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MCA's heavy mobile equipment mechanics repair Buffalo MRAPs

28 Jul 2011 | Marti Gatlin

Maintenance Center Albany civilian-Marines rolled the first Buffalo Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected vehicle off MCA's reset project line, recently.

The moment, June 21, began a new era at the maintenance center.  The Buffalo MRAP features several capabilities to include clearing improvised explosive devices. Fielded around 2003, the buffalo MRAP has been used in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Buffaloes on the current line have seen action in Iraq and as these are produced, they will be used as rotation assets for Afghanistan or as home station training assets, according to Blase Goodman, manager, Project Branch, MCA.

"Probably right now, close to 100 people support it and that's going to grow," he said. "It's called the reset program for the assistant program manager office."

These assets will be inspected, completely disassembled, repaired, tested and then reissued, Goodman added.

Debbie Fullerton, project lead, MRAP, MCA, explained how the reset program works.

"The parts are removed from the vehicles and inspected, tested, repaired (if required), painted and reinstalled when the vehicle is reassembled," she said.

Considered a rotation program, Goodman said, "seven vehicles a year will rotate into the maintenance center for reset so that way they constantly are keeping fresh vehicles in the fleet." 

Requirements were developed such as when a Buffalo reaches a certain amount of miles or hours or has damage, it's scheduled for reset, Fullerton said.

Both Fullerton and Goodman said special tooling was developed to handle the process and the components in order to work on the vehicles.

"One of the things we did was include the electricians and mechanics in helping us set up the line as to how it would best accommodate what they needed to do," Fullerton said.

Some of the modifications that have been done, she added, include electrical such as removing an entire dash with its wiring, laying it on a large table on the production line and then performing all of the inspections, testing, repairs and modifications. Once it's all complete, it's stored in a large airtight container until it's ready to go back into the vehicle.

An engine dynamometer capability was also developed to test the engines in a test facility known as a dynamometer facility, Goodman said.

"We have some electricians on the line who are very intelligent and came up with some ways to enhance the program," Fullerton said. "The engines are electronically controlled. There are electronic control units in the engines, the transmissions and the vehicle itself and they all interact with each other."

In order to run an engine, it has to get the proper signal from the vehicle's control unit, she said. An interface box was designed and set up in the dynamometer facility where the control units are integrated into the interface box.

In the dynamometer facility the mechanics can apply the signals electronically to make the control unit think the transmission is engaging so the engine would run properly.

"That's where our electricians helped out - by identifying the requirements, modifying the interface box and programming the software," Fullerton said.

She said during the resets, MCA's heavy mobile equipment mechanics will be installing about 19 upgrades on the Buffaloes such as the air digger, which is an actual compressor that blows compressed air out of the end of the vehicle's claw, to blow away sand without having to dig.

"(It) can blow away sand to see the mine and before (the vehicle operators) just had to dig," she said.

These are suggestions that come back from the Marines to the APM office as far as what they think can improve the vehicle and its functionality, Goodman said.

"Many of these are being developed right here in the maintenance center in the Engineering and Integration Branch," he said.

After the resets are completed, the buffaloes are driven on MCA's test track to get them up to a certain speed for a determined length of time and to make sure the required parameters have been met, Fullerton added.

"Logistics Command (which MCA is part of) has designated the Depot Source of Repair for the Buffalo," Goodman said. "We're currently negotiating the cougar program (another variant of the MRAP) in the schedule to be followed by the MRAP All-Terrain Vehicle (another variant of the MRAP). Logistics Command will be supporting the Marine Corps' requirements for the MRAP depot-level maintenance requirements. MCA currently has people in Kuwait and Afghanistan repairing MRAPs."

Ken Hall, heavy mobile equipment mechanic, MCA, repaired roughly 25 of the buffaloes and the cougars during 2007 and 2008 in Iraq. He received training in South Carolina along with other heavy mobile equipment mechanics on how to repair the vehicles before his overseas service.

"We like to get the vehicle in top-notch condition so the Marines can be safe while protecting our country," he said. "It's changed quite a bit since then. It's a lot better. I feel it's a safer vehicle for the Marines to be able to blow the dirt away, to be able to pick up (the improvised explosive device), turn it over and to look at the object in question and keep them a lot safer. It's been a learning experience. We've come closer as a team as far as working together. (We're) still learning about it every day, learning faster, safer ways to install the modifications we put on (them)."

Hall inspects the buffaloes after the mechanics put them back together.

Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany