The U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground and its constituent test centers test virtually every piece of equipment in the ground combat arsenal in extreme environments to ensure it will work wherever in the world American forces are serving. To ensure gear can survive the unforgiving rigors of jungle warfare, the U.S. Army relies on Tropic Regions Test Center (TRTC), which conducts realistic evaluations in a variety of tropical locales. Though the deserts of Southwest Asia have been the most common location of American military involvement for nearly twenty years, the majority of the world’s conflicts have occurred in tropical areas, which have ground conditions from dense jungles to savannas with 20-foot tall grasses.
Testing equipment under inhospitable tropic conditions provides insights that may never be discovered in an environmental chamber. Will muddy, biomass-laden jungle terrain destroy the integrity of wheels and tires on a combat vehicle, for instance? One recent TRTC test involved the Polaris MRZR, a military version of the popular off-road vehicle that American forces have used in places like Afghanistan in recent years.The MRZR under test was outfitted with Tweels instead of standard tires. The Tweel, produced by Michelin, is an airless radial tire designed to work like an ordinary pneumatic tire. In addition to the obvious advantage of never having to worry about flat tires, utilizing Tweels has second order effects that are useful for Soldiers.
“It is not as comfortable, but it is sturdier and heavier with a rolling cage. It is more mission-oriented. One reason for this technology is to reduce weight on those small vehicles so you don’t have to carry a spare tire, jacks, or materials to fix a puncture. All of these old mining roads and logging roads were the perfect scenario for the vehicle. The customer also liked the composition of the soils. We added a portion of savanna, which is a sandy terrain with small brushes. It turned out to be very demanding,” said Carlos Mora, TRTC test officer.
The Tweels also have the ability to conform to multiple different terrain types, and can last three times as long as standard tires. Putting the Tweels through their paces on land deep within the jungle of the nation of Suriname that TRTC have utilized in previous vehicle tests gave the evaluation a particularly realistic operational flavor. There was also the added benefit of microclimates and terrain features that are only sometimes associated with the tropics. Tweels are also designed to power through serious damage for far longer than even run-flat pneumatic tires. Using a drill bit, testers damaged the Tweels to simulate as if they had been shot prior to some of the evaluations.