Armor: Arming HEMTT With Big Stuff

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October 13,2008:  The U.S. Army is upgrading the land mobile version of the Phalanx anti-ship-missile system it improvised in Iraq. This "Mobile Centurion" was originally developed four years ago, as "C-RAM". It is basically the Phalanx naval gun system with new software that enables it to take data from other radar systems, and shoot down just about any kind of artillery shell or rocket within range. Renamed Centurion, it uses high explosive 20mm shells, that detonate near the target, spraying it with fragments. By the time these fragments reach the ground, they are generally too small to injure anyone. At least that's been the experience in Iraq. The original Phalanx used 20mm depleted uranium shells, to slice through incoming missiles. Phalanx fires shells at the rate of 75 per second. Another advantage of Centurion, is that it makes a distinctive noise when firing, warning people nearby that a mortar or rocket attack is underway, giving people an opportunity to duck inside if they are out and about.

The Mobile Centurion was basically the Centurion and a  generator on a flatbed truck. This enabled the Centurion to be easily moved to protect areas that were suddenly getting hit with rocket or mortar fire. This kept people in the target area safe until troops could hunt down and kill or arrest the attackers. It's usually a small group of people, or even an individual, responsible for these attacks. But with enough time, and the use of UAVs and special radars, the attackers can be located at caught.

The new Mobile Centurion is mounted on the U.S. Army's HEMTT (Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck). Also known as the M-977, these vehicles have a diesel electric drive, thus there is plenty juice for the radar and electric motors of the Centurion system. The 8x8 HEMTT trucks are built for cross country operations and were able to keep up with armored formations during the 1991 and 2003 wars. Most of the 13,000 army HEMTT's normally haul ten tons of cargo or 2500 gallons of fuel. A Phalanx system weighs six tons. The HEMTT began to enter service in the late 1980s, and cost about $200,000 each (depending on special equipment and configuration.) Starting four years ago, the HEMTT fleet began a refurbishment program (at about half their original cost) to give the trucks another ten years of life. This included development of a version that used the diesel-electric drive.

The first C-RAM was sent to Iraq in late 2006, to protect the Green Zone (the large area in Baghdad turned into an American base). It was found that C-RAM could knock down 70-80 percent of the rockets and mortar shells fired within range of its cannon. In the last two years, Centurion systems in Iraq have intercepted over a hundred rockets or mortar shells aimed at the Green Zone. Not bad, since it only took about a year to develop C-RAM. A Centurion system, which can cover an area about four kilometers wide, costs $15 million. The army currently has 22 Centurions in service. Most of them will eventually be mounted on HEMTT vehicles.

The army is also mounting five of its microwave crowd control systems (ADS, for Active Denial System) on HEMTTs as well, and sending at least one of them of Iraq. There have been numerous delays in sending ADS to a combat zone. The politicians and generals are worried about the bad press they are certain they would receive if they used a "death ray" on civilians, or even armed hostiles.

ADS works by broadcasting microwaves at a frequency that makes people feel like their skin is on fire. Tests have shown that no one can stand it for more than about five seconds, before desperately seeking to get away from the area. After 14 years, and over nearly $100 million, ADS has solved numerous technical problems, but appears permanently stalled because of potential public relations difficulties. ADS uses a lot of electricity, so HEMTT will solve that problem, as well as looking even more imposing. Maybe hostile crowds can be intimidated by the mere sight of the ADS mounted on an HEMTT, so the death ray won't have to be switched on.

 


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