By Reena Jana
Posting in Architecture
DARPA is known for its role in developing innovations such as the Internet; now, the U.S. Department of Defense agency is creating an open design competition to improve tanks used by Marines.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is an arm of the U.S. Department of Defense known for its forward-thinking research and development--namely the roles it has played in creating the Internet and other groundbreaking innovations. And now DARPA is about to engage in a phenomenon that's been trendy in design circles for the last several years: "crowdsourcing." In the case of DARPA, the agency is tapping the public for their ideas on improving the design of military tanks used by Marines on beaches.
So reported James R. Hagerty in The Wall Street Journal. (One of the best parts of his thorough report, I thought, was his somehow both very general and yet very specific definition of crowdsourcing as "a freewheeling collaborative method sometimes used to develop software.") DARPA's vehicle crowdsourcing program is scheduled to kick off within the first half of 2013 with a series of "design challenges" to come up with a new amphibious vehicle for Marines. The tank concept is intended to be used on beaches. The challenges would be part of a competition that the Journal reported could award designers up to $2 million in prizes.
As Hagerty explained, the idea to look for design help outside of DARPA's immediate network reflects a need to find an inexpensive alternative to recently proposed Marine-tank plans. He wrote,
"DARPA got an opening to test its crowdsourcing theories after the Defense Department in early 2011 canceled another project to create a replacement for 1970s-era Marine amphibious vehicles. The military concluded the project, led by defense contractor General Dynamics Corp., would be too expensive—after sinking in more than $3 billion toward development. Pursuing the program 'would essentially swallow the entire Marine vehicle budget,' then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates said at the time."
Of course, one of the biggest and most obvious risks of crowdsourcing design for the U.S. military is that top-secret information related to American security could get into the wrong hands. A DARPA official, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Nathan Wiedenman, is quoted by Hagerty as saying that the technology details won't be "fully open." Yet, thankfully, the new initiative to develop amphibious vehicles via a design competition will be truly open--meaning it actually won't just be a gimmicky free-for-all among amateur inventors. Unknown tank designers will also compete alongside companies (perhaps even including General Dynamics) and academic labs with deep military experience, too. As Hagerty suggested in the Journal, the initiative will likely be a fascinating test not only of the many crowdsourced concepts to surface, but also of the concept of crowdsourcing itself, too.
Image: Photo by U.S. Department of Defense/Casey H. Kyh
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Aug 19, 2012
"Tank" is 1 of those words that's used generically by the public but has a more specific meaning by those in the field. In military circles, the generic term is Armored Fighting Vehicle, a mouthful no doubt, or AFV, because they love acronyms. In this case, the Marines want an AFV (but not a "tank") that's faster in water than any of the plethora of vehicles built by a variety of manufacturers around the world.
Hello and thanks for your comments. We updated the image to better reflect the blog post (was going on limited info from the WSJ article, so thank you again)--and the wise, knowledgeable photo advice is much appreciated. As well as the lively discussion. Both types of feedback help us improve our posts on SmartPlanet!
Your picture shows USMC LAV's. The project is to replace the AAV PV7A1 (Amphibious Assault Vehicle) after the cancellation of the politically popular, but technical failure known as the EFV (Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.) The LAV is wheeled, the AAV is tracked and they have vastly different missions. The LAV is a recon vehicle that is amphibious enough to cross rivers. The AAV is designed to assault beaches from ships off shore through surf conditions. The LAV has an interesting history behind how it was sourced. Several existing and new tracked and wheeled vehicle designs competed until 2 finalists went head to head for what was supposed to be a joint Army/.USMC contract. One wheeled, one tracked. Things got ugly when the LAV won and the Army and its Congressional supporters backed the tracked vehicle instead. That loser later became the Bradly IFV. Decades later the Army regretted the decision and purchased the wheeled Stryker.IAV.
First of all the definition of "crowd sourcing" in this case is very, very limited. What it really means is that the three or four major defense contractors that the gov. normally uses got a little too greedy and now the gov. will spank them by considering broadening it's short list of "special" military contractors. In no case is this going to be opened to the public, or unregistered gov. contractors. As stated "quoted by Hagerty as saying that the technology details wonât be âfully open.â - you betcha it won't be open. Nor will the usual political leverage be lost in the process. Essentially, this is business as usual under a more "trendy" and PR friendly name.
The average Marine commander would like a design with double the current 8 mph water speed of the AAV as long as the new vehicle retains all of the strong points of the AAV design. Handling sea state 5 and the related surf is huge when you do not know what beach you have to hit and when. The EFV could not do that. Any faster than 15/16 mph in the water is a waste for how little time the AAV spends in the water. The EFV promised water speeds up to 30 mph, but sacrificed many of the in water strengths of the AAV. The biggest weaknesses of the AAV are its height, land speed and mine/IED vulnerability. As it spends 95% of its time out of the water these aspects are far more important to the average Marine than water speed. Water speed looks flashy on a press release in Congress or the Pentagon, but land speed and mine protection save lives. It needs to be a better AFV the 95 percent of the time it is out of the water. Beyond the obvious, land speed was less of a concern when the AAV carried infantry and was paired with the Vietnam era M-60 tank. Now that it must work with the M1, the AAVs speed, 45 mph, becomes a liability that slows down the movement of tank / AAV formations. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amphibious_Assault_Vehicle
I have fond memories of AAVs. It is good to see them still looking for a replacement. While reliable they are showing their age. SLEP (Service Life Extension Programs) can only do so much. The EFV had some good capabilities, but many weaknesses. AAVs proved very useful in 2003 by performing several amphibious assaults in the Tigress and Euphrates River plains. The Iraqis were stunned every time they rumbled out of a river at them after bypassing a blown bridge. Since 2007 AAV battalions deployed to Iraq have left their tracks at home and have been manning MRAPs. This was done to take some of the workload off Marine infantry units. Every Marine is a rifleman and the tracker community takes that seriously. The flat bottom design of the AAVs made them very vulnerable to mines and IEDs which was another concern with the EFV that retained a flat bottomed hull.
The photo is of an AAV, not an LAV. The Stryker is not the product of some regret over the choice of the Bradley over the LAV. The Stryker, the Bradley & the LAV all do different things & so are all different from each other physically as well. The M3 Devers (not Bradley) has a broadly similar mission to the LAV. Despite the purchase of thousands of Strykers, the M3 continues as 1 of the reconnaissance vehicles of the heavy brigades.
That is an R7A1 or the recovery variant of the AAV. Nice picture, but if those Marines were in my unit they would get smacked upside the head for hanging out of the hatches that much. In anything other than dead calm conditions that is a very exposed position to be in. The evolution of the jobs filled by the Bradley came out of the vehicles capabilities, not the original project requirements. Being a 20 year advancement in the technology I would hope the Stryker is capable of doing more than the LAV. If it could not I would say the Army got ripped off. I was filled in on all the dirt about the LAV/Bradley mess by a Master Sergeant who was there during the vehicle trials and later testified before Congress on why the Marines wanted to stick with the LAV which met and exceeded the projects goals. I will take his word. Thanks. The cancelled EFV was very fast in the water, close to 30 mph in some tests, but that speed came at a high price. Because of the complex and often balky hydraulics, which they never could get right, the transition from high speed water mode to land mode could take over a minute of sitting dead in the water. The transition also had to be completed in no less than 8 feet of water for the hydraulic actuated panels that folded around the tracks to retract. 60 seconds is far too long to be a sitting target and the vehicle lacked a reliable depth finder so the transition had to be made farther out from the beach than desired. The AAV, while slower than the EFV in the water and on land, could make the transition seamlessly without stopping. A huge advantage in a beach assault. A major problem was the EFV could not handle off shore shoals as well as the AAV. There were strict testing safety parameters that were used to keep it away from shoals and hide this design flaw. A NAVIGATIONAL ERROR (using my air quotes) one day exposed this design flaw. On sandy shoals it would run aground and get stuck like any planing hulled boat would. On rocky shoals it suffered extensive damage that prevented it from traveling at high speed and prevented it from transitioning to land mode. The AAV would just drive over the shoal. Another item that doomed the EFV was a fatal design flaw in the advanced communications system. The IP based communications suite had an operating system that took up to 15 minutes to boot from a cold start. Which meant they had to be powered all the time to facilitate the timely communications required in a Marine combat vehicle. That placed a huge strain on the vehicle batteries.