When it comes to fighting vehicles, bigger is generally better — except when you want to be able to drive them down the street without crushing everything. The Army's latest purchase is supposed to be the best of both worlds.
Earlier this month, the Army finalized a $461m contract for 423 more M1117 Guardian Armored Security Vehicles (ASV), made by Textron Systems. Here's why.
The High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle or HMMWV — better known as the Hummer — was never intended for sustained combat. It's a nimble scout vehicle designed to move soldiers and gear from one place to another, particularly in urban areas with narrow streets. However, the Hummer does very, very poorly in firefights. When it is "up-armored," the Hummer's engines quickly burn out from the extra few thousand pounds of weight it was never designed to haul. It isn't meant to be armored or deflect explosions from rocket-propelled grenades or IED's. When it became clear that the Iraq war was becoming a long-term mission, the Pentagon scrambled to find a vehicle that was maneuverable enough for city streets but armored well enough to withstand small arms and rocket fire.
It's maneuverable and fast
On pavement, the 260HP, 828 lb-ft 8.3L Cummins diesel can speed the all-wheel drive 15-ton truck along at 70mph and accelerate from 0-20 mph in under 7 seconds. OK, that last stat isn't real impressive, but it can navigate a 60% vertical grade and a 30% side-grade — and navigate urban streets, giving the Army both flexibility and defensive capabilities that the Humvee and small tanks like the Bradley just can't match. It can ford water five feet deep and 4-wheel independent suspension and run-flat tires help keep the Guardian moving.
"This vehicle is designed to bring the crew home," retired Army colonel David Treuting, a Textron representative, told USA Today. Its armor is angled to send explosive blasts like those from RPG's or IED's away from the vehicle, as opposed to the Humvee's flat, more vulnerable profile. It protects against 7.62mm rifle fire, overhead protection from 60mm mortar fragments at 10 meters and 155mm artillery air-burst at 15m. It also protects against IED's with the explosive force equivalent up to 12 lbs. of TNT — dangers that would have the Humvee in a bad state. In Iraq, one Guardian was hit from behind by an RPG — traditionally the most vulnerable area of the vehicle — and it sacrificed itself to keep the crew alive. The shot took out the entire engine, but there were no deaths or injuries.
It scares the bad guys
It's not just defense that the Guardian excels at. The ASV has a turret mounted 40mm MK-19 automatic grenade launcher and a M2 .50 caliber machine gun. The M1117 also has gun ports for all passengers. Plus, it looks badass.
Well, sort of. The M1117 costs around $700,000 each, which is a lot more than an up-armored Humvee which runs about $140,000. However, the Stryker, a much larger wheeled vehicle can cost more than double that, making the Guardian a very good value considering the maneuverability and safety features it brings. One or two Guardians can protect an entire convoy that would normally just have Humvees for defense — a substantial defensive and offensive upgrade.
Soldiers love it
At least these three soldiers do. The M1117 Guardian in this video held up against an RPG and kept everyone safe, though the engine got blown to pieces. "It took the motor out big-time dude. It was still running on five-cylinders... And all three of us are still here... I want another fucking ASV goddamn it."
(Photos by Micha Niskin/Flickr, Staff Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey/U.S. Air Force, Spc. Micah E. Clare/U.S. Army, Staff Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey/U.S. Air Force)