March 5, 2014 --
The first four new and improved M9 Armored Combat Earthmovers have arrived on Camp Lejeune, N.C. They might look the same from the outside, but the legacy armored tractors have been completely overhauled.
"From an operator’s standpoint, the only thing the same is the hull,” said Joe Klocek, product manager for Engineer Systems at Marine Corps Systems Command in Quantico, Va. “Everything else is better.”
The M9 ACE is a highly mobile, armored tracked vehicle that provides combat engineer support to front-line Marine forces. Its capabilities include eliminating enemy obstacles, maintaining and repairing roads and supply routes and construction of fighting positions.
As the Department of the Navy's systems command for Marine Corps ground weapon and information technology systems, and as the Marine Corps commandant's agent for acquisition and sustainment of warfighting systems and equipment, MCSC completed the modernization effort that has transformed the M9 ACE.
“There were performance issues and reliability issues that were becoming a major problem,” Klocek said. “The initial system was fielded before Operation Desert Storm so we were dealing with some ‘70s technology.”
That ‘70s tech included intricate hard-piped hydraulic lines, a time-intensive fix and a lever-based operating system that did not allow for a great degree of precision.
Visibility when driving with the legacy M9 ACE’s hatch closed, required during offensive operations, was also severely limited.
“Imagine trying to punch through an anti-tank ditch, 12 feet deep and eight feet wide, and not being able to see anything,” Klocek said. “The upgrades help with that.”
Those upgrades include new hull, improved hydraulic system, a new joystick operating system and a front-mounted camera, according to Capt. Gregory B. Procaccini, the M9 ACE project officer at MCSC.
“I believe the Marines are going to enjoy the way this equipment operates and how much easier it is going to be to maintain,” Procaccini said.
Marines with 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, were able to familiarize themselves with the new M9 ACE on Feb. 26, aboard Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Sgt. Robert Kubach, the operations chief for the battalion, had some time in the driver’s seat of the M9 ACE and was pleased with the upgrades.
“It’s a good piece of gear,” Kubach said. “The upgraded engine really gives this machine more power and it’s able to move dirt more efficiently.”
With more power, the M9 ACE is able to keep up during convoy operations, and does not require being loaded onto a truck, which gives it greater tactical use. Also, with an added camera the M9 ACE is able to be more exact with its movements.
“On the old system it was pretty much done by feel,” said Kubach. “You would have to know your machine, how it feels, how it’s sitting, the sound of the engine; everything played a factor when you were moving dirt. Now, I have the camera in front of me that is looking at how much dirt I have on the blade. And now I have a lot more control over how I move that dirt and how I move the vehicle with the joysticks.”
With all these improvements, the work moves quicker.
So does the dirt.
“With the bigger engine, the joysticks and the camera, I think we should be able to help cut production time and in the missions that we’re doing,” Kubach said.
- Cpl. Michael Dye contributed to this article