The Marine Corps' M1A1 Abrams tanks and light armored vehicles that pulled heavy duty in Operation Iraqi Freedom are expected to serve us well until 2015 and 2020. That may sound like a long way off, but it's already time to plan for their replacements.
Actually, the ideal time was about two years ago, when the Office of Naval Research initiated the Expeditionary Systems Material program to develop new materials to increase the survivability of fighting vehicles. The effort will include nano-technologies to make the Marine Corps' future Marine air-ground task force (MAGTF) expeditionary family of fighting vehicles (MEFF-V) lighter, tougher, and smarter.
Six contractors developed new material concepts and fabricated small samples during Phase 1 of this three-phase, six-year program through ONR's expeditionary warfare division. Three have been selected for Phase 2 contracts by a Navy–Army multi-service team, based on technical merit and potential for meeting operational goals among other factors.
General Dynamic Land System will develop lightweight high-strength composite materials for the hull and turret of the new vehicle. United Defense LP, will develop embedded sensors and additional capabilities for smart survivable structures. University of California Davis is looking at multi-scale materials (whose characteristics are determined by phenomena on scales ranging from atomic to macroscopic) by developing ultra-high strength aluminum alloys.
Phase 2 will run through 2005. Phase 3 will encompass fabrication and demonstration of the material selected, leading to integration with a vehicle demonstrator.
The Marines plan to field two MEFF-V variants, an assault vehicle to replace the Abrams and a lighter vehicle to accommodate multiple mission-unique modules configured for the full range of missions now carried out by the light armored vehicle variants. ONR program officer Major Tom Young explains, "As we have seen in recent events, inherent survivability of our vehicles is very important. This work we're doing should allow us to provide future vehicles with significant improvement over our current fielded systems."