8 Great Fighting Vehicles of the US Military
It’s Veterans Day, so if you’re reading this today, thank a veteran, and while you’re at it, thank some of the manufacturers of these wheeled- and tracked heroes. Here are eight you should know about from World War I to the Present: Renault FT-17
Yeah, our first great fighting tank was French. When the United States entered The Great War, it did so without the incredible armament it assembled in World War II. It was up to the French and the British to provide the early machines required to help the United States Army topple the Germans. The Renault FT-17 was the world’s first modern tank, and it was put into use by the likes of George S. Patton, who commanded the first US Light Tank Brigade. It carried a Hotchkiss 8mm machine gun, along with a 37mm Puteaux SA18, single shot, breech-loading cannon. Renault built 3,000 FT-17s, and licensed the manufacture to U.S. companies like Maxwell, but by the time they were delivered, the war was over.
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The United States didn’t have a great track record of building medium-duty tanks in the early days of World War II. The M3 medium duty tank had several design flaws, including a high profile, and a sponson-mounted 75mm cannon that didn’t turn with a turret. The M3 also featured riveted armor that would spray rivets inside the tank when hit by enemy fire. The M4 Sherman corrected all that with a 75mm gun in a turret for a full traverse, along with an improved, welded hull. Despite being outmatched in several ways by the German tanks later in the war, it essentially won the ground war in sheer numbers. Between 1942 and 1955, US defense contractors built over 49,000 M4 tanks and variants.
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The M1 Abrams has been the US military’s main battle tank since its introduction in 1980. Unlike the tanks in use in Korea and Vietnam, the M1 Abrams is designed for modern armored ground warfare, emphasizing mobility, rather than entrenchment. As such, the M1 Abrams features a powerful Honeywell AGT1500C, 1500-horsepower multifuel turbine engine produced at the Stratford Army Engine Plant along the Housatonic River in Stratford, Connecticut. The 67-ton M1 Abrams is capable of 42 miles per hour on the road, and 25 mph off of it, firing rounds from a 105mm M68 rifled cannon along the way. It’s backed with a .50 caliber heavy machine gun and two 7.62mm machine guns, and protects its crew with British-developed Chobham armor, a composite armor constructed of ceramic tiles in a metal matrix, bonded to a backing plate with several elastic layers.
Formerly known as “Truck, ¼ ton, 4x4”, the Willys MB U.S. Army Jeep became the symbol of the American fighting forces in World War II. As the war got underway in Europe, the U.S. Army needed a lightweight, four-wheel drive general purpose vehicle with a 75-inch wheelbase, a 47-inch tread width, a fold-down windshield, and an engine capable of 85-lb.ft. of torque. Oh, and it all had to weigh less than 1,300 pounds. It put the job out to bid to 135 U.S. auto manufacturers. Bids were to be submitted in just 11 days, after which, manufacturers had to build a prototype in just 49 days, and build 70 test vehicles in just 75 days. American Bantam Company was the only manufacturer to submit its prototype in time, but without the production capacity or financial stability to deliver the vehicles, both Willys and Ford eventually built the standardized MB. Willys-Overland won the contract for its powerful “Go Devil” engine, but Ford eventually built 280,000 because after building 363,000, Willys couldn’t keep up with the demand. In total, 647,925 “Jeeps” helped the Allies attain victory.
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M151 Military Utility Tactical Truck
The M151 “MUTT” was the logical extension of the Korean War era M38 and M38A1 jeeps, an evolutionary step in vehicle design. Initially, the M151 was developed by Ford Motor Company, but eventually, production moved over to Kaiser Jeep, and then later, AM General. The M151 has the same basic function as the M38A1, but it was a study in how vehicles evolved in the 1950s and 1960s. Instead of the M38A1’s body-on-frame design, the M151 is a monocoque, integrating the frame rails into the sheet metal body, allowing for much more room inside, lowering the center of gravity, and maintaining light weight of just 2,400 pounds. The M151 also jettisoned the M38A1’s live axles, in favor of a four-wheel independent suspension with coil springs. It offered much greater agility and maneuverability with the unintentional side benefit of a more compliant ride. The first M151s went in service in 1960, and the U.S. military would continue to use them through 1982, when the AM General HMMWV arrived.
The High Mobility Multipurposed Wheeled Vehicle would seem to be at cross purposes to the theory of the original MB, M38A1 and M151 utility vehicles. First of all, they’re massive. Unarmored, the AM General-built HMMWV weighs anywhere between 5,200 and 5,900 pounds, powered by a number of massive V-8 engines. Their width – 7 feet one inch – is almost two feet wider than the vehicle it replaced. But the HMMWV wasn’t designed to replace only the M151. It was designed to replace all of the military’s utility vehicles with one standardized platform. It replaced the M151, but it also superseded the expensive, six-wheel drive M561 Gama Goat, the M718 ambulance, and the Dodge M880 and GM M1008 CUCV pickup-based utility trucks. The AM General HMMWV has since become the backbone of the U.S. military, with over 281,000 in production since 1984.
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The great fire engine builder Oshkosh has been responsible for these massive 8x8 off-road cargo trucks since 1982. Nicknamed the Dragon Wagon, the Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck is built in a half-dozen configurations, including a wrecker, a tractor, a cargo truck and a tanker, and is primarily responsible for supply of combat troops. Because the M1 Abrams is capable of moving so quickly, the military required a vehicle that could resupply those forces. The 38,800 pound HEMTT has been powered by a massive Detroit Diesel 12.1-liter turbodiesel engine that can push this behemoth to 62 miles per hour while powering all eight wheels, through water up to four feet deep. It carries a fuel reserve of 155 gallons, allowing it an operational range of 400 miles. The latest series features a CAT C15/17 inline six turbodiesel.
Produced by Hayes Diversified Technologies, the M1030M1 is a heavily modified Kawasaki KLR650, fitted with a 670cc engine, allowing the United States Marine Corps to run these extremely quick, light weight vehicles on gasoline, diesel fuel, five major jet fuel types or vegetable-based biodiesel. They can travel at 90 miles per hour, making them one of the fastest US military vehicles in service, and at 55 miles per hour, consume fuel at a rate of 96 mpg. Only 400 were ever in service, specifically for the Marines.