After the Allies landed at Normandy on D-Day during World War II, keeping the front line well supplied was vital to maintaining the foothold that the Allied Forces had fought so hard to win in the first place. Due to damaged French rail lines, the only way to move supplies was by convoy. Called the Red Ball Express, the convoy employed nearly 6,000 trucks at its height and was able to move about 12,500 tons of critical supplies per day.
It seems fitting that the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) awarded their inaugural Red Ball Express Award, bearing the name of this urgent and necessary ground endeavor, to the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle (MRAP) Joint Program Office (JPO). NDIA presented the award to the MRAP team in February at the Tactical Wheeled Vehicle (TWV) Conference in Monterey, Calif.
The Red Ball Express Award goes to a government organization, industry organization or individual proved deserving through significant contributions to national security by developing or procuring TWVs, or contributing to technology critical to TWVs. This specific award honors accomplishments from April 1, 2010, through March 30, 2011. MRAP’s award recognizes two of the team’s procurements in that time period: the MRAP Recovery Vehicle (MRV) and the MRAP All-Terrain Vehicle (M-ATV).
Dave Hansen, Marine Corps Systems Command’s Joint Program Manager for MRAP, and John Rooney, MRAP JPO’s Technical Director, accepted the award to acknowledge all the work the MRAP JPO team has accomplished since its founding in October 2007.
“This is supposed to be an award for a group or body who exemplifies not only TWVs, but who has the greatest impact on them going forward,” Hansen said. “We thought we had a pretty good path going forward for the award thinking that MRAP has affected all TWVs, at least in the survivability category, because almost everybody’s survivability criteria have gone up because of us. Everyone always says ‘MRAP levels of protection’ now, and that’s a testament to the work we’ve done here.”
According to Hansen, the MRV stands as the most capable and complex recovery vehicle the Department of Defense has ever fielded. It employs an elevating, rotating and extendable 30-ton boom; dual boom winches; towing winch; and an independent underlift capacity with an articulated towing crossbar. The vehicle can tow up to 55,000 pounds and offers the same level of protection as the rest of the MRAP family of vehicles (FOV).
Only 147 days passed between contract award and fielding of the first three MRVs.
“It’s a very complex vehicle, so getting from contract award to fielding in such a brief time is a huge accomplishment,” Hansen said. “The other MRAP vehicles concentrated on protecting people inside the truck. This one protects the people inside, plus it has thousands and thousands of pounds in towing capacity, additional recovery capabilities and much more.”
According to the award nomination, the MRV’s manufacturer took a risk and initiated production based on a preexisting truck model of theirs before there was a firm requirement. This risk made the MRV’s rapid fielding possible.
The acquisition process for the M-ATV was also very rapid, with the request for proposals going out in December of 2008 and the contract award coming seven months later in June 2009.
“That was a competitive source selection and we had several competitors – just about anybody who did anything in the TWV community competed,” Hansen said. “For a major truck program to be competitively bought inside of seven months is pretty impressive, too.”
That tight timeline is also impressive because the M-ATV was born out of a tricky requirement: Make a lighter, more maneuverable vehicle that can tackle Afghanistan’s rugged terrain while still offering MRAP-level protection.
“The M-ATV had to be under 25,000 pounds, and our closest MRAP that we previously bought was in the 38,000-40,000 pound range,” Hansen said. “We really did push industry to come up with a design that could still protect four passengers and a gunner at the same protection levels as every other MRAP vehicle.”
Once the M-ATV was designed, tested, produced and fielded, the trucks quickly rolled off the assembly line.
At the start of the Red Ball Express Award period, 1,000 M-ATVs had already been fielded and more were coming at the rate of about 500 trucks a month. Another 5,700 vehicles would enter the field in the next year, taking the total number of M-ATVs fielded to more than 7,000. The contract also provided for new training as there is little commonality between the M-ATV and the rest of the MRAP FOV.
Despite the reduction in weight and other differences, according to MRAP officials, the M-ATV provides protection similar to the line of vehicles that has set a higher standard for personnel protection in TWVs.
“The M-ATV is equal to any other MRAP that we have out there today,” Hansen said. “We do extremely well at saving lives and that’s the number one thing. Lots of people are still here because of the M-ATV and all the other MRAPs. You always hear the number of people that MRAPs have saved and the actual number is classified, but it’s a very significant number however you look at it.”