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Summer 2003 Vol. 3 No. 2

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Ground assault convoy with 2nd Brigade of 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) prepares to move into Iraq, U.S. Army photo by Joshua M. Risner Army Agility Depends on Modern Mobility

The Army's modernization plan envisions the capability to defeat any threat to national security, whether from small groups of terrorists or full-scale forces equipped with sophisticated weapons and tactics. Trucks and trailers, which are responsible for transporting personnel, equipment, food, water, ammunition, and fuel once on the ground, represent the backbone of military operations. But the Army's current truck fleet is aging and becoming less effective over time.

To support a more agile military force and ultimately reduce logistical burdens and costs, the Army is focusing on the benefits of using high-strength, lightweight materials. It turned to the National Research Council to evaluate and recommend R&D opportunities for new manufacturing processes and materials that could reduce vehicle weight, improve fuel efficiency, increase resistance to corrosion, and lower costs over the lifetime of the vehicle without compromising safety.

Several commercially available materials and technologies can be used now to improve today's Army truck fleet, says a new report from the Research Council. For example, high-strength steels could reduce weight while maintaining protection, and aluminum and magnesium alloys could replace steel altogether in some components. Also, ceramic- and metal-matrix composites could decrease the weight of braking systems with no sacrifice in performance. These materials and processes are increasingly being used in commercial trucks and trailers, but to a lesser extent in Army trucks.

The Army could stimulate new advances in lightweight materials and manufacturing technologies within private and academic sectors by investing directly in their R&D programs, the report adds. Good candidates for long-term investment include titanium, because of its enhanced armor and anticorrosive properties; "smart" materials that can respond to stimuli like heat and vibration to improve performance; and metal-processing technologies that could be used to repair trucks and produce spare parts in the field.

The report identifies opportunities for lightweight materials research and development that are achievable over short, medium, and longer time frames for structural components, such as vehicle frames and drive trains. Programs to retrofit or remanufacture older trucks are also discussed in the report, as are ways to better track the age and condition of vehicles and to improve the process for soliciting and procuring bids.   -- Barbara J. Rice

Use of Lightweight Materials in 21st Century Army Trucks. Committee on Lightweight Materials for 21st Century Army Trucks, National Materials Advisory Board, Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences (2003, 112 pp.; ISBN 0-309-08869-0; available from the National Academies Press, tel. 1-800-624-6242; $26.75 plus $4.50 shipping for single copies).

The committee was chaired by Harry A. Lipsitt, professor emeritus, department of mechanical and materials engineering, Wright State University, now living in Yellow Springs, Ohio. The study was funded by the U.S. Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command.

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Copyright 2003 by the National Academy of Sciences