpha'.

Before taking a basic view of the new vehicle, it is perhaps useful to better appreciate the background to new hardware programmes.

Scenario Planning -

The start-point for an all new military vehicle design evolves from the 'scenario planning' process. Its basic methodology born partially from ever expanded political science and partly from what was once referred to (especially in the cold-war period) as 'war games'. But in essence it is a conceptualised refinement process which plots the level of likelihood versus the level of impact of important mid-term and long-term themes.

Of vital importance is the time-line being assessed, and the notion of 'origins of threat', or as counter-imperialists would argue, 'strategic theatres', for the single remaining super-power that is the USA.

The primary issue here is that with no matched oppositional super-power since the collapse of the Soviet Union – China and other EMs still militarily much smaller – political science moulds the notion of an anti-super-power threat that is both global yet evasive: ie a changing Islamic Fundamentalism which without conventional central control structures and forces operates in a 'guerilla-like' manner.

[NB See Post Script for investment-auto-motives' interpretation].

The FED Project -

Given that the world is increasingly urbanised, such notional evolution of the anti-US threat means that the combat environment is opposite to that which which the present US vehicle fleet was created in the late 1980s: the open terrain desert-lands of Iraq.

In general utility vehicle terms, that 'open, long distance theatre' called for a massive shift from the similar small vehicles that had been before. These being the iconic Willys/Ford Jeep of WW2 (1940-1945) and its archetype descendants, the M38 (US-Korea War) and Ford M151 'MUTT' (US-Vietnam War). Those replaced in 1984 by the now renowned 'Humvee'.

The Humvee (HMMWV – High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicle) essentially took on an intermediate role that sits between the agile light small Jeep and medium sized trucks. Its name ironically belies the fact that because of its size and weight its actual off-road capability is more restricted than its predecessors. At the time this made little sense to specialist off-road development engineers, especially amongst military equipment providers such as Land Rover Defender and the then Steyr-Daimler-Puch Pinzguar.

However, its specifically designed competence was latterly understood and came to the fore during the 1990s and 2000s Gulf Wars.

A New Era:
Today however, as seen, with threats from a different intra-urban environment the overly-large, unwieldy and fuel thirsty Humvee (marketed in civilian guise as the original H1 Hummer) is now viewed as less suited to tomorrow's needs.

Thus it seems US Forces seek to return to the use of both a smaller 'tactical vehicles', a type off-road able multi-task vehicle (LTV) and increased use of medium-size (MTV) trucks.

[NB The Army operates approximately 300,000 tactical (dark green and light green) vehicles and about 200,000 non-tactical (white); though a necessary flexible-use policy means that many can be 'de-contented' (down-graded) for non-combat theatre roles, or retro-fitted (up-graded) for combat theatre roles].

Hence initiation of the formal FED project (FED = Fuel Efficient Demonstrator) relating to the former 'LTV' which ran through 2009/10 and offered its concept hardware results in July 2011.

Although now two years later, the project is well-worth review given that it sought to be a marked step forward in its reduced-mass ethos. Whether the recommended solutions are able to remain under near to mid term budget pressures remains to be seen.

'Internalising' the Idea:
To promote a new FED vehicle project and outcome, Army seniors instigated the idea that the troops 'on the ground' should become involved. To this end, the 'home-grown' ELSORV initiative was born, in which a select band of 4x4 enthusiast soldiers designed and self-fabricated four high mobility vehicles with the notional intent of front-line logistics support. These used the far-corner wheel locations and long suspension travel seen on 'rock-crawler' and 'mudding' buggys. But beyond their back—yard capability, their real intent is to prepare the path for a productionised FED related truck.

Overall responsibility for inception and delivery of the FED prototyping project was held by the US Army Material Command, specifically via its 'TARDEC' section (Tank and Automotive Research and Development Engineering Centre) located in Warren Michigan. TARDEC in turn communicates with external organisations via NAC (National Automotive Centre), which marries the efforts of other government agencies, academia and the commercial entities within automotive sphere.

The Brief:
The project's general engineering brief objectives were to:

1. Improve upon Humvee fuel efficiency by 30% (7 mpg)
2. Improve over Humvee general capability
3. Improve over Humvee safety and survivability

Its specification accords to what the US Army refers to as MRUV-1, (Mine Resistant Utility Vehicle – Class 1) of 3 'MRAP' (Mine Resistant Ambush Protection) categories.

Competing Teams:
Two competing teams were established 'Alpha' and 'Beta', so as to create a motivational dynamic, but more so to evaluate different technology, cost and delivery paths.

To reach beyond the innate limitations of conventional US Army vehicle development procedure and practice external assistance and leadership was contracted, so as to gain a level of knowledge transfer between outside engineers experienced in wide-ranging arenas, and the arguably closed in-house environment of the US Forces. To this end TARDEC allowed for its engineers to become 'embedded' externally.

The engineering solution and vehicle demonstrator offered by the 'FED Alpha' team eventually won the contest; as led by Ricardo Engineering.

Ricardo plc:
This listed British company highlights itself as a high-value, multi-technology adept, engineering thought-leader to the world; in this instance boosting US-UK relations. Its roots lay in vehicle design and development, however re-imagined for the 21st century it sought to hold a broad portfolio of capability, with leaning to eco-tech applied across various fields including 'new-energy' such as wind-power generation and electric and hybrid vehicles. Though as previous governmental green-funding diminished it has partially re-set its income ambitions toward providing high-value content in more stable sectors, such as revived automotive, marine, civil engineering projects and and the military. It has facilities in Detroit.

Leading the FED Alpha team, it operated as lead solutions provider, supplier 'conductor' and overall systems integrator on the final demonstrator; which included mixed material applications across structural and skin parts, consisting of steel, aluminium and composites

The Demonstrator:

[NB The details below gained from various sources, including 'RQ', Ricardo's PR magazine]

The 4-seater, 75 mph, 30 gallon short-range, 'role-adaptive' vehicle concept centred around as lightweight and fuel-saving philosophy as possible, with an approximate mass of 15,000 lbs / 7 US tons versus a current average beyond 20,000 lbs

Advanced Tech:
1. Aluminium frame with 'clap-hand doors' (access-egress) and integrated 'V-Hull' (blast deflection)
2. Carbon-fibre body panels
3. Aluminium components (radiators, suspension parts, brake callipers)
4. Titanium components (suspension coil struts)
5. Electrically powered ancillaries (fans, pumps etc) avoid mechanical 'parasitic loss'
6. Conventional wheel hubs – not Portal 'Geared' Hubs
7. Aluminium wheels
8. 'Low-drag' brakes

Intermediate Tech:
9. Goodyear low resistance tyres
10. 'Super-finished' differential gears (extends life-time)
11. Kollmorgan starter-generator (28V)
12. Constant levelling suspension system
13. Solar panel (trickle charge) rear mounted

Matured Tech:
14. Supercharged and turbo-charged Cummins 4-cylinder diesel engine (200hp, 568 lbs/ft torque)
15. Aisin 6-speed transmission
16. Part-time 4WD
17. Brake system operated ABS and TC

This 'set-up' chosen to achieve best possible performance figures across various 'drive-cycles':

A. Highway/Convoy
B. Off-Road Assault Mission
C. At Idle for Equipment Powering

These modelled parameters allowed for general understanding of what may be required to achieve the set fuel-efficiency target. Whilst a basic aluminium vehicle architecture was determined, it was presented to TARDEC with varying 'up-grade' routes on core systems such as engine-type configurations.

Given the weight-loss advantage of the aluminium structure, even the most conventional engine choice, using mature or in-market items, gave a very healthy efficiency improvement, more than doubling the original 30% improvement, and with the 'Rankine Cycle' system introduced to capture and re-use heat losses it reach over 100% improvement.

Given that the simplest and most cost effective propulsion technologies had beaten the target by a wide margin, they were elected for detailed development.
Test Regime:
The vehicle was twice tested for fuel-economy against a similarly specification Humvee, with roof-mounted weapons system, and given additional ballast to 'top-up' its payload weight to equal the mass of the Humvee. Drivers switched vehicles between the first and second tests to minimize human input variation, traversing paved and gravel roads and across the load range from long-idle to full-load acceleration.

FED Alpha surpassed the Humvee with a 72% improved fuel-economy, equating to a 42% reduction in the amount of fuel used when running at a GVW of 15,200 lbs / 6.9 tonnes, aswell as notably improved all-round performance.

Ricardo states that this outcome reflected the generally expected result as predicted by its computer simulation work previously – within 2% - a methodology many engineering consultancies are marketing so as to reduce the physical prototyping process.

TARDEC seemingly enthusiastic about the increased reliance upon software simulation.

The project undoubtedly allowed TARDEC what appears a much improved view into the contemporary world of automotive concept engineering, that capability made available from the varied mix of mass-volume and niche-volume systems solutions that have emerged over many decades.

And undoubtedly the FED Alpha vehicle reached and possibly surpassed TARDEC expectation.

Ongoing Doubts:
However, ultimately the vehicle's structural DNA may prove too unconventional for what appears a very deep but narrow band of US Army technical knowledge and capability.

Whilst one Army officer states that front-line 'structural repairability' is no longer an issue, given that a mine-blasted vehicle whether aluminium or steel is essentially operationally defunct and would need too be replaced like for like, the fact is – as any commander will atest – that in hostile operational situations, with invariably limited manpower and hardware resources, an innate flexibility to scavenge all available components, hold a store and repair the vehicle fleet as soon as possible invariably using standard processes and equipment is invaluable.

And as seen by the home-grown ELSORV project, many of the US Army's front-line soldiers have impressive design and build capabilities in traditional mechanics, that practical knowledge very much engrained within TARDEC, given its Michigan presence and across the motor-pools of all the US forces.

FED Alpha: A “Catwalk Vehicle” ? -

It cannot be argued otherwise, but TARDEC's decision to develop FED Alpha over FED beta is to be congratulated. The process allowed for invaluable learning for the engineering managers and staff to appreciate the speed and variation regards vehicle development beyond its own walls.
That said, the ability to directly transfer FED Alpha into “field conditions” looks unlikely.

Without innate detailed knowledge of the project investment-auto-motives will highlight some of the vehicle disadvantages which would prove problematic in situ.

Body System: the aluminium structure massively assists in weight-saving but even with the V-Hull to deflect blasts, given that even hardened aluminium as a material has far less density than plate steel any substantial blast would send a larger shock-wave through the vehicle cabin so increasing the potential for external and internal organ damage of the occupants.

Furthermore, as explained, any damaged and base-returned vehicle, if unrepairable must offer at best spare parts and at worst material re-use. Steel offers this high potential for 'recycling'.

Suspension System: the fitted electro-mechanical self-levelling suspension system creates an occupant environment problem. Whilst maintaining impressive ride and poise it also appears unfortunately noisy and by its very nature audibly irregular. If it was a low volume, low pitched regularly-time noise it would be less irritable to driver and passengers. Better still obviously no noise.
This has been the case for decades with standard torsion bar, or coil and damper or even leaf-springs. Self levelling systems are advantageous, especially when towing trailers, but need to be as simple as possible.

Aluminium Components: Items such as radiators, suspension parts, brake callipers etc could indeed be produced in aluminium, so adding to mass reduction, but such items should also be re-produced and so made replaceable in cheaper steel equals.

Reduced Rolling Resistance: the 'low drag' brakes and 'reduced resistance' tyres offer much for test conditions, but less so in service. The low-drag aspect of brake callipers which constantly keeps brake shoes off the disc-face is typically reliant upon small tensioner clips etc which wear-out on all but smooth surfaces. The 'low roll' tyres likewise may prove less than adaptable given that their compound material may be overtly hard so as to reduce friction and the side walls may be overtly strengthened likewise, so reducing the usefulness of intentionally lowered tyre pressures over very soft terrain

Standard Wheel Hubs: these give the greatest indicated clue as to FED's future as reverting to a conventional / traditional truck engineering package

[NB The Portal style geared hub is effective but costly, heavy and can give high-speed overheating problems. It is seen on the Humvee, as well as previously on the VW Kubalwagen, Steyr Hafliger and Pinzguar, Mercedes Unimog, various Tatra and UAZ vehicles and specially adapted others. The Portal axle effectively puts an additional gearing set into the wheel hub so enabling even greater reduction gearing for greater torque, and as importantly raises the axle height to give better under-body clearance. Hence its favoured use by Eastern European and German forces often in mountainous and boggy terrain].

Importantly, as seen standard vehicles can be adapted with bolt-on' portal gearing as required, so providing a cost vs performance flexibility.

Quite obviously TARDEC well appreciates the finite disadvantageous details which FED Alpha proffers as a natural consequence of its engineered advantages. And investment-auto-motives and this web-log is not the natural forum for deep critique.

One Army officer leading the project foresaw that some of the emergent ideas would be retro fitted into current fleet. This makes sense regards the trickle-charge solar panel, which given its low cost could well become a standard feature to all vehicles.

Yet other design elements will very probably be carried forward, including the 'clap-hands doors which provide easier access and egress and in combat would provide front and rear ballistic barriers above knee-height when exiting the vehicle.

This feature has been seen on previous standard versions of the 'short-door' Chevy Silverado, and is an easily engineered fix for its larger GMC cousin and similar from Ford.

Logical Conjecture:
To this end, although not obviously stated by the Army, investment-auto-motives suspects that Army chiefs and procurement functions deliberately elected this simpler vehicle package, recognising that it has the option of utilising less sophisticated materials and allow for the ability to devise a 'combinational parts' strategy which, as with any prosaically intelligent platform strategy, allows for a myriad of 'mix and match' performance dedicated versions.

So although similar basic dimensional layout and similar drive-train, but instead comprised of mostly steel. Plus steel-related manufacturing such as 'super-finishing' on moving parts to reduce parasitic losses and so aid MPG whilst extend the life-time durability of the drive-train.

Most likely specific aluminium parts for items such as hood, suspension parts and other 'blast sacrificial' items could be used to assist in mass-reduction, expensive carbon-fibre not being used for skin panels unless those same panels can provide an ingenious high-value dual use such as removable ballistic personal shields.

Moreover, critically production vehicles will probably integrate greater eco-tech on a needs-must and cost-advantage basis, very probably in a 'bolt-on' manner. As such as the solar panel, the starter generator etc which then add-up to a value-additive sum that is greater than the cost-amortised parts.

Such solutions though would need to be planned into a schema that begins with the massive cost savings provided by procuring a conventional, ideally off-the-shelf yet highly adaptable vehicle platform.

The obvious candidates are the Ford F-350 to 550 chassis, GMC Sierra 3500HD to Kodiak chassis and Dodge Ram 3500 to 5500 chassis.

Looking to the Past -
In the early 1980s the US Army procured a sizeable amount of off-the-shelf vehicles to work in 'white' and 'light green' guises, then most notably Dodge pick-ups.

More recently in the early 2000s the Canadian forces procured the 'militarized' Chevy Silverado, an adapted version of the standard vehicle nicknamed 'Milverado'.

The US military uses a land vehicle classification system know as the “G-series” which is based upon families of vehicles which utilise the same engine, transmission and drive-line.

Hence the procurement and deployment of a standardised vehicle base would therefore reduce the mechanics of fleet variation, and so simplify inventory complexity and enable greater volume order savings.

It is an ethos seen before during fiscally constrained periods, so a case of re-learning much of what is possibly forgotten.

“Wheels to the World” -

If the conjecture of investment-auto-motives is correct, and because of budget pressures and the findings of other projects (such as ELSORV), FED Alpha actually morphs into a “Standard+” type of vehicle, then investment-auto-motive's idea that the US is actually seeking to develop an 'exportable' Light Tactical Vehicle to the forces of the world, would be ratified.

In this case the FED Alpha could be considered the “Military Model T” (from whichever supplier, Ford, GM or Dodge...even all 3).

Itself seeking to gain orders from global forces. Generally allied armies which must accept the new product given the discontinuation of the Humvee, and additionally those other typically EM forces which have to date used out-dated vehicles, some of which stem from the Soviet era. Whilst some mid-tier EM nations are indeed developing their LTV type vehicles, these are often themselves based upon now ageing western vehicle platforms and so cannot compete on performance criteria. Whilst other nations such as Nigeria have utilised previous Malaysian tooling to create its basic Pf1 LTV. Lastly such an American Model T would also compete against the specialist developments of necessarily geographically self-reliant countries such as Australia, which has created the design dedicated Hawkei to replace its now antiquated Perentie vehicle.

Critically the Australian government is also open to 'market available' product, of which a Militarised Model T

[NB Full examination of the competitive field requires review of “Jane's Military Land Platforms”]

Sales Prospecting -

An off-the-cuff estimation highlights that such a conventionally engineered, up-gradeable 'Son of FED' could be attractive to the following forces:

- NATO Forces

Allied Defence Forces:
- US Host Nations (ie Saudi Arabia, UAE)
- Israel
- South Africa
- Japan

Combat Situations:
- Iraq ('Hand-Over' Forces)
- Afghanistan ('Hand-Over' Forces)
- Syria (Oppositional Pro-Western Forces)
- Egypt (New Pro-Western Leadership)
- North African and Sub-Saharan Countries

EM Nations -
- Brazil
- India

The attraction herein is obvious with either allied nations seeking , 'new-friend' nations after regime change, or transitional nations seeking regime change. And whilst suffering their own economic slowing certain EM countries now have an overtly strong FX value versus a depleted US Dollar, so making modern foreign military equipment appear more affordable (though it must be said that such procurement would be mainly directed at high-advantage missiles, tanks, aircraft and drones as opposed to infantry vehicles who's success tends to be more of a in combat 'numbers game'.

Military Stimulus for Bankrupt Detroit -

Such an outcome would indeed become a key piece of the “renaissance jigsaw” for the city of Detroit.

The city is now in an $18.2 billion deficit hole, with a long-time value-destroying civic business model, that saw its interest charges grow without the ability to repay the capital borrowed from various sources. Bankruptcy was always just around the corner, and now finally here.

Its city administrators, emergency manager Mr Orr, Michigan’s State Senators and Judge Rhodes presiding over the Chapter 9, all understandably seemingly at a loss as how to fairly execute the bankruptcy and, as importantly exactly how to revive the city's fortunes.

The resurgence of the broad US economy across all industrial sectors will, as now seen, generate new demand for full-size pick-up trucks, aswell as of course mid-size and large 'semi' trucks and passenger cars.

The northern states, and perhaps Michigan specifically has been the production home of the pick-up, with the Chevy Silverado manufactured in Flint MI (and Indiana and Mexico), the Ford F-series in Dearborne MI (and Kansas, Mexico and Venezuela) and the Dodge Ram in Warren MI.

The large production volumes, the impressive per unit margins and the importance of such trucks to the vibrancy of the local supplier-base and so state economy cannot be over-estimated. So the additional value that could be gained from these 'base platform' replacement military vehicles for the US forces and overseas forces is impressive. It could potentially run to near one million units.

Importantly, unlike the foreign manufacturing plants used for standard pick-ups, the fact that each vehicle would need a modicum of 'militarization' (communications packs, water fording, armouring etc) means that this specialist work would be done in Michigan.

This in turn could call for a dedicated 'Militarisation Engineering Centre' within each plant, but more likely GM, Ford and Dodge conjoining forces in a specialist singular location.

Given the re-emphasised importance and value of agricultural land – as per Jim Rogers' outlook – it is the regeneration of brownfield sites that state policies must continue to be directed toward; particularly so Detroit in Michigan's case.
Thus, there could be an argument that amongst the municipality’s inevitable asset divestment programme (art treasures to derelict property lots) that the City of Detroit effectively offer 'gratis' a large location within its boundaries to a newly created SVO company set-up by the Big 3.

[NB Iveco, the truck unit held under FIAT Industrial SpA, though similarly run by Marchionne, would also probably tender for full production. Iveco no doubt integrating with Dodge to re-offer its historical offering of building military vehicles].

Doing so would re-energise that and broader reaches of the City and very probably attract domestic and foreign firms and investors.

To Conclude -

Though the FED was built in advanced materials, the basic mechanical package is actually relatively conventional.

So much so in fact that investment-auto-motives believes that the US armed forces will replace portions of the Humvee fleet with modified versions of standard 'off the shelf vehicles' for basic 'white' and 'light-green' and possibly even 'dark-green' uses.

The inclusion of standard OEM systems such as driver interface, ABS and Traction Control on FED, as available on Ford, GM and Chrysler (Dodge) trucks adds to the likelihood.

Furthermore, some systems on-board FED appear overtly problematic, one such example offered being the bothersome noise of the (possibly expensive) constant levelling system, suggesting that standard coils and shock absorbers would reduce cost and improve the cabin experience.

The US Army would most probably maintain a shrunken fleet of 'dark green' Humvee's for dedicated roles, able to mechanically strip-down those take out of service for use as spare parts reserve to enable the life-extension of motor pool vehicles. 

Importantly, unsurprisingly the US has a good number of specialist vehicle constructors, including the likes if LENCO which builds adapted and specialist armoured vehicles for the military, enforcement agencies, police, and security services.

Thus it would be rational to suggest that ultimately a much pressurised Army Procurement division will insist that the progeny of the FED project befit the necessary cost savings available from the volume purchase of standard heavy duty chassis from the Detroit 3.

To have those vehicles initially adapted by various SVO (Specialist Vehicle Operations) 'Outfitters', whilst developing a dedicated 'Big 3' site; then possibly acquiring the 'Outfitters' companies in due course to build up sizable core capabilities.

[NB Such firms have innate knowledge in this sector and have previously given solutions transfers between sectors, for example the use of baffled radiator grills to stop small arms fire from damaging the radiator].

This then accords with the previous investment-auto-motives' web-log which by virtue of macro-technical trends deduced that the US would indeed maintain its mid-tier technology focus. Not climbing to high up the specialisation ladder, so that it could continue to benefit from EM regions' previous adoption and steady uptake of evolutionary improved conventional technologies.

The Take-Away Picture -
But perhaps fittingly, the best mental image which sums up the present – indeed ever present - US Army technical perspective can be gained from the film 'Forrest Gump'.

In one scene whilst serving in Vietnam the simple southern boy is stood surrounded by Army tents, a truck, goods buggy and fuel trailer. A nearby board reads 'Alpha Company'...'Old Reliables'.

And in reply to others' criticism of his overtly simple manner, Forrest says “Stupid is as stupid does”

The US Army, the Big 3 Auto-Companies and the City of Detroit could do worse than follow Forrest's example.

Post Script -

The modern US viewpoint – whether truly plausible or the product of national security paranoia – is that whereas once the apparent threat was nation-based, and leadership-based as seen historically up to the near end of the 20th century, the apparent threat since “9-11 2001” (11th Sept 2001) has been supposedly ideological.

So very unfortunately returning to the overtly simplistic, highly tribal, aspect of religion – which ironically itself sought to unify warring local tribes over natural resources and population size - in turn superseded by the notion of nationhood.

The religious aspect, so turning back the clock, is very unfortunate since there are far fewer major religions than nations, which therefore encapsulates an ever greater number of people, even if they 'non-practising'.

It is for this reason that Soviet Russia previously sought to raise national identity over religious identity, as China does so today, recognising that its re-rise in power could fragment national unity.

Thus rather like George Orwell's 1984, one sad outcome of globalisation, and specifically 9-11, has been to possibly create the 3 great supra-powers: Western Christianity (Oceana), Middle-Eastern Islamism (Eurasia) and Eastern Hindu-Buddhism (Eastasian).