WASHINGTON -- The Army is hoping an age-old invention will solve its need for a 21st-century combat vehicle capable of quickly transporting troops and supplying them with adequate firepower.
Notable for a rather simple traveling device -- a set of eight wheels -- the Army's next generation of fighting machines was displayed Wednesday at a Capitol Hill show-and-tell.
The Interim Armored Vehicle won't replace the tank, a staple of military land superiority since World War I, but the Army contends it is better equipped for urban settings where most modern conflicts take place.
That the two show models easily traveled through Washington's streets for the event highlighted the advantages the vehicles have over the traditional tank and its metal tracks.
"It's an armored taxicab basically," said Pfc. Shaun Ratcliff, who is stationed at Fort Lewis, Wash., and has trained in the new vehicle. "Because of its expedience, we'll have fresher troops, less likely to get injured, less likely to make mistakes. It's a smarter way to fight for the entire military."
Fort Lewis will be the first installation to try out the initial version of the carrier. It is expected to receive the first 309 vehicles by summer 2003, with five more brigades equipped later. A total of 2,131 vehicles should roll off the assembly line by the end of the decade, at a price tag of $4 billion.
The line of 10 different models is currently called the Light Armored Vehicle III, but the Army could decide to rename it. The vehicles will have specialties ranging from reconnaissance to medical evacuation to fire support.
With Fort Lewis troops on hand to show off the vehicles at the Capitol, members of Congress and the public walked inside models of an infantry carrier and a mobile gun system. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki also stopped by.
The infantry model features two padded benches for up to nine troops, a computer monitor that acts as a rearview mirror and a ramp that opens from the back. It is barely wider than a commercial Jeep and isn't as long as a school bus.
Currently the only known Achilles heel for the vehicles is razor wire, which sometimes can disable the wheels. The vehicles on display Wednesday may be altered with technological advancements, but the Pentagon has basically proclaimed wheels as the wave of the future.
With them, the vehicles are quieter, can reach speeds of 60 mph and are transportable in C-130 cargo planes for quick deployment. The tires can easily deflate for transport.
"Current vehicles are both lethal and survivable. The challenge is the mobility part," said Maj. Tom Artis, an Army spokesman. "When you're at 70-plus tons, it's a little bit difficult to navigate."
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