The lessons of Objective Peach, the pivotal Thunder Run, and the Second Battle of Fallujah in Iraq proved that modern tanks still have a key role to play as the battlefield’s mobile behemoths – vehicles that can take surprise punches, and dish them out, too. After the dust of the classic armored thrusts dies down, however, tanks spend a lot of time in a very different role. Their protection levels are still valued on the treacherous urban battlefield, but their advanced array of sensors that can scan for long distances through darkness, rain, or worse are equally valuable. Instead of performing classic cavalry roles, modern tanks spend a lot of time sitting in position and performing armed overwatch.
There’s only one small problem with that role, and it’s spelled “MPG”. A tank’s advanced sensors require a lot of power to run. That kind of consistent power means keeping the engine running, just as it would in your car. With 2 problematic results: (1) forget about providing silent or unobtrusive overwatch; and (2) tanks aren’t exactly fuel-efficient, and fuel supply lines are a prime target for guerrillas or terrorists with IED land mines. This makes the tanks’ fuel much more costly to provide on the front lines, while expanding the number of targets presented to the enemy.
The USA’s M1 Abrams tank is unusual, in that it’s equipped with a jet-like turbine instead of a diesel engine. The good news, the 70-ton tanks can move fast enough to risk speeding tickets, were they on America’s highways instead of a battlefield. The bad news is that their fuel consumption is terrible, even by the low standards of main battle tanks.
This may help to explain why early January 2009 saw Walker Power Systems, Inc. in Phoenix, AZ win a $6.6 million fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite quantity contract to deliver upgraded external auxiliary power units (APUs) for the US Marines’ M1A1 tank fleet. The APU is like an independent generator, providing quieter power for multiple systems while the tank’s main engine remains off. The contract also contains 3 one-year options, which could boost its value to a maximum of $17.3 million. Work will be performed in Phoenix, AZ and work is expected to be complete in December 2009. This contract was competitively procured through full and open competition via the Navy Electronic Commerce Office, with 4 offers received by the US Marine Corps System Command in Quantico, VA (M67854-09-D-6005).