MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE ALBANY, Ga. -- Last July, Maintenance Center Albany developed a prototype High Mobility, Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle Egress Assistance Trainer — or HEAT vehicle — following direction from the Commandant of the Marine Corps when he saw an Army version.
After 29 Palms, Calif., accepted delivery of the trainer, the HEAT went through the Marine Corps rigors, testing it on nearly 2,000 Marines. This level of testing revealed a number of upgrades that were necessary.
“We basically developed a HEAT prototype for testing and evaluation in July,” said Gary McAllister, manager Engineering and Integration, MCA. “Now we are receiving recommendations for improvements and we are making those improvements.”
Initially, the HEAT vehicle was a device seen in Iraq by the commandant and he directed the Corps to build one, according to Terry Bennington, project offier, Training Education Command, TechDiv, Quantico, Va.
“HEAT was a device that the Army had created that trains soldiers how to exit from a vehicle in a rollover condition,” Bennington pointed out. “TECOM and the program manager, Marine Corps Training Systems were basically given a photograph and a few dimensions, and we contacted Logistics Command to take on the project.”
LogCom sent a demo model to 29 Palms in July 2006 to support their pre-deployment training program. Their use of the demo revealed a numbe of safety concerns for the Corps.
“We discovered several things,” Bennington began. “The original humvee vehicle is actually designed to roll over one time. When you take this vehicle and start rolling Marines thousands of times, naturally it’s going to start falling apart. Needless to say, the prototype we developed started falling apart during testing – from the seats falling off, to the seatbelts breaking, to the doors falling off – if it wasn’t one thing, it was another.”
Although LogCom fielded a repair team to 29 Palms to fix these problems and keep the prototype up and running, the project manager, Joann Wesley, PMTRASYS, felt a modified prototype was needed.
“The vehicle we are putting out now is a modified prototype,” Bennington said. “(The II Marine Expeditionary Force) will be receiving them, but this is still not the final version.”
Bennington added that LogCom is scheduled to begin work on the final variant in the upcoming months. Meanwhile, II MEF’s training officer arrived here in late December 2006 to examine the modified prototype.
“We were told that we were getting this device and it was coming quickly,” said Lt. Col. Michael Kaine, II MEF training officer. “We were wondering where we were going to put it, but now I see it in its modular form and it’s a small thing that’s going to save lives – it’s phenomenal. You just can’t put a price tag on training or life.
“We have Marines in country right now who are flipping over in humvees and drowning in two inches of water because they hit a culvert (drain crossing under a road), or they just burn to death because they don’t know how to get out – they’re disoriented,” Kaine continued. “So this is going to help save lives by teaching them what it’s going to be like if and when a vehicle flips.”
“I’m an aviator and I’ve got 6,000 hours of flight time,” Kaine added. “I’m very familiar with simulators and looking at this thing I can tell you from a professional standpoint that this will save lives – I’m impressed.”
Since the mid-1980s, when the military chose the humvee to supplant the World War II-era jeep, Marines have been accustomed to driving light-version humvees with canvass doors. With up-armored humvees necessary for the war in Iraq, the increased weight has caused an increase in accidents.
“HEAT teaches Marines how to drive the armored-protected humvees, and, if the vehicle does roll, it’ll teach them how to get out,” Kaine said.
With the focus being on exiting humvees after a rollover, Bennington added that the initial prototype revealed another problem – a seatbelt issue.
“We also learned that there was a seatbelt problem during the initial process,” Bennington said. “Let’s say a Marine is wearing all his 782 gear and he injures his right hand in a rollover, getting his left hand up and over to get to the standard seatbelt device is very difficult. Now we’ve come up with a new three-point system design that actually connects to the center of your chest instead of on your hip, so HEAT actually influenced a change to give us a better designed seatbelt.”
Bennington said that both retired Gen. Michael W. Hagee, former commandant and current Commandant Gen. James T. Conway have seen the HEAT prototype at 29 Palms. As the modified prototypes are made at LogCom, II MEF will be the first command to receive the actual first training device.
“Due to the fact that the Secretary of Defense and the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps are briefed frequently on HEAT, I’m confident that the commandant is well aware of where we are with HEAT,” Bennington said.
“Now that we’re fielding it, I believe we will most likely expand our fielding plan when people see what HEAT is – they’re going to want it for their Marines.”
The Commandant of the Marine Corps provided the initial funding to build HEAT, giving Bennington $900,000.
“We’re looking at about $100,000 per copy (trainer) right now,” Bennington pointed out. “In the civilian world I’d say it would cost about a half million (dollars) to build. LogCom has done a magnificent job in keeping that cost down,” he added.
LogCom is on schedule to build one per month, according to McAllister. Right now there’s a requirement for seven, but Bennington feels that requirement will double.
“LogCom is in the process of building two more HEAT vehicles scheduled to be completed in February,” Bennington said. “One vehicle will be completed every month thereafter until the fielding is complete.”
With the Marine Corps using three Army-version HEAT vehicles in Iraq today, Bennington said those versions are scheduled to remain there, even when Marines return stateside.
The new Marine version differs from the Army version quite a bit.
“The Marine version doesn’t have a humvee cab, we have a manufactured cab that we designed through LogCom; our motor system is different; our reinforcement with steel and framework is different as well as the seatbelt design.”
Considering these upgrades to the HEAT vehicle, Bennington feels a bit more confident in the Marine version.
“Ours is made to last,” he concluded.